An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Zhengmeng 正蒙

Jan 23, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhengmeng 正蒙 "Rectifying ignorance" is a philosophical treatise written during the Northern Song period 宋 (960-1279) by Zhang Zai 張載 (1020-1077), who is also author of the "Western Inscriptions" Ximing 西銘. The original text of this book was relatively long, but was by Su Bing 蘇昞 shortened to a more concise version after the passing away of Zhang. Su desired to create a text that resembled the venerated Classics Lunyu 論語 and Mengzi 孟子, but with chapters dedicated to certain topics. The title of the book is derived from one of the Yijing 易經 hexagrams, meng ䷃蒙, which as the meaning of "youthful folly, obscurity".

The bibliographical chapter of the official dynastic history Songshi 宋史 (202-209 Yiwen zhi 藝文志) lists the book with a length of 10 juan, but in the Qing-period version in the collection Zhangzi quanshu 張子全書, the 17 chapters are arranged in 2 fascicles. Zhang Zai interprets the most important texts of Song-period Neo-Confucianism, namely Lunyu, Mengzi, the "Book of Songs" Shijing 詩經, and the "Book of Changes" Yijing.

Zhang held that the ten thousand things on earth had their origin in a kind of universal "breath" (qi 氣) or substance that came out of the "great void" (taixu 太虛), and delivered his formula that "the great was was [in fact] substance" (taixu ji qi 太虛即氣). This "great void" itself had no dimension nor any shape. Inside of the "great void", substance was "scattered" in a formless state of aggregation. In this way, particles of substance could once disperse, and once conjoin and thus transform into "temporary forms" (kexing 客形). All objects had two different bodies (yi wu liang ti 一物兩體), namely the perceivable and tangible shape, and its "original" and future state of dispersed particles. All objects on earth had this dualistic nature, and no object or being could be without this double nature - "no object [can] have the principle of [just] being established in a single [state]" (wu wu gu li zhi li 物無孤立之理). The aggregation and disaggregation of particles was the automatic (ji 機) change of Heaven and Earth (tiandi bianhua 天地變化).

Marxists praise this theorem of Zhang as an early form of materialism and welcome his criticism of the Buddhist tenet that "everthing was [just a reflection of] the mind" (yiqie wei xin 一切唯心, ch. Daxin 大心) and the Daoist belief that all objects "originated out of the great void" (you sheng yu wu 有生于無, ch. Qian cheng 乾稱) or "out of nothing".

However, Zhang Zai's philosophy lives from the idealist component in particles of substance. Knowledge originated on the one hand in the physical perception of objects (wenjian zhi zhi 聞見之知), but also by the perception of the inherent virtuous nature of things (dexing zhi zhi 德性之知). While the former accrued by "exchange between/with objects" (wu jiao er zhi 物交而知), the latter could be intrinsically felt because the "nature of substance" (qizhi zhi xing 氣質之性) was identical to the "nature of Heaven and Earth" (tiandi zhi xing 天地之性). Man's nature was a combination of the void and of substance, and humans were thus endowed with inborn knowledge about what was morally good. Bad behaviour could be led back to dysfunctional substance.

There were numerous commentaries on Zhang Zai's Zhengmeng, like Zhu Xi's 朱熹 (1130-1200) Zhengmeng jie 正蒙解, Lu Ji's 劉璣 (1457-1533) Zhengmeng huigao 正蒙會稿, Zhengmeng shi 正蒙釋 by Gao Panlong 高攀龍 (1562-1626) and Xu Bida 徐必達 (1562-1631), Wang Fuzhi's 王夫之 (1619-1692) Zhangzi Zhengmeng zhu 張子正蒙注, Li Guangdi's 李光地 (1642-1718) Zhengmeng zhu 正蒙注 (also called Zhengmeng zhujie 正蒙注解 or Zhujie Zhengmeng 注解正蒙), Li Wenshao's 李文炤 (1672-1735年) Zhengmeng jijie 正蒙集解, Wang Zhi's 王植 (1681-1766) Zhengmeng chuyi 正蒙初義, and Yang Fangda's 楊方達 (juren degree 1724) Zhengmeng jishuo 正蒙集說.

The text is found in the collected works Zhang Zai ji 張載集, published in 1978 by the Zhonghua Shuju Press 中華書局.

Table 1. Contents of the Zhengmeng 正蒙
1. 太和篇 Taihe The great harmony
2. 參兩篇 Sanliang The three and the two
3. 天道篇 Tiandao The Heavenly way
4. 神化篇 Shenhua Deification
5. 動物篇 Dongwu Moving objects
6. 誠明篇 Chengming Sincerity and clearness
7. 大心篇 Daxin The great mind
8. 中正篇 Zhongzheng Rectification of the centre
9. 至當篇 Zhidang The utmost appropriate
10. 作者篇 Zuozhe The creator
11. 三十篇 Sanshi Thirty
12. 有徳篇 Youde Having virtue
13. 有司篇 Yousi Having control
14. 大易篇 Dayi The great change
15. 樂器篇 Yueqi Musical instruments
16. 王禘篇 Wangdi The offerings of a ruler
17. 乾稱篇 Qiancheng Heavenly designations
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