An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Zhongshuo 中說

Dec 30, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhongshuo 中說 "Explanation of the mean way" is a philosophical treatise attributed to the Sui-period 隋 (581-618) scholar Wang Tong 王通 (584-618), courtesy name Zhongyan 仲淹, posthumous honorific title Wang Wenzhongzi 王文中子 or Wang Kongzi 王孔子. He hailed from Longmen 龍門 in the commandery of Hedong 河東 (today's Wanrong 萬榮, Shanxi). He became acquainted with Xue Daoheng 薛道衡 (540-609), who organized an audience with Emperor Wen 隋文帝 (r. 581-604), during which Wang submitted twelve suggestions for a government of "great peace" (Taiping shi'er ce 太平十二策). The document was ignored, for which reason Wang Tong never again attempted to contact the court. His disappointment is reflected in his poem Dongzheng zhi ge 東征之歌. Wang withdrew to private life and started with the compilation of a political treatise by imitating the style of the "Confucian Analects" Lunyu 論語. The text was written down by Wang's sons Wang Fujiao 王福郊 and Wang Fushi 王福時. The book was also called Wenzhongzi 文中子 "Master Wenzhong".

In the oldest versions, the Zhongshuo was divided into 5 juan, later into 10, each of which corresponds to a chapter. There is a postface (xuwen 序文), and an appendix including several different texts: A hereditary biography of Wang Tong, Wenzhongzi shijia 文中子世家, written by Du Yan 杜淹 (d. 628), a discussion between Emperor Taizong 唐太宗 (r. 626-649) and Fang Wei 房魏 about rites and written down by Wang Fushi, the Lun liyue shi 論禮樂事, a discussion about rites and music, a postface by Wang Fushi, and a postface by the Song-period 宋 (960-1279) commentator Ruan Yi 阮逸 (jinshi degree 1027).

The tenor of the book is a steadfast position in the middle (zhong 中), in spite of all changes through times. This position is the right way, as Confucius had exlained, a path on which benevolence and righteousness are to be exhibited. Tradition was important, but only to perceive the present conditions correctly and how to live in it in the right way. The veneration of the old customs was not seen as an instrument to control modern life, but as a means to respond to changes. If one had discerned what was right, he would automatically do it. All things, positive and negative, had a mutual influence on each other, and could not be treated as separate.

The Zhongshuo is included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Sibu beiyao 四部備要.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1547.