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All about the Rites

 | 
Anne Cheng
, 
Stéphane Feuillas

The Book of Rites and modernity

The “Liyun” 禮運 (Evolution of Ritual), from a chapter in a Han ritual compendium to a universal sacred text: Kang Youwei’s 康有爲 (1857–1927) hermeneutical techniques1

Béatrice L’Haridon

Texte intégral

  • 1 A first version of this work was presented at the international colloquium “All about the Rites: fr (...)
  • 2 The question of the dating of this commentary, whose preface displays the wrong date of 1884, is di (...)

1Kang Youwei’s 康有爲 (1857–1927) commentary to the “Liyun” (Evolution of Ritual), ninth chapter of the Record of Rites (Liji 禮記), was written during the short but crucial period between the failed “Hundred days reform” of 1898 (wuxu bianfa 戊戌變法) and the Xinhai Revolution (Xinhai geming 辛亥革命, 1911), which ended the Qing dynasty (1644–1911).2 It was published in 1913, in Kang’s own journal, Buren 不忍 (Compassion).

2When reading the “Evolution of Ritual” chapter in the context of a collective work on the Record of Rites, I had the occasion to randomly refer to this modern commentary. I was struck by the refined mixture of traditional exegesis and bold new interpretations. It is especially remarkable that although Kang Youwei put equality (pingdeng 平等) at the centre of his political vision of the “Grand Unity” (Datong 大同, which may also be translated as “Grand Community” or “Great Concord”), he nonetheless developed this idea through a commentary of a text extracted from a ritual compendium whose leitmotiv was to magnify social and familial distinctions and hierarchies. This is a first paradox. Another one is that the final and programmatic ideal of Datong (as presented in the Book of Grand Unity, Datong shu 大同書) was regarded as too dangerous by Kang Youwei: to him, the time was not ripe for Grand Unity; hence he refused to publish his Book of Grand Unity during his lifetime. One may say that Kang developed the ideal of Grand Unity without propounding it. This is something that has to be linked to his vision of the evolution of human societies, which is also a pervading theme throughout his commentary to the “Evolution of Ritual” chapter.

  • 3 See Brusadelli 2020.
  • 4 According to Daniel Leese, Kang Youwei is most probably the first Chinese intellectual to use the e (...)

3Kang Youwei explored many ways of doing politics. They range from political persuasion as a counsellor, and creation of political associations, to promotion of reform and even coup d’état. He also explored many ways of writing. He is the author of essays inspired by geometrical principles, critical examinations of the scriptural tradition, correspondence, memorials of remonstrance, political programmes, commentaries… As such, it should first be noted that among the various ways of expressing his philosophy, the commentary was a relatively neglected one. Moreover, the research on Kang Youwei has mostly been focused so far on his critical essays like the Xinxue weijing kao 新學偽經考 (Examination of the Forged Classics of the Xin Dynasty Scholarship, 1891), the Kongzi gaizhi kao 孔子改制考 (On Confucius as a Reformer, 1897) or on his most-debated political utopia, the Datong shu.3 Situated between the critical moment and the utopian moment, the hermeneutical moment has been quite overshadowed. More fundamentally, one may wonder whether the commentary as a literary genre was not quickly considered as outdated. In the following pages, I hope to shed some light on Kang’s hermeneutical work and its specific way of developing revolutionary ideas4 between the lines of tradition.

The place of exegetical writing in the intellectual and political life of Kang Youwei and the particular case of the “Evolution of Ritual”

4Kang Youwei received the complete education of a scholar. He extensively studied the Confucian Classics, as well as Buddhist philosophy. At the end of the 1870s, he developed a kind of disgust for textual scholarship, seeing it as a sheer tool to make use of with a view to pass official examinations. He retired for a while on a mountain to practise Buddhist meditation. In 1879, he later described this practice as motivated by universal compassion (and, we may add, by a great deal of self-confidence):

於時捨棄攷據帖括之學專意養心既念民生艱難天與我聰明才力拯救之乃哀物悼世以經營天下為志則時時取周禮王制、太平經國書、文献通考、經世文編

  • 5 The Rituals of Zhou (Zhouli 周禮), also known as the Administration of Zhou (Zhouguan 周官), is conside (...)
  • 6 This book was written by Zheng Boqian 鄭伯謙 (Song dynasty). It describes an ideal local government in (...)
  • 7 Compilation by Ma Duanlin 馬端臨, published at the beginning of the 14th century.
  • 8 See Kang 1976, vol. 22, 11.

At that moment, I turned away from philological and exam-oriented scholarship, focused my attention and nurtured my mind, meditated about the suffering of the people, and about how Heaven gave me discernment, talents and strength for helping them. Full of compassion for the world, I therefore took it as my purpose to set in order all under Heaven, and would frequently turn to the chapter “Wangzhi” (Royal institutions) in the Rituals of Zhou,5 the Book of Statecraft for Supreme Peace,6 the Comprehensive Examination of Documents,7 the Collected Essays about Statecraft…8

  • 9 The “Taiping heavenly kingdom” (Taiping Tianguo 太平天國) was founded in South-East China in 1851 and s (...)
  • 10 As Benjamin Elman has it, “New Text advocates turned to the Gongyang Commentary (Gongyang zhuan) fo (...)
  • 11 See Cheng 1995.

5It is significant to note that in his early years, Kang Youwei had a vested interest in the Rituals of Zhou (Zhouli 周禮). This text occupied a core position in the “Old Text” (guwen 古文) classical scholarship, of which Sun Yirang 孫詒讓 (1848–1908) was representative with his commentary on the Rituals of Zhou. At the same time, it also played an important role in successive attempts to political reform, the most recent being the Taiping rebellion, which took inspiration from passages of this classic.9 At this period of his life, Kang Youwei had not yet endorsed the “New Text” (jinwen 今文) classical scholarship.10 This important turn happened around the year 1888. It was radical since Kang would then start to defend the idea that the Zhouli was a forgery by Liu Xin 劉歆 (46 BC–AD 23), which led to a deep misunderstanding of Confucius’ message. Kang’s later choice to comment the “Liyun” chapter is therefore to be understood within the context of the debate between the “Old Text” and the “New Text” traditions –a debate which found a new and profound development during the 19th century.11 As far as ritual texts are concerned, the Old Text tradition referred to the Zhouli 周禮 whereas the New Text tradition considered it as a forgery. The opposition also pervaded classical historiography: the Old Text tradition read the Chunqiu through the Zuozhuan commentary, while the New Text sided with the Gongyang zhuan. The New Text tradition, through its specific reading of the Chunqiu –it claimed that the book contained Confucius’ political blueprint for the future– nurtured a serious concern for the adaptation of institutions to the present times.

  • 12 Zhu 1998. In the introduction to his edition of the Shili gongfa and the Datong shu, Zhu Weizheng n (...)

6In the early 1880s, Kang began studying translations of Western works and travelled to Hong Kong and Shanghai, where he was deeply impressed by Western organisation. Around 1888, he wrote the Shili gongfa quanshu 實理公法全書 (Complete Book of True Principles and Public Laws). In this early work, he put forward several fundamental principles, among which one could mention “equality.” He, moreover, expressed the idea that human institutions should be derivative of these principles. He laid out his arguments by relying on geometrical principles and did not use any reference to Confucius or to the Classics. Neither did he allude to an ideal state of Grand Unity.12 Therefore, one may wonder whether the later defence of the same kind of ideas through the commentary of a classical text could have been motivated by a search for efficiency. Was Kang’s use of the commentary genre an instrumental move to persuade a larger audience of literati? We observe the same evolution in his discussion of the important question of the calendar. In his Shili gongfa quanshu, Kang Youwei proposed to abandon the practice of dating time with reference to the years of a sovereign era, but at the same time, he excluded the possibility of following the Christian model and of counting time from the birth of one Chinese great Sage. He suggested counting from the “day” of formation of Earth, a date established according to the most reliable scientific research. However, he would later strongly promote the “Confucian calendar,” i.e. starting to count time from the supposed birthday of Confucius.

  • 13 His second memorial of remonstrance (Gongche shangshu 公車上書), written in reaction to the catastrophi (...)
  • 14 Among them were Kang Youwei’s young brother, Kang Guangren 康廣仁 (1867–1898), and the philosopher Tan (...)

7From 1888 on, he became politically active at a local level, in Guangzhou. He also tried to contribute at the central level: he repeatedly tried to have a direct influence on the Emperor, by sending memoirs of remonstrance.13 He founded political associations, such as “the Society for Self-strengthening” (Qiangxue hui 強學會) in 1895, or “the Society to Protect the Emperor” (Baohuang hui 保皇會) in 1899. During the 1890s, he wrote his two major critical essays: the Xinxue weijing kao 新學偽經考 (Examination of the Forged Classics of the Xin Dynasty Scholarship, 1891) and the Kongzi gaizhi kao 孔子改制考 (On Confucius as a Reformer, 1897) which both marked his break with the Old Text tradition. He had the ideal opportunity to embody the principles of the Sage-reformer when the young emperor Guangxu 光緒 (r. 1875–1908), who was interested in his ideas and his programme, invited him to lead the reform of the imperial system in 1898. But a political coup followed shortly thereafter; the emperor was imprisoned by his aunt, the empress dowager Cixi 慈禧 (1835–1908), and the leaders of the reform were either executed,14 or exiled. For Kang, the exile would last 15 years, a time he would spend travelling to various countries, such as Japan, Singapore, India, Great Britain, or the United States.

  • 15 Kang 1976.
  • 16 Chang 2015.
  • 17 The dating of the Liyun zhu is discussed by Qian 1997, 772–775. See also Zhu 1998, 32: Zhu Weizheng (...)

8After the failure of the Hundred Days reform, a tragedy in his personal life, Kang Youwei resumed his work on classical texts –which he had most probably begun earlier in his life– and turned to hermeneutical writing. In a period of two years, he wrote five commentaries: in addition to the commentary on the “Evolution of Ritual” chapter, Kang Youwei also composed a commentary for each of the four texts which had been given the status of “Four Books” by Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130–1200) during the Song dynasty: the Commentary on the Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong zhu 中庸注, 1901), the Subtle meaning of the Mengzi (Mengzi wei 孟子微, 1901), the Commentary on the Analects (Lunyu zhu 論語注, 1902), and the Commentary on the Great Learning (Daxue zhu 大學注, 1902, now lost). All these commentaries are preceded by a preface written by Kang himself and are clearly dated, except precisely the commentary of “Liyun.” That is unlucky but also interesting. In the preface, Kang gives the year 1884 (10th year of Guangxu era). This is often considered to be an error. But it is hard to imagine that it is a mere careless mistake, because the same date is also given in the new “Confucian” calendar: “2435th year after Confucius,” that is 1884… In his autobiography, the Self-Composed Chronology of Kang Nanhai (Kang Nanhai zibian nianpu 康南海自編年譜),15 which records Kang’s life events until 1898, the writing of a commentary of the “Liyun” is not mentioned. This contradicts what one can read in the preface. The only precise dating is that of its first publication, in 1913. According to Chang Chao 常超,16 the Liyun zhu was written at the same period as the other commentaries, when he was exiled in Singapore (檳榔嶼) and in India (大吉嶺), that is in 1901–1902.17

9In this set of five commentaries, the commentary on the “Evolution of Ritual” occupies a specific place. In opposition to the Lunyu, which Kang considered as a partial transmission of Confucius’ teaching, intended for the most vulgar disciples, the “Evolution of Ritual” is exalted as the only “authentic transmission of Confucius’ subtle words, a precious Classic for the whole world and the divine method for having all the living beings rise again.” This commentary also epitomised a shift in Kang’s vision of Confucius who evolved from a reformer to a master of timely change. Kang sought a concept of evolution by bringing together the two stages of Datong and Xiaokang, as found in the chapter, and the representation of the Three Ages, which was developed by the Gongyang commentary 公羊傳 on another classic, the Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu 春秋): the Age of Disorder (juluan shi 據亂世), the Age of Rising Peace (shengping shi 升平世) and the Age of Supreme Peace (taiping shi 太平世). The development of the very idea of evolution, and of a utopian horizon appeared to him necessary in order to avoid remaining stuck in a mediocre Lesser Prosperity. Kang’s text strongly asserts that, even at its best moments in history, notably during the “Three Dynasties” (sandai 三代, Xia , Yin , and Zhou ), China never knew anything other than Lesser Prosperity. This vision of the human evolution is in deep contradiction with the traditional conception which looks back to Antiquity as a Golden era to emulate. It is also to be related with a growing preoccupation for the different stages of human development and the necessity to know them better in order to avoid a catastrophic change which would not be adapted to the stage attained by humanity.

10Although the commentaries, which seem to be exercises of pure scholarship, may have been written partly in reaction to the tragic failure of the “Hundred days Reform,” they do not represent a withdrawal from the political scene. Indeed, Kang Youwei never abandoned his view of political reform. Shortly after the foundation of the Republic of China, in 1912, he founded a new association, the “Society of Confucian religion” (Kongjiao hui 孔教會) whose aim was to establish Confucianism as the official religion. As soon as he came back from his exile, in 1913, he tried to directly intervene in politics. He notably participated in a failed coup d’état in order to restore the deposed emperor Puyi 溥儀 (r. 1908–1912). The interconnection between his political activism and his commitment to scholarship may have been caused by his almost religious vision of the classical texts. The critical approach of these texts may have allowed Kang Youwei to become the prophet of Confucius’ real message, which is the message of a world saviour.

  • 18 Some parts of the Introduction were translated by Hsiao 1975, 47–48.

11The pivotal importance of the reading of the “Evolution of Ritual” chapter in Kang’s life is explained in the preface to the commentary. This preface is, as a matter of fact, a kind of intellectual autobiography,18 where Kang presents the reading of this chapter as a form of enlightenment:

讀至《禮運》乃浩然而嘆曰孔子三世之變、大道之真在是矣大同小康之道發之明而别之精古今進化之故神聖憫世之深在是矣.[]是書也孔氏之微言真傳萬國之無上寳典而天下群生之起死神方哉

  • 19 Kang 1987, 236.

When my readings led me to the “Evolution of Ritual” chapter, I felt overwhelmed and sighed: “The transformation along the Three Ages and the truth of the Great Way once formulated by Confucius are all here. The clear expression and the refined distinction of the Way of Grand Unity and Lesser Prosperity, the causes behind the progress in ancient and modern times, the depth of the divine Sage’s compassion for the world, are all here. […] This book is the authentic transmission of Confucius’ subtle words, the ultimate Classic for the whole world and the divine method for having all the living beings come back to life!”19

12Thus, he may have antedated his commentary in order to highlight its fundamental status in his intellectual life, denying the fact that earlier in his life he was much more interested in another ritual classic, the Rituals of Zhou, or in the “Western science” (xixue 西學).

The “Liyun” chapter before Kang Youwei

  • 20 Ji , here translated as “record,” originally refers to the notes accompanying the description of r (...)

13As most chapters in the Record of Rites,20 the “Liyun” presents quite a heterogeneous content. It starts with the famous two paragraphs on Datong and Xiaokang. This passage is introduced by a dialogue between Confucius and one of his disciples, a staging of deep significance as we will see below. It then continues with a broad description of the evolution of rituals. The chapter focuses on an analysis of sacrificial rituals in order to highlight the significance of their origins and their accomplishment. Far from representing mere chronological dimensions, origin and accomplishment are reactivated every time a sacrifice is correctly implemented. It also deals with some failures in ritual practices, and with the reasons behind their creation. Finally, the text presents the extension of rituals as the way to promote harmonious relationships, among humans in society, of course, but also between humans and animals. Like other chapters of the Record of Rites, the “Liyun” was commented, paragraph after paragraph, by Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127–200) and Kong Yingda 孔穎達 (574–648), whose explanations and commentaries became fundamental for any later readings.

14However, the successive perusals of this chapter were largely focused on its very beginning, that is the evocation of the two stages of Datong and Xiaokang. Readings were either oriented by admiration or by suspicion. The very notion of Grand Unity which may be considered as a blueprint for the ideal of modernisation in China is inseparable from the “Liyun” chapter, as in the Chinese context discussing the evolution of ritual entails discoursing on the evolution of civilisation. To better understand the status of this chapter during the historical turn between the Empire and the Republic, we need to situate it in the longer history of its reception. Although this chapter falls into the same category as the “Great Learning” 大學 and the “Doctrine of the Mean” 中庸 chapters –the category of “general discourse on the rituals” (tonglun 通論)– the history of their reception is far from comparable. Under the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), the “Great Learning” and the “Doctrine of the Mean” chapters were extracted from the Liji and integrated in the canonical corpus of the Four Books (Si shu 四書), whereas the “Liyun” chapter was strongly suspected of being heterodox. The main reason laid in its inflammatory opening paragraphs which ignore the role of ritual and thus smell like Taoist sulphur. To a question about the similarity of thought between the Laozi 老子 and the “Liyun” chapter, Zhu Xi gives the following answer in the Zhuzi yulei 朱子語類:

不是聖人書胡明仲云禮運是子游作樂記是子貢作計子游亦不至如此之淺

  • 21 Hu Yin 胡寅 (1098–1156).
  • 22 Zhuzi yulei 朱子語類, j. 87.4 (“Li si” 禮四): see Zhu 2010, vol. 17, 2958.

This is not a book of the great Sage (Confucius). Hu Mingzhong21 said it was written by Ziyou, as the “Yueji” (another chapter of the Liji) was written by Zigong. But I suppose even Ziyou would not be superficial to this point. 22

15The paragraph on the Datong, which delineates as a horizon an ideal state of human community called Grand Unity, does not refer to the role of ritual. As such, ritual may appear as a secondary theme. Even more problematic is the possible reading that ritual is associated with the degradation of this ideal order of Grand Unity –something that could be inferred from the following paragraph on the Xiaokang.

16Consequently, a sheer number of commentators questioned here a surreptitious infiltration of Taoist or even Mohist ideas in Confucius’ mouth (it would not be the first time). Due to this suspicion, the very content of the “Liyun” chapter fell into a relative oblivion until the Qing dynasty. And from that time on, it was mainly its authenticity and its philosophical affiliation that were put under scrutiny.

17In contrast with the traditional mistrust towards the Taoistic undertones of the first paragraphs of the chapter, the proximity between the evocation of the Datong in this chapter and some of the beautiful Taoist utopias is easily admitted by Kang Youwei in his introduction:

今者中國已小康矣而不求進化泥守舊方是失孔子之意而大悖其道也甚非所以安天下樂群生也甚非所以崇孔子同大地也且孔子之神聖為人道之進化豈止大同而已哉莊子建德之國列子甔甗之山凡至人之所思固不可測矣而況孔子乎?

  • 23 Kang 1987, 237.

Nowadays, China has already attained the age of Lesser Prosperity; nevertheless, it does not aspire to progress, and instead stays stuck with old recipes. That is a misunderstanding of Confucius’ intention, and it is completely opposed to his Way. In so doing, it is completely impossible to bring peace to the world and happiness to the living beings. In so doing, it is absolutely not the way of revering Confucius and uniting the world. Moreover, Confucius’ holiness is in fact progress in the human way, so how could there be only this notion of Datong (as developed by Confucius)! The “Land of Virtue Established” from Zhuangzi and the “Mountain of the Pot” from Liezi represented the aspiration of supreme men and they were for sure infinitely deep. So much more so Confucius’ (ideal of Datong)!23

  • 24 This character also appears in chapters 24 and 25 of the Zhuangzi, where he is described as a minis (...)

18To illustrate his point that Confucius’ Datong was not a completely isolated view, but rather the outcome of progress, Kang thus sees no difficulty in highlighting two Taoist utopias, the “Land of Virtue Established” and the “Mountain of the Pot.” The first utopia is evoked by a certain Yiliao 宜僚24 before a tired sovereign of Lu , the land of rites:

南越有邑焉為建德之國其民愚而朴少私而寡欲知作而不知藏與而不求其報不知義之所適不知禮之所將猖狂妄乃蹈乎大方其生可樂其死可葬吾願君去國捐俗與道相輔而行

  • 25 Zhuangzi 莊子, chap. 20 (“Mountain Trees” 山木). English translation reproduced from Watson 1968, 211.

In Nan-Yüeh [Nanyue], there is a city and its name is the Land of Virtue Established. Its people are foolish and naive, few in thoughts of self, scant in desires. They know how to make, but not how to lay away; they give, but look for nothing in return. They do not know what accords with right, they do not know what conforms to ritual. Uncouth, uncaring, they move recklessly –and this way they tread the path of the Great Method. Their birth brings rejoicing, their death a fine funeral. So I would ask you to discard your state, break away from its customs, and, with the Way as your helper, journey there [says the Master from south of the Market to the ruler of Lu].25

19With its simple people who are more eager to give than to take, and whose virtue is solid precisely because they practise moderation without even knowing ritual rules, this “Land of Virtue Established” is for sure not so far away from the evocation of Datong in the “Liyun” chapter. In fact, these people are not completely devoid of rituals: they have some for birth and death. But these rituals are practised through emotion and not through order.

20The “Mountain of the Pot,” or more exactly the “Urn Peak,” appeared to the Great Sage Yu , when he got lost after draining the flood. Ironically enough, he made a huge geographical mistake, and came to a country “myriad of miles away from the Middle Kingdom”:

其國名曰終北不知際畔之所齊限 [] 四方悉平周以喬陟當國之中有山山名壺領狀若甔甀頂有口狀若員環名曰滋穴有水湧出名曰神瀵臭過蘭椒味過醪醴一源分為四埒注於山下經營一國亡不悉遍土氣和亡札厲人性婉而從物不競不爭柔心而弱骨不驕不忌長幼儕居不君不臣男女雜游不媒不聘

  • 26 Liezi 列子, chap. 5 (“Questions of King Tang” 湯問). English translation reproduced from Graham 1960, 1 (...)

The name of this country is Utmost North; I do not know where its borders lie. […] The country is flat in all directions, with high ranges all around it; and right in the middle is a mountain named Urn Peak, shaped like a pot with a small mouth. On the summit there is an opening, round like a bracelet, which is named the Cave of Plenty. Waters bubble out of it, named the Divine Spring, which smell sweeter than orchids and spices, taste sweeter than wine and musk. Four streams divide from the one source, flow down the mountain and irrigate every corner of the country. The climate is mild, and there are no epidemics. The people are gentle and compliant by nature, do not quarrel or contend, have soft hearts and weak bones, are never proud or envious. Old and young live as equals, and no one is ruler or subject; men and women mingle freely, without go-betweens and betrothal presents…26

21Although the sweet water irrigating all the country reminds us of the Bible’s “milk and honey,” this Cockaigne is not merely a land of plenty as its counterpart in the European medieval imaginaire. It is also a country blessed with equality between old and young, ruler and subject, and men and women. The three fundamental hierarchies in the ritual order do not exist. Building on the “Liyun” chapter, Kang Youwei tries to put this utopian ambition back in the centre of the Confucian tradition. What raised Kang Youwei’s deep interest for this chapter was thus precisely these controversial opening paragraphs.

  • 27 If we follow Sima Qian’s chronology, Ziyou was 45 years younger than Confucius, see Shiji, j. 67 (“ (...)
  • 28 On the distinction between the zha and la sacrifices and their later confusion, see Bodde 1975, 72, (...)

22In order to get a preliminary understanding of the traditional reading of the first paragraphs, and of the hermeneutical renewal brought about by Kang Youwei, let us first go back to the very “staging” of the dialogue between Confucius and one of his youngest disciples, Ziyou,27 and the different ways of interpreting it. The scene happens immediately after an important annual sacrifice: the sacrifice named zha (sometimes confused with the sacrifice la ),28 mentioned at the very beginning of the chapter, marks the end of the lunar year and is a way to express gratitude to the crowd of spirits and ancient sages who indirectly contributed to the harvest. It most probably included an orgiastic component, as indicated in another chapter of the Liji, “Zaji, xia” 雜記下 (Miscellaneous records, 2). Here again, the zha sacrifice provides the occasion for a dialogue between Confucius and a disciple (this time Zigong 子貢). This dialogue also reflects Confucius’ concern with this particular sacrifice:

子貢觀於蜡孔子曰「賜也樂乎」對曰「一國之人皆若狂賜未知其樂也」子曰「百日之蜡一日之澤非爾所知也張而不弛文武弗能也弛而不張文武弗為也一張一弛文武之道也

  • 29 Liji jijie 1990, 1115.

Zigong attended the zha sacrifice. Confucius asked him: “Zigong, did you enjoy it?” Zigong answered: “I really do not know how to enjoy seeing the whole country running amok!” Confucius said: “After hundreds of days of work, this day of rejoicing, this is something you do not understand. Tension without release, Kings Wen and Wu would not have been able to do that. Release without tension, Kings Wen and Wu would not do that. The way of kings Wen and Wu is the alternation of release and tension.”29

  • 30 According to Zheng Xuan, when Zigong says he does not understand, he in fact criticises the way of (...)
  • 31 Much later, Su Shi would also emphasise the carnival-like atmosphere of the sacrifice zha/la, highl (...)

23As usual, Confucius is much more open-minded than his followers:30 he is able to appreciate the great signification behind the seemingly excessive ritual of the zha sacrifice.31 Thanks to this second evocation of the zha sacrifice in the Record of Rites, we know that for the compiler(s) of this book, it was a moment of festive communion. Nonetheless, in the “Evolution of Ritual” chapter, Confucius’ reaction to his observation of the zha sacrifice is a mere sigh. This sigh, although a non-verbal expression, is the very foundation of the following dialogue: Ziyou does not understand why a gentleman such as Confucius should sigh after observing the sacrifice/festival. His question leads the Master to develop his reflection on Grand Unity, Lesser Prosperity, and evolution of ritual.

24By considering the interpretations of this simple sigh, we can already identify a gap between two visions of the text:

Zheng Xuan:

孔子見魯君於祭禮有不備 [] 感而歎之

  • 32 Zheng Xuan also comments on Confucius’ location, a tower in the capital of the realm of Lu.

Confucius saw that the Duke of Lu did not rightly perform the sacrifice rite […],32 and reacting to that, he sighed.

Kang Youwei:

適遇蜡祭諸侯大夫皆草笠野服至平之服矣。飨農息民,下及禽獸昆虫,草木水土,以告嵗功,至平無差等,乃太平之禮,至仁之義.故觸其大同之思.而時當亂世,魯雖用己,未能行己之大道,故觸事發嘆也.

  • 33 Kang 1987, 238-239.

Confucius attended the zha sacrifice. During the sacrifice, dukes and nobles wore straw hats and peasant clothes, that is the clothes of Supreme equilibrium. The farmers were nourished and people were given a rest, and (this nourishment) extended to animals and insects, plants and soils, in order to announce the meritorious end of the year. During Supreme equilibrium, there is no inequality. This is what the ritual of Great peace and the signification of accomplished humanity are all about. Hence, Confucius was struck by the longing for Grand Unity. However, his time was an age of disorder, and even if Lu had employed him, he was not able yet to put into practice his great Way. That is why he sighed when facing this ritual.33

  • 34 Lunyu 論語, XIV.38. Translated by Simon Leys, see Nylan 2014, 44.

25Zheng Xuan, and Kong Yingda after him, did not write much on Confucius’ sigh in this precise context. To them, the reader is in presence of a classic case of ritual failure, to which Confucius is, as always, highly sensitive. Although we could have expected Confucius to explain his sigh by usual laments on the world falling apart, or to point at the bad state of ritual practice in his native realm of Lu, his answer describes an ideal state of Grand Unity. Kang Youwei gives an alternative interpretation of Confucius’ sigh, which in a way better explains why it would be followed by an evocation of the Datong. This very moment of the carnival-like zha sacrifice reveals Confucius’ authentic and deep intention: the state of Grand Unity, a state that Confucius himself recognises as impossible to realise. From the very beginning of Kang’s commentary, the great “reformer” appears with the traits of a tragic figure; he tries to attain an ideal state of concord while being perfectly aware of its impossibility, at least in his own time. Accordingly, this reminds us of the well-known judgement on Confucius: “The one who keeps pursuing what he knows is impossible” (是知其不可而為之者與).34

26In his notice on Kang’s Commentary of the Liyun, Hu Yujin 胡玉縉 (1859–1940), after analysing the questionable passages of the commentary, draws a meaningful distinction between the hermeneutical and the ideological dimensions of the text. He asserts that despite its rather heterodox hermeneutic techniques Kang’s commentary managed to reveal the very meaning of the text:

要之是書別有用意不得以訓詁家律之禮運鄭注已不盡得其旨石梁王氏又以大同小康為老氏意非孔子語學者皆為所惑康氏獨能發揮其義推為孔氏之微言真傳萬國之無上寶典其識在漢以來諸儒之上

  • 35 See Chen Hao 陳澔 of the Yuan dynasty who quotes a certain Wang from Shiliang: 石梁王氏曰以五帝之世為大同以禹、湯、文、 (...)
  • 36 This notice was originally written for the Xuxiu Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 續修四庫全書總目提要: Huang 2003, (...)

In short, this book addresses another objective, and should not be judged according to the criteria of pure exegesis. Zheng Xuan’s commentary did not completely grasp the meaning of the “Liyun” chapter, and in addition to this Master Wang from Shiliang considered the two paragraphs on “Datong” and “Xiaokang” as ideas coming from Laozi and not as words pronounced by Confucius.35 All the later scholars were confused by that. Kang Youwei was the only one able to develop its profound meaning, and to support the idea that this chapter was the authentic transmission of Confucius’ subtle message, and the most precious Classic for the world. His understanding was superior to all the literati’s since the Han dynasty.36

27Contrary to what is here proposed by Hu Yujin, I would like to keep on focusing on the exegetical dimension of Kang’s commentary and to inquire into his hermeneutical work instead of focusing on the ideological message. This work is intertwined with a ritual text but what we would immediately associate with repetition and conservatism was for Kang Youwei a fertile ground for developing modernity. I will examine his exegetical work and its tools, each in association with one important intellectual thread of the commentary.

An examination of Kang’s hermeneutical methods

28Three main tools can here be identified: the editing of the text, in the broadest sense, which I will examine in relation to the staging of Confucius as master of time; the philological glosses, which allow Kang Youwei, on a specific occasion, to give a feminist dimension to the text; and finally, the comparison with different civilisations, which must obviously be linked to Kang’s universalist aspiration.

Reorganisation of the classical text and the preeminence of “Grand Unity”

  • 37 About Zhu Xi’s transformation of the “Daxue” chapter into a Daxue book, see Lee 2015.

29The composite nature of the Liji chapters allows for a certain plasticity of the text. Throughout history, some commentators did not hesitate to strengthen their hermeneutical perspective by transforming the text. Hence, as Zhu Xi already did with the “Daxue” chapter of the Liji,37 Kang Youwei reorganises the “Liyun” text in order to foster his interpretation. More fundamentally, he transforms a single chapter into a Classic in its own right. This reorganisation primarily concerns the first paragraphs of the chapter and takes different forms: division of paragraphs (D), relocation of paragraphs (R) and suppression of paragraphs (S). The following table highlights the main transformations, and presents the arguments put forward by Kang Youwei in his commentary to justify them.

  • 38 See Lunyu III, 9.

Liyun” chapter
(text as transmitted in the
Liji, paragraphs as divided in Zheng Xuan’s commentary)

Liyun as commented by Kang Youwei
Explanations by Kang Youwei

1. 昔者仲尼與於蜡賓君子何嘆而有志焉.
Once Confucius was taking part in the winter sacrifice… Why should a gentleman sigh?… But I have the determination.

1. sigh? 昔者仲尼與於蜡賓君子何嘆
Once Confucius was taking part in the winter sacrifice… Why should a gentleman.

D

2. 大道之行也天下為公是謂大同
When the Great Way was practised, the world was shared by all alike…
This was the age of Grand Unity.

2. 孔子曰大道之行也而有志焉. 大道之行也天下為公是謂大同
Confucius replied:
The practice of the Great Way,… But I have the determination. When the Great Way was practised, the world was shared by all alike…
This was the age of Grand Unity.
D

3. 今大道既隱天下為家是謂小康
Now the Great Way has become hidden and the world is the possession of private families… This is the age of Lesser Prosperity.

3. 今大道既隱天下為家是謂小康
Now the Great Way has become hidden and the world is the possession of private families… This is the age of Lesser Prosperity.
R

In the previous editions, following this passage, we find the paragraph “Ziyou asked him again:
舊本此下有「言偃復問曰如此乎禮之急」一節上文未言禮急文義不屬故移於後
Is the ritual therefore so necessary?” but as this necessity of the ritual has not yet been addressed, the text and its meaning are not in agreement, so I have moved this paragraph further.

4. 言偃復問曰如此乎禮之急也孔子曰夫禮先王以承天之道故天下國家可得而正也
Ziyou asked him again: Is the ritual therefore so necessary? Confucius replied: By means of rituals, the ancient rulers assisted the action of heaven… Hence, the empire, the kingdoms and the families, everything could be well governed.

4. 言偃復問曰夫子之極言禮也可得而聞與
Ziyou asked him again: Master, can we hear from you a complete speech about the ritual?
R
子遊以孔子言大同之道為非常異義故欲孔子極言之其言禮者以六君子皆謹於禮以為大同亦自有禮也孔子以未當太平時未能行大同之道雖蓄於心者不能忍於一歎而其詳則不欲言矣故下只就三代之英言之
Ziyou, aware of the exceptional dimension of Confucius’ words on the Way of Grand Unity, wishes to hear from him a complete discourse about it. When Confucius spoke about the ritual, he mentioned how much the six gentlemen were attentive to the rites (in the state of Lesser Prosperity), so (Ziyou) thinks that the state of Grand Unity also has its own ritual. However, Confucius, considering that we have not yet reached the Great Peace, and that we are not yet able to realise the Way of Grand Unity, may maintain his purpose in his heart, without being able to hold his sigh, he does not wish to explain it in detail. Thus, he later developed only a discourse on the excellence of the Three Dynasties.

5. 言偃復問曰夫子之極言禮也可得而聞與孔子曰我欲觀夏道, 是故之杞, 而不足徵也吾得夏時焉我欲觀殷道, 是故之宋,而不足徵也吾得坤乾焉坤乾之義夏時之等吾以是觀之
Ziyou asked him again: Master, can we hear from you a complete speech about ritual? Confucius replied: I wanted to observe the rituals of the Xia dynasty, so I went to the country of Qi, but it has not preserved sufficient evidence. However, I found the Xia Calendar there. I wanted to observe the rituals of the Yin dynasty, so I went to the country of Song, but it has not preserved sufficient evidence. However, I found the Qian Kun there. Hence, my observations come from the examination of the meaning of the Qian Kun and the order of the Xia Calendar.

5. 孔子曰我欲觀夏道, 是故之杞, 而不足徵也吾得夏時焉我欲觀殷道, 是故之宋,而不足徵也吾得坤乾焉坤乾之義夏時之等吾以是觀之38
Confucius replied: I wanted to observe the rituals of the Xia dynasty, so I went to the country of Qi, but it has not preserved sufficient evidence. However, I found the
Xia Calendar there. I wanted to observe the rituals of the Yin dynasty, so I went to the country of Song, but it has not preserved sufficient evidence. However, I found the Qian Kun there. Hence, my observations come from the examination of the meaning of the Qian Kun and the order of the Xia Calendar.
R

6. 夫禮之初始諸飲食猶若可以致其敬於鬼神
The origins of the ritual go back to eating and drinking habits. …in this way, they could still show their respect for ancestors and spirits.

6. 孔子曰於呼哀哉我觀周道幽厲傷之吾舍魯何適矣
Confucius exclaimed: Alas! When I observe the Way of Zhou dynasty, I see that it has been degraded by kings You and Li. (But) if I leave Lu, where else should I go?
S: the following fourteen paragraphs are not commented.
自此以下發明制作之禮不過為撥亂世。其志雖在大同而其事只在小康也
From this passage on, Confucius will highlight the rituals which were created (throughout history), for no other purpose than to get out of the chaos. Although his determination relied in the Grand Unity, his task nevertheless only concerned the Lesser Prosperity.
舊本「舍魯奚適」之下有此十四節當為《郊特牲》文《郊特牲》(…)記文錯簡甚多不足為異但亂入《禮運》則文義不類今改正之。
In the ancient edition, after the passage “If I leave Lu, where else should I go?”, there are 14 paragraphs which should originally be in the “Jiaotesheng” chapter. (…) The text in the record presents many problems with the order of the bamboo slips, so in a quite usual way, (these 14 paragraphs) were wrongly displaced in the “Evolution of Ritual” chapter. As a consequence, text and meaning do not correspond to each other.
Here, I rectify this error.

7. 及其死也.…故死者北首.生者南鄉.皆從其初.
When someone died… Therefore the dead have their heads facing north, while the living are facing south. This follows the original ritual practices.

7. 夫禮之初始諸飲食猶若可以致其敬於鬼神及其死也故死者北首生者南鄉皆從其初
The origins of the ritual go back to eating and drinking habits. …in this way, they could still show their respect for ancestors and spirits. When someone died… Therefore the dead have their heads facing north, while the living are facing south. This follows the original ritual practices.
R
D

30The new division of the paragraphs particularly highlights the questions asked by Ziyou (see paragraphs 1 and 4). According to Kang’s commentary, they show that the disciple was aware of the importance of Confucius’ teaching on Grand Unity, thus supporting the idea that Ziyou was the repository of Confucius’ esoteric teaching.

31The isolation of paragraph 6 is also particularly noteworthy. Following the relocation of the whole passage, Confucius’ tragic exclamation is now linked to the impossibility of practising the Way of Grand Unity. The theme of timeliness has become central in Kang’s reflection. As a commentary to one of the last paragraphs of the “Liyun” chapter, Kang writes:

百王因時運而變大禮亦因時運而遷可以是推之.[] 拘者守舊自謂得禮豈知其阻塞進化大悖聖人之時義哉此特明禮是無定隨時可起

  • 39 Kang 1987, 263-264.

What we can infer from this is that, as the hundred kings changed with the passage of time, so the great rituals also moved with the passage of time. […] Those who remain stuck in the ancient rules, and claim to understand ritual, how could they know that they are blocking any progress and are in complete contradiction with Confucius’ sense of timeliness! This passage sheds light about the very absence of fixity for ritual; at any time, (new) rituals can arise.39

  • 40 The expression is taken from the “Liqi” 禮器 chapter.

32According to Kang’s reading, timeliness is precisely at the core of the Confucian philosophy of ritual. This reading is not particularly new; we find in the Record of Ritual itself powerful expressions of this idea, such as “timeliness gives ritual its greatness” (禮者時為大).40 However, in Kang’s dramatic epoch, this notion of timeliness became of particular importance. Thus, although the Grand Unity forms Confucius’ core teaching and aspiration, it needs to be realised when times are ready. According to Kang Youwei, this explains why most of the chapter does not deal with Grand Unity but with rituals in times of Lesser Prosperity:

夫孔子哀生民之艱拯斯人之溺深心厚望私欲高懷其注於大同也至矣但以生當亂世道難躐等雖默想太平世猶未升亂猶未撥不能不盈科乃進循序而行故此篇餘論及它經所明多為小康之論而寡發大同之道亦所謂知其不可而為之者耶

  • 41 See Mengzi, “Li Lou, xia” 離婁下.
  • 42 Kang 1987, 236. The final quote is from Lunyu 論語, XIV.38. Translated by Simon Leys, see Nylan 2014, (...)

Confucius felt compassion for the people’s sufferings, and wanted to save them from drowning; his heart was full of great expectations and his personal desires were of very high standards. All of this finds its ultimate expression in the “Datong” paragraph. But because he was living in a time of disorder, he knew that it is most dangerous for the Way to jump over the steps. Even if he was silently desiring the Supreme Peace, this time obviously had not begun to ascend, disorder had not been pushed back, and thus it was necessary to first fill up the holes, and then advance41. A certain process was to be followed. That is the reason why the rest of the chapter touches on subjects which are also explained in other classics and generally deals with Lesser Prosperity, while rarely exposing the way of Grand Unity. “Isn’t he the one who keeps pursuing what he knows is impossible!”42

33The “Datong” is not the object of the discourse but rather the object of the sigh. This reluctance to speak about Grand Unity attributed by Kang Youwei to Confucius may also reflect Kang’s own reluctance to publish his Book of Grand Unity during his lifetime.

34Thus, the silence about ritual under the Age of Grand Unity is linked to the fact that ritual is, first of all, associated with progress in the Age of Lesser Prosperity. The cumulative progress, which is the hallmark of Lesser Prosperity, has to be the object of discourse since reform is needed in order not to fall again into disorder and to remain able to proceed further; whereas Grand Unity is a horizon.

Philological glosses and feminism

35Kang Youwei regularly introduces philological glosses in his commentary. They are usually based on those of Zheng Xuan or Kong Yingda and are intended to clarify the meaning of terms that are rare or unusual in the text. But in a passage about men and women, Kang proposes a radically new gloss under the disguise of a philological note referring to an ancient edition. Kang borrows the Han commentary method, but the “ancient edition” he refers to only exists in his mind. It would be more apt to call it a “future edition”:

[Text of the “Evolution of Ritual” chapter]

男有分女有歸.

Every man has his share, every woman has her haven.

[Kang’s philological note]

舊本作巋

“Haven”: An ancient edition gives “grand” (same character with the mountain graph).

[Kang’s commentary]

分者限也男子雖强而各有權限不得逾越巋者巍也女子雖弱而巍然自立不得陵抑各立和約而共守之此夫婦之公理也

  • 43 Kang 1987, 240.

“Share” signifies “limit.” Although men are physically stronger, their power should have limits not to be exceeded. “Grand” means “majesty.” Although women are physically weaker, they should stand up in majesty, and not be humiliated. Men and women should establish a contract that they would respect altogether; that is the general principle for husband and wife.43

36Although Kang Youwei is able to give a creative reading of men’s “share” as “limit” without transforming the text, he had a bigger difficulty to do the same with women’s “haven,” a term used commonly to refer to the woman’s new home after her marriage. Thus, he had to attempt a philological coup. Notwithstanding the fact that the equivalence between gui  and jia  is perfectly established from ancient times, whereas the use of for , despite the graphic proximity, was never seen before, he makes use of a graphic gloss. The result is a creative commentary on transcending biology, giving limits to men’s physical power while elevating women’s status in order to attain equality, as the indispensable basis for a contract. Later, in his Datong shu, Kang Youwei would go further by expanding on this contract: it was to be a renewable one-year contract.

37The feminist perspective of the commentary is clear in another passage concerning a more technical aspect of the ritual. The text departs from the classical sentence “The lord and his wife alternate offerings” (君與夫人交獻):

君一獻夫人再獻君三獻夫人四獻故曰交獻古者大禮必夫婦親之自陽侯殺繆侯而取其妻而後大饗廢夫人之禮此蓋偶因鑒懲而相沿成風非禮之本也天下無因噎廢食者則豈可廢夫婦交獻之禮哉?

  • 44 Kang 1987, 250.

The Lord makes the first offering, his wife the second, the Lord the third and his wife the fourth. That is what is called “alternating offerings.” In ancient times, both husband and wife participated in important rites. But the wife’s ritual participation in the Great offering was abandoned after Duke Yang killed Duke Mu in order to take away his wife (whom he had seen during the Great offering). This is most probably a circumstantial ban, which by being repeatedly followed becomes an established custom. It has never been seen in the world that people stop eating because some people have choked. Why should we therefore abandon the ritual of alternating between husband and wife?44

38Kang Youwei extends this equality in sharing ritual tasks to all couples. It is no longer an obligation exclusive to the lord and his wife. The gloss of “haven” as “grand” is without doubt a philological coup. But we may also underline that it allows Kang Youwei to develop a potential aspect of the Record of Ritual; he gives an important ritual role to the ruler’s wife –a theme on which the “Signification of Sacrifice” chapter (“Jiyi” 祭義) dwells on by offering an in-depth reflection on the ritual role of the sovereign’s wife.

Comparative commentaries in a universalist perspective

  • 45 Kang 1987, 242: 大人 […] 城壑溝池以為固.

39In his commentary to the classical paragraph on Lesser Prosperity, Kang Youwei provides a detailed reflection on each of the characteristics of this stage, namely hereditary transmission, national boundaries, hierarchy, and land distribution. The emergence of boundaries is described in the Classic in the following terms: “The powerful […] consider that their strength lies in the depth of the moat and the height of the walls.”45 Without departing far from the meaning of the text this time, Kang discusses the idea of boundaries: despite their primary function being security, they inevitably lead to disorder and violence.

國土互峙上下相疑於是築城鑿池以備不虞而保民保境較之野蠻不知設險自衛者自為少智矣然因有國界遂成殺禍限禁人民阻兵攻劫至有屠灌全餓之慘其傷民甚其去道亦遠矣

  • 46 Kang 1987, 241.

The territories stand facing each other, the superiors and the inferiors distrust each other: then, walls are built, ditches are dug, in order to protect themselves from the unpredictable. Regarding the protection of the people and the borders, it proves a certain sagacity –notably in comparison with the barbarians who are ignorant of any defence and self-protection. However, by the very fact that there are borders, this generates killings and disasters; it hinders the people; the use of armies causes invasions and raids; it leads to such cruel things as massacres and famines. This seriously harms the people and deviates far from the Way.46

  • 47 See Brusadelli 2014, 151: “A multiethnic structure such as the Great Qing, once reformed and brough (...)

40Here, it appears clear that, despite Kang’s admiration for some aspects of European modernity, the nation-state model was not worth emulating. In a recent article, Federico Brusadelli has indeed explained how much Kang was attached to the Manchu empire because of its multi-ethnic character.47 In the commentary on the “Evolution of Ritual” chapter, the desire to transcend boundaries takes the form of systematic comparisons: the commentary is filled with comparisons (in 57 instances). In discussing ritual, Kang benchmarks the evolution of material civilisation in China against other parts of the world, such as Egypt, Greece, India, or the United States.

41In the short presentation of the whole chapter which forms the very beginning of the commentary, Kang Youwei already establishes a strong link between ritual in China and “law” in Greece:

禮者猶希臘之言憲法特兼該神道較廣大耳

  • 48 Kang 1987, 238.

The ritual is comparable to what is called “law” in Greece, but has the particularity of encompassing the sacred dimension, and in this regard, it is broader.48

  • 49 Kang 1987, 246.
  • 50 Ancient administrative division, corresponding to present day Tengchong 騰沖, on the border with Myan (...)

42Although numerous, the diverse comparisons are not developed at all. They remain, throughout the commentary, more like very brief allusions. Their occurrences are particularly noteworthy in the commentary on the two paragraphs about the beginning of ritual, and its evolution following the progress in the material living conditions (paragraphs 7 and 8 in Kang’s division): the classical text describes how, in ancient times, people were able to show their respect to the spirits and the dead, despite their not even having vases to offer alcohol, nor instruments to play ritual music. Here, Kang’s comparison of China with other ancient civilisations such as “Egypt, Syria, India, or Persia” intends to show the universality of “the extreme importance given to the service to the ancestors and the spirits” (皆以事鬼神為至重).49 He also insists on the anteriority of the “signification of ritual” (li yi 禮義) over the “instruments of ritual” (li qi 禮器) by referring to diverse indigenous peoples: “the tribes of Tengyue,50 the ‘raw barbarian’ (shengfan 生番) in the islands of Taiwan, the South-Pacific or Borneo, and tribes in Africa” have a rich ritual life despite the lack of “instruments.” The eighth paragraph of the Classic highlights the material evolution which caused changes in the instruments of ritual. It concludes by reminding that the function of the rites resides in “nourishing the living and taking leave of the dead, serving the ancestors, the spirits and the supreme sovereign. (In that, the rites) all follow the early state (of ritual)” (以養生送死以事鬼神上帝皆從其朔). Kang Youwei’s commentary to this passage reads as follows:

凡一國之後其飲食、衣服、宮室所以養生送死事鬼神上帝皆從古人但制作日精文明日盛而禮日密耳事鬼神、上帝乃大地生人之公理印度婆羅門謂之大梵天王.[] 猶太謂之耶和華迦南謂之碧綠波斯謂之呵馬札其為上帝則一也

  • 51 Here Kang mentions a translation of Brahma by the expression Baming 八明, which he has found in a Fei (...)
  • 52 Kang 1987, 248.

Each particular country follows what its ancient people used to do regarding diet, clothing style, architecture, and way of nourishing the living, taking leave of the dead, and of serving the ancestors, the spirits and the supreme sovereign. But production becomes more and more elaborate over time, civilisation more and more brilliant, and the rites more and more precise! Serving the ancestors, the spirits and the supreme sovereign is a universal principle among all men living on earth. Brahmins in India refer to Brahma. […]51 Jews refer to Jehovah. Canaanites refer to Baal. Persians refer to Ahura Mazda. They are all one by their conception of the supreme sovereign.52

43Kang’s comparisons allow him to highlight the unceasing transformation of ritual. It changes through time and across space. And he finally asserts that if we go back to the origin of ritual (i.e. its fundamental meaning), we may discern the universality behind the apparent diversity.

44Kang’s iterative use of comparisons sometimes leads to a renewal of traditional images. It is particularly the case at the end of the “Liyun” chapter, where we find a description of ritual harmony in which the animal world is included:

鳳皇麒麟皆在郊棷龜龍在宮沼其餘鳥獸之卵胎皆可俯而闚也

Phoenixes and unicorns all gather in the grasslands around the cities, turtles and dragons in the lake of the imperial park; as for birds and beasts, humans only have to bend down to see their eggs or their babies all around.

Kang’s commentary (conclusion):

今美之黄石園其馴熊可近而豢獅可戲矣衆生和同故孳乳繁多也極言大順之效而皆由修禮之能體信達義而致其順也。夫禮時為大,順次之.小康得其順,大同則因其時.此言小康為多,故大明順之義也.

  • 53 Kang 1987, 266.

Nowadays in Yellowstone Park in America, the trained bears can be approached and the domestic lions can be played with. All the living beings are together in harmony; hence they grow and multiply. This is the complete expression of the effect produced by accordance; and accordance is attained through the cultivation of rites, by which we can give substance to trust and grasp the appropriate meaning. The highest level in ritual is timeliness, and then accordance. When accordance is attained in time of Lesser Prosperity, then Grand Unity occurs in its own time. Here, the major part of the discourse deals with Lesser Prosperity, and thus sheds a great light on the signification of accordance.53

45Kang Youwei could have found in the Chinese tradition edifying accounts of how animals were attracted to the civilising virtue of righteous rulers, and how, in this sense, the boundaries between humans and animals could be crossed. Nonetheless, Kang’s commentary did not evoke Chinese imperial parks, but the American Yellowstone Park (or at least some strange information he had about bears and lions in this park). By refusing to look for precedents in the past, and raising an example from abroad, Kang not only gave the ultimate image of accordance, or concord, the stage to be attained before Grand Unity, but he also outlined that it could be pursued in its own time.

Conclusion

46One fundamental reason behind Kang’s interest for this evocation of the Grand Unity in a ritual text may well have been his vision of a continuous evolution as well as his apprehensiveness toward the dangers of any “forced” transformation. To him, the only safe transformation was a transformation from within, hence from the classical tradition. The apparent opposition between the hierarchical order based on distinctions as cultivated and magnified by the rites and the ritual texts, and the equality which is at the centre of modernity according to Kang, was precisely overcome in the Liyun chapter. The text articulated both stages, of distinction and of equality. For many literati before Kang, this was the very proof of the composite, if not heterodox, nature of this chapter. But for Kang, it offered a possible and continuous way leading from disorder, to distinction and finally to concord. The zha sacrifice which constitutes the “stage” for Confucius’ words, was precisely the moment when this continuity was put into practice, the concord being attained through the development of ritual.

47This carefully crafted commentary extolled the profound need to anchor modernity in the classical corpus, in order to escape the accusation of simply adorning Western concepts with Chinese classical words. But the very content of the text, which stresses the necessity of overcoming the multiple boundaries and limits, shows that for Kang Youwei, the commentary was not only instrumental, neither did it merely possess a rhetorical function; it was deeply linked to Kang’s view of universality. His idea was probably that Confucian scholars would play a leading role in the reform, as it had been the case before. In general, Kang seemed to be simultaneously highly conscious of the profound crisis experienced by his country, and of the extreme urgency to act, and in a certain sense confident about the possibility of finding tools for modernisation in China’s own intellectual and political tradition, thanks to classical texts, or by preserving the relationship between the Emperor and his counsellors.

48This complex way of answering a tragic situation would, however, soon become impossible. The transformation of times took place far more quickly than he had expected. His project may have been a daring reform at the end of the 19th century, but twenty years later it was already considered as an ultraconservative project of restoration. The philosopher and historian Zhu Qianzhi 朱謙之 (1899–1972), an early anarchist and friend of Mao Zedong 毛澤東, considered that the distinction between Grand Unity and Lesser Prosperity was by itself, on the philological level, a forgery, and on the political level, a treason to revolution:

今人康長素全不問《禮運》原文是否可靠還要分別甚麽「大同」「小康」一面把「大同」一段認爲孔子理想的社會制度一面又甘心受古代作僞之人的欺瞞拿「小康」一段以完成他極右的復辟派的論潮

  • 54 Zhu 2002, 515.

Nowadays Kang Youwei does not raise any question about the authenticity of the “Liyun” chapter and, even worse, makes this distinction between Grand Unity and Lesser Prosperity. On the one side, he considers the paragraph about Grand Unity as the expression by Confucius of his ideal social system, and on the other side, he nevertheless meekly accepts to be cheated by forgers of the ancient times and uses the paragraph on Lesser Prosperity to complete his radical right theory of Restoration.54

49In his commentary, Kang Youwei had in a certain way already given an answer to this attack, with a sentence which could appear far-sighted to our eyes:

若未至其時強行大同強行公產則道路未通風俗為善人種未良且貽大害

  • 55 Kang 1987, 242.

If it is not yet time, and you nevertheless forcibly put Grand Unity and Communism into practice, then it will provoke a great disaster, because the path is not yet opened, the customs are not yet refined, the human race has not yet improved.55

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Leese, Daniel, 2012, “‘Revolution’: Conceptualizing Political and Social Change in the Late Qing Dynasty,” Oriens Extremus 51: 25–61.

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Notes

1 A first version of this work was presented at the international colloquium “All about the Rites: from canonised ritual to ritualised society,” organised by Professors Anne Cheng and Stéphane Feuillas at the Collège de France (21–22 June 2018), but it was considerably enriched by the remarks and exchanges which followed this presentation and during a seminar given with Anne Cheng on Kang Youwei’s reading of the “Liyun” chapter (November 2018-January 2019). Thanks to the Institut Universitaire de France (IUF), I also benefited from considerable facilities for my documentary research on Kang Youwei during a study period at the National Library of Taiwan (May 2018). Many thanks are also due to Professor Rachel Juan (National Cheng-chi University) for kindly hosting me during this period, and to Doctor Joseph Ciaudo for his very judicious corrections and suggestions.

2 The question of the dating of this commentary, whose preface displays the wrong date of 1884, is discussed below.

3 See Brusadelli 2020.

4 According to Daniel Leese, Kang Youwei is most probably the first Chinese intellectual to use the expression geming 革命 to designate the idea of “revolution,” a complete structural change (and not a mere dynastic change, which is the traditional meaning of the compound), but he would then avoid using this notion. Hence, in his commentary about the “Evolution of Ritual,” the word geming is absent. Kang Youwei would later be strongly opposed, as a reformist, to revolutionaries such as Sun Yat-sen, but some ideas developed in his commentary can still be described as revolutionary, although he considers that their emergence can be attained through a gradual process, see Leese 2012.

5 The Rituals of Zhou (Zhouli 周禮), also known as the Administration of Zhou (Zhouguan 周官), is considered as an ideal representation of the political system of the Zhou dynasty. Except during the interregnum of Wang Mang (9-23 A.D.), the study of this Classic was not sponsored by the state.

6 This book was written by Zheng Boqian 鄭伯謙 (Song dynasty). It describes an ideal local government inspired by the institutions as presented in the Rituals of Zhou.

7 Compilation by Ma Duanlin 馬端臨, published at the beginning of the 14th century.

8 See Kang 1976, vol. 22, 11.

9 The “Taiping heavenly kingdom” (Taiping Tianguo 太平天國) was founded in South-East China in 1851 and set up institutions partly inspired by the Zhouli. It was defeated by the imperial army in 1864. About the Zhouli as a constant source of inspiration for political reforms in China, see Elman and Kern 2010.

10 As Benjamin Elman has it, “New Text advocates turned to the Gongyang Commentary (Gongyang zhuan) for Confucius’s Spring and Autumn Annals, one of the Five Classics, because it was the only New Text commentary on the Classics that had survived intact from the Former Han dynasty. Recorded in ‘contemporary-style script’ (…), the Gongyang Commentary provided textual support for the Former Han New Text school’s portrayal of Confucius as a visionary of institutional change, an ‘uncrowned king.’” See Elman 2015, 238.

11 See Cheng 1995.

12 Zhu 1998. In the introduction to his edition of the Shili gongfa and the Datong shu, Zhu Weizheng notes that in the entire Shili gongfa “there is not even one word about Confucius, nor about the Liji or any other Confucian Classic.” (p. 7).

13 His second memorial of remonstrance (Gongche shangshu 公車上書), written in reaction to the catastrophic treatise of Shimonoseki in 1895, was translated into French by Roger Darrobers: see Kang 2016.

14 Among them were Kang Youwei’s young brother, Kang Guangren 康廣仁 (1867–1898), and the philosopher Tan Sitong 譚嗣同 (1865–1898).

15 Kang 1976.

16 Chang 2015.

17 The dating of the Liyun zhu is discussed by Qian 1997, 772–775. See also Zhu 1998, 32: Zhu Weizheng considers that the commentary could not have been written before 1901, because it displays some concepts developed during this period. According to Tang Zhijun, the commentary was written around 1897, see Tang 1986.

18 Some parts of the Introduction were translated by Hsiao 1975, 47–48.

19 Kang 1987, 236.

20 Ji , here translated as “record,” originally refers to the notes accompanying the description of ritual practices from the Zhou dynasty or the preceding dynasties. See Shiji, j. 47, 1935–1936 for a first occurrence of the expression Li ji 禮記 attributed to Confucius. Later these notes would be considered to explain the signification of rituals or to complete some points which are not clear enough in the Classic (Yili 儀禮 or Shili 士禮) which is supposed to transmit the ancient ritual. From mere addenda, these notes would later be edited as such and developed, sometimes following threads which are absent from the classic. Even in Zheng Xuan’s commentary, Liji as a title is not systematically associated with the transmitted Liji and actually refers sometimes to a chapter of the Yili.

21 Hu Yin 胡寅 (1098–1156).

22 Zhuzi yulei 朱子語類, j. 87.4 (“Li si” 禮四): see Zhu 2010, vol. 17, 2958.

23 Kang 1987, 237.

24 This character also appears in chapters 24 and 25 of the Zhuangzi, where he is described as a minister of Chu , versed in non-action, and deeply admired by Confucius, who meets him on a hypothetical journey to Chu.

25 Zhuangzi 莊子, chap. 20 (“Mountain Trees” 山木). English translation reproduced from Watson 1968, 211.

26 Liezi 列子, chap. 5 (“Questions of King Tang” 湯問). English translation reproduced from Graham 1960, 102.

27 If we follow Sima Qian’s chronology, Ziyou was 45 years younger than Confucius, see Shiji, j. 67 (“Zhongni dizi liezhuan” 仲尼弟子列傳), 2201. According to Qian Mu, this chronology demonstrates that the dialogue is a complete fiction: Qian Mu supposes that Confucius was then Minister of Justice (sikou 司寇) in the realm of Lu. Confucius left his native place when he was 55 years old, so it would mean that this dialogue took place when Ziyou was at best 10 years old… See Qian 1986, 72.

28 On the distinction between the zha and la sacrifices and their later confusion, see Bodde 1975, 72, which generally defines zha as a “communal outdoor festival,” while “the la, by contrast, centers on the ancestors and the household gods; as such, it is a family indoor festival.” Zha and la sometimes coexisted, but in 584, the zha sacrifice was considered heterodox and was definitely abolished, see also Granet 1982, 173.

29 Liji jijie 1990, 1115.

30 According to Zheng Xuan, when Zigong says he does not understand, he in fact criticises the way of practicing this sacrifice (怪之也) and when Confucius retorts that indeed, he does not understand, he means that he is not able to understand the great signification (非汝所知言其義大).

31 Much later, Su Shi would also emphasise the carnival-like atmosphere of the sacrifice zha/la, highlighting that here also, like in the other sacrifices, impersonators are needed, not for the deceased ancestors, but for the spirits which cooperated for harvest. There should thus have been disguised buffoons participating in the festival. See Su Shi’s 蘇軾 “About Sacrifices” (jisi 祭祀) in Su 2003, 64: “The zha sacrifice to the eight spirits is a festival of the Three Dynasties. At the end of the year, people would gather together for the festival. This is a necessary dimension in human affects, and thus it was given a ritual expression. I would add this: it was not only a festival, it was also a sacrifice, and as such, impersonators were needed. Who would act as impersonators of cats and tigers (note of the translator: they were included among the ‘eight spirits’ which helped harvest, as killers of mice and boars)? […] Who else but buffoons! […] When Zigong expressed his distaste for the zha sacrifice, Confucius made the following comparison: ‘The way of kings Wen and Wu is the alternation of release and tension.’ This was the meaning of this sacrifice.” 八蠟三代之戲禮也歲終聚戲此人情之所不免也因附以禮義亦曰「不徒戲而已矣祭必有屍無屍曰『奠』始死之奠與釋奠是也」今蠟謂之「祭」蓋有尸也貓虎之尸誰當為之[…] 非倡優而誰[…] 子貢觀蠟而不悅孔子譬之曰「一張一弛文、武之道」蓋為是也

32 Zheng Xuan also comments on Confucius’ location, a tower in the capital of the realm of Lu.

33 Kang 1987, 238-239.

34 Lunyu 論語, XIV.38. Translated by Simon Leys, see Nylan 2014, 44.

35 See Chen Hao 陳澔 of the Yuan dynasty who quotes a certain Wang from Shiliang: 石梁王氏曰以五帝之世為大同以禹、湯、文、武、成王、周公為小康有老氏意 (Liji jishuo 2009, 120). In his general introduction to the chapter, Chen Hao follows this idea: “(This chapter) sometimes offers right adages, but the discourse on Datong and Xiaokang at the beginning of the chapter does not belong to Confucius.” 閒有格言而篇首大同小康之說則非夫子之言也. Another argument in favour of the “heterodox” character of the opening paragraphs remains the fact that the “Liyun” chapter in the Kongzi jiayu 孔子家語 does present numerous parallel passages with the “Liyun” in the Liji, but not with regard to the notion of Xiaokang, thus diminishing the opposition between the two stages.

36 This notice was originally written for the Xuxiu Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 續修四庫全書總目提要: Huang 2003, 453–456.

37 About Zhu Xi’s transformation of the “Daxue” chapter into a Daxue book, see Lee 2015.

38 See Lunyu III, 9.

39 Kang 1987, 263-264.

40 The expression is taken from the “Liqi” 禮器 chapter.

41 See Mengzi, “Li Lou, xia” 離婁下.

42 Kang 1987, 236. The final quote is from Lunyu 論語, XIV.38. Translated by Simon Leys, see Nylan 2014, 44.

43 Kang 1987, 240.

44 Kang 1987, 250.

45 Kang 1987, 242: 大人 […] 城壑溝池以為固.

46 Kang 1987, 241.

47 See Brusadelli 2014, 151: “A multiethnic structure such as the Great Qing, once reformed and brought back to the domain of gong, is much closer to the ideal of Datong than a nation-state whose borders are brushed on racial premises, Kang suggests”.

48 Kang 1987, 238.

49 Kang 1987, 246.

50 Ancient administrative division, corresponding to present day Tengchong 騰沖, on the border with Myanmar.

51 Here Kang mentions a translation of Brahma by the expression Baming 八明, which he has found in a Fei da jing 費大經. I was not able to find out which work he refers to.

52 Kang 1987, 248.

53 Kang 1987, 266.

54 Zhu 2002, 515.

55 Kang 1987, 242.

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