John B Henderson
Louisiana State University
Kang Youwei's Reshaping of the Mencius
Panel: Reshaping Classical Chinese Texts
AAS Convention, Washington DC, 6 April 2002
According to Kang Youwei, the received seven-chapter version of the Mencius obscured the "subtle words with great significance" inherent in the classic. In particular, this arrangement confused the nature of the Confucian legacy in the Mencius (the "Saint Paul" of the Confucian tradition), and contributed to the false impression that Mencius was party to the fragmentation of the Dao that allegedly occurred after Confucius's death. In order to illuminate this Confucian legacy, and to make it possible for students to reach the heights of Confucius by entering through the "gate" of Mencius, Kang rearranged the standard text of the Mencius. His reconstituted first chapter presents passages from the Mencius that give a general overview of the "great ideas" in the text, while his subsequent chapters highlight each of these major ideas, such as "human nature and destiny" (Chapter 2) and the "heart-mind and body" (Chapter 3), all in proper pedagogical order. By the end of his reading of Kang's reconstruction, the student should be able to understand how the unfragmented Dao of Confucius is reflected in the syncretism of Mencius.
Kang Youwei protests that his arrangement of the Mencius, far from disordering the classic, actually helps the student to systematically seek the Dao. In justifying this reconstruction, Kang implicitly dissents from the widespread commentarial assumption that the received order or arrangement of the words of the classic itself reflects the truth or teaching of the canon.
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1 Nov 2001 / Contact The Project / Conferences Page