Gallery of Philologists

Yen Rwo-jyw

11 November 1636 - 9 July 1704


Yen Rwo-jyw, a classicist and mathematician, devoted much time to the Gu-wvn or "Old Text" Shang-shu over the period 1655-1685. He demonstrated conclusively that this corpus of sixteen documents was spurious, and that, despite its ancient pedigree and ancient preface, it had been written only in the 4th century. The pedigree was false, and the preface was a forgery. This was not the first such attack on the Gu-wvn Shang-shu (Mei Tzu had written a monograph on the subject in 1543), or even the only one in his generation (the slightly younger Yau Ji-hvng had compiled a 30-chapter work on the subject, a work which is now lost). But it was Yen's demonstration that caught the attention of his contemporaries, and, in effect, successfully impugned a venerated classic. This opened the door in principle for the criticism of other texts in the official canon. It demonstrated the possibility of winning a skirmish with received opinion.

Yen also investigated the classic Da Sywe ("The Higher Learning"), disputing its traditional attribution to Dzvngdz. He investigated the dates of Mencius. His researches into historical geography, first printed in 1696, are regarded as a valuable contribution to that field, and were subsequently reprinted with augmentations by others. His work throughout shows a fine sense of the importance of time and space, one may say more generally the importance of reality, in understanding the ancient writings.

To Next

1 Dec 2005 / Contact The Project / Exit to Gallery Index Page