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  • Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary , and the Classical Tradition
  • Suck Choi (bio)
Daniel K. Gardner . Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary , and the Classical Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. 226 pp. Paperback $19.50, ISBN 0-231-12865-7.

This book is Daniel K. Gardner's third excellent contribution to the contemporary scholarship of East Asian intellectual history. He aims at a thorough understanding of Zhu Xi's reconstruction of the Confucian tradition and an effective demonstration of how Zhu's readings of the canons were different from those of He Yan, whose commentaries on the Analects were considered to be the standard for reading the text. To achieve these goals Gardner selected some passages of the Analects and arranged them according to five topics: learning, true goodness, rituals, ruling, and the gentleman and the Way, all of which were definitely central issues throughout the whole Confucian tradition and which provide the locus for an effective examination of the differences among interpretations made by different commentators. He Yan's and Zhu Xi's commentaries on each selected passage of the Analects are compared with Gardner's own comments and analyses so that the differences between them can be properly explored.

Gardner's writing aims at another goal, which he implicitly but importantly emphasizes, namely to reevaluate the historical and philosophical significance of [End Page 87] the interlinear commentary. Since Confucius mentioned himself as one who simply transmits (genuine tradition), not creates () (Analects 7:1), this has for a long time been a motto in the Confucian intellectual tradition. Many scholars have presented their understandings of the classics through their commentaries rather than through independent works. Gardner evaluates the interlinear commentary as a significant genre for understanding Chinese intellectual history:

As a sort of reflection on the words and ideas of a text, interlinear commentary conveys the commentator's understanding of the meaning of the text while it shapes and conditions future readings and understanding of that text by others, both contemporaries and later generations.

(p. 3 )

Although it is true that their commentaries, as Gardner notes, are subject to a historical logic (p. 6), this also implies that without reading these commentaries one cannot fully understand the history of the interactions among Confucian scholars and their central issues. Gardner correctly comments on the historical significance of the commentaries:

Reading the various commentaries on a canonical text allows us not only to observe that the Confucian interpretive community was, in fact, an ever changing one but also to chart in detail how ideas, beliefs, and values important to that community underwent historical changes at the hands of different interpreters over the centuries.

Thus, as a genre that illuminates the Confucian past and that documents especially well the vibrancy and changing nature of that past, commentary is indispensable to the studies of Chinese intellectual history.

(p. 6 )

However, just as Confucius was considered not simply a transmitter of his ancestors' ideas, these commentaries should be approached not simply as a review but as the original ideas of Confucian scholars. The latter aspect of the commentaries is one of the reasons why Gardner selected Zhu Xi's commentaries to the Analects, because Zhu's work of commentary on the classics shows not only its historical value but also his original ideas on diverse contemporary topics. As is well known, Zhu Xi was a synthesizer of traditional Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Only after he established his own philosophical system did he start his commentary on the traditional classics, and this work continued until the end of his life. Zhu Xi aimed at the reestablishment of the Confucian tradition, and his works, which transmitted the Confucian orthodoxy through proper commentaries on the classics, were urgently in demand. Gardner indicates the general intellectual climate of Zhu Xi's time, compared with that of He Yan's:

Whereas pluralism and relative intellectual openness characterized the atmosphere of the second and third centuries, a tendency toward defining a "correct" body of thought, an intellectual orthodoxy that would "save" the Chinese tradition and protect it from foreign influences, gained momentum in the Northern and Southern Song.

(p. 18...


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