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  • Dong Zhongshu: A 'Confucian' Heritage and the Chunqiu Fanlu by Michael Loewe
  • Paul Fischer
Dong Zhongshu: A 'Confucian' Heritage and the Chunqiu Fanlu. By Michael Loewe. Leiden: Brill, 2011. Pp. xii + 369. Hardcover $183.00, ISBN 9789004194656. eBook ISBN 9789004214866.

In Dong Zhongshu: A 'Confucian' Heritage and the Chunqiu Fanlu, eminent sinologist Michael Loewe shines a bright light on the traditionally seminal but consistently understudied figure of Dong Zhongshu. Having authored several monographs on the Han dynasty over the last four decades, including a recent two-volume Biographical Dictionary (2000) and a "Companion" to those volumes (2004),1 there is probably no one more suitable to undertake such an inquiry. Loewe's contextualization of Dong and the Chunqiu fanlu is thoroughly detailed and well documented. Kudos to Brill for continuing to include all the attendant Chinese graphs and for publishing books with footnotes rather than endnotes (even if junior faculty cannot afford to buy them). This is a work for scholars of Han intellectual history and for those interested in the thought of Dong and the compilation of the Chunqiu fanlu; it would be an exceptional undergraduate who would find delight in the scrupulous specifics of this exposition.

As the title intimates, this book consists of two analyses and one argument. The first analysis is a contextualization of Dong Zhongshu within Han history (chapter 1), a description of his life (chapter 2), and an evaluation of his writings (chapter 3) and the salient subjects about which he wrote (chapter 4). Loewe makes excellent use of Western, Chinese, and Japanese scholarship to situate Dong within the large cast of characters known to us through the standard books on Chinese history.

Chapter 1 reacquaints us with the evolving situation at the imperial court of the Han during the two centuries prior to the Wang Mang (r. 9-23) interregnum and continues another century after that break. The focus here lies on the imperial concerns of legitimacy and congruence with "cosmological" abnormalities and the ever-present past and those who proposed answers to those concerns. Chapter 2 sifts through the available sources to present as full a portrait as possible of Dong (dated here at 198-107 B.C.E.). Dong certainly lived in interesting times; unfortunately, details are scarce: "We are not informed in what circumstances Dong made his way to the capital city or how he attracted attention or received a training to achieve an entrance into public life. . . . We are not told from which masters he received instruction; nor are we given any details about his progenitors or the names of those of his descendants who, we are told, rose to high office. Nor are we certain as to where and when he died" (pp. 50-51).

What we do know of Dong derives largely from his writings, examined in chapter 3. The most reliable sources are the three responses that Dong gave to Emperor Wu (r. 141-87) in the Han shu, chapter 56. The emperor had asked for any and all wise men to come forward and proffer advice about how he might best rule in harmony [End Page 306] with the cosmos. Dong suggested that the emperor listen to heaven and that the best way to know how to harmonize his policies with heaven was to find out how it had interacted with rulers in the past. Specifically, the emperor should look to the classics (六藝), especially the Annals (春秋), and the words of Kongzi; cultivate the way(s) of goodness (仁), propriety (義), protocol (禮), and music (樂); institute an Academy (大學) for the purpose of promulgating these texts and virtues among the ministers; teach the people through local schools; pay attention to the workings of Yin and Yang, harmonize himself with the seasons, and heed omens (like eclipses); hire people according to their merit, rather than according to their family and social connections; and try to redress the imbalance between the rich and the poor. Chapter 4 assesses these goals, and several more besides, within the context of other Han scholars.

The second analysis is of the Chunqiu fanlu, and deals with transmission (chapter 5), the individual chapters (chapter 6), particularly important subjects and problems (chapter 7), and an in...


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