Huang Tsung-hsi or Pinyin Huang Zongxi (黃宗羲, 1610-1695) or Huang Li-chou was a Chinese political theorist, philosopher, and soldier during the latter part of the Ming dynasty and into the early part the Ch’ing dynasty. Huang and his father were part of the Tung-lin movement, an effort by the gentry and government bureaucrats to initiate political reform. Concerned by the despotism of the emperors and the degradation and corruption among government officials, members of the Tung-lin established private academies and challenged the emperor to share power with a professional administration.
After the Manchu conquest in 1946, Huang Tsung-hsi abandoned politics and became a historian and a political philosopher. Huang is best known as a historian and the founder of the eastern Chekiang school, which attempted to develop objective, rather than personal and moral standards, for historical analysis. Huang's first major work, the Ming-i tai-fang lu (1662; Waiting for the Dawn: A Plan for the Prince), offered a number of general premises of political philosophy as well as practical suggestions for reform. His work, Ming-ju hsüeh-an (Records of Confucian Thought in the Ming Period) is one of the first comprehensive attempts in intellectual history at a systematic analysis of a historical period.
During the late Ming dynasty, between approximately 1530 and 1630, the Ming autocracy was challenged by an elite reaction against "authoritarian Confucianism." Chinese emperors were no longer involved in the daily affairs of the state, with the consequence that factions of eunuchs and the aristocratic gentry vied for power and control of the government. Many of the gentry had established strong local political bases, and organized private academies where scholars studied political philosophy and advocated reform. The conflict between these locally-organized private academies and the imperial court reached a climax in the early seventeenth century, when the Tung-lin Academy in Wu-hsi joined neighboring academies in Wu-chin and l-hsing in the Ch'ang-chou faction and influenced imperial policy in Peking. They reached the height of their power between 1621 and 1624.
In 1621, the young Emperor T'ien-ch'i came to the throne, and fell under the influence of his closest advisor, the eunuch Wei Chung-hsien. Wei’s faction at court gradually undermined the power of the Tung-lin representatives, and despite their high positions, they were dismissed from office. In the summer of 1625, Tung-lin leaders were purged, arrested, and tortured to death. The private academies were denounced as politically subversive organizations, and the emperor ordered them destroyed throughout the empire, especially those in Ch'ang-chou and Su-chou prefectures because these were assumed to be part of the Tung-lin organization. The halls of the Tung-lin Academy, partially destroyed in 1625, were completely torn down by imperial order in 1626.
Wei Chung-hsien's reign of terror could not suppress the political forces unleashed by the Tung-lin partisans. After Wei fell into disgrace in 1627 and committed suicide, private academies and associations re-emerged. Factionalism and political controversies destabilized the last reigns of the Ming dynasty.
Huang Tsung-hsi (黃宗羲) was born in 1610, the son of Huang Tsun-su (黄尊素), a prominent official and scholar-reformer in Peking, and a member of the Eastern Grove Society (Donglin Movement, or Tung-lin). The Tung-lin group advocated a return to political morality, and often held secret meetings in Huang's home to discuss political problems and strategy. They actively opposed the rapacious activities of Wei Chung-hsien, a powerful and unscrupulous eunuch, who dominated the young emperor and rose to almost absolute control in the court.
In 1625, Huang Tsun-su was dismissed from office, and the following year he was killed in prison for criticizing Wei Chung-hsien. Huang Tsung-hsi set forth for the capital, determined to avenge his father's death by killing the officials involved. Before he could carry out these intentions, a new emperor took the throne and purged the eunuch faction; Wei Chung-hsien committed suicide.
After clearing his father's name, and bringing those responsible for his death to justice, Huang devoted himself to a life of study. In his youth, Huang had developed an interest in history and literature which was further culitvated by his marriage to the daughter of a writer and playwright. Until 1649, Huang was primary a political critic and activist. In the 1630s, he had joined the Fu-she, a society similar to that in which his father had participated, and once narrowly escaped being arrested for signing a petition deploring corruption in the court of the late Ming dynasty.
Though he was critical of the government, Huang remained loyal to the Ming dynasty and was outraged by the Manchu conquest of China in 1644. He spent the 1640s involved in the anti-Manchu resistance movements centering around the various heirs of the Ming imperial family in South China. Huang rose to very high political office in the administration of one of the heirs to the fallen Ming throne, but it became evident that the cause was hopeless. In 1649, Huang retired from military and political activities.
Huang Tsung-hsi refused to accept service under the Ch’ing dynasty of the Manchu, and from 1649 until his death in 1695, he devoted his life to scholarship. In 1679, he refused an offer from the emperor K’ang-hsi to compete in a special examination to select historians to compile the official history of the Ming dynasty. Most of his later life was spent near his birthplace in the coastal province of Chekiang, except for a number of visits to important scholars.
Huang is best known as a historian and the founder of the eastern Chekiang school, which attempted to develop objective, rather than personal and moral standards, for historical analysis. Huang advocated objective research and general interpretation, and emphasized the study of recent history instead of following the Confucian tradition of looking to the ancient past for guidance. Huang wrote several works of history, including accounts of the Southern Ming loyalist regimes which arose after the Manchu conquest. The Eastern Chekiang school had a strong influence on later historians.
Huang’s interests included mathematics, geography, calendrical science, literature, philosophy, and the Chinese classics. He wrote many critical analyses of earlier periods in Chinese philosophy. Among his several works of criticism were several volumes of Ming-ju hsüeh-an (Records of Confucian Thought in the Ming Period), a monumental accomplishment, and one of the first comprehensive attempts in intellectual history at a systematic analysis of a period. Huang also compiled several anthologies of literature, as well as writing prose and poetry himself. At the time of his death, Huang Zongxi left behind Sung Yüan hsüeh-an (1846, posthumous; Survey of Sung and Yüan Confucianists), an uncompleted survey of the Song (960–1279) and Yuan (1206–1368) dynasties which attempted the same kind of systematic study as Ming-ju hsüeh-an.
Huang was notable for being one of the first Neo-Confucians to stress the need for constitutional law. He also openly advocated the belief that ministers should be openly critical of their emperor; and that rulers held a responsibility to their country.
＝＝Waiting for the Dawn: A Plan for the Prince＝＝ Huang's first major work, the Ming-i tai-fang lu (1662; Waiting for the Dawn: A Plan for the Prince), completed when he was 52-years-old, was a critique of despotism in Chinese history. The book offered a number of general premises of political philosophy as well as practical suggestions for reform. Huang was deeply disturbed by the condition of the Chinese government and society during the late Ming and early [[|Ch'ing dynasty|Ch’ing periods]], and hoped that some later regime would implement the reforms outlined in his treatise.
Like the ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius, Huang argued that government must promote the happiness of the people. Feeling that the imperial government had become too autocratic, Huang urged emperors to place more responsibility in the hands of their ministers. He proposed that the office of prime minister, which had been in existence in ancient times, be revived as a way for the emperor to share his power with his high officials. The influence of the eunuchs (personal attendants to the emperor and his family) should be greatly reduced, and the government should police corruption among the clerks and officials of local government.
Huang recommended that the legal code be revised to reflect the interests of the common people, and that the law be made into an impersonal embodiment of justice rather than an arbitrarily exercise of power by despotic regimes. He advocated the establishment of a universal system of public education in order to increase the pool of talented scholars from whom administrators could be drawn. Civil service examinations should concentrate more on contemporary affairs and current problems. All land should be publicly owned and distributed by the government on the basis of need.
The full impact of Ming-i tai-fang lu was not felt until the declining years of the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911), when study of his works was revived by Chinese reformers around the beginning of the twentieth century.
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