The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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Re-thinking the Song Yuan xue’an: The Formation of the “Cheng School” as a Disciplinary Matrix and its Development in the Early Twelfth Century

Principal Investigator

CHEUNG Hiu Yu Jack

Total Fund Awarded


Funding Source

RGC General Research Fund

Abstract of Project

The birth of Daoxue 道學 during the Song dynasty (960–1279) is a key topic in Chinese intellectual history. Considering the influence of Daoxue thought on the East Asian world since the thirteenth century, the proposed research explores the origin of Daoxue by re-thinking the narrative of one of the most influential writings in Chinese intellectual history, the Song Yuan xuean 宋元學案 (Case Studies of the Learning of Song and Yuan Scholars), compiled by Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲 (1610–1695) and Quan Zuwang 全祖望 (1707–1755) in the early Qing. Specifically, my research explores the formation of the intellectual tradition found by Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033–1107) and Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032–1085), i.e., the “Cheng School” (Chengmen 程門), in the transition period from the Northern Song to the Southern Song, and how the oversimplified portrait of this tradition in the Song Yuan xuean influenced the modern conception of the early history of Daoxue.

Through an in-depth analysis of various Song sources, this research examines how the construction of the Cheng School took different approaches in the late Northern Song. The main thesis of the proposed research not only aims to challenge the conventional conception of the “Cheng School” as the academic lineage of the Cheng brothers in the Song Yuan xuean, but it also attempts to reconstruct the Chinese intellectual landscape in the early twelfth-century. By scrutinizing the writings of the friends, students, and self-proclaimed followers of the Cheng brothers, including private letters, memoirs and scholarly works, this research demonstrates how these scholars with different intellectual backgrounds actively participated in the formation and consolidation of the Cheng School. By highlighting the role played by these scholars, I will supplement the portraits of the Cheng School in the Song Yuan xuean with a more objective evaluation of the early history of Daoxue; moreover, I will demonstrate that traditionally-defined “minor” scholars were actually major contributors to this particular intellectual tradition.

Additionally, by scrutinizing the formation of the Cheng School, the proposed research demonstrates how the students of the Cheng brothers promoted the status of the Chengs and also took advantage of their masters’ reputation to enhance their own intellectual and political status in the early twelfth century. Therefore, the role played by personal interests in the development of the “Cheng School” should not be underestimated. An examination of these interests will enhance the existing study of Daoxue history by emphasizing on the role played by human factor in shaping Chinese intellectual traditions. In this light, it reveals the mentality and patterns of behavior of Chinese scholar-officials in a more nuanced way.

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