Inspiration from 'Historical Records: Essentials of Six Schools' for Modern Life (Part 1 of 7)
The Importance of Combining Classics and History
From the 19th century till now, human history and life have undergone great changes. With the development of science and technology, humans have entered the electronic and digital age, computers and artificial intelligence are advancing exponentially. What is the future of human beings? How different are we from our ancient counterparts?
The Han Chinese claim to be descendants of the Yan and Huang tribes. Since the Yellow Emperor, we have a history of more than 5,000 years. According to the "Shan Hai Jing", we have a history of 2 million years. The exact number of years is not being discussed here. An ancient Chinese historical figure once said, "A sage emerges in 500 years." According to this calculation, 500 years after Confucius, a sage was born. This was Sima Qian during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). Confucius sorted out the ancient cultural classics, which were recorded starting from the Yao Dian. Sima Qian produced complete histories of all the ancient cultures before the Yao Dian. Yet he was more than just a historian. A reading of all the "SHIJI (Historical Records)", shows that Sima Qian was a polymath who had knowledge of astronomy, natural science, geography, and what is now known as sociology. In addition, the full text of "Historical Records" includes the chapters of "Historical Records: Books", including books on rituals, music, law, almanacs, Tianguan, Fengchan, Hequ and Ping Zhun. These include expertise on astronomy, geography and calendars.
"Historical Records" was written by Sima Qian 2000 years ago. It needs to be read and thought about carefully. In "Historical Records", the summary of the cultures of various schools of thought is in the "Preface to Tai Shi Gong". This section "On the Essentials of the Six Schools" is Sima Qian's father, Sima Tan (“Tai Shi Gong”, the government official in charge of libraries/history records), who made an evaluation and conclusion of the six major cultural schools at that time. The comparison is both masterful and subtle.
The original text is as follows:
Let's start with the first paragraph:
"The world is the same, but there are hundreds of different thoughts, which lead to different routes but toward the same goal. Yin and yang, Confucianism, Mohism, Legalism, Dialectician/Logicism, and Taoism are the main ones, all teach different ways to try to solve problems in society and life. It is a matter of simplicity or complexity."
During the Spring and Autumn Period (710-481 BCE) and the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE), after hundreds of years of war and turmoil, there was an era of unprecedented academic riches in Chinese history, this is commonly known as the "Hundred Schools of Philosophy". Therefore, Tai Shigong first quoted Confucius’ explanation in I-Ching (“the Book of Changes”) to give an overview: the truth of the world is the same, but everyone’s thinking methods and opinions are different. No matter which path academic schools take, they will eventually come back to a path of truth. At that time, there were six main academic schools: Yin Yang School, Confucianism, Mohism, Legalism, Logicism and Taoism. These six academic schools were created to deal with various problems in human society and life. “Simple or complex” means that the methods and emphases taught by each school are different. Each school taught varying degrees of theories and knowledge in different aspects, and there are differences between simplicity and complexity. Some methods are simple and easy to implement, while others are complicated and difficult to implement.
When reading ancient Chinese books, one must read them in conjunction with the history of the time in order to understand the contemporary meaning of the words. The historical background of the early Han Dynasty is quoted here as a reference to give a better understanding. After the founding of the Western Han Dynasty, because the legalist rule of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) was draconian and ordinary people's lives were miserable, the policy of the early Han Dynasty was to recuperate, which is what later generations said "show Confucianism externally and use Huangdi & Laozi internally". Liu Heng, the son of Liu Bang, Emperor Gaozu of the Han Dynasty, was Emperor Wen of the same dynasty, and continued to follow the policy of incremental recuperation in the early Han Dynasty. The empress of Emperor Wenwen was Concubine Dou, who was later called Empress Dowager Dou. This Empress Dowager Dou also adopted the theories of the Yellow Emperor and Laozi. Liu Qi, the son of Emperor Wen of the Han Dynasty, also learned the theory of "Huang Lao" under the influence of his mother. This has famously gone down in history as the “Rule of Wen & Jing”. During the period of Emperor Wen and Emperor Jing, Confucian scholars were not promoted. When Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, Liu Che ascended the throne, and Empress Dowager Dou gained the title and recognition that she is now known for, many Confucian scholars were dissatisfied that they had not been hired and put in government positions, and encouraged Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty to implement new policies and promote Confucian scholars. Because of the opposition of Empress Dowager Dou, Emperor Wu was unable to implement the New Deal until after the death of Empress Dowager Dou, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty implemented the New Deal, using Confucian scholar Dong Zhongshu, and implemented the New Deal of "removing all schools of thought and respecting Confucianism alone" and "divine power of the monarch".
This article "On the Essentials of the Six Schools" was written under such a background. The content of these six schools of thought is not as simple as is widely imagined in modern times. 2000 years ago, Chinese culture had reached the highest point of wisdom and achievement in human history. If modern people can carefully study the content of each school, they will know that the schools that emerged in modern times are also "the same goal but different routes". Despite this, the method of explanation and the texts have changed, and the content can never surpass the wisdom of the ancients. This is also the key to modern people's need for objective learning.