Monday, December 12, 2005

Smackdown Commentary (and its Consequences)

In reading these traditional commentaries, I keep looking for real contentiousness or partisanship bickering. I wondered if there were any Han-dynasty flame wars going on over interpreting the classics.

I found some in a book about Wang Bi's commentary on the Laozi, The Craft of a Chinese Commentator: Wang Bi on the Laozi by Rudolf Wagner. Wang Bi was a young hotshot who wrote some brilliant commentaries before dying in his early 20s. According to Wagner, Wang criticized big-name commentator Zheng Xuan in a "thinly veiled" passage of his I Ching commentary. Wagner relates a story from the Shishuo Xinyu:

When Wang Bi wrote his Commentary on the Zhouyi he made fun without qualms of [a scholar as important as] Zheng Xuan because of his Ru-theories, saying, "This old fuddyduddy is completely without brains." Thereupon he heard, in the middle of the night, suddenly steps outside the door, and a moment later something stepped forth and introduced itself: Zheng Xuan. [The ghost of Zheng] accused him: "You are so young how dare you poke holes into my writings and pick at my phrases, going so far as make fun of this old man [me, ironically Zheng Xuan calls himself laozi 老子]?" He looked very angry and left straight away. Fear and worry rose in Wang Bi's heart. After a short while he fell sick and died.


IbaDaiRon said...

Whom the gods love, what? If you're still here after 30, means you're going to have to work for it.

I'd like to see Chomsky (better, his ghost) show up outside my genkan one night....

I keep a ballbat inside the door for just such eventualities.

Huichieh said...

Just wondering if you have come across John Makeham's _Transmitters and Creators: Chinese Commentators and Commentaries on the Analects_ (Harvard, 2003)?

amida said...

Mr. Loy, thanks for stopping by!
Yeah, I like Makeham's book quite a bit.