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III. Huan K'uan as Prose Writer

1. Stylistic Features

"Pre-Confucian" literature was in style terse, simple and direct. As authentic examples there remain the Shih-ching and parts at least of the Shu-ching. After the Ch'un Ch'iu1 period (VIIIth—Vth cents. B.C.) and especially in the era of the Warring States 2 (Vth—IIIrd cents. B.C.) came the introduction, then the general prevalence, of an involved, prolix, and ornate style. Due to the so-called southern influence, the school of Ch'u, 3 and the "diplomats", shuo-k'o,4 the one exemplified in the Chuang-tzŭ5 and the Li Sao6 of Ch'ü Yüan, 7 the other in the discourses of Su Ch'in 8 and Chang Yi, 9 and the celebrated memorial of Li Ssŭ 10 on the employment of "foreigners" in the state, 11 a more poetic and emotional style developed. In the philosophical writings of the schools of Lu and Ch'i 12 in the ante-Han period, structure is subordinated to logical exposition. 13

Chia I 14 is the typical writer of the early Han. His style is held by the lettered to be one of the most beautiful of all Chinese literature. He already manifests a tendency towards the erudite style, with frequent references to names famous in history and tradition. By Wu-ti's time this characteristic became emphasized. Two types of literary allusion appear. One takes the form of brief aphorisms, upon which the argument is developed as a preacher does with his "text". Or again the style assumes the form of a literary mosaic harmoniously pieced together by means of sentences and phrases culled from a variety of sources. The latter stylistic method undoubtedly became more favored by Huan K'uan's time with the rising tide of literary production, as well as because of the recovered writings of the pre-Ch'in period, furnishing a vast treasury to draw upon. The literary renaissance of the early Han produced material which rapidly became stereotyped in its frequency of usage.

The new erudite style depended largely upon quotations from the writings of the Confucian school, later to become the "canonical" books. Well known authors provided further material. The writers of the time indicated their reverence for the old as advocated by the Great Sage himself, by "transmitting antiquity". 15 The abundance of classical allusions and historical references led to their later often absurd applications. The work of Huan K'uan reflects in their entirety these marked literary characteristics of his time. 16 His Yen T'ieh Lun combines the style of the discourses of the Warring States and the didactic style of the philosophers; while the influence of the revival of the "old learning" in the early Han, with its reverence for the writings attributed to Confucius and his followers, is clearly discernible.

A noteworthy feature of Chinese prose style is the binome or synonym-compound. Two simple monosyllabic words with the same, or at least analogous, meanings are joined together to form a single idea. While this device is already found in the Mencius, the two words forming the binome still may usually be translated singly, i.e, each with its original meaning. The synonym-compound as employed by Huan K'uan furnishes a formidable difficulty to the translator. The two words yen t'ieh in the title of the work itself, literally "salt-iron", actually connote "state monopoly of national resources", and illustrate the fondness of the Chinese writer for the balance of two complementary words or phrases. 17 This linguistic phenomenon doubtless indicates a significant trend in the development of the essentially monosyllabic Chinese language. 18 In many cases the literal translation of the binome is superfluous. For example, chün and kuo, "provinces and demesnes", are almost invariably placed together, by literary habit, as it were. The question arises whether the binome represents a natural development of the language in an unconscious attempt to escape the difficulties of homophony; or as might be the case in relation to the written language, which appeals the eye only and not the ear, simply an affection of style.

The former hypothesis has some justification, for Chinese prose was sufficiently young to have escaped, as yet, on the whole, the later processes of "fossilisation", by being divorced from the actual spoken language. 19 The prose of the Han era, influenced doubtless by the older literature, brought to light in the "revival of antiquity" was simple in style. In discourses such as those of Chia I or as in Huai-nan-tzŭ, the style followed the Lun-yü or the Mêng-tzŭ. In narratives as found in the Shih-chi or the Ch'ien-han-shu, the Tso-chuan or Kuo-yü formed the models. The prose literature of the time, though not identical with the spoken language of the people, retained much of the natural grammar and construction. In fact, in many cases, the spoken language was partially employed and incorporated in written forms. Instances of this are found in the Shih-chi and Ch'ien-han-shu.20 Thus, while the prose of Ssŭ-ma Hsiang-ju (d. B.C. 117) is already indicative of the "fossilization" of Chinese writing, Huan K'uan at least in his liberal use of the binome retained touch with the spoken language.

2. The Citatory Element

A study of the composition of the Yen T'ieh Lun discloses a valuable deposit of material 21 indicative of the literary resources available to the Chinese writer of the first century before the Christian era. The intellectual backgrounds of the men of letters of the time are made clear through their marked predilection for the use of quotation and allusion. Our own medieval scholastics, "well read in the Latin writers", scarcely equalled in resourcefulness and versatility the literary giants of China, who could at will dig down into the colossal literature of all preceding time and extract an historical or literary similitude to round out their thought. Stereotyped and dogmatic quotation makes its appearance particularly since the Middle Han period, together with cadenced sentence and topical parallelism. Such early Han writers as Chia I 22 or Ch'ao Ts'o, 23 and their successor Tung Chung-shu, 24 are not found to employ the quotation as a mere literary affectation, but as the necessary basis upon which an argument should rest.

An examination of the borrowed material, the bagage littéraire, of Huan K'uan in his complete sixty chapters discloses some one hundred and twenty-nine direct citations from at least twenty different sources. These frequently represent variants from the present-day texts. 25 In the Yen T'ieh Lun it is noteworthy that about four-fifths (over ninety) of the quotations emanate from the side of the Worthies and Scholars, the Hsien-liang and Wên-hsüeh.26 Of the entire number, thirty citations are identified as from the Lun-yü to which may be added seven ascribed generally to K'ung Tzŭ. 27 Ten are from the Mêng-tzŭ;28 thirty-three from the Shih-ching and eighteen from the Ch'un-ch'iu (9) 29 and its commentaries (9). 30 The remaining represent direct quotations from the 1-ching (6), 31 the Shang-shu (2) 32 [Shu-ching], 33 T'ai Kung (1), 34 Kuan Tzŭ (4), 35 Lao Tzŭ (3), 36 Yen Tzŭ (1), 37 Kung-sun Lung (1), 38 Lu Lien (1) 39 [Lu Chung-lien], 40 Yang Tzŭ (1) 41 [Yang Hu or Huo], 42 Sun Tzŭ (1) 43 [Hsün Tzŭ], 44 Han Tzŭ (1) 45 [Han Fei], 46 Chia I (1), 47 and Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien (1). 48 These are all introduced by 曰 , 云 , 言 , or 有 言. Seven are ascribed to popular sayings. 49

A number of personages are mentioned in the text but with no citations from the works attributed to them. We look in vain for the name of the brilliant Chuang tzŭ. 50 The perhaps apocryphal Su Ch'in 51 and Chang I, 52 whose speeches enliven the Chan-kuo-ts'ê53 and are repeated in the Shih-chi, are made to appear in the mise en scène, but provide nothing for the argument. Tung-fang So 54 is mentioned twice, but not Tung Chung-shu, and neither are quoted. A chapter for each is devoted to Shang Yang 55 and Ch'ao Ts'o 56 but no acknowledged quotations appear from the works accredited to them. Neither the Chan-kuo-ts'ê, the Han-shih-wai-chuan,57 or the Kuo-yü58 is cited by name. Yet the six hundred and twenty-five authors and their works listed in the bibliographical section of the Ch'ien-han-shu indicate the volume of literature which may have been available to Huan K'uan. There are accordingly interesting and unexplained lacunae in the citations.

Various conclusions may be drawn from this survey. The author's later editors take it that "he enlarged upon and expanded the ideas set forth in the debate in order to form a school of thought." 59 The supposition is then that the compilation is not a verbatim report, recorded by Huan K'uan at the time of the great forum of 81 B.C. On the one hand, accordingly, it may be assumed that the compiler of the Lun had access to no other material than the authorities actually cited in his text. Many works had been destroyed in the first "bibliothecal catastrophe", the holocaust of literature instigated by Ch'in Shih Huang-ti's minister Li Ssŭ (213 B.C.). During the disorders which followed the fall of the Ch'in house, and the struggle between Han and Ch'u, most of the great cities were burned. These were the seats of the feudal princes, many of whom as literary Maecenases, such as the later Liu Tê, Prince of Ho-chien, 60 had made collections of books. The country-side, too, was ravaged by the armies of the generals contending for the Empire.

Only a century or less before Huan K'uan, the law for the suppression of literary works was formally repealed (191 B.C.). Despite vigorous efforts made to recover the ancient writings, even towards the close of the first century B.C. many works were still wanting and others incomplete. It remained for Liu Hsiang 61 and his son Liu Hsin 62 in that time to restore the national library as represented in the catalogue of the Ch'ien-han-shu. Even if works lay buried in the Imperial archives, as appears to have been the case of the Tso-chuan,63 Huan K'uan unlike the Grand Astrologer Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien and his successor the Archivist Liu Hsin, may not have gained access to them, though residing at the capital as a lang.64 Later as a provincial t'ai-shou-ch'êng at Lu Chiang the presumption is that he would be without easy access even to standard material.

On the other hand, with a voluminous and varied literature already in existence and accessible, the author seems likely to have restricted his references to such works as were immediately pertinent to his argument. Moreover as an adherent of the Han ju school, he would defer to those works which, while not yet formally elevated to the Canon, where the only primary sources from which to draw lofty moral precepts and sound principles of government. The scholar disdained to make use of those writers who "at times deny the teaching of the classics and criticize the sages, and at times glorify spiritual beings and gods and put faith in prodigies." 65 This explains the paucity of quotations or complete disregard of the writings of the economic and jurist school, such as represented by the Kuan-tzŭ, the Shang-chün-shu, and the Han-fei-tzŭ, works in circulation in Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien's time. 66

Huan K'uan was steeped in the Kung-yang commentary 67 of the Ch'un-ch'iu.68 Hence after the apostolic Shih-ching and Lun-yü, the greatest number of references attach to this work, which so engrossed the earlier Han scholars. Seven of the quotations assigned to the Ch'un-ch'iu derive from the famous commentary itself. None of the ascriptions to the Chuan are derived from the Tso-chuan, although the Ch'ien-han-shu69 indicates that the latter was in circulation in Ching-ti's time (156—141 B.C.). With four-fifths of the quotations belonging to the Confucian bibliography, and half of these from the Shih-ching and the Lun-yü, these two works appear thus to have already formed the vademecum of the scholar of the time. Contrasted with seeming carelessness in other directions, both of these works are quoted on the whole accurately and faithfully. 70

It is a striking fact that Huan K'uan's work reveals only one direct quotation from the monumental compilation of his immediate predecessor, and in part at least contemporary, the historiographer Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien. Too, the quotation is placed in the mouth of the Lord Grand Secretary, Sang Hung-yang, who speaks of his authority as Ssŭ-ma Tzŭ. 71 The great historiographers's death has been determined as occuring at the beginning of the reign of Chao-ti (86-74 B.C.). 72 Thus it is probable that his life terminated shortly before the great debate of the second lunar month of 81 B.C. Had the Shih-chi been accessible to Huan K'uan, and had he chosen to make use of it, he would have had at hand a veritable thesaurus of material upon which to draw. Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien himself records that he placed one copy of his work — whether on boards or silk rolls, we do not know — in the Imperial library, and one at the Capital. 73 But the Shih-chi, in the form completed by its compilator, appears to have been withheld from general publication for reasons of state, until Hsüan-ti's time (73-49 B.C.), to be again withdrawn from public circulation in 28 B.C. Its contents represented material of a "heterodox" and otherwise dangerous nature, in contemporary opinion. 74 Thus only a few privileged persons could have had access to its treasures.

It has been found, on the other hand, that the Shih-chi, though quoted directly only once by the high officer of state, Sang Hung-yang, yields a number of parallels to Huan K'uan's citatory passages. But Huan K'uan's citations, notably in the case of the Lun-yü, prove to be more faithful to the accepted (i. e. present day) texts than those of the historiographer. 75 Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien makes a notably limited use of the Shih-ching. Only six principal citations from this earliest of extant Chinese literary documents have been noted by Chavannes, 76 although others are suggested as occuring; Huan K'uan's Yen T'ieh Lun contains no less than thirty-three direct quotations. It may thus be concluded that Huan K'uan had available his own collection of books, from which his citations were culled. Certain passages in the Yen T'ieh Lun parallel in style or content the Shih-chi.77 This suggests little more than that these writers were familiar with the same documents, and that both made use of much which had become common property through oral tradition. Yet the occurrence of an actual quotation from Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien's work, in the words of the historiographer himself, would tend to indicate that Huan K'uan, nevertheless, was familiar with the Shih-chi. The caution in its use, however, would seem to corroborate the tradition of its contemporary disfavor.

The foregoing examination of Huan K'uan's intellectual background reveals with some certainty this early Han writer's place in the evolution of China's school of letters. He represents, in a word, the beginning of the Chinese scholastic mentality. The time had arrived when the ascendancy of the "Confucian" bibliography induced the scholars to ignore the litterature which later was to be definitely regarded as non-canonical. Immediately before him, Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien earned the condemnation of his own generation by an indiscriminating eclecticism in the employment of all extant literature. Huan K'uan's work may thus be regarded as among the earliest influences which finally formed the Confucian canon.


1. 春 秋.

2. 戰 國.

3. 楚.

4. 說 客.

5. 莊 子.

6. 離 騷.

7. 屈 原.

8. 蘇 秦.

9. 張 儀.

10. 李 斯.

11. 諫 逐 客 書.

12. 魯 齊.

13. Margouliès, op. cit., has furnished one of few studies in a Western language of the development of Chinese prose style. For his exposition of the ante-Han schools of writers, cf. loc. cit., 24 seq.

14. 賈 誼.

15. 述 古 cf. Lun-yü VII, i.

16. E.g., YTL. chaps. II, V and XV, especially, where both parties to the debate bandy to and fro the same stereotyped quotation. An alert officer in Chao-ti's reign is recorded as having received the Imperial commendation for justifying the prompt apprehension of a pretender to the throne by a ready historical citation. "Ministers and officers should have ready", said the Emperor, "convincing canonical or historical citations, for every situation!" Wieger, Textes hist., I, 575.

17. Some couplets of this type from the text are the following:

嫁 穑 chia-sê, sow-harvest: crop.

賢 聖 hsien-shêng, worthy-sage: the wise and saintly.

羗 胡 Ch'iang-Hu, Western-Northern Barbarians. Barbarian tribes in general.

璧 玉 pi-yü, jewel-jade: gem.

珠 璣 chu-chi, bead-pearl: gem.

犀 象 hsi-hsiang, rhinoceros-elephant: ivory.

京 師 ching-shih, capital-multitude: capital city.

殷 富 yin-fu, replete-wealthy; abounding.

鎔 鑄 jung-chu, melt-fuse: cast [metal].

郡 國 chün-kuo, military commandery-feudal state: province.

18. Cf. Karlgren, Sound and Symbol in Chinese, passim.

19. "The great syncretism (in grammar and vocabulary) which characterizes literary Chinese from the Han period onwards, was the direct outcome of the book-burning and the ensuing sanctity of the earlier texts." Karlgren On the Anthenticity of the Tso Chuan, 64.

20. Hu Shih, History of Pai Hua Literature, chap. IV, Prose of the Han Dynasty.

21. Cf. Appendix.

22. 賈 誼.

23. 鼂 錯.

24. 董 仲 舒. For an analysis of Tung Chung-shu's personality and his literary work see Franke, Das Problem des Tsch'un-ts'iu und Tung Tschung-schu's Tsch'un-ts'iu fan lu, Pt. II.

25. On the provenience and authenticity of various ante-Han texts cf. Maspero in Journal Asiatique, CCX, 144—52, and Karlgren, On the Authenticity of Ancient Chinese Texts, in Bul. of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, No. 1, 165—183.

26. 賢 良 文 學. For the definition of these terms, cf. Biot, op cit., 135.

27. 孔 子.

28. 孟 子.

29. 春 秋.

30. 傳.

31. 易 經.

32. 尚 書.

33. 書 經.

34. 太 公.

35. 管 子.

36. 老 子.

37. 晏 子.

38. 公 孫 龍.

39. 魯 連.

40. 魯 仲 連.

41. 陽 子.

42. 陽 虎, 陽 貨.

43. 孫 子.

44. 荀 子.

45. 韓 子.

46. 韓 非.

47. 賈 誼.

48. 司 馬 遷.

49. 語, 鄙 語.

50. 莊 子 Cf. YTL., p. 114, note 6.

51. 蘇 秦.

52. 張 儀.

53. Loc. cit., ch. III et passim; Shih-chi, LXIX, LXX.

54. 東 方 朔.

55. 商 鞅.

56. YTL., chs. VII and VIII.

57. 韓 詩 外 傳.

58. 國 語.

59. Yen T'ieh Lun, Hung-chih ed., preface.

60. 河 間 王 德.

61. 劉 向.

62. 劉 歆.

63. Chavannes, Mém. hist., I, cxcic,ap. Ch'ien-han-shu.

64. lang 郎 — "chamberlain", "page"; t'ai-shou-ch'êng 太 守 丞 — second administrative officer in a province of the Empire, "deputy governor". Cf. preface to the Hung-chih ed. of the Yen T'ieh Lun.

65. Ch'ien-han-shu, ch. LXXX, quoted by Chavannes, op. cit.

66. Shih-chi, chaps. LXII, LXVIII; Duyvendak, op. cit., 31, 131 seq.; Ch'ien-han-shu, chap. VI, under first year of Wu-ti.

67. 公 羊 傳 ".... the dry-as-dust and stale moralizing of Ku-liang and Kung-yang .... the real representatives of the Confucian tradition .... predominant in the centre of the national studies ...." Karlgren, On the Authenticity of the Tso Chuan, 9, passim.; Franke, op. cit. 56—86.

68. Chung Kuo Jên Ming Ta Tz'ŭ Tien, 812, ap. Ssŭ K'u Ch'uan Shu catalogue: 治 公 羊 春 秋.

69. Loc. cit., ch. LIII. Karlgren, op. cit. 29, points to the existence of the Tso-chuan in Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien's time, the text of which the latter paraphrased in the Shih-chi. Thus it should have been in existence when Huan K'uan wrote. The identification of the quotations from the Ch'un-ch'iu and its(?) chuan's presents a particularly difficult problem. It seems as if the text of the Kung-yang commentary in Huan K'uan's time differed somewhat from the modern one. This may possibly explain why so few of the quotations can be found in the present text. On the other hand, the term chuan, especially as prefixed to longer quotations that are not in the terse style of Kung-yang, might possibly refer to some other "Record" or "Commentary" unknown to us. Cf. YTL., pp. 9, 96, et al.

70. It is to be noted that most of the garbled or mislabelled quotations are put by Huan. K'uan into the mouths of the representatives of the "Government party", either out of malice, or to indicate the contempt in which the parvenus of the time held letters. Cf. YTL., pp. 7, 22. 30, 43, 57, 99, et al.

71. 司 馬 子. Cf. YTL., p. 116, note 1.

72. A discussion of this doubtful point is found in Chavannes, Mém. hist. I, XLIV.

73. Shih-chi, ch. CXXX, noted by Chavannes, op. cit. I, CXCVIII.

74. Chavannes, loc. cit.

75. Cf. Chavannes, op. cit., I, chap. III, passim.

76. Op. cit., I, cxxxvii.

77. Two interesting examples are found in chaps. VI (p. 34), VII (pp. 47, 49) and XIX (p. 123) of the YTL.

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