Huang Zongxi 黄宗羲

An Outstanding Enlightenment Thinker in the Ming and Qing Dynasties


Chinese Name: 黄宗羲

English Name: Huang Zongxi

Other Names: Mr. Lizhou 梨洲先生

Born: September 24, 1610

Died: August 12, 1695


Put forward the democratic thought of “the world is the main, the monarch is the guest” 提出“天下为主君为客”的民主思想

Criticize the feudal autocracy 抨击封建君主专制制度

Main Works:

Ming Confucianism Case 《明儒学案》

Song and Yuan Learning Case 《宋元学案》

Ming Yi Waiting for Visits Record 《明夷待访录》

Huang Zongxi 黄宗羲
Huang Zongxi 黄宗羲

Brief Biography of Huang Zongxi

Huang Zongxi is a Confucian scholar, historian, thinker, geographer, astronomer, and educator in the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties and the eldest son of Huang Zunsu, one of the “Seven Gentlemen in the Eastern Forest”.

Huang Zongxi (from September 24, 1610, to August 12, 1695) is a native of Yuyao 余姚, Zhejiang Province 浙江省, courtesy name Taichong 太冲 and Debing 德冰, art name Nanlei 南雷.

He put forward the democratic thought of “the world is the main, the monarch is the guest”. He said that “the governance of the world is not the rise and fall of a family name, but the happiness of the people”, and advocated replacing the emperor’s “law of a family” with the “law of the world”, so as to limit the monarchical power and ensure the basic rights of the people. Huang Zongxi’s political views attacked the feudal autocratic monarchy, which was of great significance and played a positive role in promoting the anti-autocratic struggle.

The statue of Huang Zongxi 黄宗羲塑像
The statue of Huang Zongxi 黄宗羲塑像

Huang Zongxi, Gu Yanwu 顾炎武, Wang Fuzhi 王夫之, and Tang Zhen 唐甄 were called “the four great enlightenment thinkers in the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties”, Gu Yanwu, Fang Yizhi 方以智, Wang Fuzhi, and Zhu Shunshui 朱舜水 were called “the five great thinkers in the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties”, together with Li Yong 李颙 in Shaanxi 陕西 and Rongcheng 容城, Sun Qifeng 孙奇逢 in Zhili, they were called “the three great scholars in China”, and they were also known as “the father of Chinese ideological enlightenment”.

Huang Zongxi is extremely knowledgeable, profound in thought, and rich in works. He has written more than 50 kinds of books and more than 300 volumes of his life, among which the most important ones are the Ming Confucianism Case 《明儒学案》, the Song and Yuan Learning Case 《宋元学案》, the Ming Yi Waiting for Visits Record 《明夷待访录》, the Mencius Teacher’s Theory 《孟子师说》, the Burial System or Questions 《葬制或问》, the Theory of Eliminating Evil 《破邪论》, the Thought of the Past Record 《思旧录》, the Image Number Theory of I Ching 《易学象数论》, the Ming Wenhai 《明文海》, the Xingchao Record 《行朝录》, the Jinshui Classic 《今水经》, the Datong Calendar Deduction Method 《大统历推法》, the Siming Mountain Annals 《四明山志》, and so on.

Personal Life and Major Contributions

Avenge the death of his father

Huang Zunsu was Huang Zongxi’s father, Wanli Jinshi, a senior official in Tianqi, and a member of the Donglin Party who was demoted for impeaching Wei Zhongxian 魏忠贤 and was soon imprisoned and died of torture.

Tomb of Huang Zongxi 黄宗羲墓
Tomb of Huang Zongxi 黄宗羲墓

In the first year of Chongzhen 崇祯 (1628), Wei Zhongxian, Cui Chengxiu 崔呈秀, and others were eliminated, and the unjust cases of the Tianqi Dynasty were solved. Huang Zongxi wrote to kill Xu Xianchun 许显纯, Cui Yingyuan 崔应元, etc. In May, the Ministry of Punishment held a joint trial and appeared in court to prove. Huang Zongxi stabbed Xu Xianchun with a cone in his sleeve. He severely attacked Cui Yingyuan in public and had to sacrifice his father’s spirit. He was called “Yao Jiang Huang Xiaozi 姚江黄孝子”. Emperor Sizong of Ming 明思宗 said that he was “a loyal minister and an orphan”.

Joining the Society and Initiating education

After returning to his hometown, Huang Zongxi became eager to study and also learned from the famous philosopher Liu Zongzhou 刘宗周.

In the third year of Chongzhen’s reign (1630), Zhang Pu 张溥 convened the “Jinling Conference” in Nanjing 南京. At that time, Huang Zongxi, who happened to be in Nanjing, joined the Society after being introduced by his friend Zhou Bao 周镳 and became one of the active figures in the Society. This year, he also joined the poetry club headed by the famous scholar He Qiaoyuan 何乔远; Later, Huang Zongxi, Wan Tai 万泰, Lu Fu 陆符 and his younger brother Zongyan 宗炎, Zonghui 宗会, etc. organized the “Lizhou Restoration Society 梨洲复社” in Yuyao.

The memorial hall of Huang Zongxi 黄宗羲纪念馆
The memorial hall of Huang Zongxi 黄宗羲纪念馆

In the 15th year of Chongzhen (1642), Huang Zongxi failed the imperial examination in the Capital. On the tenth day of the winter moon, Huang Zongxi returned to Yuyao’s home.

His political thoughts

Huang Zongxi is versatile and erudite and has studied all the classics, history, astronomy, arithmetic, music, Buddhism, and Taoism. In particular, he made great achievements in historiography, and in philosophy, and political thought, he was also a person who attacked the autocratic monarchy from the standpoint of “people first”. He can be called the first person to enlighten Chinese ideology. His political ideals are mainly concentrated in the book “Record of Ming Yi to Be Visited”.

Huang Zongxi's calligraphy 黄宗羲书法
Huang Zongxi’s calligraphy 黄宗羲书法

In the beginning, Huang Zongxi explained the original purpose of establishing a monarch. He said that the original purpose of establishing a monarch was to “make the world benefit” and “make the world release its harm”. That is to say, the creation of a monarch requires the monarch to bear the responsibility of restraining private interests and promoting public interests. For a monarch, his duty is the first, and his power is subordinate to his duty to perform his duty. The monarch is just a public servant.

Video: The First Chinese Constitutionalist: Huang Zongxi – Portraits of Liberty

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