Chinese Studies Liu Zongzhou
Simon Man Ho Wong
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0182


Liu Zongzhou 劉宗周 (personal name Xianzhang 憲章, courtesy name Qidong 起東, literary names Niantai 念台, Jishan 蕺山; b. 1578–d. 1645) was an important Neo-Confucian thinker in the late Ming dynasty (1368–1644) of China. Born as a posthumous child in Shanyin (Shaoxing) of the Zhejiang province, he was brought up by his mother, educated by his maternal grandfather and became a successful candidate of the metropolitan and palace examination in 1601. In 1621, as the Supplementary Secretary in the Ministry of Rites, he began to impeach the corrupt but powerful eunuch Wei Zongxian. In 1624, he declined the offer to be Junior Vice Commissioner of the Office of Transmission, and his status was reduced to that of a commoner. In 1629, he resumed office as the governor of Shuntian Prefecture, and resigned the next year to establish the Zhengren 證人 Association and to lecture at the Shigui 石匱 Academy. In 1636, he became Senior Vice Minister of Works. Yet he soon resigned to criticize the Senior Grand Secretary Wen Tiren 溫體仁, and this led to the degradation of his status to a commoner again. In 1642, he was promoted to Censor-in-chief, but he was relieved of his office when he antagonized the emperor by trying to save two censorial officials. During the fall of Beijing, he resumed his office as Censor-in-chief. He attacked the corrupt officials Ma Shiying 馬士英 and Ruan Dacheng 阮大鋮 and finally left his office. His official career lasted for forty-five years, during which he had held office six and a half years, was in active service at court only four years, and had been degraded to the status of commoner three times. With the fall of Nanjing and Hangzhou in succession to the Manchus and his decision to express his loyalty and patriotism to the country, he ended his life by fasting for twenty days. Liu distinguished himself as a Neo-Confucian philosopher and scholar. The main doctrines of his teaching are “vigilance in solitude” (shendu 慎獨) and “sincerity of will” (chengyi 誠意), which originate from the two Confucian classics Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning. Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲 (b. 1610–d. 1695), his important disciple and a well-known intellectual historian, placed him and his school of thought in the last part of Huang’s influential work, The Records of Ming Scholars. Huang not only compared him to the most significant Neo-Confucian philosophers, but also hinted that his philosophy signified the final summation of the Neo-Confucian tradition from the Song to Ming dynasties. He is commonly regarded as one of the most important Song-Ming Neo-Confucian thinkers. It is the creativity and depth of his philosophy that deserves scholars’ attention.

Original Works

Nine of Liu’s works were copied into the Imperial Manuscript Library in the Qing dynasty. Three were listed by title only. The other six were Lunyu xuean 論語學案 (The record of learning on the Analects), Shengxue zongyao 聖學宗要 (Essentials of the orthodox learning of the sages), Xueyan 學言 (Academic sayings), Renpu 人譜 (Human schematic), Renpu leiji 人譜類記 (Miscellaneous records to the human schematic) and Liu Jishan ji 劉蕺山集 (Collections of Liu Jishan). A disciple of Liu, Dong Chang 董瑒, collected most of Liu’s writings and had them published as the Liuzi quanshu 劉子全書 (Complete works of Master Liu) in 1822. A later student, Shen Fucan 沈復粲, compiled the Liuzi quanshu yibian 劉子全書遺編 (Supplementary edition to the complete works of Master Liu) in 1850 (see Liu 1981). Largely based on the 1822 and 1850 editions, Liu 1996 was published with the contents of the two editions reorganized and punctuated. Huang 1973 is a selection of representative works of Liu by his disciple Huang Zongxi, while Yun 2015 is a selection by Yun Richu 惲日初, another disciple of Liu.

  • Huang Zongxi 黃宗羲. Mingru xuean 明儒學案. Taibei: Shijie shuju, 1973.

    The section “Jishan xuean” 蕺山學案 (Records of the Jishan school) in this book (pp. 672–718) is a selection of the important works of Liu with a brief introduction on Liu’s life and thought at the beginning. The Mingru xuean (Records of Ming scholars) is a renowned work of Confucian intellectual history of the Ming dynasty written and completed by Huang, an important disciple of Liu, in 1676.

  • Liu Zongzhou. Liuzi quanshu ji yibian 劉子全書及遺編. 2 vols. Jingdu, China: Zhongwen chubanshe, 1981.

    This is a combined version of Complete works of Master Liu and Supplementary edition to complete works of Master Liu, published in 1822 and 1850 respectively. The former has forty juan 卷, whereas the latter has twenty-four. They contain most of Liu’s works including Liu’s sayings, essays, poems, classical studies, and biographical sources, etc. An introduction on Liu’s life and thought and the two editions was written in Japanese by Professor Okada Takehiko and was put at the front of the book.

  • Liu Zongzhou. Liu Zongzhou quanji 劉宗周全集. 6 vols. Taibei: Zhongguo wenzhe yanjiusuo, Academia Sinica, 1996.

    This is the modern edition of Complete works of Master Liu and its Supplementary edition as a result of collaborative efforts of scholars from Mainland China and Taiwan. The significant contributions of this edition, unlike the old ones, are that in it the complete works of Liu are re-organized and punctuated, and that many biographical and scholarly sources are added as appendices to form the last section of the whole work.

  • Yun Richu 惲日初. Liuzi jieyao fu Yun Richu ji 劉子節要附惲日初集. Edited by Lin Sheng-tsai 林勝彩 and Chung Tsai-chun 鍾彩鈞. Taibei: Zhongguo wenzhe yanjiusuo, Academia Sinica, 2015.

    A categorized selection of the works of Liu by one of his disciples, Yun Richu. It has an edition in the Qing dynasty. In the present version, it is appended with the works of Yun Richu and an introduction on Yun and his works. It represents a selection of Liu’s works from a perspective different from that of Huang Zongxi.

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