Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism

By Wing-Tsit Chan | Go to book overview

20

Chu Hsi as Literary Theorist
and Critic

RICHARD JOHN LYNN


Chu Hsi's Theory of Prose

PERHAPS THE ONE most important assertion that Chu Hsi makes about prose is that it should "carry the Way" (wen i tsai-taoa).

The way prose (wen) carries the Way is just like the way a carriage carries things. Therefore, just as one who makes a carriage is sure to decorate the wheels and shafts, so one who writes prose must be sure to make his mode of discourse (tz'u‐ shuob) attractive, for both wish that people will love and make use of these things. However, if I decorate them and people do not make use of them, then the decoration will be done in vain and will be of no value to the reality of the matter (shihc). How much the more this is true when it involves a carriage that does not carry anything or prose that does not carry the Tao.d No matter how much one might make the decoration beautiful, what good will it be? 1

This passage is actually a comment on what is perhaps the most famous formulation of the moralistic conception of literature in the Chinese tradition, that by Chou Tun-ie (1017-1073).

Literature is that by which one carries the Way. If the wheels and shafts [of a carriage] are decorated but no one uses it, then the decorations are in vain. How much more so in the case of an empty carriage! Literature and rhetoric are skills; the Way and virtue are realities. When someone devoted to these realities and skilled [in writing] writes down [the Way], if it is beautiful, then [people] will love it, then it will be passed on. 2

Although Chou and Chu clearly insist that prose should have a straightforward, pragmatic or didactic function, they do not disparage the aesthetic aspects of writing but regard them merely as subsidiary to the pragmatic/ didactic function. In this they differ sharply from Ch'eng If (1033-1107) and Ch'eng Haog (1032-1085), who regarded all wen (literature as a fine art) as detrimental to the Way. 3 However, Chu was also very careful to insist that

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