Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

The Family Instructions of Ji Dan Recorded in the Book of Documents

Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

The Family Instructions of Ji Dan Recorded in the Book of Documents

Article excerpt


The five chapters of family instruction "Announcement to the Prince of Kang", "Announcement about Drunkenness", "Timber of the Rottlera", "Against Luxurious Ease" and "Establishment of Government" attributed to Ji Dan in the Book of Documents are studied with reference to the political and social context of the Western Zhou period. In these chapters, Prince Kang and King Cheng of Zhou are reminded by Ji Dan to develop personal quality such as cultivation of virtue, modelling of exemplar Shang kings and observance of clan seniors' instructions as well as rule the people by education, law and punishment, virtuous officials, and caring strategies. These family instructions which may be updated or created in the late Western Zhou are based on the beliefs "observe the will of Heaven" and "love the people" aiming to sustain and pass on the family-held sovereignty. A framework of family sustainability is constructed accordingly with reference to ethical concepts of filial piety and paternal concern. This framework can be extended from the royal family instruction to other social classes as sustainability of family is the major responsibility of Chinese while cultivation of virtue and development of administrative skills are still two key areas of education for Chinese.

Keywords: family instmction, family sustainability, Ji Dan, Book of Documents, Western Zhou period

1. Introduction

Starting from the period of Spring and Autumn (Chunqiu c.771 BC - 476 BC), family instmction (jiaxun) emerged as a major family education media in imperial China. However, the ancient family instmction which shapes most thinking and behaviour of Chinese in imperial China has not attracted sufficient research attention from scholars. Currently, the research focus in this area is on Yan Zhitui's (531-591) Yans' family instruction (Yanshi jiaxun). Some other major works in a broader sense of the major research outputs in this area include: Transmitted Chinese family instruction (Zhonghua chuanshi jiaxun) (Li, 1998) which is a compilation of family instmction from the Pre-Qin period (before 221 BC) to modern China; General discussion on the thoughts of traditional family instruction (Chuantong jiaxun sixiang tonglun) (Wang, 2006), a thematic study on topics related to moral standard and family education; Discussion on the history of Chinese family instruction (Zhongguo jiaxunshi lungao) (Zhu, 2008), a historical account of family instmction from its origin to modern China; Study on family instruction of the Hanwei and Liuchao Period (Hanwei liuchao jiaxun yanjiu) (Kang, 2009), a historical study of family instmction for the periods Han to Six Dynasties (Liuchao, 202 - 589 BC). Tong (2013) observed that most of the transmitted Pre-Qin family instmctions are instmctions from senior members of the upper class to their junior clan members on how to behave as lords and senior officials. It seems that these texts perform some political and ethical functions that have great impact on the attitude towards mling and behaviour of senior officials in early China. Fu and Shi (2008) claimed that the Pre-Qin period was the infancy stage of family instmction in China while Zeng (2006) proposed that Ji Dan (? - 1105 BC), Duke Dan of Zhou, an influential member of the early royal family of Zhou (c. 11046 - 256 BC), was the founder of Chinese family instmction. A study of these ancient family instmctions can provide information on how nobles perceive family education in relation to the political and social contexts of the Western Zhou period.

The Book of Documents is a collection of historical prose with literary beauty and political views attributed to figures of ancient China. It was one of China's oldest literary controversies, between proponents of the "New Text" version and the "Old Text" versions of the text. Its original texts were destroyed in the Qin period (221-2-6 BC) and then preserved by Fu Sheng (fl. 3rd-2nd century BC) in the Western Han period (206 BC-24 AD) while the "Old Text" version was supposedly discovered by Kongzi's (551-479 BC) descendants Kong Anguo (ca. …

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