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黄宗羲 Huang Zongxi (1610-1695)

THE Chinese Rousseau Born in Yuyao in today's Zhejiang Province in eastern China, Huang Zongxi was a Confucian classics expert, historian, thinker, and educator in the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Together with Gu Yanwu and Wang Fuzi, Huang was deemed as one of China's "Three Greatest Enlightenment Thinkers" of the mid-17th century.

Huang's father, Huang Zunsu, was an official in the Ming court and a key leader of the Donglin Movement, a political reform drive organized by the bureaucratic elite who vied with corrupt eunuchs to influence imperial policies.

When eunuch Wei Zhongxian got the upper hand in the imperial court, members of the Donglin faction were persecuted and Huang's father was imprisoned and later died in disgrace.

Huang decided to follow his father's cause and later became a leader of the Fu She (Return Society) to support its members in factional struggles that dominated the late Ming Dynasty.

After Manchu troops entered central China and established the capital of the Qing Dynasty in today's Beijing, Huang recruited volunteer soldiers and organized armed forces to fight the new ruler. After his anti-Qing struggle failed, he spent a long time in political exile.

In 1656, he returned to his home to set up schools, teach and dedicate himself to academic research and writing. Six years later, he completed his great work "Mingyi Daifang Lu" ("Waiting for The Dawn: A Plan for the Prince"). In this book, known as "China's Declaration of Human Rights" of that time, Huang condemned despotism and selfish autocratic rule in Chinese history and summarized his ideas about political reforms.

Huang stressed that "people are the first and the emperor is the second," which is fundamentally different from the Confucian idea that "emperor is the first and the people are the second." He also said: "To be an official, one must provide services for the people, not only for the emperor."

The book also reflects Huang's simple materialism by emphasizing that matter determines spirit. He even asserted that "industry and commerce are fundamental to society," contrary to the long-held, traditional Confucian idea of promoting academic pursuit as superior to all others.

Compared with his Western counterparts at that time, Huang's "Waiting for the Dawn" was written 27 years earlier than "Concerning Civil Government" by John Locke, and 100 years earlier than "The Social Contract" by Jean Jacques Rousseau.

As the force behind the reform endeavor during the late years of Ming Dynasty, private academies and associations were mushrooming all around the country. Huang believed that schools should involve themselves in political discussions that promote the political openness and supervise the government.

They should also help form public opinions and pass judgment on what's right and what's wrong. In a nutshell, he intended to turn schools into a platform for intellectuals to participate in government at all levels.

Although his interests included mathematics, geography, Chinese classics and philosophy, Huang is best-known as a historian. He founded the Eastern Zhejiang School, which advocated objective rather than personal and moral standards for historical study.

His systematic survey of important schools of thought and his Eastern Zhejiang School had significant influence on later historians.


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