How did Wang Fuzhi expound the people-oriented thought of Mencius?

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Wang Fuzhi’s handwriting

Among the Confucian scholars in the past dynasties, Mencius’ exposition of the people-oriented thought is the most profound. For example, when commenting on the historical event of “the surrender of Yao and Shun”, he believed that the monarch should not give and receive the political power privately, but must comply with the will of Heaven (“heaven and the people”) and the will of the people (“people and the people”), and the will of the people is the most fundamental expression of the will of Heaven (“Heaven sees the people, and the people see the people, and the people listen to the people). Therefore, the most fundamental reason for the transfer of political power is the opposition of the people (” being the son of heaven from the people “). Mencius’ bold remarks on the people-oriented thought played an enlightening role in China’s feudal society. When talking about Mencius’ remarks, Lujiuyuan, a deputy scholar of the Song Dynasty, and his brother lujiuling, once lamented that “there is no such comment in ancient times”.

One common feature of the three great Confucians in the early Qing Dynasty is that they consciously inherited and carried forward the people-oriented thought since Mencius

In the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties, facing the vicissitudes of Linggu, Confucian intellectuals began to reflect on the real reasons behind this great change from an academic perspective. Among the intellectuals in this period, wangfuzhi, guyanwu and Huangzongxi were especially praised by later generations, and were called “the three great Confucians in the early Qing Dynasty”. In the academic achievements of Gu, Huang and Wang, the common point is to consciously inherit and carry forward the Confucian people-oriented thought since Mencius. Huang Zongxi wrote the book “Ming Yi waiting to visit”, which opposed the monarchy dictatorship and advocated “discussing politics in schools”. Guyanwu praised that “the shortcomings of a hundred kings can be recovered, and the rule of three generations can be slowly restored”. After Wang Fuzhi participated in the anti Qing activities of the Yongli regime of the Southern Ming Dynasty, he was located in the remote mountains of Western Hunan and rarely communicated with scholars of the same era. Therefore, his academic achievements were little known. However, he considered history in a rational spirit and came to the same conclusion as guyanwu and Huangzongxi. Some scholars believe that this is the beginning of the people-oriented thought in ancient China moving towards democratic thought. This conclusion is by no means groundless.

Wang Fuzhi took the Confucian people-oriented thought as the standard of discretion, and extensively criticized the political thought and political system of Chinese feudal society

Among the three great Confucians in the early Qing Dynasty, Wang Fuzhi’s political thought was famous for his nationalism. His yellow book was all the rage in the “Manchu revolution” movement in the late Qing Dynasty. He was also recommended by Zhang Taiyan as a “teacher of nationalism”. But from all aspects, Wang Fuzhi’s thought is actually the Confucian people-oriented thought and humanitarian spirit. In the process of repeatedly weighing history, he took the Confucian people-oriented thought as the standard of discretion, and made extensive criticism on the political thought and political system of Chinese feudal society. These criticisms are the essence of Wang Fuzhi’s thought.

Wang Fuzhi agreed with the original Confucian belief that “the public world” was the primary principle in the field of political thought. He objected to putting the rise and fall of one surname above the life and death of ten thousand surnames, and believed that “the world is not the private property of one surname. There is a constant number of changes in the rise and fall of one surname. If you change your surname without the misery of bloodshed in the wilderness, you will lightly grant others without getting sick”. There is an article in the review of reading Tongjian that “the country does not exist, and those who can protect the people are the most important”, which is Wang Fuzhi’s specific interpretation of Mencius’ theory that “the people value the king less” by citing historical events.

Wang Fuzhi also criticized the autocratic political system in Chinese feudal society. He believed that the design of political system should “follow the Great Duke of the world”, while the emperors after the Qin and Han Dynasties regarded the world as private property and designed political systems for “self-interest”. For such bad political systems, Wang Fuzhi denounced them as “solitary Qin” and “rude song”. Huang Zongxi once discussed the political system of the Ming Dynasty in his record of Ming Yi waiting for a visit, saying that “there is no good governance when there is a Ming Dynasty, since emperor Gao struck down the prime minister”. Wangfuzhi shared the same view with Huangzongxi. In his book “scratching the head and asking”, he reviewed history and pointed out that since the Qin and Han Dynasties, the most frequent prime ministers were Emperor Gaozong of Tang Dynasty, Emperor Zhaozong of Tang Dynasty and Emperor Chongzhen of Ming Dynasty, and these three were typical monarchs of subjugation. In “on reading the general review”, Wang Fuzhi further demonstrated that: “if the prime minister has no power, there will be no outline in the world. If there is no outline in the world and there is no chaos, there may be no outline.” On the basis of the prime minister responsibility system, Wang Fuzhi’s idea is to form a benign operating political system of mutual checks and balances by linking the monarch, Prime Minister and remonstrating officials, so as to minimize the disadvantages of the monarchy. He hoped that the monarch could “rule the world with emptiness” and not go beyond the scope of the legal system, which was close to an ideal of “emptiness monarchy”. This is a step further than Mencius’ thought of “valuing the people and valuing the king”.

There is a deep humanitarian spirit in Wang Fuzhi’s thoughts. He can feel the people’s pain deeply from time to time, and with his sharp brush, he cries out for these people living in the abyss of despair. Since the Song Dynasty, Neo Confucianism has spoken highly of benevolence and righteousness, but has increasingly implemented severe punishment in the legal field, and even continued to call for the restoration of “corporal punishment”. In response to this anti humanitarianism, Wang Fuzhi bluntly pointed out that the original intention of those who advocated severe punishment was not to hate evil (“the worst of evil”), but to delight their own dark Psychology (“the desire to be quick and angry”). The so-called “Confucian” who put forward these propositions had deviated from the basic principle of “benevolent love” of Confucianism, and was a ShenHan legalist in the guise of Confucianism (“ShenHan Confucian”).

Wang Fuzhi’s people-oriented thought had a great influence on later generations, so he was called “Montesquieu of the East”

People-oriented thought is the core concept of Confucianism. Although the primitive Confucianism did not oppose the monarchy, it did not advocate the absolute autocracy of the monarch. Instead, it emphasized that the monarch should “respect the members” and “cultivate oneself and secure others”, putting the interests of the people above the security of the regime. In this sense, Mencius’ saying that “the monarch despises the people” was common sense rather than originality in the pre Qin Confucianism. After the Qin and Han Dynasties, the autocratic monarchy became more and more mature, and the people-oriented thought of Confucianism gradually collided with this kind of regime. Zhu Yuanzhang, the emperor Taizu of the Ming Dynasty, was so impressed by these people-oriented thoughts and comments in Mencius that he created a Mencius abridged edition, which became the laughing stock of history. The intellectuals in the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties felt that the absolute autocratic monarchy could not resist internal and external troubles, so they put forward a series of political reform plans, which pushed the people-oriented thought in the Confucian tradition to a new stage. As one of the best, Wang Fuzhi’s people-oriented thought also has a significant impact on later generations. Tansitong, a reformist in the late Qing Dynasty, said that Wang Fuzhi’s thought was “purely the micro purpose of promoting civil rights”; Liang Qichao believed that Huang Shu by Wang Fuzhi and Huang Zongxi have the same value, both of which contain the meaning of “ruling and restraining autocracy”; Xiongshili, a Contemporary Neo Confucian scholar, also praised Wang Fuzhi as “Montesquieu of the East” in his early book “heart book”, and believed that “Confucianism upholds the rule of law and only promotes Wang Chuanshan”. Of course, there are intentional or unintentional “Misreading” here, but it is undeniable that Wang Fuzhi’s people-oriented thought played an important role in promoting these people with lofty ideals who intended to break the “iron house” of feudal absolutism in the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China and “steal light from the wall” for the Chinese nation.

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