Six Writings by Master K'ung

Tags: National Palace Museum | rare books | Sung dynasty


Sung Dynasty (960-1279)
26 x 17 cm (print: 21 x 15 cm) 
K'ung Chuan, Sung dynasty (960-1279)
1166 Southern Sung Ch'üan-chou imprint by Han Chung-tao

Confucius is one of the most venerated figures in the history of China, and his descendants have been respected ever since. When the Northern Sung fell in 1126 and the government fled south, the 47th descendant of Confucius, K'ung Tuan-yu, also moved south. This text was written sometime after moving south. The book imitates the six writings of Po Chü-i (772-846), which were categorized and compiled under the title “Liu-t'ieh hsin-shu (New Book in Six Writings)”. Later, following the title of “Po-shih liu-t'ieh (Six Writings by Po)”, it was changed to “Six Writings by Master K'ung”.

This book is a collection by K'ung Chuan from many sources. Detractors of the book have claimed that it is unfocused. However, the sources date prior to the T'ang (618-907) and Sung (960-1279). These selections provide important information for scholars of ancient writings. As the author of a preface to the book objectively wrote, these selections are like raw materials that can be used for a variety of purposes. The six writings of Po and K'ung, as separate books, each consisted of 30 chüan (chapters). Near the end of the Southern Sung (1127-1279), they were printed together into a set of 100 chapters. Following the Yüan (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644), reprintings all followed the 100-chapter edition and combined into a single title. The original separate edition vanished as an entity. This “Six Writings by Master K'ung” from the Sung dynasty is the only surviving copy of this original individual edition.

This rare Sung imprint of the text was not recorded by previous book collectors. Only one chapter is missing and it bears the seal of the Wen-yüan Pavilion library of the Ming dynasty. In the catalogue of that library, the text is mentioned as "one set, ten volumes; incomplete." It was thus already incomplete even at that time in the Ming inner court. After leaving the Ming court collection, it came into the possession of an official in the Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911) and entered the imperial collection sometime during the 18th or early 19th century, being recorded in the continuation of the T'ien-lu lin-lang imperial catalogue. It is now organized into 19 volumes, which reflects a later arrangement.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum