Wenxue” in the Purview of Late Qing Encyclopaedias and Textbooks: With a Focus on Huang Ren’s Activities as Compiler

Part of the Transcultural Research – Heidelberg Studies on Asia and Europe in a Global Context book series (TRANSCULT)


In 1899, Liang Qichao’s 梁啓超 (1873–1929) Random notes, Ziyou shu 自由書, were serialised in the China Discussion, Qingyi bao 清議報. Quoting Inukai Tsuyoshi 犬養毅 (1855–1932), he argued in one note that schools, newspapers, and rhetoric should be regarded as the “three useful instruments for the dissemination of civilisation.” The concept that schools cultivate talent has been universally accepted since ancient times; however, the inclusion of newspapers and oratory required further explanation: “On the whole, those citizens who are more literate should make good use of newspapers, while those citizens who are less literate ought to make good use of oratory.” This quote proved popular, not only profoundly influencing the development of late Qing intellectual culture, but also providing an extremely convenient way for later historians to “get inside the late Qing.” But newspapers and “oratory” are usually transient media, dealing primarily with the issues of the day. Although they may serve as introductory materials for the reader, they are not optimal tools for the expansion of knowledge. With concerted effort and efficient use of time and energy, the necessarily collaborative enterprise of encyclopaedia publication can provide a powerful force to bolster the accumulation of academic expertise and foster the creation of knowledge in an entire society. Gao Fenglian 高鳳謙 (Mengdan 夢旦) (1875–1936), a figure who was instrumental in the early stages of the Commercial Press, Shangwu yinshuguan 商務印書館, remarked in his preface to the New Character Dictionary, Xin zidian 新字典 (1912), that in Japan “textbooks and encyclopaedic works contributed most to the popularisation of education and the organisation of common knowledge” 教育之普及, 常識之備具, 教科書辭書之功為多. Encyclopaedias and textbooks are free of avant-garde ambitions and are fostered by systematic discussion. This puts them very much in harmony with the educational tenet that it “takes a 100 years to foster able people.” It is in this sense that one may propose a different enumeration of the “three great tools for the dissemination of civilisation,” with encyclopaedias and textbooks counted alongside schools.


General Knowledge Qing Dynasty Literary History Chinese Literature Front Matter 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Peking UniversityBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

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