In Song China (960-1279) apart of the well known philosophers
like Zhu Xi [朱熹], Zhou Dunyi [周敦頤], Zhang Zai [張載] and others -- there
was also a number of Confucian scholars who didn't develop
philosophical theories but rather devoted their lives to collect the
knowledge of their time.
One important representative of that group is the universal scholar Wang Yinglin [王應麟] (1223-1296). He was born the 27th August 1223 in Qingyuan [慶元] (now in the province Zhejiang [浙江], not far from the city of Ningbo [寧波]). At the very young age of 18 he passed the imperial jinshi-examination [進士]. But his ambitions weren't satisfied yet: his next aim was the "universal scholar examination" (boxue hongci [博學宏詞]), which was said to be extremely difficult, because it demanded an encyclopedic scholarship in all areas of the Song erudition. Wang Yinglin finally succeeded: after 14 years of preparation he passed the examination in 1255. He was the first successful candidate after 48 years! Thus he was granted a position at the imperial court.
Wang Yinglin was unable to enjoy this position forever: the Mongol military forces were about to conquer Song China. Several of Wang Yinglins petitions to the emperor showing ways to prevent the demise of the Song weren't approved. Disappointed he retreated from the court in the year 1275 and returned to the countryside. There he continued the rest of his life to read and write books and to teach his pupils.
Wang Yinglin's most important works:
Wang was a very diligent scholar and has written many
works. The most extensive one is the encyclopedia Yuhai [玉海] ("A
Sea of Jades") in 100 chapters (juan [卷]). It was written
by Wang to prepare himself to the boxue hongci examination
mentioned above. It is a collection of facts on various topics; the
contents of the Yuhai seems to have been memorized entirely by
Wang Yinglin, a very astonishing achievement!
After the fall of the Song and the takeover by the Mongols Wang Yinglin has written the Record of Observances from Arduous Studies (Kunxue jiwen [困學紀聞]). It is a wonderful collection of various philogical notes on history, the classics and other texts (up to his contemporains). This work is of great importance, not only due to its abundant contents (about 250.000 Chinese characters written in Wang's very condensed style), but also because it gives us the opportunity to gain an insight in Wang Yinglins own thoughts about the eventful times when the Mongols conquered the Southern Song (that's what my Ph. D. is mainly about; hopefully it will be published soon...)
Wang Yinglin is often mistakenly taken as the author of the Classic of the Three characters (Sanzi jing [三字經]). But there can be given some convincing arguments that he is not the author of this work still very common in modern China (the only problem is: many people don't know about these arguments! Maybe I should write a paper on it someday...)
Nevertheless it is undoubted that Wang Yinglin has devoted himself to the preparation of educational works of children, such as the Purple Pearls of Primary Studies (Xiaoxue ganzhu [小學紺珠]).
Some selected references:
Links on Wang Yinglin: (not very productive, since there is only a few data on Wang Yinglin on the internet)
Links in Western languages:
Some biographical information can be found in this document (formerly available on a website), which was provided by Prof. James Benn as result of a former exercise he did. Many thanks!
Links in Chinese language:
The Chinese Wikipedia Article is at least a start, as is the Baidu Article.
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