CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 28, December 2011


Preface | China Heritage Quarterly

Preface to Nothing Concealed 無隱錄

Frederic Wakeman Jr.

The following 'Preface' is taken from the collection 'Nothing concealed': essays in honor of Liu Yü-yün, edited by Frederic E. Wakeman and published in Taipei by the Ch'eng wen ch'u pan she in 1970.

I first met Mr. Liu—the 'Manchu'* or 'Prince' as he was then called—on one of those stifling humid days so characteristic of Taipei in the late summer. Moss Roberts, a good friend, had momentarily drawn me away from the daily tedium of Mandarin conversation class (which I will forever associate with chalky rooms and buzzing flies) so that cycling across town to meet Liu was a bit like playing hooky—out of school to meet the scholar Moss had praised so many times. I knew the man as well by other reputation: eccentric, vieux jeu, temperamental, an i-min 遺民 or 'left-over' Manchu noble who had served Emperor P'u-yi in the Manchukuo regime, and now condescended to teach foreigners classical Chinese. If I'd wanted colorfulness that day, I wasn't disappointed. Sitting at Moss' study desk, puffing on a long bamboo pipe with jade mouthpiece, Liu did indeed make me feel a bit like Macartney before Ch'ien-lung. Illusions of my interviewing a prospective tutor were quickly dispelled. This gentleman was no utensil, no simple pay-as-you-go language instructor looking for pupils. Instead, he seemed to be interviewing me, and even then I sensed that I was men-hsia shou-yeh 門下受業, that the Manchu was looking me over as he would a prospective disciple; and that once the relationship was fixed, neither of us could easily disengage. That there would be no hooky-playing here alarmed me. What would I have to give in return? And how could I afford to read Mencius slowly through when nineteenth-century dissertation problems occupied my time?

For the moment the choice was postponed. As I stood there, mulling over these perplexities, Liu announced in a thick tung-pei 東北 accent that I would have to spend at least three more months studying spoken Chinese elsewhere before he would work with me. Come again in late autumn or early winter, he urged, and we'd see if something could be arranged.

Perhaps it was this very independence, this very aloofness, which captivated me. For, when winter rolled around, I did find myself uncertainly beginning the first of what would amount to over two years of lessons with Liu Yü-yün. He started with the Hsiao Ching 孝經, patiently letting me grow accustomed to the archaic flavor of his speech. Then, picking up speed, we moved on to each of the Four Books. As months slipped by, I gradually increased the number of hours until we were spending a full five days per week together. Summer came round again (he changed into light and faded silk of the finest quality) arid I found the heat making concentration more difficult, bogging me down in the Mencius. By then my schedule called for me to go to Japan, but now even the most extraneous-seeming points were giving me new insights into modern Chinese social history. Finally, just as the fellowship office in New York was persuaded to grant me more time in Taipei, we moved on with relief from Mencius to the graceful perplexities of the Tao te ching 道德經.

The reason for extending my study with Mr. Liu, the reason I later worked with him again on the Book of Changes and the Kung Yang Commentary, was not to 'learn' the syntax or grammar of classical Chinese; but rather to absorb more of an understanding of the philosophical connotations of the Confucian canon. This understanding was made possible for me thanks to Liu's unique teaching method. As I look back on it now, it had three characteristics. First was the language of instruction. Liu would intone the text in its original version, then adroitly fit each character into a vernacular pleonasm by way of explanation. Thus, the transliteration was from archaic prose into classicized Mandarin, which was really a language all of his own. It may not have abetted specific translation, but it did lend a richness of connotation which made the underlying text truly come alive. The second characteristic would have outraged the philologists under whom I had first studied classical Chinese in graduate school. Ignoring even the textual discoveries of the Han-hsueh 漢學 thinkers, Liu relied on memory to quote parts of one text in order to interpret the meaning of another one. Though I bridled (How can one use a phrase from the Ta hsueh 大學 to elucidate the Changes?), it became clear that for him the canon was integral. Any single text formed part of an entire body of transmitted knowledge. And that in turn reflected a third feature, his apparent belief that the Classics could still be used as a moral guide and mirror of the world around us.

It was almost as though the whole i-ku 疑古 movement had passed him by, as though the debates of the nineteen-thirties had never taken place. Yet I found, as we argued over more subtle points, that he could not only pit Plato against Wang Pi, but was also quite aware of the controversies over the authenticity of certain passages. Withal, he stubbornly retained that sense of holism; and my own perception altered. He was no longer a kind of living fossil, miraculously sustained just to let me sense what school men once confidently believed. Instead, Liu began—deliberately, I suspect—to reveal the personal tensions of an alienated post-Confucian.

He was, for example, a semi-devout Buddhist. Closely involved with monkly orders on Taiwan, he participated in ordination ceremonies and frequently entertained his students with vegetarian banquets. Political disgrace had turned him, eremite-like, to spiritual cultivation (he spent every morning at ching-tso 靜坐) and study of the sutras, so that he was an invaluable teacher for scholars like Arthur Link.

Worldly frustrations also helped explain his devotion to K'ang Yu-wei's chin-wen 今文 Confucianism, which shone through all of his teaching. One was made to feel like the conspiratorial recipient of heterodox interpretations which Ch'eng-Chu Confucianism had once rejected as dangerously individualistic: while the chün-tzu 君子 was revealed as something more than a simple 'cultivated gentleman,' the utopian consequences of the Kung Yang's 'Three Ages' became understandable. This slight air of secrecy reinforced the close student-teacher relationship between all of us and him. Again, though, that was neither entirely Chinese nor completely Western—pu-chung pu-his 不中不西. I doubt anyone believed Liu regarded his foreign students as disciples in the extremely intimate Chinese sense of the word. Our foreign-ness, was something quite special, above all to him. A depreciator of May Fourth, a political loser in the vagaries of twentieth-century politics, Liu seemed to hope his foreign pupils would help transmit a humanistic tradition whose modern fate he constantly bemoaned. And so others besides myself must have winced at the awareness that his choice of non-Chinese disciples revealed more than anything else how far that tradition had slipped.

Writing this preface, which dwells on a pleasantly full experience of my own recent past, I find myself falling into a decidedly unpleasant past tense. Happily, Liu Yü-yün is still with us, teaching new pupils, imparting more understanding a good friend, highly esteemed by all of the contributors to this volume. He has given us much more than we have ever returned, so that my doubts that first day of our meeting finally prove true. Still, this book may lighten the debt somewhat even though it is not presented in the naive belief that we are somehow reproducing the veneration of a p'ai 派 for its founder. At the very least we want to signal the appreciation of those who were fortunate enough to study with a master; and truly to say, though we met across different cultures and out of different times, that 'nothing is concealed'. Frederic Wakeman, Jr Berkeley July, 1970

* Mr. Liu prefers now to be addressed by his Manchu patronymic, Aisin Gioro.

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