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Chaou K'e: the author of Commentaries on Mencius

Zhao Qi (Han Dynasty, 赵歧)
Chaou K'e (赵歧, Zhao Qi, A.D.108–201) was an official who served as Minister Coachman during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He was the author of Commentaries on Mencius (孟子章句), one of the only major commentaries on Mencius from that period still in existence. He is also featured as a character in Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Chaou K'e was born A.D. 108. His father was a censor about the court of the emperor Heaou-gan, and gave him the name of Kea (嘉), which he afterwards changed into K’e for the purpose of concealment, changing also his original designation of T'ae-k’ing (台卿) into Pin-k’ing. It was his boast that he could trace his descent from the emperor Chuen-heuh, B.'C. 2510.

In his youth K’e was distinguished for his intelligence and diligent study of the classics. He married a niece of the celebrated scholar and statesman Ma Yung (马融), but bore himself proudly towards him and her other relatives. A. stern independence and hatred of the sycophancy of the times were from the first characteristic of him, and proved the source of many troubles.

When he was over thirty, K'e was attacked with some severe and lingering illness, in consequence of which he lay upon his bed for seven years. At one time, thinking he was near his end, he addressed a nephew who was with him in the following terms: "Born a man into the world, in retirement I have not displayed the principles exemplified on mount-Ke (伯夷, 叔齐),  nor in office achieved the merit of E and Leu (伊尹, 吕望).  Heaven has not granted me such distinction. What more shall I say? Set up a round stone before my grave, and engrave on it the inscription, ‘Here lies a recluse of Han, by surname Chaou, and by name Kea. He had the will, but not the opportunity. Such was his fate. Alas!''

Contrary to expectation, K‘e recovered, and in A.D. 154 we find him again engaged in public life, but in four years he is flying into obscurity under a feigned name, to escape the resentment of T'ang Hang (唐衡), one of the principal ministers, and of his partizans. He saved his life, but his family and relatives fell victims to the vengeance of his enemies, and for some time he wandered about the country of the Keang and Hwae, or among the mountains and by the sea coast on the north of the present Shan-tung. One day, as he was selling cakes in a market-place, his noble presence attracted the attention of Sun Ts’ung (孙嵩), a young gentleman of Gan-k'ew (安丘), who was passing by in a carriage, and to him, on being questioned, he made known his history. This proved a fortunate rencontre for him. Sun Ts'ung took him home, and kept him for several years concealed somewhere, " in the centre of a double wall.” And now it was that he solaced his hard lot with literary studies. He wooed the muse in twenty-three poetical compositions, which he called " Songs of Adversity,” and achieved his commentary on Mencius.

On the fall of the T'ang faction, when a political amnesty was proclaimed, K'e emerged from his friendly confinement, and was employed in important offices, but only to fall a victim again to the intrigues of the time. The first year of the emperor Ling, A.D. 168, was the commencement of an imprisonment which lasted more than ten years; but nothing could crush his elasticity, or daunt his perseverance. In 185, when he had nearly reached fourscore, he was active as ever in the field of political strife, and wrought loyally to sustain the fortunes of the falling dynasty. He died at last in A.D. 201, in King-chow, whither he had gone on a mission in behalf of his imperial master. Before his death, he had a tomb prepared for himself, which was long shown, or pretended to be shown, in what is now the district city of Keang-ling in the department of King- chow in Hoo- pih.
From the above account of Chaou K’e it will be seen that his commentary on Mencius was prepared under great disadvantages. That he, a fugitive and in such close hiding, should have been able to produce a work such as it is shows the extent of his reading and acquirements in early days. As to his mode of dealing with his subject, it will be sufficient to give his own account:

“I wished to set my mind on some literary work, by which I might be assisted to the government of my thoughts, and forget the approach of old age. But the six classics had all been explained and carefully elucidated by previous scholars. Of all the orthodox school there was only Mencius, wide and deep, minute and exquisite, yet obscure at times and hard to see through, who seemed to me to deserve to be properly ordered and digested. Upon this I brought forth whatever I had learned, collected testimonies from the classics and other books, and divided my author into chapters and sentences. My annotations are given along with the original text, and of every chapter I have separately indicated the scope. The Books I have divided into two Parts, the first and second, making in all fourteen sections.

“On the whole, with regard to my labour, I do not venture to think that it speaks the man of mark, but, as a gift to the learner, it may dispel some doubts and resolve perplexities. It is not for me, however, to pronounce on its excellencies or defects. Let men of discernment who come after me observe its errors and omissions and correct them; that will be a good service.”


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