This essay proposes a new perspective on Guwen 古文 (Ancient-Style Writing) in the mid-eleventh century and Cheng Yi's 程頤 Daoxue 道學 (Learning of the Way) based on two interconnected approaches. The first involves an analysis of wenqi 文氣 and the yong 用 (efficacy) of wen in traditional literary criticism, while the second examines the role of the Confucian classics in Guwen and Daoxue. The notion of wenqi helps to elucidate what essentially connects the wen of the sages and their dao—it resolves the seeming dichotomy between aesthetic quality and moral-political practicality, and that between culture and nature in our understanding of Guwen. Situating the activity of writing in mid-Northern Song political culture and its civil examination system, the author also argues that the priority of dao over wen, sometimes seen in the Guwen proponents' works, should be understood as contextualized political rhetoric. Meanwhile, the classics occupied a central position for Guwen as well as Daoxue: both mid-eleventh-century Guwen proponents and Cheng Yi believed that learning from the classics was the best way to guarantee accurate understanding of the dao. This attitude toward the classics, combined with a belief in humanity's innate capacity to apprehend the dao, formed the continuity between Guwen and Daoxue; the attitude toward writing was where they parted. A critical shift from Guwen to Daoxue scholarship was from asking “what is good writing” to “what is good reading.” The author considers Ouyang Xiu's approach to the classics a preliminary hermeneutic circle and Cheng Yi's a continuous one.

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