Too often the thought and scholarship of Huang Zongxi (1610–95), a prominent Chinese intellectual and political activist of the Ming-Qing transition period, are treated in isolation, as though the man stood in a sphere above and apart from most other thinkers of his day. The greatness of his scholarly achievements and the incisiveness of his ideas are stressed, with little attempt to relate those to the accomplishments and ideas of his mentors and contemporaries. This approach has created the widespread impression that Huang was one of only three or four figures who had anything very original to say in the seventeenth century. But the more we study seventeenth-century thought, the more we recognize that Huang Zongxi's forte was less in originality than in a keen awareness, examination, and articulation of issues that were current in his time. The perpetuation of notions about Huang's creative singularity obstructs our understanding not only of his intellectual milieu but also of the man's own attitude toward progress in learning. I do not wish to challenge the idea that Huang was an outstanding intellectual of the later imperial era in China but to urge that he be viewed differently: as someone who placed in bold relief ideas that emerged in the late Ming period and brought to fruition in writings of enduring value various approaches to scholarship that had been gestating since the latter part of the sixteenth century.

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