A New Discussion of the “Case of Disputed Scholarship” Involving Liao Ping and Kang Youwei

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.4, 2020


A New Discussion of the “Case of Disputed Scholarship” Involving Liao Ping and Kang Youwei



Wu Yangxiang


Whether Kang Youweis Forged Classics of the New Learning and Confucius as a Reformer originated in Liao Pings Refutation of Liu Xin and Recognizing the Sage respectively is a well-known academic controversy in the field of late Qing history. All kinds of stories about the sources of the two men’s academic work became “facts” through the constant embellishment of Liao Ping and his disciples, descendants and successors, ending up as a story of Kang Youwei’s “plagiarism” and Liao Ping’s “influence.” However, a review of the relevant historical facts of the Guangzhou meeting shows that Liao did not show Kang his “Refutation of Liu Xin,” while Kang’s “Forged Classics of the New Learning” already existed in draft; it was therefore impossible for Kang to have plagiarized “Refutation of Liu Xin.” Liao Ping and Kang Youwei did not reach agreement on their scholarly work, so the impact of the meeting on Kang’s scholarly activities should not be exaggerated. Reviewing the basic documents about the two men’s dealings with one another, one notes that Liao reiterated that “There is naturally room for your studies,” and that he never accused Kang’s “Forged Classics of the New Learning” of plagiarism. When Liao Ping and his followers promulgated the view of “ancestral antecedents” after the 1898 Incident, they did so with the aim of drawing a dividing line with Kang’s work for the sake of their own protection; inwardly, they did not recognize Kang as an academic successor. Kang Youwei was indeed influenced by “A Study of the Ancient and Modern Classical Texts” and “Recognizing the Sage,” but he soon shifted the direction of his work on the Confucian classics. However, we cannot establish a single source of correspondence between the two schools of Confucian learning. Ascertaining the truth of the dealings between Liao Ping and Kang Youwei on the basis of the restoration of historical facts and perusal of original texts enables us to draw conclusions on what has been a moot point for a century.