In the framework of the Working Group "The Learned Practices of Canonical Texts," Lianbin Dai's project aimed to reconstruct Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi’s (1130–1200) hermeneutic practice in his transition from philology to philosophy with a case study of his commentary on the Analects 1.1. As his commentary was an extension of his textual criticism, Lianbin Dai began discussion with his thesis about the Classical texts as the foundation of intellectual and moral advancement, his evidential approach to them, and his pattern in textual collation, all of which were applied, implicitly or explicitly, to his commentarial practice.
By an evidential approach, textual meaning was treated objective, as the sages’ intentions embraced in the Classics were. This does not mean less controversial philosophical readings of the Classic texts. Philosophical interventionism was just one of the causes. The school paradigm and understandings of principles (li) were more obligatory. Restricted to a particular paradigm, the Neo-Confucian could introduce only selected concepts and categories from the established source works into his interpretation. Discovered connections among them made a new philosophical discourse possible. The Neo-Confucian goal was to comprehend the Principle of Heaven, whose manifestations were in turn employed in textual criticism. In his collation and commentaries, Zhu remained critical to earlier texts and editions but emphasized and applied principles for textual formation and transmission. Principle(s) eventually took the place of traditional and institutional authority over textual practices. Zhu’s textual criticism and Classical exegesis thus presented a circular movement of philology and philosophy, the tension of which remained dominant in Chinese Classical scholarship.