“A Precious Raft to Save the World” The Interaction of Scriptural Traditions and Printing in a Chinese Morality Book
Johns Hopkins University Press
In 1755 Huang Zhengyuan, the compiler of “illustrated explanations” (tushuo) of moral tracts, introduced his edition of the Taishang ganying pian (Treatise of the Most High on Action and Retribution) with a compelling argument about the merit to be obtained from distributing morality books (shanshu). Since good deeds bring good fortune and bad deeds bring calamity, he argued, those who would maximize their good fortune should look to the most efficient way of performing good deeds. “There is more than one road to virtue,” he noted, “but none can compare to distributing morality books. By transforming one person, a morality book can transform ten million people.
By transforming one person, a morality book can transform ten million people. By spreading its teachings throughout one city, it can spread them throughout ten million cities. By exhorting one generation to virtue, it can exhort ten million generations. This is different from all other means of virtue, which do things one at a time and in only one direction.” 1 Huang made clear that the personal recompense to be had for such far-reaching virtue was also enormous. Countless people who had contributed to the dissemination of morality books, he argued, were not only saved from calamity and danger, but also amassed prosperity, prestige, and years of life.
Bell, C. M. (1996). “A Precious Raft to Save the World” The Interaction of Scriptural Traditions and Printing in a Chinese Morality Book. Late Imperial China, 17(1), 158–200. https://doi.org/10.1353/late.1996.0001.