I was recently searching on Baidupedia and found this list in the top-right hand corner of my page. They are the “related people” to the one whose page I was on. They are (from left to right, top to bottom):
1. Shùn, legendary emperor of the 23rd century BC.
2. Yáo, legendary emperor of the 23rd century BC, who nobly yielded the throne to Shùn in his old age.
3. Xúnzǐ (c. 312–230 BC), noted pre-imperial philosopher.
4. Wáng Yángmíng (1472–1529), general and Neo-Confucian thinker of the Ming dynasty. Not to be confused with Sunny Wang, star of Once Upon a Love.
5. Chén Réndé, modern writer of classical Chinese poetry based in Chóngqìng.
6. Yu Ying-shih (Yú Yīngshí, b. 1930), Chinese-American intellectual historian based in Princeton, winner of the Tang Prize in Sinology.
7. Yú Shìnán (558–638), poet-calligrapher of the early medieval period.
8. Wáng Ānshí (1021–1086), scholar-official of the early Song dynasty who advocated for a broad range of economic and governmental reforms. Better picture here.
9. Chéng Yí (1033–1107), founder of “Dao studies” 道學 along with his elder brother Chéng Hào 程顥. His philosophy had an enormous impact on Zhū Xī 朱熹, the leading figure of Neo-Confucianism.
So who could possibly be the shared point of connection between two of China’s mythical founding emperors, a medieval poet, several Neo-Confucian philosophers, a Chinese-American historian, and others?
That’s right, you guessed it: Yú Tíng 虞廷 (1875—1912), late Qing military leader based in Zhèjiāng province!
What was I doing looking up information on him, having virtually no interest in the intricacies of the military response to the Wǔchāng Uprising?
Absolutely nothing. In fact, I came across the two characters 虞廷 in an exegesis of a line by the great medieval poet Dù Fǔ 杜甫 and wasn’t quite sure what they meant. A name, perhaps? It was embedded in a reference to early culture, so I knew that late imperial militarism was quite off the mark. A few more seconds of poking around the internet and it became clear that the phrase referred to “the court of Shùn, who controlled the fiefdom of Yú,” or 虞舜的朝廷.
This, folks, is what honest Sinology looks like: there will always be references and circumlocutions that will seem frustratingly opaque to you, until you find the right resource, the right quote, the right gloss, and everything flips into place, and your face reddens with the shame of having wasted fifteen valuable minutes of your life on something so obvious.