Chapter 5 Bamboo Slips of Yinque Mountain

‘Heaven and Earth, the Eight Winds, the Five Elements, the Guest-Host Polarity, the Five Notes: Their Rightful Places’: An Initial Investigation 銀雀山簡〈天地八風五行客主五音之居〉初探

In: Harmoniousness: Essays in Chinese Musicology
Jao Tsung-i
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Colin Huehns
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This paper is a brave and largely successful effort to make sense of bamboo slips unearthed from ancient Chinese tombs and the astrological texts written on them, and especially their relationship to music. Jao Tsung-i then relates these primary texts to near-contemporary and other passages on the subject that survive only in later redactions and establishes clear linkage between the two. The picture that emerges is a complex web of interconnection between musical mode, notes, wind direction, climate, human health, harvest, and military action. Ancient China was clearly a world where the significance of phenomena and event was paramount.

The bamboo slips of Yinque mountain are artifacts pre-dating the Han dynasty emperor Wudi (漢武帝, 156–87 BCE, r. 141–87 BCE), and among them is a book on musical modes that can be counted as of the ‘yinyang duality’ genre and catalogued as bamboo slips no. 0860; it is titled: Heaven (tian ) and Earth (di ), Eight Winds (bafeng 八風),1 Five Elements (wuxing 五行), the Guest-Host Polarity (ke zhu 客主), Five Notes (wuyin 五音): Their Rightful Places (zhi ju 之居)’. Consisting of twelve characters (that correspond exactly to their English translations as given here), this title is written on the front face of the first bamboo slip. Yinque Mountain Han Dynasty Tomb Bamboo Slips (Yinque shan Hanmu zhujian 銀雀山漢墓竹簡), first series (published by Wenwu chubanshe 文物出版社), has not yet included reproduction of this divination book, and only in its opening pages when the overall condition of the bamboo slips is discussed is brief introduction of it made.

Transcription of the Text of Yinque Mountain Han Dynasty Bamboo Slips (Yinque shan Hanjian shiwen 銀雀山漢簡釋文) by (modern scholar) Wu Jiulong 吳九龍 catalogues this text as no. 11 of the yinyang texts of the seasons, and thus in Wu’s book, after the transcribed text, whenever there is a note ‘yin 11’ 陰十一 in brackets, it is a reference to this text.2 Although the complete text cannot be returned to its original state, these passages are here extracted, recorded, edited, and organised in order, as is given below:

Table 5.1
Table 5.1
Table 5.1

Transcriptions of the texts of Yinque mountain Han dynasty bamboo slips

Above is very scattered and fragmentary text, and it is not possible to appreciate the entirety of it, but it must undoubtedly be a book of divination using the characteristics of different Winds, and there are several facts that can be gleaned and are worth mentioning:


Regarding Winds matched to the Five Notes, and in particular their times of day expressed as Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches, for example, for the gong melody gengzi, xinchou, gengwu, xinwei, wushen, and yiyou, the pattern is undoubtedly neither random nor without any sense of order. In fact, according to the Five Elements, it differentiates between yang-type modes and yin-type modes (for example, zi [the first of the twelve Earthly branches and as jiazi 甲子 the first of the combined Stem and Branch sixty-cycle] corresponds to huangzhong [the first of the six modes]; chou [the second of the twelve Earthly branches, and as yichou 乙丑, the second of the sixty-cycle] corresponds to dalü [the fourth of the six and a semitone higher than huangzhong]). In addition, using the principle of eight semitones in distance (a perfect fifth) to generate the next pair, they are renshen 壬申 and guiyou 癸酉 (respectively the ninth and tenth of the sixty-cycle), and if this is carried on for another eight semitones, the next pair is gengchen 庚辰 and xinsi 辛巳 (respectively seventeenth and eighteenth in the sixty-cycle), and so on until the final hai (the twelfth and last Earthly Branch) is reached. From the first yang-type jiazi 甲子, passing through the Five Elements, and with the jiazi 甲子 sixty-cycle and twelve and modes matched inside a single system, the whole comprises the so-called ‘received notes’ (nayin 納音). I have previously indicated that in the Yunmeng 雲夢 Qin text on bamboo slips ‘Yu xuyu’ 禹須臾, the table of the sixty-cycle found there is a resultant product of ‘received notes’;3 my colleague Liu Lexian 劉樂賢 hailed this as a great discovery, and has furthermore drawn attention to several bamboo slips of Yinque mountain where the Five Notes belong to the Five Winds as supporting evidence, and this interpretation is extremely convincing and so is not repeated here.


Regarding the names of the Eight Winds recorded on Yinque mountain bamboo slips, surviving bamboo slips indicate only the following: Great Hard Wind, Hard Wind, Pale-White Wind, Surrounding Wind, Inauspicious Wind, Great Weak Wind, and Soft Weak Wind. Here, deduced from Wang Bing’s (王冰, c.710–c.805) exegetical notes on Basic Questions (Suwen 素問),4 the quotation of Taigong’s Military Book (Taigong bingshu 太公兵書; author: Jiang Ziya 姜子牙, d. 1015 BCE, honorific title Jiang Taigong 姜太公) in Sui dynasty Xiao Ji’s (蕭吉, 525–606) Wuxing dayi 五行大義, and Li Chunfeng’s (李淳風, 602–670) Yisi Divination (Yisi zhan 乙巳占) and the evidence they offer, the following general points are to be observed:

  1. Basic Questions, ‘Bazheng shenming lun’ 八正神明論 (chapter 26 overall, found in juan 8): ‘Assuming correct orderly flow of the Eight Seasonal Divisions, observe the emptiness of the Winds from the Eight Directions that corresponds to the times illness afflicts the person.’ 八正者,所以候八風之虛,邪以時至者也. Wang Bing’s notes to this are (juan 19): ‘The Eight Winds: from East Region, Baby Wind; from South Region, Great Weak Wind; from West Region, Hard Wind; from North Region, Great Hard Wind; from North-East Region, Inauspicious Wind; from South(-East) Region, Weak Wind; from South-West Region, Scheming Wind; from North-West Region, Snap Wind.’ 八風者: 東方嬰兒風: 南方大弱風;西方剛風;北方大剛風;東北方凶風,[東]南方弱風;西南方謀風;西北方折風.5

  2. Wuxing dayi quotes Taigong’s Military Book: ‘kan is called Great Hard Wind; qian is called Snap Wind; dui is called Small Hard Wind; gen is called Inauspicious Wind; kun is called Scheming Wind; xun is called Small Weak Wind; zhen is called Baby Wind; li is called Great Weak Wind.’ 坎名大剛風;乾名折風,兌名小剛風,艮名凶風;坤名謀風;巽名小弱風,震名嬰兒風,離名大弱風.6

  3. Li Chunfeng gives: ‘qian is High Snap Wind (original note: also called Charge [Wind]); kan is Great Hard Wind; gen is Inauspicious Wind; zhen is Baby Wind; xun is Great Weak (Wind) (original note: also given as Small Weak [Wind]); li is Great Weak Wind, kun is Scheming Wind (original note: also called Secretly Scheming Wind); dui is Small Weak (Wind).’ 乾高折風(原注一名衝[風])坎爲大剛風,艮爲凶風,震爲嬰兒風,巽爲大弱[風](原注一云小弱[風]),離爲大弱風,坤爲謀風 (原注一名陰謀風),兌爲小弱.7

As recorded by these three authorities, although the names of the winds themselves vary to some degree, the places where they come from match the Eight Trigrams, whether they start with kan or with qian . Basic Questions introduces the Eight Seasonal Divisions (bazheng 八正) and unifies them with the Four Directions (sifang 四方) and the Four Corners (siyu 四隅), so here let the writings of several authorities be compared and measured against the Yinque mountain bamboo slips, and their differences listed:

Table 5.2
Table 5.2

Comparisons between Winds given on Yinque bamboo slips and other sources

Using all the names of the Eight Winds, here let them be put in their original positions according to the diagram below:

Table 5.3
Table 5.3

Locations of the Eight Winds

Yinque bamboo slips also employ the appellation ‘Surrounding Wind’, which is not found in any other relevant text, and establishing the appropriateness of its temporary position adjacent to Scheming Wind requires more research.


As for the meanings of the titles given to the Eight Winds, here once again, let Wuxing dayi (‘Di shiqi lun bagua bafeng’ 第十七論八卦八風; in juan 4) be quoted to supply an explanation:

Huainanzi (‘Dixing xun’ 墬形訓; juan 4) gives: ‘The North-East Region is called Azure Gate and gives birth to Ribbon Wind. The East Region is called Opening Bright Gate and gives birth to Bright Proletariat Wind. The South-East Region is called Yang-Energy Gate and gives birth to Pure Bright Wind. The South Region is called Hot-Weather Gate and gives birth to Sunlight Wind. The South-West Region is called White Gate and gives birth to Cool Wind. The West Region is called Heaven Changhe Gate and gives birth to Heaven Changhe Wind. The North-West Region is called Dark Capital Gate and gives birth to Not Surrounding Wind. The North Region is called Cold Gate and gives birth to Wilderness Wind.

淮南子曰: 「東北方曰蒼門,生條風。東方曰開明門,生明庶風。東南方曰陽門,生清明風。南方曰暑門,生景風。西南方曰白門,生涼風。西方曰閶闔門,生閶闔風。西北方曰幽都門,生不周風。北方曰寒門,生廣莫風。8

Regarding Azure Gate, in the North-East, wood is the governing force, spring’s originating primal nucleus; it is therefore called Azure Gate. Regarding Opening Bright Gate, “Bright” represents yang-energy; the sun emerges from here; therefore, it is called the Opening Bright Gate. Regarding Yang-Energy Gate, the Monthly-Branch resides in si and pure yang-energy is the governing force; therefore, it is called Yang-Energy Gate. Regarding Hot-Weather Gate, (it signifies) times of waxing and waning; therefore, it is called Hot-Weather Gate. Regarding White Gate, the Monthly-Branch resides in shen, metal qi-energy’s originating primal nucleus; therefore, it is called White Gate. Regarding Heaven Changhe Gate, the eighth Monthly-Branch resides in you, and the myriad objects contract. The “Chang” of “Changhe” means “great”; the “he” of “Changhe” means “closed”; times of contraction and closure, therefore, it is called Heaven Changhe Gate. Regarding Dark Capital Gate, “Dark” means “darkness”, and the spirit Xuan Ming is the primal governing force. Yin-energy is concentrated so all is dark, and so it is called Dark Capital Gate. Regarding Cold Gate, it is where cold collects and is therefore called Cold Gate. These Eight Extremities and their regions are the places where the Eight Winds are generated.’

蒼門者,東北木將用事,春之始,故曰蒼門。 開明門者,明,陽也。日之所出。故曰開明門。陽門者,月建在已[巳]純陽用事,故曰陽門。暑門者,盛衰之時。故曰暑門。白門者,月建在申,金氣之始,故曰白門。閶闔門者,八月建在酉,萬物將收,閶,大;闔,閉。收閉之時,故曰閶闔門。幽都門者,幽,暗也,玄冥將始用事。陰聚故幽也,故曰幽都門。寒門者,積寒所在故曰寒門。此八極之方,是八風之所起也。」9

Master Lü’s Spring and Autumn Annals (juan 13: ‘You shi lan’ 有始覽, passage 1: ‘You shi’ 有始; by Lü Buwei 呂不韋, d. 235) gives: ‘In East Region, the Vastly-Flowing Wind; in South-East Region, the Movement Wind; in South Region, the Massive Wind; in South-West Region, the Desolate Wind; in West Region, the Whirling Wind; in North-West Region, the Fierce Wind; in North Region, the Cold Wind; in North-East Region, the Blistering-Hot Wind.’ These appellations and their application also resemble the patterns outlined above.

《呂氏春秋》云: 「東方滔風。東南動風。南方巨風。西南淒風。西方飄風。西北厲風。北方寒風。東北炎風。」此意亦同於前。10

Taigong’s Military Book gives: ‘kan is called Great Hard Wind; qian is called Snap Wind; dui is called Small Hard Wind; gen is called Inauspicious Wind; kun is called Scheming Wind; xun is called Small Weak Wind; zhen is called Baby Wind; li is called Great Weak Wind. Regarding Great Hard Wind, it has greater yin-energy’s qi-energy and likes to kill and thus is “hard”. Regarding Snap Wind, its metal constituency is strong, and it can exert pressure on objects causing them to snap. Regarding Small Hard Wind, owing to its metal constituency it therefore also kills. Regarding Inauspicious Wind, gen is at Ghost Gate, so it is an inauspicious and harmful place. Regarding Scheming Wind, kun represents earth, the basis of greater yin-energy and much secret scheming. Regarding Small Weak Wind, xun is the eldest daughter and therefore it is called “weak”. Regarding Baby Wind, zhen is the eldest son and it loves him and therefore it is called “child (baby)”. Regarding Great Weak Wind, li is the middle daughter; also, she is weaker than the eldest daughter. With Great Hard Wind and Small Wind, the Guest is in the ascendency. With Great Weak Wind and Small Weak Wind, the Host is in the ascendency. “Inauspicious” means the presence of inauspicious and harmful matters. “Scheming” means the presence of people scheming insurrection. “Snap” means there will be imminent death. With Baby Wind, the Host is strong. All these are means by which the Military School watches the waxing and waning of Guest and Host, observing whence a Wind has come.’

《太公兵書》云: 「坎名大剛風,乾名折風。兌名小剛風。艮名凶風。坤名謀風。巽名小弱風。震名嬰兒風。離名大弱風。」大剛風者,大陰之氣,好殺故剛。折風者,金強,能摧折物也。小剛風者,亦金殺故也。凶風者,艮在鬼門,凶害之所也。謀風者,坤爲地,大陰之本,多陰謀也。小弱風者,巽爲長女,故稱弱也。嬰兒風者,震爲長男,愛之,故曰兒。大弱風者,離爲中女,又弱於長女也。大剛、小剛,客勝。大弱、小弱,主人勝。凶,有凶害之事。謀,有謀逆之人。折爲將死。嬰兒風,主人強。此並兵家觀客主盛衰,候風所從來也。11

Yang Quan (fl. Western Jin dynasty) gives: ‘When spring’s qi-energy is balmy, its Wind is warmed and harmonious, a Joyful Wind. When summer’s qi-energy is at its richest, its Wind, replete with yang-energy, is chaste, a Happy Wind. Autumn’s qi-energy is vigorous, its Wind fiery and pure, an Angry Wind. Winter’s qi-energy is cold, its Wind concentrated and fierce, a Plaintive Wind. In addition are Winds from the Four Midway Directions (south-east, south-west, north-east, north-west), and with them comes qi-energy for the growth of life; the land of the various Regions is all differently appropriate, and each according to the emotional quality that arises caused by its Wind; the aforementioned are results of Heaven’s mandates as well as the manifestation of good governance. If the ruler promulgates decrees of virtuous morality, then the Winds will not rock good order, that is, purity, harmoniousness, proportionality, and efficiency. If government decrees lose these qualities, then the qi-energy will become angry, inauspicious, and explosive, whipping up sandstorms and snapping and uprooting trees. This is the principle of Heaven and Earth’s retribution, and all happens at the instigation and inspiration of the qi-energy of the Five Elements.’

楊泉云: 「春氣臑,其風溫以和,喜風也。夏氣盛,其風陽以貞,樂風也。秋氣勁,其風熛以清,怒風也。冬氣冷,其風凝以厲,哀風也。」又四維之風,隨生成之氣,方土異宜,各隨所感而風者,天之號令,治政之象。若君有德令,則風不搖條,清和調暢。若政令失,則氣怒凶暴,飛沙折木。此天地報應之理也,皆五行之氣感召所致。12

Taigong’s Military Book discusses the Military School who watches the waxing and waning of Guest and Host, that is, observing the Wind as the arbiter of decision-making; in the main, with Great Hard Wind and Small Hard Wind, the Guest comes into the ascendency; with Great Weak Wind and Small Weak Wind, the Host comes into the ascendency; with Baby Wind, the Guest is strong; simply put, the principle: ‘If it is the Guest, it cannot be the Host可以爲客,不可以爲主 is here a precise proof of mutual concordance.

In addition, Lingshu jing 靈樞經 (‘Essay on Nine Palaces and Eight Winds’ [‘Jiugong bafeng’ 九宫八風]; essay 77, found in juan 11) records that the Supreme Unity (Taiyi 太一) travels the Nine Palaces, the Two Royal Courts (liangchao 兩朝), and the Eight Winds to make a divination predicting the auspicious or otherwise. It explains where the Eight Winds get their names from by employing the medical concept of the opposite polarities ‘empty’ (xu ) and ‘full’ (shi ) used in pathology as a starting point, which implants a whole new meaning; the words used to express these ideas are recorded below:

From the day marking the Beginning of Autumn, the second, Xuanwei, the South-West Region.


From the day marking the Autumn Equinox, the seventh, Cangguo, the West Region.


From the day marking the Beginning of Winter, the sixth, Xinluo, the North-West Region.


From the day marking the Summer Solstice, the ninth, Shangtian, the South Region.


Shaoyao, central palace.


From the day marking the Winter Solstice, the first, Yezhe, the North Region.


From the day marking the Beginning of Summer, the fourth, Yinluo, the South-East Region.


From the day marking the Spring Equinox, the third, Cangmen, the East Region.


From the day marking the Beginning of Spring, the eighth, Tianliu, the North-East Region.


According to eternal schedule, from the day of the Winter Solstice, the Supreme Unity lives in the Yezhe Palace for forty-six days. From the next day, he lives in the Tianliu Palace for forty-six days. From the next day, he lives in the Cangmen Palace for forty-six days. From the next day, he lives in the Yinluo Palace for forty-five days. From the next day, he lives in the (Shang)tian Palace for forty-six days. From the next day, he lives in the Xuanwei Palace for forty-six days. From the next day, he lives in the Cangguo Palace for forty-six days. From the next day, he lives in the Xinluo Palace for forty-five days. From the next day he lives once again in the Yezhe Palace, and this is the Winter Solstice once more. The Supreme Unity also travels around from day to day, and from the day that he lives in the Yezhe Palace, counting where he stays, every day he moves to a new place until on the ninth day, he returns to whence he came. His progress always follows this formula and never ceases, always returning finally to his starting point.

太一常以冬至之日,居叶蟄之宮四十六日,明日居天留四十六日,明日居倉門四十六日,明日居陰洛四十五日,明日居天宮四十六日,明日居玄委四十六日,明日居倉果四十六日,明日居新洛四十五日。 明日復居叶蟄之宮,曰冬至矣。太一日游,以冬至之日居叶蟄之宮,數所在,日從一處,至九日,復反於一。常如是無已,終而復始。14

On the days when the Supreme Unity moves to another palace, Heaven must answer him with wind and rain, and wind and rain on these days is auspicious and means the harvest will be plentiful, the people peaceful, and sickness low. Before him, there is plenty of rain; after him there is drought. If the Supreme Unity, on the day marking the Winter solstice, undergoes a transformation, the divination is that of the ruler. If the Supreme Unity, on the Spring Equinox, undergoes a transformation, the divination is that of the xiang Minister. If the Supreme Unity, during the days in the Central Palace, undergoes a transformation, the divination is that of the li ordinary official. If the Supreme Unity, on the Autumn Equinox, undergoes a transformation, the divination is that of the general. If the Supreme Unity, on the day of the Summer Solstice, undergoes a transformation, the divination is that of the ordinary people. Regarding that which is termed a transformation, on the day when the Supreme Unity comes to live in these five palaces, a vicious wind comes and snaps branches and uproots trees, whipping up sandstorms and tossing boulders, and each according to his station makes a divination for better or worse, and through watching the Wind that comes, the divination will be made.

太一移日,天必應之以風雨,以其日風雨則吉,歲美民安少病矣。先之則多雨,後之則多汗。太一在冬至之日有變,占在君;太一在春分之日有變,占在相。太一在中宮之日有變,占在吏。太一在秋分之日有變,占在將。太一在夏至之日有變,占在百姓。所謂有變者,太一居五宮之日,病風折樹木,揚沙石,各以其所主占貴賤。因視風所來而 占之。15

When a Wind comes from the home territory that it occupies, it is a ‘full’ wind and promotes life, providing sustained nourishment and nurture to the myriad beings. After its gusts have blown over there comes a ‘empty’ wind that does hurt to people and is an entity that promotes death and promotes harm, and the ‘empty’ wind should be observed with caution and avoided. Therefore, the sage expounds the philosophy of avoiding ‘empty-evil’, just as slingshots and arrows are to be avoided. Evil is thus prevented from causing harm, and that is what is meant by this process. For this reason, once the Supreme Unity has moved into the Central Palace, facing towards the Eight Winds, a divination of auspiciousness or otherwise is made.


When the Wind comes from the South Region, it is named Great Weak Wind and it harms people; inside it inhabits the heart and outside it abides in the veins, and its qi-energy promotes heat. When the Wind comes from the South-West Region, it is called Scheming Wind and it harms people; inside it inhabits the spleen and outside it abides on the flesh, and its qi-energy promotes weakness. When the Wind comes from the West Region, it is called Hard Wind and it harms people; inside it inhabits the lungs and outside it abides on the skin, and its qi-energy promotes dryness. When the Wind comes from the North-West Region, its name is Snap Wind and it harms people; inside it inhabits the small intestine and outside it abides on the hand-taiyang (acupuncture point on the) veins, and when the veins are pierced, the blood will overflow, and when the veins are blocked, the blood will clot and not flow, which effectively triggers an explosion causing death. When the Wind comes from the North Region, its name is Great Hard Wind and it harms people; inside it inhabits the kidneys and outside it abides on the sinews joining the backbone, shoulders, and back, and its qi-energy promotes coldness. When the Wind comes from the North-East Region, it is called Inauspicious Wind and it harms people; inside it inhabits the large intestine and outside it abides below the ribs on both flanks and in the joints of the limbs. When the Wind comes from the East Region, it is called Baby Wind and it harms people; inside it inhabits the liver and outside it abides in tendon junctures, and its qi-energy promotes bodily moisture. When the Wind comes from the South-East Region, it is called Weak Wind and it harms people; inside it inhabits the stomach and outside it abides on the muscles, and its qi-energy promotes bodily weight. These Eight Winds all come from their ‘empty’ homelands and so cause illness in people.

風從南方來,名曰大弱風,其傷人也,內舍於心,外在於脈,氣主熱。風從西南方來,名曰謀風,其傷人也,內舍於脾,外在於肌,其氣主爲弱。風從西方來,名曰剛風,其傷人也,內舍於肺,外在於皮膚,其氣主爲燥。風從西北方來,名曰折風。其傷人也,內舍於小腸,外在於手太陽脈,脈絕則溢,脈閉則結不通,善暴死。 風從北方來,名曰大剛風,其傷人也,內舍於腎,外在於骨與肩背之膂筋,其氣主爲寒也。 風從東北方來,名曰凶風,其傷人也,內舍於大腸,外在於兩脅腋骨下及肢節。風從東方來,名曰嬰兒風,其傷人也,內舍於肝,外在於筋紐,其氣主爲身溼。風從東南方來,名曰弱風,其傷人也,內舍於胃,外在肌肉,其氣主體重。此八風皆從其虛之鄉來,乃能病人。17

When the Supreme Unity goes out on his travels, ‘on the days when he moves to another palace, Heaven must answer him with wind and rain,’ therefore, when the Supreme Unity transplants his position, the Eight Winds undergo the transformations of birth and death, and when a Wind comes from its home territory, it is a ‘full’ wind and promotes life, providing sustained nourishment and nurture to the myriad beings. After its gusts have blown over there comes an ‘empty’ wind that does hurt to people and is an entity that promotes harm, and therefore upon observation of an ‘empty’ wind, it should be avoided. The nomenclature of the Eight Winds is entirely derived from negative connotations, thus Lingshu jing gives that the Eight Winds come from ‘empty’ homelands and so cause illness in people. This can be taken as proof of the anecdote (Records of the Grand Historian [Shi ji 史記], ‘Book on Heavenly Officials’ [‘Tianguan shu’ 天官書]; juan 27): ‘Wei Xian (fl. Western Han dynasty) of the Han dynasty assembled the evidence of wind strength and direction of the day after the sacrificial ceremony in the twelfth lunar month and also the morning of New Year’s Day in order to determine the Eight Winds’ verdict on the likely auspiciousness or otherwise of the coming year;’ 漢魏鮮某臘明正月旦以決八風; ‘Tianguan shu’ also gives:

Wind coming from the South Region: severe drought.


(Wind coming from the) South-West Region: mild drought.


(Wind coming from the) West Region: military incursion.


(Wind coming from the) North-West Region: large beans, there is drizzling rain, war will be waged instantly.

西北 戎菽,爲小雨,趣兵

(Wind coming from the) North Region: there will be an average harvest.

北方 爲中歲

(Wind coming from the) North-East Region: there will be a plentiful harvest.

東北 爲上歲

(Wind coming from the) East Region: severe flooding.

東方 大水

(Wind coming from the) South-East Region: the ordinary people will suffer plague and pestilence; bad harvest.

東南 民有疾疫,歲惡

Therefore, the relative auspiciousness of the Eight Winds is a product of their mutual interaction and conflict coming from different directions, and the most powerful prevails….


(See: Kaiyuan zhan jing 開元占經 [juan 93; by Gautama Siddha, Chinese name: Qutan Xida 瞿曇悉達, fl. eighth century; Kaiyuan era: 713–741] that quotes Zhengyue shuodan bafeng zhan 正月朔旦八風占 [by Wei Xian]).19

The Eight Winds all interact in mutual conflict and come from ‘empty’ directions, so they mostly promote inauspiciousness. Regarding the two characters ‘large’ (rong ) and ‘beans’ (shu ), the following passage from (Records of the Grand Historian) ‘Tianguan shu’ proves this: ‘From dawn to breakfast time matches wheat; from breakfast time to when the sun begins westering matches ji millet; from when the sun begins westering to the time of the evening meal matches shu millet; from the time of the evening meal until later in the evening matches beans; and from later in the evening until sunset matches sesame.’ 食至日昳爲稷,昳至餔爲黍,餔至下餔爲菽,下餔至日入爲麻.20 Wheat, ji millet, shu millet, beans, and sesame are substitute names for the divisions of the day that distinguish time periods ranging from breakfast through when the sun begins westering to sunset. ‘Large beans’ indicates the segment of time from the evening meal until later in the evening; taking the later phrases ‘plentiful harvest’ and ‘average harvest’ as proof, the subsequent phrase ‘there is drizzling rain’ should be read as a sentence. In fact, the appellation ‘drizzling rain’ is often found in oracle inscriptions, and it tells that there was drizzling rain at the time, which in turn indicates a suitable juncture for instigating military action. Lunheng 論衡, ‘Biandong pian’ 變動篇 (by Wang Chong 王充, 27–97 CE; chapter 43) gives:

According to (Records of the Grand Historian) ‘Tianguan shu’, at the beginning of the first lunar month, divination is made of the Winds from the Four Regions: Wind from the South Region denotes drought, from the North Region denotes moist air and heavy rainfall, from the East denotes plague and pestilence, and from the West denotes military incursions. The Grand Historian (Sima Qian 司馬遷, b. 145 or 135 BCE, writer of Records of the Grand Historian) gives a factual account when he informs that the Winds are used to divine flooding, drought, military incursion, and plague and pestilence, and that the outcome for people and objects, whether inauspicious or otherwise, is controlled by Heaven.


The Winds from the Four Regions are employed to divine flooding, drought, military incursions, and plague and pestilence—these four items—and their prophetic pronouncements based on their mutual interaction and the resultant conflict. From this the significance in oracular inscriptions of the names of the Winds as coming from the Four Regions can be understood and that this must be connected to observing the Winds for the purposes of divination. Observing the Winds is in turn interlinked with agriculture to divine the abundance or otherwise of the harvest, and particular years are thus differentiated as ‘average’ or ‘plentiful’. In the Yin dynasty, divination was made on the basis of the Four Winds (sifeng 四風) and dissimilar to Wei Xian’s matching with the Five Notes and the Five Grains (wugu 五穀) in a detailed scheme, but in both cases, the significance of Wind divination emerges from observation of the harvests themselves and the rationale is identical. One oracular inscription gives: ‘The East Region is called Snap , while the Wind is called harmonious.’ 東方曰析風曰.22 ‘Harmonious’ indicates ‘harmonious tillage’ and the plentiful harvest it produces, which resembles (in spirit) lock, stock, and barrel the imperial sacrificial ceremonies performed to initiate the spring sowing season recorded in (the early Warring States period text) Discourses of the States (Guoyu 國語, ‘Zhouyu shang’ 周語上; juan 1): ‘Five days previously, the blind soothsayer-musician reported that a Harmonious Wind had blown in;’ 前五日,瞽告有協風至;23 this concordance has already been discussed in detail by scholars of oracle bones. On the Yinque mountain bamboo slips, the North-West qian position matches Pale-White Wind , which is also known as Snap Wind, and the name most likely stems from the Yin dynasty East Region ‘Snap’ (because the characters resemble one another), but the Region from which they emanate is different. Wei Xian has the five segments of the day matching the Five Grains, and the Five Notes determining the abundance or otherwise of the harvest, as is shown in the diagram below:

Table 5.4
Table 5.4

Matches between the five divisions of the day and the Five Grains

Regarding the state of the harvest, the entry in Han shu 漢書, ‘Wudi ji’ 武帝紀 (juan 6; Emperor Wu: 156–87 BCE, r. 140–87 BCE) for the first year, the fifth month, of the Jianyuan 建元 era (140–135 BCE) is: ‘As the lakes and rivers moistened the fields for thousands of li in all directions, the emperor commanded officials who managed the temples to restore and rectify the sacrifices made to mountains and rivers for the sake of the (most important) annual matter (the harvest) and for the rites to be enhanced at all levels.’ 河海潤千里,其令祠官修山川之祠爲歲事,曲加禮.24 Meng Kang’s (孟康, fl. third century) notes to this passage read: ‘These are supplicatory prayers offered for the sake of agriculture. As such and implemented in due fashion, they are annual events; therefore, they are called the “annual matter”.’ 爲農祈也,於此造之,歲以爲常,故曰爲歲事也.25 This, then, is the action of praying for a plentiful harvest.

Concerning this multiplicity of issues, most cannot be investigated in close detail relative to oracular inscriptions. The exception is the phrase: ‘The Wind of the North Region is called “yi𨸜.’ 北方之風曰𨸜.26 On Yinque mountain bamboo slips, the North Region matches Great Hard Wind, which is also called Great Strong Wind; the character 𨸜 is perhaps a version of (also ‘yi’), which means ‘plague and pestilence’. The North Region accumulates yin-energy, and therefore during the third month of winter, a large special sacrificial ceremony took place devoted to driving out plague and pestilence. (The Zhou Rites [‘Chunguan zongbo’ 春官宗伯; chapter 3], ‘Zhanmeng’ 占夢, notes by Zheng Xuan [ 鄭玄, 127–200]).27 The character 𨸜 is usually read as (also ‘yi’), and quoting as gospel the definition in Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 (in juan 3, under the ‘shu’ radical ) ‘guarding the borderlands’, 戍邊,28 the origin of its meaning is thus grounded in the cold frontier regions, which is extremely difficult to explain. ‘Tianguan shu’ has the Wind coming from the East Region as bringing ‘plague and pestilence’ ; the people of the Yin dynasty, however, regarded ‘plague and pestilence’ as coming from the North Region, and this may explain the discrepancy.


The Wind coming directly from South Region is called Great Weak Wind. The Zuo Commentary (Zuozhuan 左傳; traditionally attributed to Zuo Qiuming 左丘明, fl. late Spring and Autumn period), ‘Duke Xiang’ (‘Xianggong’ 襄公; chapter 9), the Eighteenth Year of his Reign (‘Shiba nian’ 十八年) gives: ‘The army of the state of Chu mostly froze, and the campaigning season for the year was almost over; when the people of the state of Jin heard that the Chu army was there, (the celebrated musician) Shi Kuang (fl. late Spring and Autumn period) said: “They cannot harm us. Many times have I sung to the North Wind and also to the South Wind. The South Wind is the weaker, for the most part a voice of death, and that means that the Chu army will not prevail.”’ 楚師多凍,徒役歲盡,晉人聞有楚師,師曠曰不害,吾驟歌北風,又歌南風。南風不競,多死聲,楚必無功.29 Du Yu’s notes to this passage are: ‘The songs were sung according to the correct mode as given by pitchpipes in supplication to the Eight Winds, and the sound of the South Region was faint.’ 歌者吹律以咏八風,南方音微.30

The Zhou Rites (‘Chunguan zongbo’), ‘Baozhang shi’ 保章氏: ‘By means of the Twelve Winds, this official investigates the harmoniousness of Heaven and Earth, decreeing the auspiciousness or otherwise of potentially disharmonious phenomena.’ 以十有二風,察天地之和,命乖別之妖祥.31 Zheng Xuan’s notes to this give: ‘The twelve subdivisions of the twenty-four-hour day are each accorded their own Wind, and their musical mode can be blown on pitchpipes to ascertain their harmoniousness or otherwise, but the method of such discernment has been lost,’ 十有二辰皆有風吹其律以知和不(否),其道亡矣,32 which paraphrases as its fundamental argument the observations made by the passage from The Zuo Commentary. Note: The reason the sound of the South was faint and weakest was because the Wind of South Region was Great Weak Wind, and the evidence of these bamboo slips further illuminates and clarifies the veracity of this formula. In several places, the Yinque bamboo slips indicate musical performance in the modes huangzhong, yingzhong, ruibin, and linzhong, and perhaps the scope of the supplicatory ceremonies enacted had the twelve modes matched to the months of the year and then performed according to this schedule, but unfortunately the wording on the bamboo slips is obscure and its intention in this respect hard to fathom. Zheng Xuan records that the twelve divisions of the 24-hour day each had their own Wind, but how the ‘method of their discernment’ had been lost for such a long stretch of time awaits further exploration.

This essay provides only rough explanation of the overall general framework and does not reveal a deeper level of detail. Concerning the appellation ‘divination of the Winds’ (fengzhan 風占), Wang Chong in (Lunheng) ‘Biandong pian’ gives: ‘Regarding using the Wind to divine the superior and the abased, when the Wind comes from the ruler’s royal demesne and xiang Minister’s residence, then it is superior, but when it comes from the badlands of the criminal, then it is abased.’ 以風占貴賤者,風從王相鄉來則貴,從囚死地來則賤.33 Kaiyuan zhan jing (juan 91) when divining Winds categorises them and speaks of auspicious Winds and inauspicious Winds that cause disaster, and remarks: ‘Care should be taken through detailed knowledge of the Five Notes to make measure of (the Winds from) the Eight Regions, observing their arising and cessation and thereby making divination of them.’ 當詳五音定八方,觀其起止占之.34 Although these bamboo slips are damaged and incomplete, and besides, concerning the arts of Wind divination at the beginning of the Han dynasty prior to Wei Xian and Yi Feng (翼奉, fl. Western Han dynasty), only a rough framework remains of relevant discourse, a fraction of this art can still be glimpsed.

For the term ‘Wind jiao-note’ (fengjiao 風角), see (The Official Book of the Later Han Dynasty [Hou Han shu 後漢書]) ‘Biography of Lang Yi’ (‘Lang Yi zhuan’ 郎顗; in juan 30, ‘Part Two [of Two]’), notes by Li Xian (李賢, 655–684), which say: ‘Regarding the term “Wind jiao-note”, (it means) observing the Winds from the Four Regions and Four Corners in order to make divination of the auspicious or inauspicious.’ 風角,候四方四隅之風以占吉凶也,35 The Official Book of the Sui Dynasty (Sui shu 隋書), ‘Jingji zhi’ 經籍志 (juan 32–35), ‘Section on the Five Elements’ (‘Wuxing lei’ 五行類; in juan 34) lists twenty-two items of this type (that contain the characters ‘Wind’ and ‘jiao-note’ consecutively in their titles), of which twelve are given as ‘lost’, and all these entries indicate the names Jing Fang (京房, 77–33 BCE) and Yi Feng.36 (For example, Kyoto University’s Tiandi ruixiang zhi 天地瑞祥志 [by Sa Shouzhen 薩守真, fl. Tang dynasty] quotes Yi Feng’s Fengjiao yaojue 風角要決.) The Tang dynasty taishiling 太史令 Astrologer Royal, Li Chunfeng, gives: ‘Ever since the time of Yi Feng, books on Wind and jiao-note divination have become extremely numerous, hundreds of juan in fact; some are detailed and some concise, encompassing the whole gamut of the genuine and the spurious.’ 自翼奉已後、風角之書近將百卷,或詳或略,真僞參差.37

These fragmentary bamboo slips are somewhat early in date, and because of that their scholarly significance is especially high. In the section in Yisi Divination where Master Li (Chunfeng) discusses divination of strong winds of the Eight Regions, he provides a diagram with the Twelve Earthly Branches, Ten Heavenly Stems, and Four Midway Directions (siwei 四維) all matching one another, which is identical to equivalent Song dynasty diagrams of the Later Heaven (Houtian 後天) Eight Trigrams. On it, the following appellations are different: West Region dui Wind is called ‘Charge Wind’ (chongfeng 衝風), and East Region zhen Wind is called ‘Villain Wind’ (guifeng 宄風) (that is, Baby Wind), and this itself is worthy of consideration. As this essay is written in haste, as a matter of course, there will be many errors in it, but an earnest hope is treasured that anyone with broad knowledge and sound scholarship aware of any will point them out for due correction.

12 November 1992, Hong Kong

This essay was originally a paper for the Guanxi University Conference on Han dynasty bamboo slips.


In this context and often elsewhere, the character (‘feng’) is a difficult word to translate as it can mean ‘wind’, ‘melody’, or ‘style’ or a combination of all three.


Wu Jiulong, Yinque shan Hanjian shiwen, 79.


Jao Tsung-i, ‘Qinjian zhong de wuxing shuo yu nayin shuo’, 3: 98–125.


Basic Questions and Lingshu jing 靈樞經 (mentioned below) are the two books that comprise Huangdi neijing 黃帝内經, an extremely ancient medical text that is probably undatable and not written by a single author.


Huangdi neijing Suwen jiaozhu, 371.


Xiao Ji, Wuxing dayi, 17.105.


Li Chunfeng, Yisi zhan, 10.190.

This quote comes from juan 4 of Yisi Divination, the fourth paragraph of an essay called ‘From the Eight Directions, Strong Winds Divination, the Eighty-First’ (‘Bafang baofeng zhan di bashiyi’ 八方暴風占第八十一).


Xiao Ji, Wuxing dayi, 4.104–5.


Xiao Ji, Wuxing dayi, 4.105.


Xiao Ji, Wuxing dayi, 4.105.


Xiao Ji, Wuxing dayi, 4.105.


Xiao Ji, Wuxing dayi, 4.105–6.

See juan 9 of Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era (Taiping yulan 太平御覽) for a quotation of Yang Quan’s Wuli lun 物理論, which although a different text, expounds similar ideas.


Lingshu jing, 11.11a–11b.


Lingshu jing, 11.11b.


Lingshu jing, 11. 11b–12a.


Lingshu jing, 11. 12a.


Lingshu jing, 11. 12a–12b.


Sima Qian, Shi ji, 27.1340.


Qutan Xida, Tang Kaiyuan zhan jing, 93.1a–1b (807: 869).


Sima Qian, Shi ji, 27.1340.


Lunheng jiaoshi, 15.653.


Jiaguwen heji, no. 14294.


Guoyu jijie, 1.17.


Han shu, 6.157.


Han shu, 6.157.

Meng Kang’s notes presumably come from his Han shu yinyi 漢書音義 which does not survive but are widely quoted (including this sentence) in Yan Shigu’s (顏師古, 581–645) Han shu xuli 漢書叙例.


Jiaguwen heji, no. 14294.


Zhouli zhush, 25.771.

Complete sets of Zheng Xuan’s notes are found in Zhouli zhushu 周禮注疏, where ‘Zhan meng’ is at the start of juan 25, and Zhouli zhengyi 周禮正義, where juan 48 includes ‘Zhan meng’. Jao Tsung-i has not furnished an exact source for his citation of Zheng Xuan; the notes in Zhouli zhushu and Zhouli zhengyi are extremely similar and would thus seem to stem from a contemporary common source.


Xu Shen, Shuowen jiezi, 3B.13a (66).

In Shuowen jiezi, is not found under the ‘chi’ radical (juan 2), which further supports Jao Tsung-i’s argument.


Zuo Qiuming, Chunqiu zuozhuan zhengyi, 33.1094.


Zuo Qiuming, Chunqiu zuozhuan zhengyi, 33.1094.

The precise source that Jao Tsung-i used for Du Yu’s notes to The Zuo Commentary is not clear as they occur in various forms, but possibly the earliest is Zuozhuan zhengyi (juan 33), which has notes by Du Yu and supplementary explanation by Kong Yingda (孔穎達, 574–648).


Zhouli zhushu, 26.831.


Zhouli zhushu, 26.831.

Notes to ‘Baozhang shi’ in Zhouli zhushu and Zhouli zhengyi are found in juan 26 and 51 respectively.


Lunheng jiaoshi, 15.652.


Qutan Xida, Tang Kaiyuan zhan jing, 91.4a (807: 856).


Hou Han shu, 30B.1053.


Sui shu, 34.1026–27.

Prevailing versions of this list give only seven (not twelve) of the twenty-two as lost. Of the twenty-two, two mention only Jing Fang, four mention only Yi feng, and one mentions both; these seven do not correlate to the seven that are lost.


Li Chunfeng, Yisi zhan, 10.169.

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