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Joern Peter Grundmann
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The present study should be seen as an experiment.1 Although its title reads “Moral Speculation and the Conception of a Sky God,” the range of topics it touches upon is significantly broader. The central issue it addresses may perhaps best be described in terms of the development “from Religion to Philosophy” in ancient Chinese thought.2 Among the relevant works inquiring into the origins of Western speculation, F. M. Cornford’s study deserves mentioning. From the scattered literary records of Ancient Greece, he manages to identify a common thread, pointing out two traditions, a scientific one and a mystical one, that underlie the formation of Western thought. He furthermore traces the origins of such important concepts as Nature, God, and the Soul. In these respects, his book may serve as a reference for our present endeavor. At some points it even mentions materials related to Chinese yin-yang thought.3 As we are concerned here with the investigation into similar matters, we as well, from time to time, must resort to Western sources for the sake of comparison. In view of certain abstract problems, this method may facilitate our understanding and grasping of key issues. Yet in using these sources one needs to be rather cautious. At the same time, Chinese texts, especially the Confucian Classics, often suffer from being interpreted out of context by some scholars. Hence when it comes to understanding the semantic import of primary sources, the present study seeks a more appropriate approach in order to avoid faulty interpretations as much as possible. When citing passages from the Book of Documents or the Zuozhuan for instance, each individual meaning will need to fit into the respective passages’ larger context, often requiring a process of repeated consideration before a decision on a certain interpretation can be confirmed. Thus, for some of the material cited below several explanations and perspectives will be provided. As this method is somewhat at variance with the established scholarly conventions, I have felt it necessary to explain my approach here in advance.

Based on the example of Greek intellectual history, it is a generally agreed scholarly consensus that questions about the origins of morals in the West, such as concerning the relatedness of “destiny” and “law,” can be traced back to the announcement of Thales of Miletus (fl. 624/623–548/545 BC), according to which “the ultimate nature of all things is water, and the universe is alive – ‘has soul in it’ – and is full of spirits of gods.”4 Here one already finds mentioned the two concepts of “God” or “Spirit” and “Soul.”5 Note that the “Shui di” 水地 (Water and earth) chapter in the Guanzi also states:


What is water? It is the origin of the myriad phenomena.6

In his preface to the Shuijing zhu 水經注 (Commentary on the water classic), Li Daoyuan 酈道元 (fl. 466/472–527 AD) holds that water precedes all phenomena. He further quotes the following statement from Guo Pu’s 郭璞 (276–324 AD)7 Xuanzhongji 玄中記 (Stories from the mid of mystery):


As to the element of water, it moistens the entire world; among the spirits none can equal it.8

This saying may serve as an analogy to the Greek example.

The first religious poet of Greece, Hesiod (fl. 750 BC), repeatedly states that “Nature is moral.” He tells us that men will receive blessings when they do good, whereas when they commit offenses, they necessarily will become subject to Heaven’s wrath. Man’s loss of morals causes Heaven to send down great torments. The incest of Oedipus therefore resulted in tremendous natural disasters. In the belief of the ancient Greek philosophers the “Heavenly order” was conceived of as a moral category.9 This closely resembles the ancient Chinese reasoning expressed in the phrase:


The way of Heaven is to confer blessings on the morally good, and to make the depraved suffer from calamities.10

In early China, the graph “de (commonly translated as “virtue” or “moral commitment” [tr. note]) appears as early as in the writings of the Yin period. The “Pan Geng” chapter from the Book of Documents says:


Now Di-on-High will restore the de of my high ancestor and [help us to] restore order to our house.11

The appellation “high ancestor” refers here to Cheng Tang 成湯 (the first Shang King, fl. 17th–16th century BC); the rehabilitation of the ancestral virtue is described as depending on the High God’s will and power. This suffices to show that people had recognized a strong connection between de and Di-on-High at this time. This integrated notion of morals and the idea of a Sky God presumably began to take shape during the late Yin period.

1 The Beginnings of the Worship of Di and the Deity of Heaven

The highest entity [in the cosmos] is called Heaven. Since in the knowledge and perception of man there is nothing bigger than the vault of the sky, Heaven became the subject of man’s veneration. This reverence towards the sky arose spontaneously out of man’s interaction with nature. Moreover, the worship of Heaven constitutes a common feature of belief shared by ancient religions all over the world.12

The numerous instances of the graph di found in OBI from the Yin period in fact all stand for the notion of a Heavenly High God (Tian Di 天帝). Di was endowed with universal powers; the movements of the sun, the moon, and the stellar constellations, as well as winds, clouds, thunder, and rain were all commanded by it. The occurrences of floods and droughts, of rich and poor harvests too were controlled by Di. In sum, Di epitomized the highest universal deity during the Yin period. It is safe to say that a very concrete idea of the divine was already in place by that time. A line from the “Xuan niao” 玄鳥 (Dark bird) hymn in the “Shang song” 商頌 (Hymns of Shang) section of the Book of Songs reads:

古帝命武湯 Anciently Di appointed Cheng Tang

正域彼四方 to campaign and take residence within these four cardinal regions.13

Di in this passage evidently refers to the Heavenly High God. The succession of ruling houses took place according to Di’s commands as well. Moreover, both the socio-political realm of man and the natural world were determined through Di’s commands.14

The names of winds and clouds are sometimes found modified by the epithet Di in OBI. Such as yun (clouds) being referred to as Di-yun 帝雲 (Di-clouds),15 or feng (wind) being referred to as Di-feng 帝風 or Di-shi-feng 帝史(使) (Di’s emissary, wind).16 At the same time, “di functions as a name for a sacrifice; to conduct a di-sacrifice to the four cardinal regions is called “Fang-di方帝.17 Di was truly a super God in possession of the four cardinal regions (i.e. the known world and the cosmos [tr. note]). When the Yin people were sacrificing to the deified winds of the four cardinal regions, they also conducted a “Di-sacrifice.” The above discussion suffices to show that the highest Sky-God in Yin OBI is Di. Di’s awesome power controlled the fortunes and misfortunes in the human realm. When it comes to the natural realm, weather patterns and the changing fortunes of agricultural production all depended on Di’s commands. Protecting and destroying were the two functions overseen by Di.

The Shang kings are named wang (king) in the OBI, as is the case with the High Ancestor Wang Hai 王亥 for instance. Only towards the end of the late Shang period do we find designations such as Wen Wu Di 文武帝, Wen Wu Di Yi 文武帝乙 (on a newly excavated OBI fragment from Zhouyuan 周原, Shaanxi)18 or Di Xin 帝辛. The appellation Shang Di 上帝 (Di-on-High) only appears in the following instances from the corpus of Shang OBI:

卜,爭〔() 〕: 上帝降

Crack-making, Zheng [testing:] Di-on-High sends down calamities.19 (HJ 10166; Wu Ding 武丁 [fl. 1250–1192 BC])

……(): 上帝……出。

Xiong …… [testing:] Di-on-High …… come out / emerge (HJ 24979; Zu Geng 祖庚–Zu Jia 祖甲 [fl. 1191–1148 BC])

() 五鼓上帝,若。王又二。

Striking the drums five times to Di-on-High, [Di is] compliant. The King [will receive] assistance. Second [crack]. (HJ 30388; Lin Xin 廩辛–Kang Ding 康丁 [fl. 1147–1135 BC])20

Mention of the title “Wang-Di” 王帝 (lit. King-Thearch) can be found in OBI dating from the reigns of Zu Geng 祖庚 and Zu Jia 祖甲 (fl. 1191–1148 BC):

□□王卜,曰: 兹下若,𢆶于王帝

On […] the King divined through crack-making, proclaiming: From here downwards it signals content. In this case, [supplicatory prayer is to be conducted] towards Wang-Di (HJ 24980; Geng-Jia)21

貞: 隹王帝不若。

Testing: It is Wang-Di and his peers (?) / the [one] man (?) who (HJ 24978)22


[…] addressing Wang-Di, now saying […] (HJ 30389; Lin-Kang)23

In OBI from periods two and three,24 the epithet Di had already been transferred from the Sky God onto the human thearch, thus we can find the designation “Wang-Di.”25

As far as concerns the evidence from OBI, the concept of “Tian” (Heaven) was not as important as that of “Di.” Some scholars take the scarcity of the graph in the OBI as proof that the elevation of Heaven’s position only took place under the Zhou people, just as the Romans had substituted Jupiter for Zeus.26 Tradition has it that during the late Yin period, Wu Yi 武乙 (fl. 1147– 1112 BC) had made an idol which he called “Sky God” (tian shen 天神). He then faced upward and shot it with an arrow.27 This may be taken as circumstantial evidence for the Shang’s contempt of Heaven. Although the veneration of Heaven increased under the Zhou people, their conception of Di-on-High did not become devalued in turn. In fact, in Western Zhou writings Di-on-High and Heaven are sometimes used interchangeably. For instance, in the Shi Xun gui 師訇𣪕 (Commander Xun’s tureen) inscription we read:


And so, August Di unremittingly watched over and protected our Zhou and the four cardinal regions.28

The Mao Gong ding 毛公鼎 (Patriarch Mao’s cauldron) inscription has:


And so, August Heaven unremittingly watched over and protected our Zhou.29

In the “Wen Hou zhi Ming” 文侯之命 (Charge to Marquis Wen) chapter from the Book of Documents it says:


Thereupon, Di-on-High sent down its mandate on King Wen.30

Another passage in the Mao Gong ding reads:


It was that Heaven sent down its mandate [on Zhou].

One instance has “Di-on-High sent down its mandate,” the other has “Heaven sent down its mandate.” The Zhou people were also still worshipping Di-on- High. The Tian Wang gui 天亡𣪕 (Tian Wang’s tureen) inscription, dating from the reign of King Wu (r. 1049/45–1043 BC), records the “conducting of a millet offering to Di-on-High” (事喜上帝).31 The Hu zhong 㝬鐘 (Hu’s bell) inscription from the time of King Zhao (r. 977/75–957 BC) states:


It was that August Di-on-High and the many [ancestral] spirits protected me, the little one, so that my plans have been successful without competition. I therefore succeed to match the August Heavenly King (i.e., the royal protagonist’s deceased predecessor [tr. note]).32

Here we find the appellations “August Di-on-High” and “August Heavenly King” appearing within the same inscription. A similar phenomenon can be observed in a passage from the Zhou Gong gui 周公𣪕 (Zhou Gong’s tureen) inscription depicting the protagonist [or his deceased forebear (tr. Note)] as having been “able to arduously serve Di above and Di below” (克奔走上下帝).33 The expression Shang-xia Di 上下帝 presumably refers to Di-on-High in Heaven and the kingly thearch (Wang Di 王帝) below on earth. Other inscriptions from musical instruments, such as that from the You zhong 猶鐘 (You’s bell), have:


The Former Kings solemnly reside to the left and to the right of Di.34

Compare also the following passage from the Tu Wang Yichu duan 䣄王義楚鍴 (Tu King Yichu’s goblet) inscription:


[May I use this goblet] to make offerings to August Heaven and to my Cultured Forebear.35

Having matched Heaven, the deceased king (i.e., the father of King Yichu, to whom this goblet is dedicated [tr. note]) was able to reside next to the Heavenly Di. Both constitute objects of veneration and sacrifice for the living. The Heavenly Di and the kingly thearch in combination become Di above and Di below. Since we find the designation Shang-xia Di on Zhou bronze vessels, we know that they did not replace Di with Heaven. Quite the contrary, in the conception of the Western Zhou people, Di and Di-on-High controlled the living, hence their positions were of utmost importance. This is not only the case in inscriptions from sacrificial vessels, in the early Zhou announcements (gao ) and commands (ming ) [transmitted in the Book of Documents (tr. note)], there are numerous terms and phrases employing the notion of Di, such as “Di ting帝庭 (The court of Di), “Shang Di ming上帝命 (The command of Di-on-High), “Shang Di geng ming上帝耿命 (the bright command of Di-on-High), “Huang Tian Shang Di” 皇天上帝 (August Heaven and Di-on-High), “jing shi Shang Di” 敬事上帝 (reverently serve Di-on-High), “Shang Di jian min上帝監民 (Di-on-High observes the people) and others.36 The “Kang gao” 康誥 (Announcement of Kang) relates that King Wen’s establishment of order throughout the Zhou’s Western lands became known to Di-on-High. Di-on-High therefore sent down his grace. Heaven accordingly greatly charged King Wen to exterminate Yin, and to grandly receive its appointment.37 The “Li Zheng” 立政 (Establishment of government) chapter relates how Cheng Tang arose and grandly administered the bright command of Di-on-High, before Di eventually sent down punishments on him (i.e., on the last Shang king Di Xin 帝辛 or Shou [fl. 1075–1046 BC][tr. note]), subsequently replacing the Shang with the Zhou as the recipients of his charge.38 In sum, all dynastic changes followed the will of Di-on-High. Judging from the way the admonishments of Di-on-High are presented in written announcements from the early Zhou period, one can say with certainty that the Zhou people did not show any sort of contempt towards the high god Di when they set up their polity. Later commentaries to the Confucian classics all hold that “Di-on-High is an alternative name for Heaven” (上帝者,天之別名也).39 This interpretation is still valid. The inscription on the Li gui 利簋 (Li’s tureen), the earliest extant Western Zhou bronze vessel dating from the reign of King Wu, unearthed in Lintong 臨潼 county, Shaanxi, reads:


When King Wu attacked Shang it was the morning of jia-zi day (day one in the sexagesimal ganzhi cycle) and Jupiter was in its correct position. The campaign could be perceived [by Di-on-High (according to Jao’s interpretation below) (tr. note)], so that by dawn, Shang was taken.40

The phrase “could be perceived, by dawn Shang was taken” (克聞,夙有商) closely resembles the meaning of the passage “[King Wen’s] fame became known to Di on High […], [Heaven accordingly greatly charged King Wen] to exterminate Yin” (冒聞于上帝……殪戎殷) in the “Kang gao” chapter. The attack on Shang was perceived by Di-on-High, hence the battle on jia-zi day could result in a swift success. It was precisely this extermination of the Yin (殪戎殷) that has been mandated by Di-on-High. Thus, when it comes to the Zhou people’s image of Di-on-High one notes that there is in fact no difference between the ranks of Heaven and Di.

2 The Graph de in Writings from the Yin and Zhou Periods

As has been mentioned above, the graph “de can already be found in OBI from the Yin period. The revised edition of the Jiaguwen bian 甲骨文編 (Dictionary of the oracle bone script) reconfirms that the OBI forms and should be transcribed as .41 According to Luo Zhenyu 羅振玉, the graph was borrowed to write the word de , “to obtain,”42 which at the time still lacked its own graphical representation. Indeed, it seems quite possible to read the commonly found OBI phrases “you de() and “wang de亡德 as you de 有得 (will obtain) and wang de 亡得 (will not obtain) respectively. But consider for instance the following OBI fragment:

庚辰卜,王貞: 朕德六月

Crack-making on geng-chen day, the king tested: “I will de fang.” Sixth month43

This instance of the graph contains the element xing (to move); the graph is composed from the element fang and can be read as pang , conveying the meaning of “pu (vast)44 or “da (big).45 Accordingly, a reading of the fragment as “Our de will be vast” (朕德溥) would also be possible.

Among the numerous phrases containing the term de in the three parts of the “Pan Geng” chapter, huang de 荒德 (abandoning de), shuang de 爽德 (forfeiting de) or xiong de 凶德 (malignant de), for instance, all constitute negative expressions which go contrary to the idea of de proper, whereas the compounds shi de 實德 (substantial de), ji de 積德 (accomplished de) as well as the phrase fu min de 敷民德 (extending de to the people) confirm the idea. What is more, the phrase “Di-on-High is about to reinstate my high ancestor’s de” (上帝將復我高祖之德), where de is extended to and associated with the former kings, evidently echoes such common expressions of the Zhou people as “to emulate the former cultured ancestors’ honoring of bright de” (型先文祖共明德). In the same vein, the phrases “ruo de若德 (complying with de) and “zheng jue de正厥德 (to correct one’s de) in the “Gaozong rongri” belong to the same group of stock phrases as “zheng de正德 (correct / upright de) and “Xianwang ruode先王若德 (the former kings complied with de) found in the inscriptions from the Yu ding 盂鼎 (Yu’s cauldron) and Mao Gong ding respectively. The notion of de therefore should have already been established during the Shang period. At least we do not have any good reason to deny this possibility.

When it comes to Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, the graph de surfaces broadly; for instance, in the inscriptions of such important vessels as the Ke ding 克鼎 (Ke’s cauldron),46 the Yu ding and the Ban gui 班簋 (Ban’s tureen).47 During the early Western Zhou period, the graph was also used as a personal name. Among the massive De ding 德鼎 cauldrons from the time of King Cheng (r. 1042/35–1006 BC), three are inscribed with a text commemorating a royal gift of cowries bestowed on a person named De.48 A fourth one bears an inscription mentioning a bestowal on a person named Shu De 叔德.49 De and Shu De might well have been the same person. The name Shu De resembles the form of the agnomen of Zhou Gong Dan 周公旦 (Dan, the Duke of Zhou), Shu Dan 叔旦. That this donor chose de as his byname precisely reflects the importance ascribed to the concept in early Zhou times.

The received Classics from the Western Zhou period time and again refer to de in instructions and admonishments, such as can be found in the “Kang gao”, the “Shao gao,” the “Jun Shi” 君奭 (Prince Shi), the “Li zheng” and other chapters from the Book of Documents. In texts from bronze inscriptions too, the instances of the graph de constitute by no means isolated cases. Among them we find formulae and idiomatic expressions that can be compared to those in the transmitted Classics, such as the examples in the following table:

Table 15
Table 15

Idiomatic expressions including de in the Book of Documents and in texts from Western Zhou bronze inscriptions

As the above account shows, the conventional phrase “bing mingde秉明德 (uphold / maintaining bright / manifest de) was still extensively in use during the Spring and Autumn period within the spatial confines of the former Zhou realm. It was employed by the polities of Guo , Qin , and Jin to proclaim their carrying on of the former Zhou kings’ manifest de, not daring to show the slightest bit of idleness and repose. The customary phrase “mu-mu bing de穆穆秉德 (solemnly and reverently maintain de) is already attested in the Western Zhou Jing Ren Ning zhong 邢人𡚬鐘 (Jing Ren Ning’s bell) inscription.50

The compound zhengde 政德, which is found inscribed on ritual bronze vessels from the polities of Qi and Xu , constitutes an adaption of the Da Yu ding’s usage “Wen wang zheng-de玟王正德 (the upright de of King Wen). Hence the graph zheng is to be read zheng (upright / correct). The phrase “jing yong ming de巠雍明德 (constant harmonious bright de) seems to be related to the phrase “jing yong de敬雍德 (to honor harmonious de) in the Yu ding, with yong conveying the sense of he (harmonious). The compound “Jing de巠德, written in the inscription from the Yue zhong and 經德 in that from the Chen Man fu, means chang de 常德 (constant de). represents the complex from of the graph . As can be inferred from these examples, the phrase “jing de-yi經德義 (constant de and propriety) in the Zuozhuan51 and the Mengzi’s 孟子jing-de bu hui經德不回 (constant de does not bend)52 have quite a long history. The compound tun de 屯德 in the inscription from the Sizi hu 嗣子壺 (Sizi’s flagon)53 derives its meaning from the phrase “the former cultured men adhered to de, thereby revering their integrity” (前文人秉德共屯[ 恭純]) found in the Bo Dong gui inscription.54 屯德 reads chun de 純德, meaning uncorrupted de, as the term is employed in the line “And oh, how illustrious, the uncorrupted de of King Wen!” (於乎不顯,文王之德之純) from the Book of Songs.55

3 Standing in Awe of Heaven’s Daunting Authority and the Establishment of the Idea of jing de 經德 (Honoring de)

The two graphs jing and de , combined to form a phrase, appear with great frequency in the Zhoushu 周書 (Documents of Zhou). See for instance the “Shao gao:”


Truly, Heaven had compassion for the people of the four cardinal regions; its favoring appointment lighted on our earnest founders. Let the king sedulously honor his de.56


Let the king first bring under his influence the managers of affairs of Yin, associating them with the managers of affairs of our Zhou. This will regulate their natures, and they will make daily advancement. Let the king make reverence the resting-place (of his mind). He may not but honor his de. […] It was by not honoring their de that (Xia’s) appointment fell prematurely to the ground.57


Thus, the king commenced his duties. Oh! it is as on the birth of a son, when all depends on (the training of) his early life, through which he may secure his wisdom in the future, as if it were decreed to him. Now Heaven may have decreed wisdom (to our king); it may have decreed good fortune or bad; it may have decreed a (long) course of years; we only know that now is with him the commencement of his duties. Dwelling in this new settlement, let the king sedulously honor his de. When he is all-devoted to this de, he may pray to Heaven for a long-abiding appointment.58

In the “Wu yi” chapter we read:


Oh! There likewise were King Tai and King Ji of our own Zhou, who attained to humility and reverential awe. King Wen dressed meanly and gave himself to the work of tranquillization and to that of husbandry. Admirably mild and beautifully humble, he cherished and protected the lesser people, and showed a fostering kindness to the wifeless men and widows.59


Those kings of Yin, Zhong Zong, Gao Zong, and Zu-jia, with King Wen of our Zhou, these four men carried their knowledge into practice, […] then they paid great and reverent attention to their de.60

Further in the “Jun shi” we come across the following statement:


If you can but reverently cultivate your virtue (now), and bring to light our men of eminent ability, then when you resign (your position) to some successor in a time of established security, (I will interpose no objection).61

A similar reasoning can also be found in the inscription from the Western Zhou Ban gui:

() 民亡() () 彝,() 天令,故亡

It was that the people did not accomplish (to establish and maintain) constant moral principles.62 They were blind to the charge of Heaven and thus had to perish.63

允才() 顯隹() () 德,亡逌() 遠。

Evidently indeed, only through honoring one’s de, will (the danger of) perishing be distant.64

All the above passages can be regarded as famous remarks of the Zhou people. By ignoring Heaven’s charge, one brings destruction upon oneself. It is therefore of utmost importance to maintain and honor one’s de.

In the inscription from the Da Yu ding we further read the king’s words as proclaiming:

今余隹() 令女() 盂𥃝()()() () 德,巠() 敏,朝夕入() (),亯(駿) 奔走,畏天畏() 。」

Now I charge you, Yu, to assist Rong in honoring (the standards of) harmonious de. Be constantly assiduous, remonstrate with me from dawn to dusk and hurry about (in service), standing in awe of Heaven’s awesomeness.

Here we come across the formulation “jing yong de敬雍德 (honouring harmonious de), where yong means he (harmonious). Similar phrases appear in the Mao Gong ding inscription:

() () 敢彖() 在乃服,() 夙夕,敬念王畏() 不睗() 。

Do not dare to fail in your service, improve yourself day and night.65 Respectfully bear in mind the King’s imperturbable awesomeness.66

And in the “Gu ming” chapter from the Zhoushu:


The former sovereigns, Kings Wen and Wu, displayed in succession their equal glory, making sure provision for the support of the people, and setting forth their instructions. (The people) accorded a practical submission; they did so without any opposition, so that their influence extended to Yin, and the Great Appointment (of Heaven) was secured. After them, I, the stupid one, reverently received the awesomeness of Heaven, and continued to keep the great instructions of Wen and Wu, not daring blindly to transgress them.67

Here we find the expressions “respectfully bearing in mind the king’s awesomeness” (敬念王畏) and “reverently receiving the awesomeness of Heaven” (敬迓天威) respectively. In order to be able to establish the charisma of the king it is necessary to stand in awe of Heaven’s awesomeness.

Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (179–104 BC) once proclaimed in his Duice 對策 (Rescripts and responses):


The juncture between Heaven and man must be held in awe indeed.68

The Chunqiu wei 春秋緯 (Apocrypha on the Spring and Autumn annals) also says:


As to the joining of Heaven and man, evidently, this must utterly be held in awe.69

Theories concerning the joining of the spheres of Heaven and of man were quite advanced during the Han period, yet the idea of “revering Heaven” (畏天) began to develop quite early, with plenty of examples to be found in the Songs and Documents as well as in bronze inscriptions. Passages from the Elegantiae and Hymns that mention the reverence of Heaven include the following examples:

旻天疾威 Compassionate Heaven, arrayed in terrors,


如何昊天 How can it be, mighty Heaven?


胡不相畏 How do you not stand in awe of one another?

不畏于天 You do not stand in awe of Heaven.70

旻天疾威 The terrors of Compassionate Heaven,

敷于下土 Spreading out over the lands below.71

昊天已威 Immense are the terrors of great Heaven,

予慎無罪 But I am truly without blame.72

不愧于人 He is not ashamed before men;

不畏于天 He does not stand in awe of Heaven.73

我其夙夜 Do not I, night and day

畏天之威 Revere the majesty of Heaven,

于時保之 To preserve its favor.74

Sayings about Heaven sending down its awesome terror are particularly numerous in extant admonitions from the Western Zhou period. These may be excerpted as below:


Our people now all wish (the dynasty) to perish, saying, “Why does not Heaven send down its awesome terror?” Why does not (someone with) its great appointment make his appearance? What has the present king to do with us?75


Nor shall I dare to reject the inflictions that Heaven sends down (on us). King Wen left to me the great precious tortoise-shell, to bring into connection with me the intelligence of Heaven. […] As Heaven sends down its terrors, it appears as obvious that there are defects in our polity and the populace is not tranquil.76

惟天降命,肇我民,惟元祀。天降威,我民用大亂喪德,亦罔非 酒惟行。

When Heaven was sending down its favoring decree and laying the foundations of (the eminence of) our people, (wine) was used only in the great sacrifices. When Heaven has sent down its terrors, and our people have thereby been greatly disorganized and lost their virtue, this may be traced invariably to their indulgence in wine.77


We, the Zhou, received (Heaven’s) favoring decree. We accordingly felt charged with its bright awesomeness; carried out the punishments which kings inflict; rightly disposed of the appointment of Yin. […] Di was not for (Yin), as appeared from the conduct of our inferior people, in which there is the brilliant dreadfulness of Heaven.78


I also do not dare to rest in the favor of Di’s mandate, not forecasting at a distance the terrors of Heaven in the present time when there is no murmuring or disobedience among the people; (the issue) is with man. […] Heaven gives long life to the just and the intelligent; it was thus that (those ministers) maintained and regulated the dynasty of Yin. He who came last to the throne was extinguished by the terrors of Heaven. […] Afterwards, [these men of virtue] along with [King Wu], in great reverence of the majesty of Heaven, slew all his enemies. […] What I tell you, O prince, are my sincere thoughts. O Shi, the Grand-Protector, if you can but reverently survey with me the decay and great disorders of Yin, and thence consider the dread majesty of Heaven (which warns) us.79


Heaven then sought among your many regions, making a great impression by its terrors to stir up one who might look (reverently) to it.80


When there are doubts as to the infliction of any of the five punishments, that infliction should be forborne. When there are doubts as to the infliction of any of the five fines, it should be forborne. Do you examine carefully, and overcome every difficulty. When you have examined, and many things are clear, yet form a judgement from studying the appearances of the parties. If you find nothing on examination, do not listen to the case anymore. In everything, stand in awe of the dread majesty of Heaven. […] Now Heaven, wishing to help the people, has made us its representatives here below. […] Ever stand in awe of the punishment of Heaven. It is not Heaven that does not deal impartially with men, but men ruin themselves. If the punishments of Heaven were not so extreme, nowhere under the sky would the people have good government.81

People during the Han period held that that the notion of “jing (reverence, to revere) constituted the core of the instructions of Yin. In the “san jiao pian” 三教篇 (Chapter on the three instructions) in the Baihutong 白虎通 (The comprehensive discussions in the White Tiger Hall) we read:


The kings of the Yin people instructed by reverence and failed by [falling into] superstition. For the correction of superstition there is nothing better than wen (diligence / self-exertion).82 The kings of the Zhou people instructed by wen and failed by [falling into] profligacy. For the correction of profligacy there is nothing better than loyalty.83

The text further says:


The [kings of] Yin instructed by reverence, therefore they preferred the sacrificial vessels, so as to express the utmost reverence.84

The “Yin benji” 殷本紀 (Basic annals of Yin) quotes the following passage from the Tang zheng 湯征 (Punitive expedition of Tang):


Tang spoke: “If you cannot respect my commands, I will inflict upon you the penalty of death. Amnesty will not be granted.” Thus, the Punitive expedition of Tang was composed.85

To say that the instructions of Yin were based on the idea of reverence is certainly not without justification. The “Zhou benji” 周本紀 (Basic annals of Zhou) recounts how King Wu enters the palace of Zhou (d. 1046 BC) (the last Shang king with the posthumous name Di Xin 帝辛 [tr. note]):


Yin Yi read out the prayer from the written bamboo slip:86 “The last descendant of Yin, Zhou, forsook his ancestors’, the former kings’ bright de, defied the deities by not offering them sacrifices, and, in his dullness, was cruel to the families of the many cognomens of the settlement of Shang. Let these [transgressions] be obvious and known to Heavenly August Di-on-High.”87

Another version of the text has “August Heaven Di-on-High” (皇天上帝), whereas the “Ke Yin jie” 克殷解 (Overthrowing the Yin explained) chapter from the Yi Zhoushu writes “Vast Heaven Di-on-High” (昊天上帝). During this period the two concepts “Heaven” and Di-on-High are found to have been conflated. Abandoning bright de was listed as a major crime committed by [the last Shang king] Zhou. The first part of the “Fei yue” 非樂 (Condemning music) chapter in the Mozi quotes a passage from the “Tang zhi guan xing” 湯之官刑 (Code of punishment of Tang), where Yin Yi is depicted as condemning the [last king of] Yin:


Di-on-High will not help him, so the nine lands are lost. Di-on-High opposes him and sends down many curses.88

The meaning of the binome Jiuyou 九有 resembles that of Jiuzhou 九州 (Nine Provinces) and Jiuxian 九縣 (Nine Counties) in that all of them stand for the notion of All-under-Heaven. If what the Mozi is citing does in fact originate from a Yin penal code, then the idea of Di-on-High taking disciplinary measures against the human sovereign would have already been written into the wooden manuscripts of the Yin people.

The “Wu Wang jian zuo” chapter from the Da Dai Liji holds that the way of the Yellow Thearch and Zhuan Xu is transmitted in the cinnabar document (dan shu 丹書), quoting the following words from the latter:


Auspicious is when reverence surpasses idleness; idleness surpassing reverence equals destruction. Propriety surpassing desires, this is to follow / comply with; ominous is when desires surpass propriety.89

The Di ming yan 帝命驗 (Examination of Di’s mandate) from the Shangshu wei 尚書緯 (Apocrypha to the Book of Documents) says:

季秋之甲子,赤爵銜丹書入于豐,止于() 昌戶,其書曰:敬勝怠者吉云云。」

On the last jia-zi day in autumn, a red sparrow, holding a cinnabar document in its beak, entered [the Zhou royal capital] Feng, and stopped at the door of Ji Chang [i.e., King Wen of Zhou (tr. note)]. The document reads: “Auspicious is when reverence surpasses idleness and so forth.”90

Compare also the “Ming zhuan” 明傳 (enlightened tradition) chapter in the work Liu Tao.91 It is obvious how far back the origins of the concept jing actually reach. In the “Chu yu” we read:


One honors and reveres the bright spirits in that one invokes them in sacrificial rites. […] Thus, there are the offices of heaven and earth, spirits and humans and of the categories of things. These are called the five offices, each in charge of its own order, without getting mixed up with one another. The people are therefore able to show loyalty and trust and the spirits can confer bright de. The affairs of men and of spirits are differentiated, with [the people] showing reverence [to the spirits] without being disrespectful.92

The people attached great importance to the value of reverence and were therefore able to hold their distance to the spirits. Yet no matter at how far a distance they kept them (遠乎鬼神), they still had to maintain their reverent attitude towards the spirits. The Lunyu’s call “to apply oneself to the responsibilities due to men, and to revere the spirits while keeping them at a distance” (務民之義,敬鬼神而遠之) provides clear evidence for this assessment.93 Furthermore, in the Chu Silk Manuscript we read:94

毋弗或敬,惟天作福,神則各[ ] 之;惟天作宎[ ],神則 [ ] ()95敬隹(),天像是𢝔。𢦡() 惟天□()96,下民之𥘒。敬之毋弋[ ] 。

Never be disrespectful. When Heaven creates good fortune, the spirits will then cause it to arrive to you. When Heaven creates calamities, the spirits will (likewise) confer them on you. Be attentive and reverent in serving the spirits and take Heaven’s patterns as standard. Revere the Heavenly patterns and the people will bring them sacrifices. Respect them [i.e., Heaven’s patterns] without deviation.

From this ardent admonition we may know that the notion of jing was related in a most important way to the business of serving the spirits.

The Shi Daxu 詩大序 (The great preface to the Book of Songs) proclaims:


Through poetry, the former kings effected filial devotion and respect [towards the spirits].97

It is in conjunction with each other that reverence towards the spirits and filial piety become statutory. The strong association between jing and offering sacrifices is also clearly stated in the Liji. The “Ji yi” 祭義 (The meaning of sacrifices) chapter has: “Importunateness [in sacrificing] is inconsistent with reverence.” ([ ] 煩則不敬).98 The “Ji tong” 祭統 (A summary account of sacrifices) chapter says:


It was not that the Son of Heaven and the princes had not men to plough for them, or that the queen and the princely wives had not women to tend the silkworms for them; it (them ploughing the fields and tending the silkworms themselves [tr. note]) was to give expression to their personal sincerity. Such sincerity is what is called doing their utmost; and such doing of their utmost is what is called reverence. When they had reverently done their utmost, they could serve the bright spirits. Such was the way of sacrificing.99

The text of this passage continues:


The Son of Heaven had his sacred field of a thousand acres, his wives unwound the silk threads [from the cocoons of the silkworms] and raised the sacrificial animals which were to be offered in sacrifice to the former kings and patriarchs.100

Also in the “Xiang yin jiu yi” 鄉飲酒義 (The meaning of the drinking festivity in the districts) we read:


Intercourse being conducted on the basis of fellow-kindness and propriety, guests and host exchanging toasts and the number of stands and dishes being properly fixed, this is called consecration. When consecration is established, and the procedures are handled with reverence, this is called ritual etiquette. Ritual etiquette embodying the distinction between old and young is called de. De is that which is the characteristic of (lit. obtained within [tr. note]) the person.101

This passage explains de paronomastically in terms of de (to obtain) and defines the honoring of de as the foundation of ritual propriety (li ).

The Zhou people’s conquest over the Yin does indeed mark the rise of a new power, similar to the case of Persia overthrowing Babylon. The Zhou people had their own original ideas on how to establish their state. “Honoring de” is really an elaboration and advancement of the instructions of Yin. Jing refers to the veneration of Heaven whereas de marks the essence of cultivating one’s person. To put it in concrete terms, jing may be described as the expression of standing in awe of Heaven; magnificent de in turn implies a person’s perfected dignified deportment, which takes its pattern from the Heavenly High god. In his “Dian yin” 典引 (Elaboration on the canon), Ban Gu 班固 (32–92 AD) proclaims: “Vast and impressive is this de, a thearch’s utmost deportment.” (洋洋乎若德,帝者之上儀).102 Although this saying comes from a person living in the Han period, its meaning without doubt must have been informed by ancient wisdom.

The hymn “Jing zhi” 敬之 (Reverence) in the Zhou song 周頌 (Hymns of Zhou) section from the Book of Songs reads:

敬之敬之 Reverence, reverence!

天維顯思 By Heaven all is observed;

命不易哉 Its appointment is not easy to hold.

無曰高高在上 Do not say it is high, high above,

陟降厥士 Going up and down about its own business.

日監在茲 Day in day out it watches us here.103

Mighty Heaven oversees man at every turn, it is thus absolutely necessary to be “reverent, reverent.” The “Shao gao” chapter furthermore says:

Let the king first bring under his influence the managers of affairs of Yin, associating them with the managers of affairs of our Zhou. This will regulate their characters, and they will make daily advancement. Let the king make reverence the resting-place (of his mind). He may not but honor his de.104

Human character provides the pattern of human existence. One therefore needs to control and restrict one’s unyielding (sanguinary?) nature in order to advance in the cultivation of de. Honoring de requires one to control one’s character, only then can one arrive at a stage of advanced de. Patriarch Shao warns over and over again that it was because the Xia and the Yin “did not revere their de, that their appointment had prematurely fallen down” (不敬厥德,乃早墜厥命) and that “the king should therefore act in accordance with de and pray to Heaven for an eternal mandate” (王其德之用,祈天永命). Thus, he who is reverent will secure Heaven’s assistance, whereas he who is not will meet his demise. Judging from the evidence found in the Songs and Documents we may say that revering de constitutes the center of Western Zhou moral philosophy.

The “Shifa” chapter in the Zhoushu 周書,105 explains the meaning of the term “jing” as “being alert at all times during day and night” (夙夜警戒).106 The Daxue quotes the following lines from the “Tang zhi panming” 湯之 盤銘 (Tang’s inscription on a basin): “Be cautious each day anew, every day, day after day” (茍日新,日日新,又日新).107 Many Confucian scholars from the Qing period understand the graph ji from the phrase 茍日新 in terms of the Shuowen jiezi’s glossing of the graph as “to be unrelentingly cautious on one’s own account” (自急敕也).108 The graph () from the Yu ding inscription represents the short form of , hence the graph from the Tang pan can also be read . This means the phrase “be cautious each day anew” should also be read “be reverent each day anew” (敬日新). The Shuowen glosses jing as su (respectful, solemn), which it further explains as “to be reverent when conducting sacrificial services” (持事振敬也) under the entry “su.109 The Shiming moreover says: “jing reads jing (to be alert). This means to keep oneself respectfully alert” (敬,警也;恒自肅警也).110 Thus 敬日新 more precisely means to be alert each day, not daring to indulge in leisure. This tells us that the Yin people originally also upheld reverence in managing their affairs. Since the notion of jing had already existed, the Zhou people merely placed renewed emphasis on it. Generally, the term must have implied to be on alert in one’s affairs. For this reason, jing was also written “jing, meaning “to warn,” “warning.” In the “Lu yu,” we find the following passage:


Formerly, the sage kings administered their subject populations by choosing plots of barren soil for them to settle on and by employing them in hard labor. It was thus that they were able to govern All-under-Heaven for extended periods of time. When the common people find themselves employed in hard labor, they become considerate; when they become considerate, benevolent behavior arises. If they are allowed to dwell in leisure, then they tend to become immoderate. When they become immoderate, malicious behavior arises.


That people living on fertile land tend to lack many capabilities is due to them indulging in leisure. That among those who live on barren lands there are none who do not tend towards behaving socially conscious and responsible, is due to them being employed in hard labor. For this reason, every year on the day of the spring equinox, the Son of Heaven wears the five colored imperial robe and worships the sun god. He meets with the three patriarchs and the nine dignitaries to inquire into and to learn about the de of the ground. At noon he examines the successes and failures of his government and inquires into the daily tasks of the hundred officials, including how the senior officials, the many servicemen, the herdsmen and the chancellors of the states promoted the order of government within the people’s affairs.


Every year on the day of the autumn equinox, the Son of Heaven wears the three colored embroidered robe and worships the moon god. He meets with the grand historian and the court astronomer to devoutly survey the Heavenly patterns. After sunset he inspects the nine imperial concubines and orders them to purify and to prepare the offerings for grand imperial sacrifices and for the ceremonial grain offerings in the suburbs. Only after this has been done does he go to rest.


Every morning, the regional rulers receive and implement the commands of the Son of Heaven. During the day, they carry out the affairs of their polities and in the evening, they reflect on their statutes. At night, they admonish their many officials not to indulge in excess and only then do they go to rest.


In the morning, the high officials carry out their main duties, during the day, they go about their various governmental obligations, in the evening, they set their affairs in order and at night, they regulate their households and only then go to rest. The servicemen receive their orders in the morning, during the day, they are involved in executing their tasks, in the evening, they revise them, at night, they recapitulate the successes and failures without regrets and only then they go to rest. All the commoners go about their affairs at dawn and go to rest at dusk. Not one single day is spent in idleness.111

This portion of speech is ascribed to Jing Jiang 敬姜, wife of Mu Bo 穆伯, the mother of the high official Gongfu Wenbo 公父文伯 of Lu . It ranks among the most eminent sayings transmitted from antiquity and can be read as an annotation to the “Wu yi” chapter from the Documents. Jing Jiang explains here that at the time of the spring equinox the de of the ground had to be inquired into and learned about, whereas at the time of the autumn equinox the patterns of Heaven needed to be observed reverently. According to Wei Zhao’s commentary, “As to what made [the notion of the] de of the ground to become so eminent” (地德所以廣生):


It is said that the Son of Heaven together with the patriarchs and dignitaries studied the de of the ground, for during the time of the spring equinox they were cultivating the governing standards of yang; they investigated the patterns of Heaven, for during the time of the autumn equinox they were focusing on the instructions of yin. The sun illuminates the day; the moon illuminates the night. Each of these conditions of illumination was associated with different affairs that had to be put in order at their respective time.112

On the occasion of da cai zhao ri 大采朝日 (lit. greater colored morning sun), conducted on the day of the spring equinox, [the Son of Heaven] wore a five-colored robe; on that of shao cai xi ri 少采夕日 (lit. lesser colored evening moon), conducted on the day of the autumn equinox, [the Son of Heaven] wore a three-colored robe. There exist many different interpretations as to the style and color of the da cai and shao cai robes, which shall not further concern us here. However, it should be noted that both the terms da cai and xiao cai (sic) can already be found in the OBI. What Jing Jiang refers to as inquiring into and learning about the de of the ground during the morning sun, investigating the successes and failures of government at noon, and observing the patterns of Heaven during the autumn equinox, falls into the affairs of the Son of Heaven. The regional rulers too had to investigate during the day, reflect in the evening and be alert at night: “being assiduous every day” (惟日孳孳), moving about when it gets bright and going to rest when it gets dark, “from morning to mid-day, and from mid-day to sundown, not allowing oneself leisure to eat” (自朝至于日中昃,不遑暇食).113 This sort of diligent and earnest labor is what the “Shao gao” refers to as “jing de.” Thus, the industrious idea of reverence the Zhou people were promoting is in fact quite different from the tranquil notion of reverence advocated by the people of Song (the polity ruled by the descendants of the house of Yin during the Western and Eastern Zhou period [tr. note]).

During the Spring and Autumn period, many eminent personalities came forth with refined and sharp explanations for the term jing. Consider for instance the following quotations from the Zuozhuan:


Jiu Ji (i.e., Xu Chen 胥臣 [d. 622 BC]) had been sent on a mission and was passing through Ji. He saw Xi Que (d. 597 BC) hoeing, and his wife carrying food to him. They were respectful, treating one another like guests. He took Xi Que back with him and spoke of him to Patriarch Wen (Patriarch Wen of Jin , Chong’er 重耳 [697–628 BC] [tr. note]): “Respect is the accumulation of de. To show respect one must first possess de. De is what is used to govern the people. I am asking, my lord, that you employ him […].”114

Moreover, li (ritual propriety) and jing are often referred to as a conceptual pair as in the following two examples:


Ritual propriety is the pillar of the domain, and respect is the vehicle of ritual. If one does not show respect, then ritual will not advance. And if ritual does not advance, then the order of superior and inferior will be confused. How then will his line extend for generations?115 (Inner Scribe Guo criticizing the Prince of Jin for behaving slothfully upon receiving a piece of ceremonial jade.)


Ritual propriety is a person’s trunk; reverence, a person’s foundation.116 (Meng Xianzi 孟獻子 accusing Xi Que 郤缺 of speaking disrespectfully.)

Not being reverent means being indolent and careless. The Shuowen jiezi says: “Indolence means to be irreverent” (憜,不敬也).117 Zhou people hold that it is not only necessary to revere one’s superiors but also to show respect to those below. Thus, they say:


Reverence sustains one as the master of the people. If one abandons it, how can one uphold and guard one’s patrimony?118 (Mu Shu 穆叔 [d. 538 BC] discussing the necessity of upholding reverence.)

Reverence constitutes the basis of de, whereas a person’s character relies on ritual propriety and reverence to become established. “Without ritual propriety, one’s character cannot be established, without reverence there is no stability” (無禮則身不立,不敬則不安).119 These utterances can be understood as the Zhou people’s elaboration of the notion of jing de. This proves that reverence, understood as a mode of instruction, reaches quite far back in time.

4 The Interrelation of Politics and Morals within the Conception of the Heavenly Mandate

The term “Di ming帝命 (Di’s Mandate) is synonymous with the idea of the Heavenly Mandate which implies that the rise and fall of universal rulers is decided through Heaven’s decree. After the House of Yin had been replaced by that of Zhou, the position of the ruler became closely linked with the concept of the Heavenly Mandate, giving rise to the narrative of its bestowal. The “Shao gao” states:


Alas! August Heaven and Di on High altered their principal heir and with it the Mandate of this great settlement Yin. It was King [Wen] who then received [and assumed] the Mandate, infinite its blessings, yet infinite also its burdens. Alas! How could he possibly not be reverent?120

Similarly, the “Da gao” states:


I cannot accomplish wisdom and lead the people to prosperity; how much less should I be able to reach the knowledge of the Mandate of Heaven! It is upon me to arduously serve the charge received by the former men (i.e., the former kings).121 Now, I do not forget their great achievements. […]

已!予惟小子,不敢替上帝命。天休于寧() 王,興我小邦周。寧 () 王惟卜用,克綏受茲命。……

Alas! I am but the young heir, and I do not dare to abandon Di on High’s Mandate.122 Heaven bestowed his grace on King Wen and thus promoted our small polity Zhou. King Wen divined and acted accordingly, and so he was able to receive and assume this (great) Appointment. […]


Among all the wise men of the polity, only the ten of you obey and know the Charge of Di, and the sincere assistance Heaven grants us. […] How can it be that you do not know Heaven’s Mandate cannot be changed! […] It is on these accounts that I make this expedition in force to the east. There is no mistake about the Decree of Heaven. The indications given by the tortoise-shell are all to the same effect.123

When during the rebellion of the San Jian 三監 (Three Guards) and the Huai Yi 淮夷,124 the Duke of Zhou attended upon the decree of King Cheng to lead a military campaign to [the former Shang stronghold (tr. note)] in the east, he composed this announcement in order to extend [the Zhou’s receipt of] the Heavenly Mandate. This illustrates the legitimacy of the Zhou in replacing Yin as rulers over All-under-Heaven. Numerous admonitory words like these appear in the Book of Songs, in the Documents as well as in bronze inscriptions. The term “da ming大命 (Great Charge), as in “to promulgate the Great Charge in the polity of Mei” (明大命于妹邦) in the “Jiu gao,” and in “to exert oneself [in the implementation of] the Great Charge” (勞堇[ ] 大命), as well as in “to extend and revere the Great Charge” (𤕌貉[ ] 大命) in the Mao Gong ding and Shan Bo Zhong inscriptions refers to the Heavenly Mandate. The expression “to reverently heed to the Heavenly Mandate” (恪謹天命) from the “Pan Geng” chapter in the Documents even developed into a sort of set phrase. Because of the shifting position of the ruler, there arose sayings of the sort of “the Mandate of Heaven is not unchanging, never [allow yourself to] be neglectful” (天命 靡常,匪懈). Consider for instance the following passages from the Elegantiae and the Hymns sections in the Book of Songs:

有周不顯 Illustrious was the House of Zhou

帝命不時 Enduring the Mandate of Di.


商之孫子 The descendants of the House of Shang

其麗不億 innumerable were their hosts

上帝既命 Yet Di-on-High gave his command

侯于周服 And by Zhou they were subdued.

侯服于周 By Zhou they were subdued

天命靡常 Heaven’s Mandate, it does not last perpetually.125

綏萬邦 He pacified the myriad polities

婁豐年 He secured successive years of abundance

天命匪解 Heaven’s Mandate he never neglected.126

維天之命 The Charge that Heaven gave

於穆不已 May it solemnly last without end.127

When we come to the time of the Han period, discussions on the conditions of a sovereign’s receipt of the Heavenly Mandate flourished even more. Ban Biao’s 班彪 (3–54 AD) Wang ming lun 王命論 (Treatise on the mandate of kings) mentions five reasons that led to the rise of Han Gaozu 漢高祖 (Emperor Gaozu of Han [256–195 BC]). During the Eastern Han period, Fu Gan 傅幹 (b. 175 AD) composed the Wang ming xu 王命敍 (Order of the mandate of kings) where he discusses the four events leading up to Shizu’s 世祖 (Emperor Guangwu 光武 of Han [5 BC–57 AD]) rise to power.128 By the time Li Delin 李德林 (532–592 AD) wrote his Tian ming lun in the Sui dynasty (581–618 AD), this practice had already developed into a set routine.

The doctrine that the “Mandate of Heaven is not constant” underwent an important development during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods. In a passage from the Zuozhuan, listed under the fifth year in the reign of Patriarch Xi (655 BC), Gong Zhiqi 宮之奇 is depicted as remonstrating against attacking the polity of Guo :

臣聞之,鬼神非人實親,惟德是依。故周書曰:皇天無親,惟德 是輔

I have heard that ghosts and spirits are not actual kin to the living, it is de that they attach to. Thus, in the Documents of Zhou it says:129 “August Heaven has no kin, Heaven only supports [those displaying] de.”130

In his Lisao 離騷 (Encountering sorrow), Qu Yuan 屈原 (fl. 340–278 BC) proclaims:

皇天無私阿兮 August Heaven knows no partiality

覽民德焉錯輔 It looks for the virtuous and makes them his ministers

夫維聖哲以茂行兮 For only the wise and good can ever flourish

苟得用此下土 It is given to them to possess the earth below.131

In his commentary to the above passage, Wang Yi remarks:


August Heaven is divinely enlightened and therefore knows no partiality.132 It observes the multitudinous people looking for those among them who display (or possess) dao-de (virtue). Those it puts into the position of rulers, having able men of worth assist them. This is how Heaven accomplishes its intent.133

This states that only those possessing or displaying de are able to rule All- under-Heaven. In the “Kang gao,” the king admonishes the young Zhou prince Feng with the words:


Alas! Now, youngster Feng, as to the Mandate, it is not eternal, be aware of that! Do not stop serving me.134

To be able to receive Heaven’s assistance it is absolutely necessary to practice de. That the human sovereign receives the Heavenly Mandate is because he possesses de and implements it tirelessly; thus, Heaven grants him its support. The Ban gui inscription says:

惟民之(sic)() 在彝

The accomplishment of the people (sic!) consists (in maintaining their) constant moral principles.

The phrase zai yi 在彝 (consisting in / depending on constant moral principles) may be explained through a passage from the ode “Zheng min” 烝民 (The multitudinous people) in the Book of Songs:

天生烝民 Heaven gave birth to the multitudinous people,

有物有則 furnishing them with customs and standards.135

民之秉彝 The people held on to their constant moral principles,

好是懿德 as they were fond of this excellent de.136

Yi also meanschang (constant, enduring), as in “the constant moral principles were set forth in their due order” (彝倫攸敘),137 referring to some kind of moral system. This sort of constant de is not just important for a sovereign to embrace; ordinary people should also live according to it. The result of not being reverent amounts to “forfeiting the mandate and bringing disaster on oneself instead” (棄命而取禍). This means to lose the harmonious influences brought forth and raised by Heaven and earth and not being able to secure one’s mandate / fate. For the thirteenth year of the reign of Patriarch Cheng (577 BC), the Zuozhuan cites Liu Patriarch Kang as criticizing Chengzi 成子 (Patriarch Cheng of Su 成肅公 [dates unknown]) for not being reverent upon receiving sacrificial meat at the altar of the earth. The passage further includes the following exposition:


I have heard that men are born of the spirit of central harmony between Heaven and earth, and this is what is called their mandate. That is why there are standards for action and movement, ritual propriety, and duty, as well as for proper deportment employed to secure this mandate. The able ones nurture this mandate and find their way to good fortune; the feckless ones ruin this mandate and bring on disaster.


That is why noble men are assiduous in fulfilling ritual propriety, while common men exert themselves to the utmost in physical labor. In being assiduous in fulfilling ritual propriety, there is nothing equal to offering reverence. In exerting oneself to the utmost in physical labor, there is nothing equal to steady dedication. Reverence lies in nurturing the spirits; dedication lies in keeping to one’s vocation.


The great affairs of the domain lie with sacrifice and warfare. With sacrifices, there is the ritual of distributing roasted sacrificial meat; with warfare, there is the ritual of receiving sacrificial meat. These are the critical junctures in serving the spirits. In the present case, Cheng Patriarch Su was slack; he has cast aside his charge. Surely, he will not return!138

What Liu Patriarch Kang refers to as “men are born of the spirit of central harmony between Heaven and earth” describes exactly the import of the term ming. Zhong stands for “zhong in the sense the term is employed in the “Tang gao” 湯誥 (Announcement of Tang) chapter from the Documents:


[August Di-on-High] confers a moral sense and a constant nature.139

The “Shi gu” passage in the Guangya states: “Zhong means shan (good, virtuous).”140 The conditions for a secure or fixed mandate rest with one’s actions and behavior as conforming to the standards of proper deportment (weiyi 威儀). These standards (ze ) are the same standards which the Greater Elegantiae in the Book of Songs refer to in the verse pair:

Heaven gave birth to the multitudinous people,
furnishing them with customs and standards.

These standards can be understood in terms of the people’s discipline. As far as concerns rulers and noble men, they must be assiduous in fulfilling ritual propriety, offering reverence to nourish the spirits. The task of nourishing the spirits is fulfilled through ritual sacrifices. These sacrifices in turn form one aspect among the major affairs of the state. The Hou Hanshu 後漢書 (Book of the Later Han) records a strategic advice by Xun Shuang’s 荀爽 (128–190 AD):

昔者聖人建天地之中而謂之禮。禮者,所以興福祥之本,而止禍 亂之源也。

In former times, the sages established the central harmony between heaven and earth and called this ritual propriety. Ritual propriety is the basis for auspicious fortunes to flourish and the source for calamities and disorder to stop.141

Xun appropriates here the text from the Zuozhuan in stating that “the central harmony between heaven and earth is what constitutes ritual propriety.” The idea of offering one’s reverence manifests itself in the act of nourishing the spirits. Hence the notion of reverence was based in the context of offering sacrifices to the spirits. This is why reverence was associated with ritual propriety. Not being reverent equals idleness. Chengzi had been idle, thus he ran the danger of forfeiting his “mandate.”

The term ding ming 定命 (secure / fixed mandate) originally appeared in the Book of Songs. In the ode “Yi” (Grave) we read:

無競維人 Unsurpassed were these men,

四方其訓之 Whom all world took their lesson from

有覺德行 To their upright virtuous conduct,

四國順之 All the world rendered obedient homage.

訏謨定命 With great counsels did they secure their mandate,

遠猶辰告 Through far-reaching plans and timely announcements.

敬慎威儀 Reverently attentive to their proper deportment,

維民之則 They became a standard to their people.142

Liu Patriarch Kang says that the “standards for action and movement, ritual propriety and duty, as well as for proper deportment” need to be employed to secure one’s mandate. In the ode “Yi” this is achieved through great counsels and far-reaching plans, the implementation of which also depends on paying reverent attention to one’s proper deportment so one can become a pattern for the people. Both meanings complement each other.

Starting from the Spring and Autumn period, the notion of the Heavenly Mandate changes every so often from a political into a moral concept. The Guliang zhuan 穀梁傳 (Guliang’s commentary) states:

人之於天也,以道受命;於人也,以言受命。不若() 於道者,天絕之也。不若() 於言者,人絕之也。臣子大受命。

In their relations with Heaven, humans receive their mandate from the former through the way [of Heaven]. In their relations with one another humans receive their mandate through words. Those who do not conform to the way [of Heaven], Heaven cuts off. Those who do not obey words, men cut off. Officials of the states greatly receive (both these) mandates.143

The Guliang zhuan differentiates here between the Heavenly Mandate on the one hand, which is to be received through “the way” (dao ), and human mandates on the other hand, which are received by means of “verbal commands” (lit “words,” “speech” [yan ]). The importance of the notions of “the way” and of “words” or “speech” exactly lies in those being the tools for implementing the respective “mandates” (ming). This is in fact a very fresh point of view. Extending the implications of ming to include human affairs as well as verbal utterances marks a further step in the development of the concept. In antiquity there was a special rite used for the conferral of mandates. The “Da zongbo” 大宗伯 (Greater minister of rites) section in the Zhouli states:


When the king commands the regional rulers, he receives them as guests so they would come and accept their mandates from him.144

The ritual occasion marking the conferral of commands was therefore regarded as a very important event. Similar to the Heavenly Mandate, the king’s appointments were not to be treated lightly. Those who did not conform to the way were cut off by Heaven; those who did not obey the wording of a command or appointment were cut off by man. Heaven confers its mandate by means of its way. The way of Heaven is absolute.

After King Helu 闔廬 of Wu (fl. 537–496 BC) had been assassinated (sic),145 Jizha 季札 (fl. 576–484 BC) arrived [back in Wu] and proclaimed:


So long as the former rulers do not cast aside our sacrifices, the people do not cast aside their masters, the altars of the domain maintain their ceremonies, and the domain and patrimony are not overturned, then he is our ruler. Against whom should we presume to bear a grudge? We mourn for the dead and serve the living, awaiting Heaven’s commands.146

When one finds oneself confronted with the most adverse conditions that prove to be beyond human power to overcome, one assumes an attitude where one accepts and is content with one’s fate without complaining. The Zhong yong 中庸 (Doctrine of the mean) quotes Confucius as saying:


Living peacefully and at ease and waiting for one’s ming, one does not find oneself in any situation wherein one would not be at ease with oneself.147

“Living peacefully and at ease” (ju yi 居易) means to find oneself in an ordinary situation, which is exactly the opposite to the dangerous situation Ji Zha found himself in. But what both situations have in common is that they equally call for the decision to await one’s destiny (mingyun 命運). When Patriarch Wen of Zhu (d. 615 BC) divined about relocating his capital to Yi , his scribe said:


“It will benefit the people but will not benefit you.” The Viscount of Zhu replied, “So long as it benefits the people, then it is a benefit to me. Heaven gave birth to the people and set up a ruler for them in order to benefit them. If the people are to benefit, I too must have some part in it.” His retainers said, “If your life-span (ming) can be prolonged, why do you not act upon it?” The Viscount of Zhu said, “My charge (ming) is to nourish the people. Whether death comes early or late, that is a matter of timeliness. So long as the people benefit from it, we will relocate the capital. Nothing else could be so auspicious.”148

Du Yu remarks here:


That the ming of the people could be passed on from generation to generation without end was because Patriarch Wen made it his utmost priority.149

The Viscount of Zhu did not care about his personal disadvantages. He did not consider his own lifespan as something worthy to be concerned about, since what constituted the conditions of Heaven’s mandate was nourishing the people. Being able to forfeit one’s own life-span (ming) in favor of striving for a greater commitment (ming); this can be called “knowing [about the cost of Heaven’s] mandate” (知命).150 In the same vein, Confucius later remarked that “knowing Heaven’s mandate / ordinances” (知天命), “taking pleasure in Heaven, knowing one’s lot, one therefore does not worry” (樂天知命故不憂).151 The Mengzi as well states:


Not to allow any double-mindedness regardless of longevity or brevity of life, but to cultivate one’s person and wait for [destiny to take its own course] is the way to fulfill one’s lot.152

The span of one’s life is not worth worrying about. However, to cultivate one’s person in order to await destiny’s arrival, that is the spirit adopted by Ji Zha and the Viscount of Zhu. As this represents the common view on destiny during the Spring and Autumn period, these two episodes may testify to the influence this view had on Confucian thinking.

The Greeks referred to the idea of destiny as Moira. According to the ancient Homeric epics, the celestial deities are subordinate to Moira, the ordinance of which constitutes a moral decree. As such, destiny surpassed the power of all deities. When the latter committed a crime, not even Zeus could go against the ordinance of faith, having been subject to moral sanctions himself.153

Within the system of polytheism, the idea of destiny in ancient Greece functioned as a decree of moral obligation that served to limit all individual powers, both human and divine.154 In ancient Chinese bronze inscriptions we come across phrases referring to the concept of the Heavenly Mandate, such as “to exert oneself [in the implementation of] the Great Charge” (勞勤大命), “to extend and revere the Great Charge” (𤕌恪大命) and “to help making broad the Mandate of Heaven” (惠弘天令), as well as warnings that those who are ignorant of the Heavenly Mandate will bring destruction upon themselves. These repeated admonitions suffice to illustrate that the fate which has been decided upon by Heaven above is absolute; it follows from the will of Di-on-High and cannot be transgressed. In the polytheism of the ancient Greeks, contradictions and struggles still prevailed between the deities, whereas the Chinese of the Yin and Zhou period had long since developed the notion of a universal or even transcendent high god. Shangdi 上帝 (Di-on-High), Huang Shangdi 皇上帝 (August Di-on-High), Huang Tianshen 皇天神 (August Sky-deity) and Huangtian Shangdi 皇天上帝 (August Heaven Di-on-High) are all honorific appellations for one and the same deity, Tian (Heaven), the latter being the alternative name for Di-on-High. This renders the impact of the Heavenly Mandate all the more authoritative, while the conflation of Heavenly Di with the highest instance of moral judgement establishes the former in terms of a meaningful institution.

In the Zhou Hymns from the Book of Songs we read:

維天之命 The Charge that Heaven gave,

於穆不已 Boundless in its beauty,

於乎不顯 And alas most glorious,

文王之德之純 The limitlessness of King Wen’s de.

假以溢我 With blessings he has whelmed us,

我其收之 We need but gather them in.

駿惠我文王 High favors has King Wen vouchsafed to us;

曾孫篤之 May his descendants hold them fast.155

The main significance of this hymn lies in its interconnecting the idea of the Heavenly Mandate with the notion of “profound de” (chun de 純德). A passage from the inscription cast on the Shi Zai ding, dating from the time of King Gong (r. 917/15–900 BC), reads:

王曰: 師𩛥!女() 克衋(=) 乃身,臣朕皇考穆王。用乃孔德() (),乃用心引() 正乃辟安德

The King spoke: “Commander Zai! You were able to offer up yourself in the service of my August Deceased Father King Mu. Because your great de is integer, you were able to employ your heart and to make upright the settled de of your ruler as well.”156

Here we now find with “kong de孔德 (great de) and “an de安德 (settled de) two further expressions comprising the term de. The reason why the graph de appears with such frequency in bronze inscriptions lies in the fact that in antiquity, “ritual vessels were bestowed in order to award those who display de” (賜祭器,正所以章有德).157

5 The Mental Worries and Anxieties that Led to the Composition of the Changes (Yi ) and the Establishment of Cultivated de

Human religiosity arose from the fear, amazement, and disappointment that man experienced in being exposed to nature’s phenomena. Its goal was to provide a source of mental consolidation and trust. Religion was born from emotions, whereas academia originated from wisdom. In its broadest meaning, religion means belief. Its mental expressions can be found in the reverence towards meteorological or astronomical phenomena as well as in apprehensiveness and caution in human affairs, to name only a few. In Wen Zhongzi’s 文中子 (i.e., Wang Tong 王通 [584–617 AD]) “Zhou Gong pian” 周公篇 (Tract on the Duke of Zhou) we read:


As to the anxieties and worries of the Changes, encounter them with cautiousness and diligence. How can one not stand in awe of Heaven and sympathize with man and carefully consider the right time to act?158

These lines capture the spirit of the Changes quite well. It is generally believed that the “Xici” 繫辭 (Appended statements) to the hexagrams (gua ) of the Changes have been composed by King Wen. The “lun gua yao ci shui zuo” 論卦爻辭誰作 (A discussion on who devised the hexagram and line statements) in Kong Yingda’s Zhouyi zhengyi states:

其周易繫辭凡有二說: 一說所以卦辭爻辭,並是文王所作。

There exist two theories as to who composed the “appended statements” of the Changes of Zhou: One theory states that both the “hexagram statements” and the “line statements” have been devised by King Wen.


This position is based on the “Xici,” where one reads: “Was it not in the middle period of antiquity that the Changes began to flourish? Did not he who created the Changes suffer from anxieties and worries?”


It further says: “Was it not in the last age of Yin, when the de of Zhou had reached its peak, and during the troubles between King Wen and Zhou (i.e., the Last Shang king) that the Changes began to flourish?”


The Grand Historian [Sima] Qian says: “King Wen was in confinement when he elaborated the Changes.” Doesn’t this mean precisely that he who devised the Changes was troubled with anxieties?


According to the second position, the “line statements’” verifications fell largely into the time after King Wen. […] The Zuozhuan relates that when Han Xuanzi (d. 514 BC) went to the state of Lu and saw the Images of the Changes (Yi xiang 易象), he spoke: “Now I understand the de of the Zhou Duke.” The Duke of Zhou was defamed by rumors; thus he too was plagued by anxieties and worries.159

Regardless of whether these “Statements” had been produced by King Wen or by the Duke of Zhou, in any case they arose out of anxieties and worries and were written down as instructions. Kong Yingda’s shu commentary further states:


Without anxieties and worries, there would have been nothing to ponder and be concerned about. There would have been no need to devise these statements. […] Yet if one finds oneself amidst misfortunes and hardships, the need arises to pass down the measures devised against them and show them to posterity to prevent further misfortunes from happening. It was thus that these were committed to writing, to make clear where gains and losses lie and how to discern between auspiciousness and ominousness.160

The latter part of the “Xici” commentary therefore says:


As a book the Changes cannot be distanced, as a way it frequently shifts. […] It only alternates where it goes. The goings and comings are according to rule and measure; the [visible] outer and the [invisible] inner cause one to know fear. It makes plain the nature of anxieties and calamities, and the causes of them. It does not have a master to protect it and yet it is close like a father and mother.161

Both outer and inner teaches one to fear, so one stays alert day and night, seeking to avoid making mistakes. Thus the “Xici” further says:


The Master said: “He [who is apprehensive about] dangers, will secure his position; he [who is apprehensive about the danger of] perishing will protect his [continued] existence; he [who considers the dangers of] disorder will maintain order. Therefore, the superior man, when resting in safety, does not forget that danger may come; when in a state of security, he does not forget the possibility of perishing; and when all is in a state of order, he does not forget that disorder may come. Thus, his person is kept safe, and his domain with all its families can be preserved. The Changes say: ‘We may perish! We may perish! (so let the state of things become firm, as if) bound to a clump of bushy mulberry trees.’ ”162

The [texts explaining the] sixty-four hexagrams are all concerned with how to cultivate de and how to avoid calamities. Following the sentence “he who created the Changes had anxieties and worries” (作易者其有憂患), the second part of the “Xici” lists nine most basic hexagrams; the central concern of each of them is how to cultivate de:


Lü (Treading), is the foundation of de; Qian (Modesty), its handle; Fu (Returning), its basis; Heng (Constancy), its sturdiness; Sun (Decrease), its cultivation; Yi (Increase), its abundance; Kun (Entangled), its exercise of discrimination; Jing (The Well), its ground and Xun (Compliance), its regulation.163

As the purpose of these nine hexagrams is to cultivate de and to avoid calamities, I have listed them here to illustrate the uses of de. In a passage from the “Zhouyu” 周語 (Discourses of Zhou) in the Guoyu, Rui Liangfu 芮良夫 states:


As king one has the obligation to set free one’s resources and to distribute them to the people above and below to enable the spirits, people and the myriad phenomena to all reach their equilibrium. Moreover, [a king] should be fearful every day, fearing that there might be blame.164

As to “being fearful every day” (日怵惕), the nine in the third line statement to the hexagram Qian (Vigorous) in the Changes says:


The nobleman to the end of the day is so vigorous; in the evening is fearful as if there is danger. There are no misfortunes.165

The shu commentary explains that:


The superior man finds himself in a position filled with anxieties and dangers, therefore he needs to be vigorous all day long. This means that he vigorously strengthens himself, exerting himself without ever pausing, permanently throughout and to the end of this day. Being fearful in the evening means that throughout the entire day and even into the night, the superior man still carries with him his anxieties and fears.166

It is exactly this mentality of fearfulness that leads one to develop the commendable habit of “approaching one’s tasks with a sense of solicitude” (臨事而懼). Studying the Changes may help one not to make mistakes, but to avoid misfortunes, one must moreover maintain an attitude where one allows the [visible] outer and the [invisible] inner to cause one to know fear. The Duke of Zhou warning the young heir in the “Da gao,” to “always be mindful of hardships” (永思艱), became an everlasting sincere admonition for all rulers to come after.

In talking about the Changes, Wen Zhongzi promotes the attitude of standing in awe of Heaven and sympathizing with man. Fearing the calamities Heaven might send to punish man for his crimes, one therefore cultivates de to avoid misfortunes. The spirit of putting anxieties first and enjoyments last bears strong religious overtones but does not amount to being fearful of the spirit world. The explanations in Søren Kierkegaard’s (1813–1855) The Concept of Dread lead a humanity carrying the burden of an “original sin” to tremble and repent in front of God in the face of cruel natural disasters.167 In ancient China there was no notion of an “original sin.” The mentality of anxiety we find in the commentarial literature of the Changes is therefore greatly different from the mentality of dread.

The hexagram Zhen (Thunder) depicts a twofold thunder, a quite frightening weather phenomenon, thus [the “Xiang zhuan” 象傳 (Image commentary)] says:


The superior man is fearful and apprehensive; therefore, he cultivates (his de) and examines (his faults).168

One does not stop at being frightened, but one takes this fear as an incentive to cultivate and examine oneself. The hexagram Ji Ji 既濟 (Already Across) indicates that although one has already succeeded in crossing over to the opposite shore, one is still not fully satisfied. The “Xiang zhuan” to this hexagram further says:


The superior man guards against misfortunes by keeping (their possibility) in mind.169

Trying to avoid misfortunes constantly and without ceasing; this is exactly the mentality of anxiety that speaks to us through the Changes.

In interpreting each of the hexagrams, the creator of the “Xiang” commentary to the Changes time and again uses the term de. For instance, the “Xiang zhuan” to the Kun (Compliant) hexagram says:


The noble man supports things with his profound de.170

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Meng (Folly) hexagram says:


Striving to be resolute in one’s conduct and to nourish one’s de.171

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Xiao Chu 小畜 (Lesser Livestock) hexagram says:


Adorning one’s de with excellence.172

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Pi (Negation) hexagram says:


Avoiding calamities by moderating one’s de.173

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Yu (Relaxed) hexagram says:


Honoring one’s de by composing music.174

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Gu (Parasite) hexagram says:


Assisting the people by nourishing one’s de.175

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Da Chu 大畜 (Greater Livestock) hexagram says:


Accumulating one’s de by storing a vast amount in one’s memory of the words and deeds of former men.176

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Kan (Pit) hexagram says:


Practicing instruction by making one’s de-conduct constant.177

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Jin (Advancing) hexagram says:


Giving oneself to make more brilliant one’s bright de.178

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Jian (Lame) hexagram says:


Cultivating one’s de by turning around and examining oneself.179

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Guai (Resolute) hexagram says:


Bestowing emoluments on those below oneself, for accumulating (undispensed) de (here: gifts) triggers jealousy.180

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Sheng (Ascending) hexagram says:


Obeying one’s de and accumulating its small developments till it is high and great.181

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Jian (Progressing) hexagram says:


Making the manners of the people good by attaining and maintaining one’s extraordinary de.182

The “Xiang zhuan” to the Jie (Moderation) hexagram says:


Discussing one’s de-conduct by devising numberings and measurements.183

For fourteen out of the sixty-four hexagrams in the Changes the “Xiang zhuan” mentions the word de, mostly communicating the idea of advancing or accumulating it. In the case of ominous hexagram images, it suggests staying vigilant. The advice to moderate one’s de when encountering Pi, to make one’s de constant in the case of the Kan, to cultivate one’s de in the case of Jian, or to discuss one’s de when encountering  Jie are all such examples.

The Wenyan commentary explains the hexagram Qian in terms of yuan (great beginning), heng (unobstructed development), li (harmonious gain) and zhen (correct firmness), to which it refers as “si de四德 (four virtues). The name “si de” appears first in the Zuozhuan, in the account of the ninth year of Patriarch Xiang . A scribe explains why Mu Jiang 穆姜 (d. 564 BC) encountered Gen (Stilling) going to Sui (Following) in her milfoil divination. He said about Mu Jiang (sic):184


Now I, as a woman, was yet party to fomenting disorder; and undeniably in a lowly position, I was yet not showing fellow-kindness; this cannot be called ‘great beginning.’ I did not bring peace and stability to the domain and patrimony; there cannot be ‘unobstructed development.’ My action harmed my person; this cannot be called ‘harmonious gain.’ I abandoned my position to indulge in licentiousness; this cannot be called ‘correct firmness.’ With these four virtues, ‘Following’ is yet ‘no blame.’ But since I have none of them, how can this be deemed ‘Following’?185

Because she chose a harmful course of action, blame necessarily ensued. The convention of referring to yuan, heng, li and zhen as the “four virtues” goes all the way back to the Spring and Autumn period. As to the arrangement of the line statements commenting on the hexagram Qian, “initial nine” protects its dragon-de (sic!), “nine in the second” says: “de is plentiful and transformation ensues” (德博而化); “nine in the third” says: “advancing de faithfully and honest” (忠信進德); “nine in the fourth” says: “The superior man advances in his de by cultivating his duties, wishing to do so at the proper time” (進德脩業,欲及時).186 Everywhere we look, de forms the main topic. Thus, the Wenyan commentary says:


The superior man’s conduct shows in his accomplished de, which can be observed in his daily affairs.187

The accomplishments of the superior man consist in his de-conduct. The creators of the “Shi yi” 十翼 (Ten Wings) commentaries combined all these connotations of de in order to bring out and elaborate on the true essence of the Changes.188


Jao presented a preliminary version of the present article during the Symposium on Scientific Methods of Research in the Study of Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Southeast Asian Metal and other Archaeological Artifacts in Melbourne, Australia, October 6–10, 1975. His conference paper has been translated into English by Noel Barnard (1922–2016) as “The Character te in Bronze Inscriptions,” in The Proceedings of a Symposium on Scientific Methods of Research in the Study of Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Southeast Asian Metal and other Archaeological Artifacts, ed. Noel Barnard (Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976), 145–54. A significantly expanded Chinese version was published three years later under the title “Tianshenguan yu daode sixiang” 天神觀與道德思想 (Moral Speculation and the Conception of a Sky God) in Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica 49.1 (1978): 77–100. This translation is based on the latter version as reprinted in WJ 4: 326–61.


Jao quotes here the first part of the title from F. M. (Francis MacDonald) Cornford’s (1874–1943) seminal study, From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of Western Speculation (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1912), which to some degree constitutes the Western counter draft for this study.


“Regrettably though,” Jao remarks, “these passages are limited to the insights from J. J. M. (Jan Jakob Maria) de Groot’s (1854–1921), The Religion of the Chinese (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1910), therefore, it can be said that they are entirely without use to us.”


Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy, 4.




Guanzi jiaozhu, 14.831.


In the original, Jao gives the author as Guo […] 郭□, put in brackets.


The original quotation in Li Daoyuan’s preface reads: “Water accounts for the majority of the matter that makes up the world. It floats in the heaven’s and it carries the solid land; above and below there is nothing it does not reach; among the myriad phenomena there is nothing it does not moisten. Its life-breath even runs within stone, merging completely with it. It takes not even an entire morning for it to moisten the entire world; among the spirits none is able to equal it.” (天下之多者水也,浮天載地高下無不至,萬物無不潤。及其氣流屆石,精薄膚寸,不崇朝而澤合靈宇者,神莫與並矣). Cf. Shuijing zhu jiaozheng, 1.


In the above passage, Jao paraphrases the argument in Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy, 5–6. In his footnotes, he directly quotes from Cornford’s work the phrases “all nature is poisoned by the offence of man” (p. 5), and the “order of Nature is a moral order” (p. 6).


“Tang gao” 湯誥 (Announcement of Tang), Shu 12.85–90.


Shu 16.1164–76.


Jao quotes here the following statement from Wen Tingshi’s 文廷式 (1856–1904) Chunchangzi zhiyu 純常子枝語, scroll 28: “When it comes to the religions of each region in the world, in ancient times they all shared a common focus on the worship of the sky.” (東西各邦宗教,上世同以拜天為宗旨); as well as: “Although humans are born with intellectual capacities, what they see when turning their gaze upward is that there is nothing vaster than the sky. Even though they might have developed independently of each other, veneration and worship of the sky must have had the same meaning everywhere” (人生既有知識,則舉目所見,莫大于天。即使不出一源,而敬天祭之,必無異議) (Qingdai xueshu biji congkan 清代學術筆記叢刊, [Beijing: Xueyuan chubanshe, 2005], 67.432).


Mao #303 (Maoshi zhengyi, 20.1700).


Jao refers the reader here to the passage called “The Sky-Religion” in E. O. (Edwin Oliver) James (1888–1972), Prehistoric Religion: A Study in Prehistoric Archaeology (London: Thames and Hudson, 1957), 204–28.


“Testing: Conducting a di-sacrifice to the Di-clouds” (貞帝于帝云) (HJ 14227).


“Crack-making on xin-wei day: Di-wind. Not use. Rain” (辛未卜帝風不用雨) (HJ 34150 + HJ 18915 + HJ 35290). For “Di’s emissary, wind” (帝史[ 使] ), see Guo Moruo 郭沫若 Buci tongzuan 卜辭通纂 (Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 1983 [1933]), 398.


For “Di-sacrifice to the Fang” (方帝), see Luo Zhenyu 羅振玉, Yinxu shuqi 殷虛書契, (Beijing: Zhongguo qingnian chubanshe, 1999), scroll 7, p. 1, no. 1; scroll 4, p. 17, no. 5.


See fragment H11:1 in Cao Wei, Zhouyuan Jiaguwen.


Cf. Chen Mengjia 陳夢家, Yinxu buci zongshu 殷虛卜辭綜述 (Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 1956), 564, for the various sorts of disasters associated with the graph in late Shang OBI.


See Chang Yuzhi 常玉芝, “You Shangdai de ‘Di’ kan suowei ‘Huang Di’” 由商代的看所謂黃帝”, Wen shi zhe 文史哲 (2008) 6: 36–8, for slightly different transcriptions and interpretations of the three fragments cited above.


This OBI passage is somewhat problematic. See Chang Yuzhi, “You Shangdai de ‘Di’ kan suowei ‘Huang Di’,” 45–6, for a discussion of possible readings.


The possible identity of the graph between di and bu as ren (man, person, often used in the compound yu yi ren 余一人 [I, the one / lone man] as self-reference for the king in Shang sources) has originally been suggested by Chen Mengjia as a tentative preliminary interpretation (Yinxu buci zongshu, 579). Chang Yuzhi instead identifies the graph in question as wang (to not have, be without) and reads the entire passage as 「隹王,帝亡不若」 (as to the [affairs of the] King, there are none that Di is not compliant with). See Chang Yuzhi, “You Shangdai de ‘Di’ kan suowei ‘Huang Di’,” 45–6.


Chang Yuzhi suggests reading this passage as: 「……[ ] 爯王,帝今日……」 ([as for] the king raising troops in the east, today [he will receive] Di’s [assistance]). See Chang Yuzhi, “You Shangdai de ‘Di’ kan suowei ‘Huang Di’,” 45–6.


Jao refers here to Dong Zuobin’s division of the Late Shang or Anyang period (ca. 1200–ca. 1051 BC) into five sub-periods according to different diviner groups, a periodization still widely used for the dating of OBI by early China scholars today. Cf. Dong Zuobin, Jiaguwen duandai yanjiu li 甲骨文斷代研究例 (Taipei: The Institute of History and Philology, Aacademia Sinica, 1963 [1932]). See also David N. Keightley, Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 91–133.


Citing the same three OBI passages as Jao does here, both Chen Mengjia and Hu Houxuan 胡厚宣 (1911–1995) attested the existence of the appellation Wang-Di 王帝 in late Shang OBI before him. See Chen Mengjia, Yinxu buci zongshu, 579; and Hu Houxuan, “Yin buci zhong de Shang-Di yu Wang-Di (xia)” 殷卜辭中的上帝與王帝 (), Lishi yanjiu 歷史研究 (1959) 10: 89–110. However, whereas Jao understands the term to mean “human thearch” (i.e., the Shang king), Chen and Hu interpret the binome as denoting the High-god Di (i.e., Shang-Di or Di-on-High) and the reigning Shang king’s parents respectively. Chang Yuzhi in turn reads wang and di as two separate terms in all three passages. Pointing to numerous further OBI passages that mention both the King and Di within the same charge, she claims that the appellation Wang-Di does not exist in extant Shang OBI. See Chang Yuzhi, “You Shangdai de ‘Di’ kan suowei ‘Huang Di’,” 46–8.


Jao refers the reader here to “The Origin of the Deity T’ien,” in Herrlee G. (Glessner) Creel’s (1905–1994), The Origins of Statecraft in China, Volume One: The Western Chou Empire (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1970), 493–506.


Jao cites here the following related passage from “Yin benji” 殷本紀 in the Shiji: “Thearch Wu Yi had no principles; he made an image which he called ‘Sky God.’ He gambled with it, ordering others to act on its behalf. When the ‘Sky God’ did not win, he abused it. He made a leather bag which he filled with blood, threw it up into the air and shot at it. This he called ‘Shooting at Heaven.’” (帝武乙無道,為偶人謂之天神。與之博,令人 為行。天神不勝,乃僇辱之。為革囊,盛血,卬而射之,命曰射天」) (Shiji, 3.104). Jao also mentions that Marcel Granet once compared this episode to the Dalasi 達拉斯 people’s custom of shooting arrows at Heaven whenever they encounter thunderstorms, in an effort to render the Gods compliant. I was unable to identify the name of the people behind the transliteration dalasi, nor could I locate the source of Granet’s alleged statement. For Granet’s treatment of the myth of Wu Yi shooting the sky, see his Danses et Légendes, 2: 537–48. Jao further points to Michel de Montaigne, who states in his Essais “that the soul expends its passions upon false objects, where the true are wanting” (Comme l’ame descharge ses passions sur des objects faux, quand les vrais luy defaillent) (Essais De Montaigne [Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1907], book 1 chapter 4, p. 42), to explain the reason for such behavioral patterns.


JC 4342.


JC 2841.


Shu 48.27–36. My interpretation of ji as “to send down” in this and the following examples follows Liu Zhao 劉釗, “‘Ji’ zi de xing-yin yi” 「字的形音義, in idem, Shuxinji xubian: chutu wenxian yu guwenzi luncong 書馨集續編:出土文獻與古文字論叢 (Shanghai: Zhongxi shuju, 2018), 240–61.


JC 4261.


JC 260. My punctuation of this passage differs slightly from Jao’s, which reads: 「隹皇上帝百神,保余小子朕猷,有成亡競。我隹司配皇天王」.


JC 4241.


JC 49. This bronze is better known by the name Bidi zhong 㪤狄鐘 (tr. note).


JC 6513. The name of this inscription is more commonly transcribed as Xu Wang Yichu zhi 徐王義楚觶 (Xu King Yichu’s goblet) (tr. note).


All of these instances are listed in appendix one in Jao’s original article.


The original passage in the Book of Documents reads:


King Wen established order throughout our western lands […]. His endeavours became known to Di on High, and Di [bestowed] his grace [on him]. Heaven accordingly greatly charged King Wen to exterminate Yin, and to grandly receive its appointment. (Shu 29.67–125).


The original passage in the Book of Documents reads:

成湯陟,丕釐上帝之耿命[…] 其在受德暋,惟羞刑暴德之人,同于厥邦。[…] 帝欽罰之,乃伻我有夏,式商受命,奄甸萬姓。

Cheng Tang arose and grandly administered the bright command of Di-on-High. […] When it came to Shou, his character was impetuous. He chose men of severity and violent character to act as his associates in his polities. […] Di-on-High then punished him, and caused us [i.e., the Zhou] to possess the lands of Xia, replacing the Shang with us as the recipients of his charge to govern the myriad families. (Shu 39.133–232).


For the shared meaning and the interchangeable use of the terms Di and Tian, Jao refers the reader further to Ikeda Suetoshi 池田末利 (1910–2000), “Shaku tei ten” 釈帝・天, in idem, Chūgoku kodai shūkyōshi kenkyū : seido to shisō 中國古代宗教史研究:制度思想 (Tokyo: Tokai University Press, 1998), 25–46. He also mentions Zheng Xuan’s annotations to the Xiaojing 孝經 (Classic of Filial Piety) as saying: “Di-on-High is an alternative name for Heaven” (上帝者,天之別名也) (Zheng Xuan 鄭玄, annot.; Pi Xirui 皮錫瑞, comp., Xiaojing zhengzhu shu 孝經鄭注疏 [Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2016], 77).


JC 4131.


Sun Haibo 孫海波 et al., eds., Jiaguwen bian 甲骨文編, 3rd rev. ed. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1965), 74.




HJ 20547.


Shuowen jiezi, 7.


Guangya shuzheng, 1A.2.


JC 2836.


JC 4341.


JC 2405 + 2661 + 3733.


JC 3942.


JC 109–12.


Zuo, Ai 2.3, 1614. Cf. Durrant, Li, and Schaberg, trans., Zuo Tradition, 1845.


Mengzi 7B. 33. Cf. D. C. Lau, trans., Mencius: A Bilingual Edition, rev. ed. (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2003 [1984]), 324–25.


JC 9719–9720.


JC 4302.


“Wei Tian zhi ming” 維天之命 (The Charge that Heaven gave), Mao #267 (Maoshi zhengyi, 19.1510). The English translation has been adapted from Waley, trans., The Book of Songs, 291.


Shu 32.280–96; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 426.


Shu 32.431–507; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 429–430.


Shu 32.556–609; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 430–31.


Shu 35.269–304; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 468–69.


Shu 35.480–516; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 472.


Shu 36.657–72; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 485.


Chen Jian 陳劍 suggests that zao is used here in a similar manner as in the Mao ode “Si Zhai” 思齊 (Mao #240): “If grown men have de, young people can have accomplishments” (肆成人有德、小子有造 [Maoshi zhengyi, 16.1189]). See Chen Jian, “Shi ‘zao’ ” 釋造 in idem, Jiagu jinwen kaoshi lunji 甲骨金文考釋論集 (Beijing: Xianzhuang shuju, 2007), 175.


My punctuation of this passage differs slightly from Jao’s original, which reads: 「() 民亡,才() () 天令,故亡」.


Note that Jao reads yuan (distant, far) here instead of the established rendering of the graph as wei (to go against, to disobey). There is, however, the chance that the graph is the result of an editorial mistake, in this case the last line would read “there will be no place where there is resistance” (亡攸遠).


For the interpretation of as shao (improve), see Chen Bingxin 陳秉新, “Shi ‘X’ ji xiang guan zi ci” 及相關字詞, Guwenzi yanjiu 22 (2007): 96–100.


JC 2841.


Shu 42.77–119; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 547.


Hanshu, 56.2498. See further Michael Loewe, Dong Zhongshu, a “Confucian” Heritage and the Chunqiu Fanlu (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 87–100 for Dong Zhongshu’s Duice.


Hui Dong 惠棟, Hou Hanshu buzhu 後漢書補注 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1985), 15.660.


“Yu wu zheng” 雨無正 (Rain without limit); Mao #194 (Maoshi zhengyi, 12.854–57). Translation adapted from Waley, The Book of Songs, 172–73.


“Xiao min” 小旻 (Foreboding); Mao #195 (Maoshi zhengyi, 12.862). Translation adapted from Waley, The Book of Songs, 174.


“Qiao yan” 巧言 (Clever words); Mao #198 (Maoshi zhengyi, 12.883). Translation adapted from Waley, The Book of Songs, 179.


“He ren si” 何人斯 (What sort of person); Mao #199 (Maoshi zhengyi, 12.890). Translation adapted from Waley, The Book of Songs, 181.


“Wo jiang” 我將 (We bring); Mao #272 (Maoshi zhengyi, 19.1530). Translation adapted from Waley, The Book of Songs, 293.


“Xi Bo kan Li” 西伯戡黎 (Chief of the West’s conquest of Li); Shu 19.65–86; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 271.


“Da gao” Shu 27.82–137; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 364–66.


“Jiu gao” Shu 30.40–65; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 399–400.


“Duo shi” 多士 (Many officers); Shu 34.35–93; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 454–55.


“Jun shi”; Shu 36.59–622; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 475–84.


“Duo fang”; Shu 38.393–406; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 501.


“Lü xing” Shu 47.569–908; Translation adapted from Legge, The Shoo King, 604–10.


Due to its “basic openness which allows it to absorb different meanings according to different circumstances” (Martin Kern, “Ritual, Text, and the Formation of the Canon: Historical Transitions of ‘Wen’ in Early China,” T’oung Pao 87.1 [2001]: 44), the term wen has no exact English equivalent. Moreover, its concordant translation as “pattern” or “culture” does not make much sense in the given passage. As far as concerns a Western Zhou ritual context, scholars point to a possible semantic affinity between the terms wen (*mə[n]), min (*mrə[n]ʔ) “diligent” and min (*mˤrəŋʔ) “to exert oneself, to strive.” See Lothar von Falkenhausen, “The Concept of Wen in the Ancient Chinese Ancestral Cult,” CLEAR 18 (1996): 18–9. Others, such as Chow Tse-Tsung 周策縱 (1916–2007), direct our attention to the semantic significance of the Western Zhou epigraphic form of the graph as (), with the element xin “heart” or “mind” written in the middle. “As for the association of wen with the mind,” says Chow, “the Shuowen lists an entry min , which it defines as ‘to exert oneself’ 自勉彊也, and supports it with a quotation from the ‘Li zheng’ 立政 of the Book of History [i.e. the Book of Documents (tr. Note)] ‘在受德忞.’ Since in the present edition of the History the word is given in the form and no other printed record contains this form as shown in the Shuowen, the word is not widely noticed. But in the Lunyu Confucius is quoted as saying: ‘In self-exerting (or ‘in letters’) I am equal to other people. But as regards the superior man’s carrying out in his conduct what he professes, I have not attained it.’ 文莫吾猶人也;躬行君子,則吾未之有得. (7:32) The term 文莫 has bothered many commentators. A few scholars have noticed in the Shuowen an entry mu which is also defined as ‘(self)-exerting’ 勉也, so they have suggested that 文莫 must be 忞慔. Considering the bronze inscription form of wen with the ‘mind’ in the middle, I would think this last epigraphic form probably had been transcribed into by some, and by others during Qin-Han times when the clerical style of writing (lishu 隸書) was created.” (Chow Tse-tsung, “Ancient Chinese Views on Literature, the Tao, and Their Relationship,” CLEAR 1 [1979]: 12). I am following Chow’s alternative translation of wen as “self-exertion” or “diligence,” not only because this meaning fits best with categories of jing “reverence,” and zhong “loyalty,” with whom it is associated in the cited passage from the Baihutong, but also because it resonates with Jao’s definition of the Western Zhou usage of jing as being alert, assiduous and diligent below.


Chen Li 陳立 annot., Baihutong shuzheng 白虎通疏證 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2018), 8.369. The English translation of this passage follows Tjan Tjoe Som (曾珠森), trans., Po Hu T’ung 白虎通: The Comprehensive Discussions in the White Tiger Hall, 2 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 1949–52), 2: 555.


Baihutong shuzheng, 8.372; Som, Po Hu T’ung, 2: 557–58.


Shiji, 3.93–4.


Jao remarks here that Yin Yi 尹佚, also known as Scribe Yi (Shi Yi 史佚) is associated with the diviner grand historian of the Zhou court under King Wu and King Cheng. The Mohist section of the “Bibliographic Treatise” (Yiwenzhi 藝文志) in the Hanshu lists a text bearing his name which, however, only exists in fragments today.


Shiji, 4.126. Translation adapted from Nienhauser Jr., ed., The Grand Scribe’s Records, Volume I, 62.


Sun Yirang, Mozi jiangu, 8.260–61 Translation adapted from John Knoblock and Jeffrey Riegel, Mozi 墨子: A Study and Translation of the Ethical and Political Writings (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, the University of California, 2013), 282.


Da Dai Liji jiegu, 6.104.


Cited in Shiji, 4.115.


D. C. Lau 劉殿爵, Chen Fong Ching 陳方正, Liutao zhuzi suoyin 六韜逐字索引 (Hong Kong: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1997), 5.


Guoyu jijie, 18.513–14.


Lunyu jishi, 12.406.


The following interpretative transcription of the Chu Silk Manuscript has been updated according to the latest version of Jao’s “Chu boshu xin zheng,” in idem, Xuantang jilin: Shilin xin bian, 3. 860–911. Some graphs left unidentified in Jao’s transcription have been supplemented from the most recent transcription of the manuscript’s text in Li Ling, Zidanku boshu, 2: 43–77.


This reconstruction follows Li Ling, Zidanku Boshu, 2: 56.


This reconstruction follows ibid.


Maoshi zhengyi, 1.12. Compare Stephen Owen, Readings in Chinese Literary Thought (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1992),44–5.


Liji zhengyi, 47.1528. Translation adapted from James Legge, trans., Li Chi: Book of Rites, 2 vols., edited by Ch’u Chai and Winberg Chai (New Hyde Park: University Books, 1967 [1885]), 2: 210.


Liji Zhengyi, 49.1573. Translation adapted from Legge, Li Chi, 2: 239.


This passage does not appear in the Li ji and has, to my knowledge, no verbatim counterpart in any of the transmitted classics.


Liji zhengyi, 61.1902. Translation adapted from Legge, Li Chi, 2.438.


Wenxuan, 48.2161.


Mao #288 (Maoshi zhengyi, 19.1583). Translation adapted from Waley, The Book of Songs, 302.


See pp. 234–35 above for the Chinese text.


This text corresponds to the “Shifa jie” 諡法解 (The Order of Posthumous Names Explained) chapter in the Yi Zhoushu (tr. note).


Huang Huaixin, Zhang Maorong et al., Yi Zhoushu huijiao jizhu, 6.670.


Liji zhengyi, 1861.


Shuowen jiezi, 9.188. Jao refers the reader here to the passage “jing ri xin茍日新 in Chen Pan’s 陳槃 (1905–1999), Jingyi jiwen 經義紀聞. See Chen Pan, “Daxue ‘Ji ri xin, ri ri xin’ yi ” 《大學》「茍日新日日新, Shumu jikan 書目季刊 16, no. 2 (1982): 3–7. Collected in Jianzhuang wenlu 澗莊文錄, in idem, Chen Pan zhuzuo ji 陳槃著作集 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2010), 7: 177–79.


Shuowen jiezi, 9.188; 3.65.


See Shiming shuzheng bu, 4.111.


Guoyu jijie, 5.194–97 My translation of this passage is informed by the notes in Guoyu jijie as well as by the modern Chinese rendering in Lai Kehong’s 來可泓 Guoyu zhijie 國語 直解 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe, 2000), 280–83.


Guoyu jijie, 5.194.


Shu 35.305–15.


Zuo, Xi 33.6, 501. The English translation has been adapted from Durrant, Li, and Schaberg, trans., Zuo Tradition, 453.


Zuo, Xi 11.2, 338. The English translation follows Durrant, Li, and Schaberg, trans., Zuo Tradition, 305.


Zuo, Cheng 13.1, 860. The English translation follows Durrant, Li, and Schaberg, trans., Zuo Tradition, 801.


Shuowen jiezi, 10.220.


Zuo, Xiang 28.11, 1151. The English translation follows Durrant, Li, and Schaberg, trans., Zuo Tradition, 1229.


Quoted from Yan Shigu’s 顏師古 (581–645) annotations to the “Wu xing zhi” 五行志 (Treatise of the five agents) in Hanshu, 27.1357.


Shu 32.191–226. See also the interpretations of this passage in Shaughnessy, “The Duke of Zhou’s Retirement in the East and the Beginnings of the Minister-Monarch Debate in Chinese Political Philosophy,” Early China 18 (1993): 61, and Nivison, “An Interpretation of the ‘Shao gao’,” Early China 20 (1995): 180.


Pi Xirui 皮錫瑞, Jinwen Shangshu kaozheng 金文尚書考證 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1989 [1897]), 13.279, and Chen Mengjia 陳夢家, Shangshu tonglun 尚書通論 (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 2005 [1957]), 211, argue that the phrase “敷賁敷前人受命” reflects the old text tradition of the Documents and should read “奔傅前人受命” (to arduously serve the charge received by the former men) in the new text version. My translation follows their interpretation. Jao’s choice in punctuating the passage as 「[…] 敷賁。敷前人受命」, does not allow for a meaningful English translation.


The interpretation of ti as fei , “to discard,” “to abandon,” follows Zeng Yunqian, Shangshu zheng du, 3.152.


Shu 27. 39–551. Compare Legge, The Shoo King, 362–375.


I.e., the Wu Geng rebellion during which the three guards allied with several Yi tribes and the last Shang prince to overthrow the government under the Duke of Zhou, which they regarded as illegitimate (tr. note).


Wen wang 文王 (King Wen), Mao #235 (Maoshi zhengyi, 16.1121–27). Translation adapted from Waley, The Book of Songs, 227–28.


Huan (Bold), Mao #294 (Maoshi zhengyi, 19.1614). Translation adapted from Waley, The Book of Songs, 306.


“Wei Tian zhi ming,” Mao #267 (Maoshi zhengyi, 19.1509). Translation adapted from Waley, The Book of Songs, 291.


See Yan Kejun 嚴可均 (1762–1843), ed., Quan shanggu sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen 全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1958), 910–11, for this text.


Jao cites here Du Yu’s commentary to the Zuozhuan, according to which the title Zhoushu refers to a lost work.


Zuo, Xi 5.8, 307–10.


Chuci buzhu, 23. The translation of this passage has been adapted from Hawkes, trans., The Songs of the South, 73.


The binome shenming 神明 (divinely enlightened) should be understood as a legal term here. Throughout the Western Zhou and Spring and Autumn period, the spirits, including Heaven, were regarded as the guarantors and overseers of covenants who would detect and mete out punishments against any party who is found in breach of the terms of a covenant. “The spirits’ being ming,” says Piotr Gibas, “means that they can (1) see peoples’ intentions; (2) evaluate peoples’ virtue and truthfulness; (3) reveal peoples’ true virtue. Ming is the spirits’ power to discriminate and to evaluate, and it is ming that defines them” (Piotr Gibas, “Mozi and the Ghosts: The Concept of ming in Mozi’s ‘Ming gui’ 《明鬼》,” Early China 40 [2017]: 109).


Chuci buzhu, 23–4.


Shu 29.878–89. Most Chinese and Western commentators read this sentence either in the sense of “Don’t make me terminate your charge,” or “don’t cause (Heaven) to revoke our charge.” However, in light of the rhetoric we have observed in the preceding examples, I suggest to interpret wo here as the object of the sentence, “me,” standing in an exposed position in front of the predicate. This kind of syntactical accentuation is well known from oath formulae in the Zuozhuan. Compare for instance the following two examples: “The covenant said: ‘We shall not deceive you, and you shall not defraud us.’ ” (盟曰:我無爾詐,爾無我虞」) (Zuo, Xuan 15.2, 761); “With every generation they swore covenants and vows to establish good faith with one another, saying, ‘you will not rebel against us, and we will not force you to sell anything, nor will we in any case importune you or seize anything from you.’” (世有盟誓,以相信也,曰:爾無我叛,我無強賈,毋或匄奪」) (Zuo, Zhao 16.3, 1380).


For the interpretation of the term wu as “customs” see Fu Sinian’s 傅斯年 (1896–1950) ba on pp. 194–97 in Chen Pan’s, “Chunqiu ‘Gong shi yu yu Tang’ shuo” 春秋公矢魚于棠, Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology Academia Sinica 7.2 (1936): 175–97.


Mao #260 (Maoshi zhengyi, 18.1432). Translation adapted from Waley, The Book of Songs, 275.


This passage appears in the “Hong fan” chapter of the Documents. See Shu 24.67–70.


Zuo, Cheng. 13.2, 860–61. The English translation of this passage follows with minor amendments that of Durrant, Li, and Schaberg, Zuo Tradition, 803.


The actual text reads “August Di-on-High conferred a moral sense on men, compliance with which results in their nature becoming constant.” (惟皇上帝,降衷于下民。若有恆性). See Shu 12.29–41. Cf. Legge, The Shoo King, 185.


Guangya shuzheng, 1A.11. Jao notes here that this is Wang Niansun’s 王念孫 explanation.


Hou Hanshu, 62.2054.


Mao #256 (Maoshi zhengyi, 18.1367).


Chunqiu guliang zhuan zhushu 春秋穀梁傳注疏 (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2000), 5.71–2.


The passage Jao purports to quote in fact reads: “When the king commands the regional rulers, he receives them as guests” (王命諸侯則儐). It appears in the “Chunguan zongbo” section of the Zhouli. See Sun Yirang, Zhouli zhengyi, 35.1412. What Jao actually quotes here, however, is a line of commentary from the Chunqiu Guliang zhuan zhushu 春秋穀梁傳注疏 which reads: “The ‘Da zongbo’ section in the Zhouli says: ‘When the king commands the regional rulers, he receives them as guests.’ Thus they would come and receive their mandates from him.” (《周禮·大宗伯職王命諸侯則儐之,是來受命) (Chunqiu Guliang zhuan zhushu, 5.75).


According to the tradition recorded in the Zuozhuan, it was King Liao of Wu (d. 515 BC) who had been assassinated by Zhuan Shezhu 鱄設諸 (d. 515 BC) on behalf of his nephew, Prince Guang , who then usurped the throne to become King Helu of Wu. The respective passage in the Zuozhuan reads:

夏四月,光伏甲於堀室而享王。[…] 鱄設諸寘劍於魚中以進,抽劍刺王,鈹交於胸,遂弒王。闔廬以其子為卿。

In summer, in the fourth month, Prince Guang hid armored men in a basement chamber and offered the king ceremonial toasts. […] Zhuan Shezhu, disguised as a server, brought in a fish with a sword hidden in it. He pulled the sword out and stabbed the king with it even as the guards’ cutlasses pierced his own chest. And with that he assassinated the king. Prince Guang, now King Helu, appointed Zhuan Shezhu’s son as a high minister (Zuo, Zhao 27.2, 1484. The English translation follows Durrant, Li, and Schaberg, Zuo Tradition, 1675).


Zuo, Zhao 27.2, 1484. The English translation has been adapted from Durrant, Li, and Schaberg, trans., Zuo Tradition, 1675.


“The superior can find himself in no situation in which he is not at ease with himself. In a high position he does not treat his inferiors with contempt. In a low position he does not court the favor of his superiors. He rectifies himself and seeks nothing from others, hence he has no complaints to make. He does not complain against Heaven above or blame men below. Thus, it is that the superior man lives peacefully and at ease and waits for his destiny (ming) while the inferior man takes to dangerous courses and hopes for good luck” (君子無入而不自得焉。在上位不陵下,在下位不援上,正己而不求於人,則無怨。上不怨天,下不尤人。故君子居易以俟命,小人行險以徼幸) (Liji zhengyi, 52.1672). The English translation follows Wing-Tsit Chan, trans., A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), 101–2.


Zuo, Wen 13.3, 597–8. The English translation of this passage has been adapted from Durrant, Li, and Schaberg, trans., Zuo Tradition, 533. Compare also Schaberg, “Command and the Content of Tradition,” in The Magnitude of Ming: Command, Allotment and Fate in Chinese Culture, ed. Christopher Lupke, (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2005), 23–4, for a discussion of the different meanings of the term ming that are employed in a playful way in this passage.


Chunqiu zuozhuan zhengyi, 19B.628.


My interpretation of the phrase zhi ming follows Schaberg, “Command and the Content of Tradition,” 24.


This line is quoted from the Liezi 例子 (Master Lie). See Yang Bojun 楊伯峻 annot., Liezi jishi 列子集釋 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979), 4.114.


Mengzi zhengyi, 26.878. The English translation is adapted from Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 78.


This passage constitutes a paraphrase of Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy, 12–14.


See ibid., 14.


“Wei Tian zhi ming,” Mao #267 (Maoshi zhengyi, 19.1509–10). The English translation has been adapted from Waley, The Book of Songs, 291, taking into consideration Jao’s own philological notes on page 88 of the original text, which have not been reproduced in the present translation.


JC 2830. For the entire inscription and the notes on my philological choices in the English translation see my “Command and Commitment: Terms of Kingship in Western Zhou Bronze Inscriptions and in the Book of Documents” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Edinburgh, 2019), 302–6.


Jao gives as the source for this citation the following passage from the “Wei Kangshu shijia” 衛康叔世家 (Hereditary house of Kangshu of Wei) in the Shiji: “When King Cheng grew up and took charge of affairs, he promoted Kangshu to the post of Minister of Justice of the Zhou, and bestowed upon Wei treasures and sacrificial vessels, so as to manifest [Kangshu’s] de” (成王長,用事,舉康叔為周司寇,賜衛寶祭器,以章有德 [Shiji 37.1590]). The English translation has been adapted from William H. Nienhauser Jr., ed., The Grand Scribe’s Records, Volume V.1: The Hereditary Houses of Pre-Han China, Part 1 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 243.


See Zhang Pei 張沛, annot., Zhongshuo jiaozhu 中說校注 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2013), 4.122.


“Zhouyi zhengyi xu” 周易正義序, in Zhouyi zhengyi, 10–11.


Ibid, 8.368.


Ibid, 8.370–71. The English translation has been adapted from James Legge, trans., The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism, Part II: The Yi King, in Sacred Books of the East, vol. 16, ed. Max Müller (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1966 [1882]), 399; and Shaughnessy, I Ching, 231.


Zhouyi zhengyi, 8.362. The English translation has been adapted from Legge, The Yi King, 391.


Zhouyi zhengyi, 8.368–69. The English translation has been adapted from Shaughnessy, I Ching, 231.


Guoyu jijie, 1.13–14.


Zhouyi zhengyi, 1.5. The English translation has been adapted from Shaughnessy, Unearthing the Changes, 214.


Zhouyi zhengyi, 1.5.


See Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980).


Zhouyi zhengyi, 5.246. Translation adapted from Legge, The Yi King, 330.


Zhouyi zhengyi, 6.293.


Ibid, 1.32.


Ibid, 1.46.


Ibid, 2.70.


Ibid, 2.83.


Ibid, 2.101.


Ibid, 3.109.


Ibid, 3.141.


Ibid, 3.154.


Ibid, 4.178.


Ibid, 4.194.


Ibid, 5.212.


Ibid, 5.225.


Ibid, 5.254.


Ibid, 6.282. The English translation of all the above passages from the “Xiang zhuan” have been adapted from Legge, The Yi King.


The Zuozhuan ascribes this passage of speech to Mu Jiang, who also refers to herself in these lines (tr. note).


Zuo, Xiang 9.3, 965–6. The English translation has been adapted from Durrant, Li, and Schaberg, trans., Zuo Tradition, 955.


Jao cites these three lines with slight adaptations from the Wenyan commentary to the line statements of the hexagram Qian. See Zhouyi zhengyi, 1.17–20.


Ibid, 1.25.


The present translation does not include the last paragraph of the original where Jao presents a short philosophy of time in ancient China, as it has no direct connection to the article’s main topic.

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