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Table of contents :
Ancestral Memoryin Early China
Tables and Figures
Introduction: The Han tree of knowledge
Section 1: Connecting Han idea systems
Section 2: Metaphors they lived by
Section 3: Modifying our approach to the ancestral cults
Part I: An imaginary yardstick for ritual performance
Section 4: Ritual texts as performance scripts
Section 5: The experience of performance
Section 6: The framing techniques of performance
Section 7: The microcosm created by performance
Section 8: Do we trust these ritual prescriptions?
Part II: A history of remembering and forgetting imperial ancestors
Section 9: The Second Emperor of Qin’s ritually correct shrine (209 BCE)
Section 10: The ancestral perpetuity of Emperor Wen (157 BCE)
Section 11: Emperor Wu’s wine-tribute scandal (112 BCE)
Section 12: Emperor Xuan’s sacrifice to his “ancestors” (65 BCE)
Section 13: Kuang Heng’s support for a closed system of worship (48-43 BCE)
Section 14: Liu Xin’s opposition to a closed system of worship (6-1 BCE)
Section 15: The ancestral shrine of Wang Mang (20 CE)
Section 16: The Guangwu Restoration and shrine reconfiguration (43 CE)
Section 17: The imperial mourning shed of Chancellor Jing (143 CE)
Section 18: Empress Liang’s attempt to rearrange the ancestral order (145 CE)
Section 19: The court’s debate on remembering Empress Dou (172 CE)
Section 20: Cai Yong’s reform in the waning Han (190 CE)
Section 21: The Wei Dynasty’s resurrection of the Zhou ideal (237 CE)
Part III: A spectrum of interpretations on afterlife existence
Section 22: The do ut des relationship
Section 23: The sincere sacrificer
Section 24: The mental bridge between sacrificer and sacrifice recipient
Section 25: The thought-full sacrifice recipient
Section 26: The complete denial of ancestral existence
Part IV: The context of early Chinese performative thinking
Section 27: The Han theory of performative thinking
Section 28: The Han application of performative thinking
Part V: The symbolic language of fading memories
Section 29: The symbol cluster of darkness on the edge
Section 30: The symbol cluster of light in the center
Section 31: Acknowledging the gray in-between
Reference Matter
Works Cited
Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series
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Ancestral Memory in Early China

Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series 72

Ancestral Memory in Early China

K. E. Brashier

Published by the Harvard University Asia Center for the Harvard-Yenching Institute Distributed by Harvard University Press Cambridge (Massachusetts) and London 2011

© 2011 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College Printed in the United States of America The Harvard-Yenching Institute, founded in 1928 and headquartered at Harvard University, is a foundation dedicated to the advancement of higher education in the humanities and social sciences in East and Southeast Asia. The Institute supports advanced research at Harvard by faculty members of certain Asian universities and doctoral studies at Harvard and other universities by junior faculty at the same universities. It also supports East Asian studies at Harvard through contributions to the Harvard-Yenching Library and publication of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies and books on premodern East Asian history and literature. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Brashier, K. E., 1965Ancestral memory in early China / K.E. Brashier. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-674-05607-7 1. Ancestor worship--China--History--To 1500. I. Title. BL467.B73 2011 299.5'11213--dc22 2010045126

Index by Martin Souza Printed on acid-free paper Last number below indicates year of this printing 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11

To the students of Reed College without whose help this book would have been finished ten years ago




Tables and Figures




Introduction: The Han tree of knowledge


Section 1: Connecting Han idea systems / 6 Section 2: Metaphors they lived by / 18 Section 3: Modifying our approach to the ancestral cults / 34

Part I: An imaginary yardstick for ritual performance


Section 4: Ritual texts as performance scripts / 48 Section 5: The experience of performance / 52 Section 6: The framing techniques of performance / 55 Section 7: The microcosm created by performance / 67 Section 8: Do we trust these ritual prescriptions? / 74

Part II: A history of remembering and forgetting imperial ancestors 102 Section 9: The Second Emperor of Qin’s ritually correct shrine (209 bce) / 104 Section 10: The ancestral perpetuity of Emperor Wen (157 bce) / 108 Section 11: Emperor Wu’s wine-tribute scandal (112 bce) / 114 Section 12: Emperor Xuan’s sacrifice to his “ancestors” (65 bce) / 123 Section 13: Kuang Heng’s support for a closed system of worship (48-43 bce) / 130



Section 14: Liu Xin’s opposition to a closed system of worship (6-1 bce) / 135 Section 15: The ancestral shrine of Wang Mang (20 ce) / 141 Section 16: The Guangwu Restoration and shrine reconfiguration (43 ce) / 147 Section 17: The imperial mourning shed of Chancellor Jing (143 ce) / 156 Section 18: Empress Liang’s attempt to rearrange the ancestral order (145 ce) / 165 Section 19: The court’s debate on remembering Empress Dou (172 ce) / 169 Section 20: Cai Yong’s reform in the waning Han (190 ce) / 174 Section 21: The Wei Dynasty’s resurrection of the Zhou ideal (237 ce) / 178

Part III: A spectrum of interpretations on afterlife existence


Section 22: The do ut des relationship / 187 Section 23: The sincere sacrificer / 195 Section 24: The mental bridge between sacrificer and sacrifice recipient / 201 Section 25: The thought-full sacrifice recipient / 207 Section 26: The complete denial of ancestral existence / 219

Part IV: The context of early Chinese performative thinking


Section 27: The Han theory of performative thinking / 234 Section 28: The Han application of performative thinking / 251

Part V: The symbolic language of fading memories


Section 29: The symbol cluster of darkness on the edge / 284 Section 30: The symbol cluster of light in the center / 301 Section 31: Acknowledging the gray in-between / 332



Reference Matter Notes


Works Cited





The resources that merge together to become a book can perhaps be divided into finances, friends and family. In terms of finances, I am most grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities, to the Arnold L. and Lois S. Graves award and to several Reed College paid leaves for giving me the occasional escape from teaching over the years so that I could complete this project. In terms of friends, I acknowledge a debt to my colleagues Michael Frederick and Martin Souza—financed by the Freeman Foundation and a Reed summer research grant respectively—for taking on the tedious-butnecessary job of testing dubious arguments and correcting Chinese characters. I am also grateful to Michael Puett, John Ziemer, the anonymous reviewers and especially Kristen Wanner for shepherding this manuscript into its final form. In terms of family, I first and foremost thank Andrew Wallace for patiently waiting outside every Chinese bookstore from Paris to Chongqing, from New York to Hong Kong. And given the theme of this book, I would be greatly negligent if I did not sincerely acknowledge the filial debt I owe my parents Mary and Clyde; and their parents Leona and Henry, Mamie and William; and their parents Mary and Andrew, Mary and August, Mattie and Henry, Mollie and William; and their parents. . . .

K. E. B.

Tables and Figures

Tables 1 The sacrificial schedule of mourning and remembrance


2 The prescribed number of remembered ancestors by virtue of rank


3 Ban Gu’s five-phase prognostication scheme


Figures 1 The theoretical shrine structure of the Zhou royal family


2 The ideal family tree structure


3 The Fengchu ancestral shrine


4 The Majia zhuang ancestral shrine


5 The Yongcheng palace


6 The Mawangdui funerary silk


7 Eastern Han tomb relief of the birchleaf pear tree and ancestral shrine



All translations in this book are my own unless otherwise stated, and for early Chinese primary sources, I have opted to include the Chinese so that knowledgeable readers can draw their own conclusions. As will become quickly evident, I favor extensive quotation, not only by way of supporting my arguments but also as a means of adding original color to this account. All translators naturally navigate between the Scylla of readability and the Charybdis of accuracy, and I apologize in advance if we get pulled into Charybdis’s wordy whirlpool from time to time. In the few cases that call for a substantial substitution within the Chinese text, the character within parentheses is the given character as it appears in the received text, and this is then followed by the bracketed suggested substitution. Yet as this is not an epigraphic study, I have mostly relied upon the transcriptions of specialists, especially when it comes to excavated documents on wood and bamboo strips. I have likewise adopted standard traditional characters when there is no controversy in meaning. (A thousand years from now after our own age of scholarship gets slotted alongside Hanxue and Songxue, anxious commentators will no doubt debate our choices of character script, decrying the age of the great Unicode filter that destroyed their access to chirographic variances and eliminated alternative interpretations.) Chinese book titles are translated into English within the main text but left transliterated in the endnotes. In the endnotes and bibliography, I reference pre-modern Chinese primary sources via their titles and not their purported authors (who are often unknown or a matter of dispute)



or their modern annotators. In the bibliography, those annotators are listed after the work’s title. Finally, the translation of official titles follows Hans Bielenstein’s The Bureaucracy of Han Times.

Ancestral Memory in Early China

INTRODUCTION The Han Tree of Knowledge

Near the end of the Huainanzi 淮南子 compiled in the mid-second century bce, the ideal exemplary ruler is likened to a person who quietly plays the role of ancestral spirit in a sacrifice. The sacrificers bustle around him as they ready their offerings, but he himself remains motionless in dignified stillness like the eye at the center of a storm: 今夫祭者,屠割烹殺,剝狗燒豕,調平五味,庖也;陳簠簋,列尊 俎,設籩豆者,祝也;齊明盛服,淵默而不言,神之所依者,尸也。 In sacrifice, it is the cook who butchers and hacks, boils and pares, who skins the dog and roasts the pig, who blends and balances the five flavors. It is the invocator who sets out the round and square sacrificial vessels, who arranges the goblets and platters, who positions the baskets and trays. It is the ancestral impersonator who undergoes fasts and purifications and dons resplendent clothes, who remains in deep silence and doesn’t speak, upon whom the spirits depend.1

The cooks busily readied the feast; the invocators carefully positioned it; and the ancestral impersonator silently accepted it. As if to deepen that silence through contrast, the fastidious invocators had been thoroughly trained in reciting lengthy ritual prayers and chanting ceremonial texts, their tested verbatim recall far outstripping that of other state employees such as clerks and diviners.2 Received texts from throughout the Han dynasty (202 bce–220 ce) depict them as protocol masters who were “good at speaking” (shanyan 善言), here distancing them from this ancestral impersonator who “remains in deep silence and doesn’t speak.”3 The cooks, invocators and ancestral impersonators all played their active and not-so-active roles, but what of the ancestral spirits themselves?



They would seem to be a further step removed from the dynamic, tangible world, not even manifestly present like the impersonator. When describing the impersonator who “undergoes fasts and purifications and dons resplendent clothes,” the Huainanzi is here quoting from the Liji 禮記 (Ritual records) where it also acknowledges the spirits’ elusive nature: “We look for them but cannot see them; we listen for them but cannot hear them” (視之而弗見;聽之而弗聞).4 Elsewhere in this same Huainanzi chapter, their physical absence is similarly recognized as a given: “We look for the ghosts and spirits, but they have no form; we listen for them but they have no voice” (夫鬼神視之無形,聽之無聲).5 Both the Ritual records and the Huainanzi passages then cite the same verse in the Shijing 詩經 or Songs canon that warns how the approach of the invisible spirits “cannot be calculated” (buke du 不可度), and so one must always behave properly as if the spirits were indeed at hand.6 Ancestral ritual in early China was therefore an orchestrated dance between what was present and what was absent. Present were food offerings and officiants acting within the well-defined parameters of ritual-time and altar-space. Absent were the unseen and unheard ancestors themselves. The interconnections among the tangible elements of the sacrifice were overt and almost mechanical, but extending those connections to the formless guests—“calculating” their approach—required a medium that was, in itself, formless. Thus, ancestral sacrifice was closely associated with focused thinking about the ancestors, with structured mental effort on the part of the living that reached out to the absent forebears, even giving them shape and existence in some interpretations. As Ban Gu 班固 (32–92) introduced the topic of ancestral sacrifice in his history of the Western Han dynasty (202 bce–9 ce), rituals were generally divided into the four principal clusters of conducting weddings, staging banquets, serving the court and sacrificing to the dead. Only the last includes recourse to a thoughtful component: 人性…有哀死思遠之情,為制喪祭之禮…喪祭之禮廢,則骨肉之恩 薄,而背死忘先者眾。 Human nature . . . possesses the emotions of lamenting the dead and thinking about the distant, and because of these emotions, humans formulated rituals for mourning and sacrifice. . . . If rituals for mourning and sacrifice were to be cast aside, then the kindness found in flesh-and-blood relationships would wane, and the masses would turn their backs on the dead and forget their ancestors.7



Thinking about the ancestors—about those who had become distant— entailed sacrifice lest they be forgotten. Writing two centuries later, Sima Biao 司馬彪 (240–306) continued Ban Gu’s treatise by covering the developments of ritual in the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220). For him, sacrifice was pervasive, spanning all human history and even spreading beyond humans into the realm of animals. In his own introduction to the topic, he also recognized sacrifice’s cognitive aspect. He writes: 祭祀之道,自生民以來則有之矣。豺獺知祭祀,而況人乎!故人知之 至於念想,猶豺獺之自然也,顧古質略而後文飾耳。 As for the general principles of sacrifice, they have existed ever since the birth of the people. Even wolves and otters are aware of sacrifices, so how much the more humans, too! The contemplation and reflection thus found within the realm of human understanding are like what comes spontaneously to wolves and otters. [Humans] must turn back to antiquity’s fundamental basics and regard any embellishments and decorations as secondary.8

Ritual almanacs known as “Monthly ordinances” (“Yueling” 月令) from the third and second centuries bce depict an annual cosmological cycle that includes otters sacrificing fish in the spring and wolves sacrificing other animals in the autumn.9 Their actions resonated with the seasons, and Sima Biao contends that this natural behavior in animals runs parallel to mental effort in humans. Whereas animals simply acted, humans for their part had to carry out “contemplation and reflection” when it came to sacrifice. The essence of sacrifice was not in our nature; it first had to be nurtured in our minds. This study is a history of the early Chinese ancestral cult and in particular of its cognitive aspects, whether it is the “thinking about the distant” or the “contemplation and reflection” that extended into the past. For many writers and thinkers, the ancestral cult was not a mechanical offering of food, nor did it entail mere passive reminiscence. Its rituals called for active deliberation and meditation, and it even encouraged the psychological manipulation of its performers before and during the sacrifice through abstentions, alcohol and expectations. To explore the mechanics of ancestral memory (as opposed to the mechanics of public memory, which are handled in this book’s companion volume), this study progresses through five stages or parts: 1. Loosely relying upon performance theory, Part I begins by laying out the basic ritual prescriptions that defined the ideal practice of ancestral



remembrance. By examining the experiential elements, the framing techniques and the ritual microcosm generated through ancestral sacrifice, Part I catalogs the fundamentals of ancestral remembrance such as who merited offerings and when they received those offerings. The word “prescription” (as opposed to “description”) is here used somewhat pejoratively and is meant to imply that the rules of ritual were not necessarily carried out to the last detail and were sometimes not carried out at all. Much of Part I addresses whether these ideals reflect what we now know of actual ritual practice through archeology and textual descriptions. 2. Part II traces a history of imperial ancestral worship through thirteen chronologically ordered cases in which ancestral remembrance became a matter of court debate or underwent significant transformation. It is a history of following, bending and breaking the rules when dealing with the dead, a history that resonates with the contingencies faced by the living as the Qin and Han courts transformed over four centuries. Thus from the prescriptive blueprints of Part I, we progress to descriptions of actual practice and adaptation in Part II. From the tidy system of the Ritual records that would limit sacrifice to the four most recent imperial ancestors (because the rest would have faded from living memory), we move, for example, to heated court debates on whether it was possible to stop the food offerings for the legendary (but now distant) Emperor Wu 武 (r. 141–87). In these thirteen cases, ritual sometimes prevailed; other times it was consciously set aside. 3. Whereas Part II focuses upon the sacrificers, Part III shifts to the sacrifice recipients—the ancestral spirits themselves. Throughout, this study endeavors to avoid generalizations such as “The early Chinese believed. . . .” because the picture is much richer and more complex than that. Part III lays out a five-fold spectrum of ideas about the ancestral spirits. On one end of the spectrum, the living regarded their spirits as active, independent agencies, and on the other, they dismissed them as mere figments of their imagination. As one travels across this spectrum, the role of mentation grows from a minor role in which the sacrificer only needs to be “sincere” for a successful offering to a major role in which the sacrificer engages in intense periods of abstention and meditation until he or she could really see the ancestor as present. Among these differing beliefs on postmortem existence, the notion of thoughtfull ancestors—of ancestors projected from the minds of their descendants—will serve as the focus of this book.



4. Just as Part III contextualizes the thought-full ancestors via other beliefs about the dead, Part IV in turn contextualizes them via other types of performative thinking, of thinking that in itself affects the world beyond the mind. Unlike our Western separation of body and soul, of mind and matter, there existed in early China a significant discourse that treated the mind and its vapors known as qi 氣 as substantial and mechanically efficacious. The son of heaven’s mind could ripple outward to affect the wind, the cattle and even the nomadic tribes on the periphery; the anxious discontent of the masses could in turn generate earthquakes, droughts and monsters. Performative thinking arises in canonical texts and divination guides, in court propaganda and religious tracts. Part IV thus serves as a second line of ideas along which to contextualize the notion of descendants thinking their ancestors into being and, conversely, of descendants forgetting their ancestors into oblivion. 5. With the ancestor thus twice contextualized, this study concludes by reexamining the bubble of ritual-time and altar-space, especially the imagery of bright centers and dark peripheries, imagery that metaphorically mirrors notions of fading ancestors and blurring memories. That is, the cognitive element explored in this study in turn helps us understand the cosmological, poetic, and artistic depictions of death and remembrance in early China. Within this structuring metaphor, the role of uncertainty itself comes to the fore and becomes ritualized and (paradoxically) certain. The ultimate goal of this study on ancestral memory is to excavate the color and vitality of the early ancestral cults, quelling our assumptions that it was a simplistic and uninspired exchange of food for longevity, of prayers for prosperity. Ancestor worship was not merely mechanical and thoughtless. On the contrary, it was an idea system that aroused serious debates about the nature of postmortem existence, served as the religious backbone to Confucianism and may even have been the forerunner of Daoist and Buddhist meditation practices. Before we can trace the ancestral cult’s idea system through this fivefold argument, we first must step back and consider just what it means to be an “idea system” and how one idea system might relate to another. That is, before unpacking the content of the ancestral cult’s Weltanschauung, we need to know how any particular way of understanding the world comfortably sat alongside other ways of understanding the world, in this case how they sat alongside one another in the cultural, religious and historical milieu of early China. For the people of early China and for



us, notions of “idea systems” or “ways of understanding” are vague and rarely the subject of self reflection, but as we all possess them, we need tools for talking about them. In particular, we use structuring metaphors that draw upon tangible objects such as, in early China, a tree rooted in the Dao of the distant past that branches out into a myriad manifestations or a watershed of diverse schools of thought ultimately flowing toward a single river that eventually empties into a sea that again is the Dao. These metaphors provided an imaginable structure when talking about how idea systems such as Confucianism (or Ru or Classicism) and Daoism interacted with one another. Yet why is it necessary to define that structure (in Sections 1 and 2 immediately below) before delving into a discussion of Chinese lineage worship? As seen in Section 3, there is a trio of justifications. First, the most common structuring metaphor for idea systems was in fact the lineage itself. Second, the early Chinese metaphors of lineage, tree and watershed all share a common structure, a structure that is different from the predominant metaphor of conflict that shapes the relationships among idea systems within the Western discourse. This difference in turn forces us to be wary about applying Western theories and terms to the Chinese ancestral cult. Finally, understanding how differing idea systems were interconnected in early China explains how the early Chinese themselves related differing beliefs about the afterlife to one another.

Section 1: Connecting Han Idea Systems Correcting our earlier assumptions about how idea systems took shape, much recent scholarship has been devoted to removing the -isms of early Daoism, Confucianism, Legalism and so forth, questioning not just the labels but the very idea of labeling and cataloging these idea systems into distinct “schools” or “traditions.” A school implies an institutionalism that includes a number of scholars consciously identifying with a particular idea system; a tradition suggests a continuous and cohesive lineage passing those ideas down over time. The modern tendency to resort to “isms” is a tool of convenience used to tidy up the history of ideas, and most of us are guilty of keeping this device in our intellectual tool belts. In 2003, Mark Csikszentmihalyi and Michael Nylan contended that “A majority [of historians] . . . continue to treat the terms ‘Ru’ and ‘Dao’ as direct and unproblematic references to two scholastic ‘isms,’ Confucianism



and Daoism, and to ignore discrepancies among the rhetorical constructions in early sources.”10 We are quick to label pre-imperial thinkers as either Mohist, Daoist, sophist or something-ist even though, according to Nathan Sivin, “Such isms do more to invite confusion than to shed light.”11 Or as Kidder Smith summarized, “The Warring States, of course, knew no Daoists or Legalists,” and when it came to the concept of Daoism in particular, only “by the end of the Western Han, we can properly call [it] an ‘-ism.’”12 That is, only in the first century bce might the use of such isms be warranted because, on one hand, schools and traditions were beginning to self-identify and, on the other, the Han courts were beginning to recognize differences among them as education became more formalized, producing pools of candidates to fill the bureaucracy and preserving the rituals and histories necessary to give the court authenticity. Staying with Smith and abridging his excellent summary of thirdcentury bce surveys that divided up the intellectual marketplace, we find four famous listings in which past intellectuals were related to one another and interpreted for contemporary rulers: 1. Lü shi chunqiu 呂氏春秋 (The spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü). Dated to around 239 bce, this self-described compendium of all significant knowledge recognized that there existed at least ten intellectual greats—greats such as Confucius, Laozi and Mozi—who put forth visions of how to run the state. This work advises rulers to choose one and stick to him at the exclusion of the others in order to maintain unity and avoid chaos, but it doesn’t explicitly tell the ruler which one to privilege. 2. Han Feizi 韓非子. Han Feizi (d. 233 bce) acknowledged the existence of competing intellectual traditions as traditions in name only. As for the Confucians and Mohists, who had in fact splintered into eight and three factions respectively, their own unity had been lost in the transmission from the past and thus their current message of state and cultural unity was not trustworthy. Here the ruler is to reject all old idea systems that have become so corrupted in the process of transmission as to be irrelevant to contemporary rulers. 3. Xunzi 荀子. In his essay “Debunking the twelve masters” dating perhaps to around 230 bce, Xunzi outlines the governance programs of six pairs of thinkers, programs he believes must be set aside if Confucian thinking is to unify the state. Interestingly, Xunzi acknowledges that in each case there was “a reasoning behind their beliefs and a perfect pat-



tern behind their words” (其持之有故,其言之成理) that made their programs persuasive. 4. Zhuangzi 莊子. In a late syncretist chapter called “All under heaven” or Tianxia 天下, Zhuangzi contrasts the people of antiquity, who were fully harmonized with their surroundings, with his confused and partial contemporaries. When reviewing five categories of greats, Zhuangzi doesn’t utterly dismiss them but instead vaunts what partial insights they possessed. Note that these greats do not yet represent isms; they are for the most part compendiums of individuals or experts without the backing of larger schools. The possible exception is Han Feizi’s acknowledgement of the Confucian and Mohist traditions, but his point is that they are in fact traditions in name only, that these two “schools” have really become splintered among numerous individuals who advocate disparate programs. Furthermore, as will be seen below, the specific groupings each survey identifies were still somewhat fluid and inconsistent even into the middle of the Western Han. Zhuangzi’s position is of the greatest importance for this study, particularly the way that he values partial insights even though they may individually fail to grasp the big picture. “This is an importantly new view, as it posits a unity discernable within the partial correctness of other men’s teaching,” Smith summarizes.13 Yet in contrast to Smith, I don’t believe valuing the partial is indeed an entirely “new view” among these four surveys. In other chapters of the Xunzi corpus—chapters perhaps not by the same writer who composed the survey Smith cites—Xunzi laments the fixations of scholarly traditions, fixations that may be partial perspectives on the truth but not the whole truth: 此數具者,皆道之一隅也。夫道者,體常而盡變,一隅不足以舉之。 曲知之人,觀於道之一隅而未之能識也。 Each of these various methods is only a single corner of the Dao. As for the Dao itself, its body is constant and encompasses all changes, and a single corner is not enough to take it all in. Humans with only “bent” knowledge gaze at their single corner of the Dao but cannot yet recognize it as a corner.14

People whose knowledge is “bent” are inferior to those whose knowledge is holistic and complete. According to several sources from Xunzi onward, the impartial purveyors of the Dao included the always-transforming ruler who was described as “round” (huan 圜 or yuan 圓) and thus with-



out corners in contrast to his specialist ministers who had to be “square” ( fang 方).15 Partial knowledge isn’t inherently bad, but it’s still just partial. In like fashion, Xunzi elsewhere lines up the great thinkers who put forward programs that were part correct and part incorrect: 愚者為一物一偏而自以為知道,無知也。慎子有見於後,無見於先; 老子有見於詘,無見於信;墨子有見於齊,無見於畸;宋子有見於 少,無見於多。 As for fools thinking they understand the Dao because they know one thing or one side, this is not understanding it. Shenzi had insight into secondaries but not into primaries. Laozi had insight into contracting but not into extending. Mozi had insight into the even but not into the uneven. Songzi had insight into the few but not into the many.16

Even though Xunzi advocates an idea system at odds with that of Zhuangzi, he is like Zhuangzi (or at least the Zhuangzi of the syncretist chapters) in acknowledging how others hold valued-but-partial truths, how others see a corner of reality whereas he himself sees the big picture. All modern historians who study the formation of early China’s isms over the course of the Western Han inevitably confront Sima Tan 司馬 談 (d. ca. 110 bce) and his own survey of idea systems for government. His famous essay—preserved in the Shiji 史記 (Historical records) of his son Sima Qian 司馬遷 (ca. 145–ca. 86)—begins as follows: 《易大傳》﹕「天下一致而百慮,同歸而殊塗。」夫陰陽、儒、墨、 名、法、道德,此務為治者也,直所從言之異路,有省不省耳。 According to the “Great Commentary” to the Changes canon, “All under heaven is singular in its practice but divided a hundredfold in its deliberations; all under heaven shares the same return destination but via various roads.” [The discourses of] yinyang, Classicism, Mohism, names, systems as well as Dao and De are focused on carrying out good government.17 It is only that some of the different paths one takes by following their words are astute while others are not.18

Like Zhuangzi and Xunzi, Sima Tan catalogs the competing idea systems, and he refers to each of them as jia 家. Literally meaning “family” or “household” and in the past often translated as “school,” jia has been the focus of much debate: Does it imply schools, texts, individuals, specialties, practices or domains of thought? Can we use other texts to help define it? Does the meaning (and hence translation) change over the Han? Current consensus seems to favor that for Sima Tan, jia are individuals espousing specialized idea systems.19 As will be seen in the below discussion of struc-



tural metaphors that shape knowledge, I am less interested in the precise implications of jia—and Sima Tan might have indeed been using the term loosely—and more interested in the fragmentation of knowledge that this word implies. Sima Tan takes the various jia and briefly lists their shortcomings, explaining why their roads are hard to follow. Yet he always appends a positive quality as well. He thus describes the Classicists who work hard but for meager results: 儒者博而寡要,勞而少功,是以其事難盡從;然其序君臣父子之禮, 列夫婦長幼之別,不可易也。 The Classicists exhibit breadth but come up short in the essentials; they labor much but are scant in their achievements. Thus their undertakings are difficult to follow fully. Yet we cannot change their rituals for ordering ruler and subject, father and son, as well as their divisions between husband and wife, young and old.20

Later in the same essay, Sima Tan comments that the interpretations of the Classics run to millions of characters. “An accumulation of generations would be unable to penetrate their scholarship; in youth, one is not able to get through their rituals” (累世不能通其學;當年不能究其 禮).21 Sima Tan thus values their hierarchical ritual even if their scholarship is too verbose. After treating other idea systems in a similar manner, he then extols Daoism as different: 道家使人精神專一,動合無形,膽足萬物。其為術也,因陰陽之大 順,采儒墨之善,撮名法之要,與時遷移,應物變化,立俗施事,無 所不宜,指約而易操,事少而功多。 The Daoists [“Dao specialists” or, literally, “Dao family”] cause the quintessential spirit of humans to concentrate and unify so that their activity joins with the formless and their tranquility finds sufficiency in the myriad of things.22 As for their methods, they heed the great harmonies of yinyang, select the best from Classicism and Mohism, and extract the essentials from [the discourses on] names and systems. They shift and move with the times, transform and alter in resonance with things. When it comes to establishing practices and carrying out affairs, they do nothing that is not appropriate. Their directions are concise, and their cultivations are restrained. Their affairs are few, and their achievements are many.23



Like Xunzi and Zhuangzi, Sima Tan finds value in the partial glimpses of reality, but here he unites them to define his own Daoism. Note that we have lapsed into calling some of these jia “isms”— Classicism, Mohism and so forth—in part because Sima Tan himself doesn’t list named individuals as his predecessors had. Even so, the isms employed here are not the same isms we retrospectively apply from our distant time and place. The criteria for Sima Tan’s labels were somewhat selective, and when his contemporaries grouped the named individuals together, those lists still remained rather fluid. In other words, their labels and lists do not match our own. For example, Sima Tan is credited with beginning the universal history project of compiling the Historical records that was mainly carried out through his son, Sima Qian. In his biographies, Sima Qian groups some of the aforementioned greats together in a way that belies our modern intellectual alignments: 太史公曰﹕老子所貴道,虛無,因應變化於無為,故著書辭稱微妙難 識。莊子散道德,放論,要亦歸之自然。申子卑卑,施之於名實。韓 非引繩墨,切事情,明是非,其極慘礉少恩。皆原於道德之意,而老 子深遠矣。 The grand historian says: “The Dao honored by Laozi is an empty absence, and it accordingly resonates with transformation in terms of causeless-ness.24 Thus his writings and talks are subtle and mysterious and are hard to record. Zhuangzi broke apart the Dao and De and freely analyzed them, but his essentials likewise return to spontaneity. Shenzi exerted himself and extolled the Dao and De in terms of name and reality. Han Fei drew out the marking line and ink, sliced between affairs and emotions, and made clear the relationship between right and wrong. At his extreme, he made his divisions cruel, and he belittled kindness. All of these men originate in the meaning of the Dao and De, but Laozi has become distant and remote.25

Even though the “Daoists” Laozi and Zhuangzi are very different from the “Legalists” Shen Buhai 申不害 (b. ca. 400 bce) and Han Feizi by our modern tastes, Sima Qian grouped them together. Yet much more interesting is precisely how these four people are connected to one another. Whereas Sima Tan highlighted the value in the partial truth of each jia, Sima Qian creates a four-tier hierarchy of value such that by the time we get to Han Feizi, that value has been significantly watered down. Laozi is the oldest and most valued and is fully defended for writing in his subtle and mysterious manner. Zhuangzi, wih his increased verbiage, then branches off, and Shenzi, by going so far as to divide up referent and



meaning, seems to branch off from Zhuangzi. Most recently, Han Feizi is the furthest from the mysterious abstractions of antiquity, and his stark divisions and cruelty displace Laozi’s subtle, ineffable message. Yet even though he is distant from Laozi, he remains connected, and earlier in this same set of biographies, Sima Qian states that although Han Feizi “delighted in the scholarship of forms and names, of systems and techniques, his origin [lit. “his return”] was rooted in the Yellow Emperor and Laozi” (喜刑名法術之學,而其歸本於黃老).26 At one end, ineffable Laozi embraces “empty absence”; at the other, Han Feizi epitomizes divisions and demarcations, “marking line and ink.” That move from unified antiquity to splintered present dominates the structural metaphors of knowledge discussed in Section 2, but before turning to them, we continue the story begun by Zhuangzi, Xunzi, Sima Tan, Sima Qian and others who surveyed the competing idea systems with three more examples that take us to the end of the Han. By the close of the Western Han, Yang Xiong 揚雄 (53 bce–18 ce) was a scholar who leaned toward Classicism, even writing texts that mimicked the style of Confucius’s own Analects, but like all the aforementioned scholars, he does not pencil in distinct borders between himself and the other traditions. He explicitly draws upon their good points and dispenses with their bad, as is shown here in his assessment of Laozi: 老子之言道德,吾有取焉耳。及搥提仁義,絕滅禮學,吾無取焉耳。 When Laozi speaks of Dao and De, I extract from him. But when he tosses away and throws aside benevolence and propriety or when he cuts short and destroys ritual and scholarship, I do not extract from him.27

Yang Xiong shares with Sima Tan a method of extracting the best points of traditions with which he himself does not wholeheartedly identify, but he splits from Sima Tan when it comes to the content of those traditions, here not privileging the Dao family but instead vaunting Classicism. In fact, he directly addresses Sima Tan’s criticism of verbose Classicism: 或問﹕「司馬子長有言,曰《五經》不如《老子》之約也,當年不能 極其變,終身不能究其業。」 曰﹕「若是,則周公惑,孔子賊。古者之學耕且養,三年通一。今之 學也,非獨為之華藻也,又從而繡其鞶帨,惡在《老》不《老》 也?」 Someone asked, “Sima Zizhang [= Sima Tan] has said that the Five Canons are not as good as the conciseness of Laozi. [As for the Five Canons,] in one’s youth



one cannot reach the end of their transformations, and by the end of one’s life one is still not able to get through their undertakings.” [Yang Xiong] said, “If this were the case, then the Duke of Zhou was deluded and Confucius was a rebel. When the ancients studied, they [also] had to plough and provide sustenance, only penetrating a single [canon] after three years. As for scholars today, they not only become flowery and grandiloquent with regard to the canons, they also embroider their own sashes and handkerchiefs in turn. How can this be a case of whether it is comparable to Laozi?”28

One cannot compare the simplicity of Laozi with the unfortunate verbosity of Han Classicism because that verbosity is the product of later times. Sima Tan should have weighed the primal Dao of Laozi against the primal Dao of the Duke of Zhou, not against the multitudinous interpretations of contemporary scholars who spend their free time decorating themselves in the same way they decorated their canons with endless commentaries. Sima Tan is guilty of comparing apples and oranges. In a second example dating to the early years of the Eastern Han, the court held an academic workshop in 79 ce at the “White tiger hall” (Baihuguan 白虎觀) attended by counselors of state, academicians and dignitaries, the purpose of which was to locate the trunk of the Five Canons amidst the plentitude of interpretations that had branched off from it. Ban Gu was ordered to assemble an account of this debate, although there is some uncertainty as to whether the received Baihutong 白虎通 (White tiger hall discussion) is indeed his own compilation. In the following extract, the White tiger hall discussion cites how Confucius gave pride and place to a few core doctrines but still recognized the importance of familiarity with other ways of thinking. For him, the best doctrines originated from the times of Kings Wen 文 and Wu 武, founders of the Zhou dynasty: 問曰﹕異說並行,則弟子疑焉? 孔子有言﹕「吾聞擇其善者而從之。多見而志之,知之次也。」「文 武之道,未墜于地。」「天之將喪斯文也。」「樂亦在其中矣。」聖 人之道,猶有文質。所以擬其說、述所聞者,亦各傳其所受而已。 Someone asked, “If the differing explanations are all put into practice, won’t disciples then be confused by them?” Confucius had made [the following] statements: “Of that which I have heard, I select the good and follow it. I see much and fix it in my mind, which is understanding’s next level down.”29 “The Way of Kings Wen and Wu has not yet fallen to the ground.”30



“If heaven is about to destroy this Wen. . . .”31 “Joy indeed can be found within them.”32 The Dao of the sages still has both refinement and substance. As for how we draft our explanations and write down what we have heard, we each just transmit what we receive.33

This text requires some explanation, but fortunately in light of their original contexts, the passages from the Analects are consistent in their message. The meaning of the first passage is self-evident. Although Confucius retained much knowledge, he was selective in what he followed. That is, the master himself distinguished between principal and auxiliary messages, not utterly dismissing the latter but simply ranking them lower.34 As for the second passage’s context, the Way of Kings Wen and Wu had not perished because it came to reside in everyone so that even commoners could be teachers. Like the first quotation, this learning could be divided into greater principles practiced by greater people and lesser principles practiced by lesser people. The third passage also highlights the theme of King Wen surviving through later heirs of Zhou culture. Here Confucius is in trouble in the state of Kuang, and he states, “When King Wen died, did not Wen come to reside right here [in me]?” (文王既沒,文不在茲 乎?). He then states that if heaven were to destroy this Wen—if Confucius were to be fated to perish in the hands of the Kuang people—then the people who came later would not be able to access that culture. (Wen 文 here plays a double meaning, namely King Wen and the “culture” that Wen represents.)35 Finally, the fourth passage establishes Confucius himself as a commoner—one who finds joy in simple food and simple sleeping conditions. As the second passage indicates, it was through the common people that Zhou culture dispersed and survived so that even commoners such as Confucius could be teachers. Together these four passages demonstrate that Zhou culture had been transmitted to later generations not just through a single normative source; instead, it dispersed among the people into principal and auxiliary messages. Disciples of the Eastern Han could avoid becoming confused by the profusion of messages by mimicking the discriminating Confucius, who could “select the good and follow it” while still valuing familiarity with those auxiliary messages. Serving as our last example of one who privileges the principal over the auxiliary without completely discarding the auxiliary, the Classicist Xun



Yue 荀悅 (148–209) was a lecturer in the imperial palace near the end of the Eastern Han, a palace then under control of the Cao family that was about to terminate the Han dynasty and commence the Wei dynasty (220–64). In his Shenjian 申鑒 (Extended reflections) for the emperor, he glorified the “sagacious doctrines” (shengdian 聖典)—one version has the “Six Canons”—by relating them to the other traditions in now familiar terms: 或問﹕「守。」 曰﹕「聖典而已矣。若夫百家者是謂無守。莫不為言,要其至矣。莫 不為德,玄其奧矣。莫不為道,聖人其弘矣。聖人之道,其中道乎, 是為九達。」 Someone asked about maintaining [doctrines]. [I] replied, “[Maintain] only the sagacious doctrines. When it comes to the hundred families, one can say, ‘Do not maintain them.’ Every one of them says something, but their essence is surely most important. Every one of them carries out the De, but subtlety is surely the most profound. Every one of them carries out the Dao, but the sages are surely the greatest. The Dao of the sages—is it not indeed the Dao of the Middle? It is this that forms the Nine Directions.36

All the hundred families have their merits—their various messages ultimately return to the Dao and De—but here Classicism still retains its superior position in the middle of them all, a veritable golden mean. Let us conclude our own survey of these Han surveys of idea systems with three brief observations. First, for the most part these surveys did not simply list the choices and select one; they privileged one by raising it up as the big picture and marginalized the rest as partial understandings and limited corners of reality. Xunzi, Zhuangzi, Sima Tan, Sima Qian, Yang Xiong, the White tiger hall discussion, Xun Yue and others claimed a connectivity among the jia that privileged one idea system but permitted the co-existence of others. Second, this claim of connectivity was pervasive, not limited to one ism or one era of the Han. It was indeed so pervasive that it became embedded in a certain set of common structural metaphors—the tree, the river watershed and, most of all, the lineage—through which the different idea systems were interrelated. (These structural metaphors are the subject of Section 2.) Furthermore, this connectivity extended beyond the substance of these idea systems to their audience or recipients, who were themselves not strictly definable as “Classicist” or “Daoist.” All the greats and texts



mentioned above were part of “a spectrum of comprehensive world-views to which every educated person had access,” as Sivin described it,37 and archeology demonstrates how these texts have been found together in the same tombs, no matter with which ism we might label each of them individually. If that audience were in fact the ruler himself, the interrelatedness of idea systems may have resonated with emperors who saw themselves as unifying all under heaven. That is, perhaps intellectual and imperial unity went hand in hand. Ultimately, such pervasiveness of connectivity in the idea systems and in the audience receiving them demonstrates why we must be wary of the isms. We cannot cleanly demarcate Daoism and Legalism, Classicism and Mohism, because there was an express willingness among their adherents to borrow the best points from one another, and they all claimed a return to a common but vague Dao recognized by most early readers. Although it may not have been so pervasive to reach the level of a deutero-truth—that is, a habituated idea so embedded in the culture that people do not even realize they possess it— the very fact that such connectivity was regularly highlighted would suggest that there was a counterforce, that at least a few people were vaunting exclusivity in their own idea systems rather than inclusivity. The abovecited passage from The spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü, for example, suggests such exclusivity, and Eastern Han Daoist religious texts similarly insisted on complete faith in their version of the Dao while damning heterodox beliefs. If this interconnectivity is neither an argument of just a few thinkers nor a deutero-truth of a whole culture, I would suggest we place it somewhere in the middle, treating it as a paradigm, namely an accepted standard or recognized model of thinking that was adopted whenever convenient.38 Third, we need not completely avoid the isms as long as we understand this complexity when using them. As noted above, isms became more tangible over the course of the Han, and individual idea systems asserted their own precedence because each claimed to encapsulate the best elements from the different idea systems while still embodying its own unique truth. With that in mind, I must justify my own usage of one particular ism, namely “Classicism” instead of its alternative names of “Confucianism” or “Ru-ism.”



The Classics are the “Five Canons” referenced by Yang Xiong’s questioner above, the five in the Han not always on the same list but drawn from the following six possibilities: 1. The Shi 詩 or Shijing 詩經 (Songs canon, also rendered the Odes or Book of poetry); 2. The Shu 書 or Shujing 書經 (Documents canon, also rendered the Book of documents or Book of history) alternatively called the Shangshu 尚書 (Venerable documents); 3. The Li 禮 or more rarely Lijing 禮經 (Ritual canon), a variable combination of a) the Yili 儀禮 (Ceremonies and rituals), b) the Liji 禮記 (Ritual records), c) and the Zhouli 周禮 (Rituals of the Zhou dynasty);39 4. The Chunqiu 春秋 (Spring and Autumn Annals), a history of the state of Lu from the eighth to the fifth century bce); 5. The Yi 易 or Yijing 易經 (Changes canon, often rendered the Book of changes); and 6. The Yue 樂 or Yuejing 樂經 (Music canon), now lost if it ever existed. Classicism basically hearkened back to the unity of the early Zhou before the state had fragmented into scores of kingdoms and before knowledge had fragmented into multiple idea systems, and the surviving knowledge of early Zhou rites and music preserved in the Classics were seen as the means of resurrecting that unity. This particular ism should perhaps be confined to the Han itself, and as Csikszentmihalyi and Nylan describe it, “the Han classicists could be counted upon to uphold certain common assumptions about the relevance of past traditions to the resolution of contemporary moral and political dilemmas.”40 Classicism does not imply that the five or six Classics were free from error (as Mencius and Xunzi themselves noted), and their practical application outweighed rote recitation (as Confucius himself warned). Nor should the term imply that other retrospectively identified isms—such as Mohism—didn’t draw upon the Classics to forward their own agendas. While Mohists cited the same history to different ends, they dismissed the Confucians’ over-emphasis on the surviving texts and rigid protocols: 或以不喪之閒誦詩三百,弦詩三百,歌詩三百,舞詩三百。若用子之 言,則君子何日以聽治?庶人何日以從事?



Otherwise in the intervening times when you are not mourning, you chant the three hundred poems of the Songs canon, strum the three hundred poems of the Songs canon, sing the three hundred poems of the Songs canon and dance the three hundred poems of the Songs canon. If I employed your words, then on what day would a nobleman heed his government obligations? On what day would a commoner discharge his duties?41

Thus this label of Classicism might hinge upon the perceived degree of devotion to the Classics rather than mere citation of them. Regardless, it is probably best to limit “Classicism” to the particular Han manifestation of the longer tradition known as Confucianism. When discussing idea systems that existed prior to the Han, we should avoid isms generally, and after the Han (and especially by the Song dynasty), the Classics themselves took a secondary position. Like all the other isms in our tool belt, “Classicism” can result in a poor fit for the task before us, a standardized socket wrench when an adjustable one is needed. Yet we still need a few tools at hand even if they slip and slide a bit.

Section 2: Metaphors They Lived By The Oxford English Dictionary defines “ism” as “a form of doctrine, theory, or practice having, or claiming to have, a distinctive character or relation: chiefly used disparagingly and sometimes with implied reference to schism.”42 Isms are a separating device and are not reflective of the connectivity highlighted in this introduction. Yet the schism of isms goes well beyond the idea of labels. It is inherent in how the Western tradition generally demarcates idea systems; it is a deutero-truth that has been embedded in our culture for thousands of years. Among the early Greeks, new ideas were transmitted, developed and discussed via formal debates, and that debating mode worked itself into the ideas debated. As Geoffrey Lloyd and Nathan Sivin summarize: The repercussions on philosophy and science of a deep-rooted preoccupation with competitive debate were not limited to minor stylistic features in modes of presentation. They extended also to certain recurrent, and at points dominant, traits in the styles of inquiry themselves. The primary point relates to adversariality. For many, the establishing of a philosophical or scientific doctrine proceeded essentially by way of defeating the opposition.43



Lloyd and Sivin contend that this adversariality came to affect the contents of theories and not just their presentation. One can perhaps see this assumption of adversariality and separation even in the way we have come to organize the universe around us. In the 1960s, Claude Lévi-Strauss noted how the modern West emphasizes borders over continuums and how that preference is indeed reflected in our adoption of metaphors. For example, when we organize species into inert and separate classes, drawing distinct lines between A and Not-A, we seek out metaphors of separation. He writes, “The natural sciences for a long time regarded themselves as concerned with ‘kingdoms,’ that is, independent and sovereign domains each definable by its own characteristics and peopled by creatures or objects standing in special relations to one another.”44 Such a kingdom metaphor eradicates all dynamism within the notion of species, he contends. Yet the divisive metaphor is by no means limited to philosophy and science, and it appears that whenever diverse ideas interact in daily life— when kingdoms conflict—war ensues. In their book Metaphors we live by, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson list examples of the war metaphor and summarize the general Western notion of ideas in conflict: Your claims are indefensible. He attacked every weak point in my argument. His criticisms were right on target. I demolished his argument. I’ve never won an argument with him. You disagree? Okay, shoot! If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out. He shot down all of my arguments. It is important to see that we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war. Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument—attack, defense, counterattack, etc.—reflects this. It is in this sense that the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; it structures the actions we perform in arguing.45



Lakoff and Johnson’s ideas on modern structuring metaphors seem naturally to follow on from the early Greek adversariality described by Lloyd and Sivin and the taxonomic kingdoms noted by Lévi-Strauss. Here, too, Lakoff and Johnson emphasize that the “argument is war” metaphor not only describes how ideas interact, but it also shapes the interaction itself. Were there structural metaphors for arguments in early China? And given the connectivity outlined above, were they different from those in the Western discourse that led to schisms and adversariality, to kingdoms and war? Consider the following passage by Liu Xiang 劉向 (79–8 bce), who summarized the cohesion of the various scholarly traditions up to his own day near the end of the Western Han. Here the translation is left somewhat literal in order to highlight the various types of tangible metaphors used when describing how the different traditions related to one another. 諸子十家,其可觀者九家而已。…《易》曰﹕「天下同歸而殊塗,一 致而百慮。」今異家者各推所長,窮知究慮,以明其指,雖有蔽短, 合其要歸,亦六經之支與流裔。 Of the ten families of masters, only nine can be observed. . . . The Changes canon states, “All under heaven share the same return destination but via various roads; all under heaven are singular in practice but divided a hundredfold in interpretation.” Now each of the different families pushes its strengths, exhausts its awareness and deepens its forethought in order to clarify its goal. Despite each family’s deceptions and shortcomings, if its essentials are returned to the origin, that family is in fact a branch or the leading edge of a current coming from the Six Canons.46

Note that Liu Xiang, who sounds very much like Xun Yue writing two centuries later, uses the same allusion to the Changes canon with which Sima Tan began his own essay (see above). Liu Xiang argues that the lines of the various masters arose and separated from this canonical corpus, and he uses four different metaphors to describe the relationships among the later diverse ideas, namely a river (the “current’s leading edge” of the Six Canons), a tree (the “branches” of the Six Canons), a road (the Changes canon quotation) and a lineage (the references to families or jia). Section 2 demonstrates the pervasiveness of these structuring metaphors. It then asks why such rhetorical imagery was so common and why, of the four, the lineage metaphor held the greatest sway.



The River or Watershed Metaphor Individually, these metaphors were fully developed in other early texts, with several features of each physical image being applied to the overall structure of knowledge. For an example of the river or watershed metaphor, the Huainanzi likens the Classicist tradition to multiple streams from diverse springs that ought to return to a single body of water: 百川異源而皆歸於海,百家殊業而皆務於治。王道缺而《詩》作,周 室廢、禮義壞而《春秋》作。《詩》、《春秋》學之美者也,皆衰世 之造也,儒者循之以教導於世,豈若三代之盛哉!以《詩》、《春 秋》為古之道而貴之,又有未作《詩》、《春秋》之時。 The hundred streams come from different springs, but they all return to the sea; the hundred families have different callings, but they all focus on good government. When the royal Dao degraded, the Songs canon was composed; when the house of Zhou was cast aside and rituals and propriety collapsed, the Spring and autumn annals was composed. The Songs canon and the Spring and autumn annals are the beauties of scholarship, but they are both products of declining ages. Even if Classicists heed them for teaching rulership to the age, it surely will not be on par with the glories of the Three Dynasties! The Classicists value the Songs canon and the Spring and autumn annals because they regard them as the Dao of the ancients, but there also existed that time when the Songs canon and the Spring and autumn annals had not yet been composed.47

Here the diversity of idea systems is likened to the hundred streams or baichuan 百川 all returning to the sea, but it is significant to note that the Huainanzi is using this metaphor in a slightly different manner than Liu Xiang had. For Liu Xiang, the lines of scholarship were the rivers flowing away from the ancient corpus of the Six Canons; for the Huainanzi, the various canons themselves are flowing back toward a better age, the age of the Xia, Shang and Western Zhou dynasties that preceded the imperial age. The structure of the metaphor is the same, including the devaluation of the branching-out process and an implied desire to return to a unitary source, but that to which the metaphor is applied differs. Metaphors are like a lens through which different objects are viewed, each object being forced to conform to the lens’s organizational principles. As a tool in the art of contextualization,48 the lens will differently identify stream versus sea depending upon how and where the lens is trained. In general, this river imagery was frequently applied to the idea of scholarship, and scholarship as a whole could also be collectively termed



the “nine currents” ( jiuliu 九流). A well-educated official such as Ban Gu was described as “encompassing and penetrating the registers and records, and he was always exhaustive and deep with regard to all the discussions of the nine currents and hundred families (博貫載籍,九流百家之 言,無不窮究).49 Mixing metaphors of river and lineage—the latter to be discussed below—Ban Gu and most other early imperial thinkers recognized a common origin to all truths that later fragmented into a diversity of interpretations.

The Tree Metaphor Labeling teachings that stray from the norm as “branches,” Liu Xiang envisioned knowledge as a tree, and the Huainanzi also employs the tree or plant metaphor extensively when describing the various idea systems, again collectively labeled the hundred families. It first generalizes about the nature of all growth as follows: 今夫萬物之疏躍枝舉,百事之莖葉條蘗,皆本於一根,而條循千萬 也。 In every case the spreading twigs of the myriad material things and the shooting stalks of all activity originate from a common root, only then to branch out into the millions.50

The same is true with idea systems, it continues. Each family—the socialist Mohists, the egoist Yangists, the draconian Legalists and so forth— may ignorantly depict its own idea system as the root of a properly structured government, ordered society and harmonized cosmos, but in fact that family’s own idea system is not the root. It is merely one of the branch tips stretching out from the Dao’s trunk in this veritable tree of knowledge. The Huainanzi further projects a temporal dimension on this image, planting the unified Dao in a distant golden age prior to China’s first cultural heroes Huangdi 黃帝 or the Yellow Emperor and Shennong 神農 or the Divine Husbandman, but over the centuries humans projected divisive structures such as yin and yang on the cosmos that in turn led to trusting the senses, to following individual desires and finally to the hundred families offering individuated solutions for an increasingly divided humanity. In the Huainanzi’s view, solving modern social woes begins with re-unifying the idea systems and returning to the root.



As one more example of a scholar gazing back down this tree of knowledge, Wang Fu 王符 (ca. 90–165) in the Eastern Han wrote an essay aptly entitled “Wu ben” 務本 (“Focusing on the root”) in which all the qualities deserving attention are dubbed roots and all the qualities that can be dismissed are dubbed branch tips. The following is an extract from a much longer list: 教訓者,以道義為本,以巧辯為末;辭語者,以信順為本,以詭麗為 末;列士者,以孝悌為本,以交遊為末;孝悌者,以致養為本,以華 觀為末。 Teachers regard Dao and propriety as the root; they regard cleverness and discrimination as the tips. Speakers regard trust and agreement as the root; they regard opposition and ornamentation as the tips. Ranked officials regard filial piety and fraternal accord as the root; they regard roaming off with friends as the tips. The filial and the fraternal regard providing nourishment [for elders] as the root; they regard flowery display as the tips.51

Wang Fu concludes the chapter by noting, “When an enlightened gentleman thus tends to the state, he must promote the roots and depress the tips in order to stop the sprouts of chaos and danger (故明君蒞國,必 崇本抑末,以遏亂危之萌).52 He not only uses the organic language of root, branch tip, flowers and sprouts in this essay; he also devalues the outward branching relative to the root. Furthermore, many of the activities apportioned to the root reflect unity whereas those apportioned to the branch tips reflect division. The root is associated with the allinclusive Dao, with agreement, with family emotions of cohesion; the branch tips are associated with rhetorical discrimination, with opposition, with roaming afar. In both the river and tree metaphors, fracturing and division are deplored.

The Road Metaphor Liu Xiang’s above assessment about the state of scholarship in his day included the metaphor of a road network, a metaphor he (and Sima Tan before him) derived from the Changes canon. Although this metaphor was less common, Wang Chong 王充 (27–ca. 100) similarly observed, “When the worthies and sages died and the great meaning divided, slipping and sliding along different roads, each person opened his own gate” (夫賢聖 歿而大義分,蹉跎殊趨,各自開門).53 Again the “great meaning” splintered over the course of history—the Dao (which of course literally



means a “road”) encountered fork after fork—and here each byway led to a gate, “gate” being a common metonym for a school. However, a road network in itself does not inherently possess the branching structure of rivers, trees or lineages—that structure only being imposed by the Changes canon or by Wang Chong. Perhaps for this reason, the road metaphor was employed less frequently.

The Genealogy Metaphor Finally, with regard to Liu Xiang’s “families” of masters, the most elaborate, frequently used metaphor applied to the diversity of ideas was in fact the genealogy or lineage image. For example, the recognized founder of any given tradition could be dubbed an “ancestor” using the term zu 祖 or, more commonly, zong 宗. (In the Han understanding of lineages, these terms technically refer to two distinct types of ancestors,54 a distinction that didn’t necessarily carry over into their metaphorical usage; as will be seen, zong could sometimes refer to the whole lineage as well.) Not surprisingly, Confucius was dubbed “ancestor” of the Classicist tradition by the Western Han. Sima Qian appends his biography of Confucius with the following: 天下君王至于賢人眾矣,當時則榮,沒則已焉。孔子布衣,傳十餘 世,學者宗之。自天子王侯,中國言六藝者折中於夫子,可謂至聖 矣! There have been multitudes of noble kings and worthy men in the world. In their times they may have been resplendent, but once they died, that was the end of them. Confucius was a commoner, but [his influence] has lasted more than ten generations, and so scholars regard him as their ancestor. From the son of heaven, kings and marquises [on down], those who discuss the Six Arts in the Middle Kingdoms will find the right balance in this master. He is worthy of being considered the most sagacious!55

Here Sima Qian is explicit in his metaphor. The influence of Confucius was felt by subsequent generations, and so he is called an ancestor. At the same time, by comparing the commoner Confucius to those who actually ought to have been ancestors, namely the hereditary kings who in fact did not leave behind comparable legacies, Sima Qian highlights the fact that this usage is indeed metaphorical. Yet as noted above, structuring metaphors are contextual lenses through which an object is viewed and then related to other objects, and the meta-



phor’s qualities are not inherent in the object itself. That is, others within the Classicist tradition were also granted this distinction of being the focal ancestor. For example, Shusun Tong 叔孫通 (fl. early second century bce) was the court advisor credited for first equipping the imperial lineage with proper rituals, and Liu Xiang states that he “served as an ancestor for Han Classicists, his undertaking being passed down to later heirs” (為 漢儒宗,業垂後嗣).56 Another Han Classicist said to have had great impact on the court was Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (ca. 179–ca. 104), and Ban Gu states, “Dong Zhongshu mastered the Gongyang Commentary to the spring and autumn annals, and for the first time made extrapolations based on yin and yang, serving as an ancestor of the Classicists” (董仲舒 治《公羊春秋》,始推陰陽,為儒者宗).57 The Classicist genealogy enjoyed several progenitors. Defining ancestors within scholarly traditions was not limited to just the overall program of Classicism; individual Classics could also have their own designated ancestors. For example, a certain Ding Kuan 丁寬 (fl. mid-second cen. bce) was recognized as “ancestral teacher” to the Changes canon (zushi 祖師) because of his influential commentary.58 Outside the Classicist program, the Daoists typically extended their historical discussions beyond human originators, and yet they, too, still employed the genealogy metaphor, identifying either formlessness or the Dao itself as “ancestor” of the myriad things.59 This metaphor even found expression outside of scholarly discourse as in the case of merchants who regarded the grain speculator Bai Gui 白圭 (fl. early fourth cen. bce) as “ancestor” of their own profession.60 Nor was this structuring metaphor even limited to humanity. The network of mountain ranges was organized using extensive lineage terminology—progenitors, ancestors, collateral descendants, inheritance and the like—in which an especially lofty mountain might be the “ancestor” relative to all of its more child-like neighbors.61 When addressing the structure of knowledge in particular, the genealogy metaphor began with originating “ancestors” and then subdivided into individual lines of scholarship that came to be called “families” or jia 家 (see Section 1 for a discussion of jia as implying specialization). Generally, early usage of the term jia tended to identify either the immediate living family or sometimes the direct line of descent, whereas the term zong referred to the lineage as a whole including collateral branches. Over the



course of the Spring and Autumn period (722–481 bce), the jia in fact evolved into a smaller and smaller unit as property became distributed among brothers and lineage territory became more and more fragmented.62 Thus the term jia usually carried with it the concept of subdivision. A shijia 世家 or “hereditary family” is the direct line of descent, a term used as an organizational principle in Sima Qian’s Historical records. In contrast, a zong usually referred to all the people who could claim a distant common lineage progenitor or shared the same surname; it generally included all collateral branches and not just the direct line of descent. For example, the Chunqiu Zuozhuan 春秋左傳 (Zuo commentary of the Spring and autumn annals) and the Yanzi chunqiu 晏子春秋 (Spring and autumn annals of Yanzi) both record the following lament of Shuxiang 叔向 (personal name Xi 肸), who predicts that his own lineage, a collateral branch of the ducal house of Jin 晉, is fated to follow the demise of that misbehaving house: 晉之公族盡矣。肸聞之,公室將卑,其宗族枝葉先落,則公室從之。 肸之宗十一族,唯羊舌氏在而已。肸又無子,公室無度,幸而得死, 豈其獲祀? The ducal lineage of the state of Jin has become exhausted. I have heard that when a ducal house is about to be brought low, the branches and leaves of its trunk and collateral lineages (zongzu 宗族) first droop and then the ducal house follows them. The trunk lineage to which I belong had eleven collateral lineages, but only [my] Yangshe lineage remains. I moreover have no children. The ducal house is unregulated, so if I am fortunate and attain [a natural] death, who will maintain my sacrifices?63

Thus in contrast to jia, which tends to refer to a single line of descent and carries with it the implication of subdivision, zong tends to denote the larger family tree and carries with it the implication of wholeness or completeness. As Maurice Freedman explains, “In the family the ancestors tended are rarely more than four generations distant from the living head; in a lineage the first ancestor may be forty generations away.”64 Yet this distinction is only generally and not absolutely true because the terms jia and zong sometimes appear to be interchangeable, at least in metaphorical usage. When pursuing peaceful border relations in the late Western Han, covenant makers claimed that the Han and the northern nomadic Xiongnu could “unite to form a single family” (he wei yijia 合為 一家).65 Yet when the king of Wu in the early Western Han was asked



where he should like to be buried, he noted that “the world is a single lineage” (tianxia yizong 天下一宗) and so it did not matter.66 Again the distinctions in the metaphorical usage are somewhat blurred, although even here the inward dynamic in the Han-Xiongnu “family” ( jia) highlights the idea of intimacy whereas the outward dynamic of the king of Wu’s “lineage” (zong) highlights the idea of expansiveness. When the metaphors of family versus lineage were applied to scholarly traditions, jia and zong were less interchangeable and regularly maintained the implications of subdivision versus comprehensiveness respectively. As seen above, scholarship subdivided into either nine families or, more commonly, a hundred families. On one hand, likening one’s own scholarship to jia could be an expression of modesty with implications of limitation and partiality. Sima Qian famously described his own grand history of the world as just “the words of a single family” ( yijia zhi yan 一 家之言).67 On the other hand, equating someone else’s scholarly tradition with jia could equally be regarded as insulting, particularly when that tradition claimed comprehensiveness. When Empress Dowager Dou 竇 (empress to Emperor Wen 文, r. 180–157) desired to speak with the Songs canon scholar Yuan Gu 轅固 about her own fondness for Laozi, for example, Yuan Gu replied—to render his response rather literally—“These are just the words of a ‘family man’” (Ci jiaren yan er 此家人言耳). For this unwise comment that relegated Laozi to a mere corner of the big picture, Yuan Gu was condemned to the animal pens to fight boars.68 How one used the term jia with its implications of partiality and limitedness depended upon with whom one used the term.

Mixing Metaphors Thus the three principal metaphors of watershed, tree and genealogy were all applied to the configuration of knowledge, to the traditions of scholarship. More importantly, these metaphors were not randomly chosen but offered three similarly structured images. In reverse order, the genealogy model imagines a single progenitor from which a primary line of descent extends, and this primary line of descent is surrounded by more and more collateral lines (and collateral lines off of collateral lines) so that the end of the image—the present—is many different families. The tree model offers a root from which extends a principal trunk, and from that principal trunk spring more and more branches (and branches off of branches) so



that the top of the image is a flurry of divided tips. The structure of the river image is the same, although the temporal variable is reversed. Instead of a principal river branching out, the creeks and streams run into one another, eventually emptying into a principal river that in turn empties into the undifferentiated sea. In all of these, there is an implicit desire to privilege the principal line and ultimately to privilege the singular and undifferentiated progenitor, root or sea over the divided collateral lines. There is even a frequently voiced desire to return to that undifferentiated state.69 In other words, while there are three distinct metaphors being employed, the underlying paradigm is the same. As further evidence that a single basic paradigm was at work here, the mixing of watershed, tree and lineage metaphors was not regarded as problematic. For example, the following verse from an Eastern Han divination guide known at the Yilin 易林 (Forest of Changes) applies a lineage metaphor to the river in an auspicious prophecy as follows: 海為水宗 聰明且聖 百流歸德 無有叛逆 常饒優足

The sea serves as ancestor to water; It is astutely bright and sagacious. The hundred streams return to virtue And there is no opposition or obstruction: Constant abundance and extraordinary sufficiency.70

Here, too, the desired return to the undifferentiated principle—whether it be progenitor or sea—is explicit. Likewise, the tree metaphor was frequently mixed with ideas of lineage, as is already evident in Shuxiang’s remark about the collateral “branches and leaves” drooping just before his lineage as a whole was about to collapse. Such arboresque language was common, and one’s descendants were regularly called the miao 苗 or “sprouts.” An Eastern Han stele dedicated to Grand Commandant Yang Bing 楊秉 (d. 165) described his surname’s derivation by detailing how his family’s “tips and leaves via a collateral [lit. “branch”] son had their supply city in Yang and so their lineage name came from it” (末葉以支子食邑於楊,因氏焉).71 In a stele dedicated to Grand Commandant Li Xian 李咸 (d. 175), its genealogy explains why this western lineage ended up in Runan 汝南 (in modern Henan province) by stating “the branches streamed forth and the leaves spread out until the family came to be located in this land” (枝流葉布,家于茲 土).72 As in English, lineage is here envisioned as a family tree.



A watershed, tree and genealogy may share the same structure, but the prevalence of the last metaphor may in part be due to the fact that genealogy also had more than just metaphorical associations with scholarship itself. Particularly in the Han dynasty, actual lineages could specialize in certain textual traditions. Biographies in the Hou Hanshu 後漢書 (Later Han documents) frequently begin by noting that the subject of the biography “when young continued his father’s undertaking” (shao zhuan fuye 少 傳父業), meaning that he mastered the same texts his father had. If generations had specialized in the same text, it could become known as “family scholarship” ( jiaxue 家學). Furthermore, the teacher-disciple tradition could adopt lineage trappings, such as mourning for a teacher for three years (a practice made famous by the disciples of Confucius), ascending the teacher’s burial mound to announce one’s own achievements and conducting sacrifices to a teacher’s spirit. All of these Han practices theoretically originated from worshipping one’s departed father. These real and borrowed lineage relationships in handing down scholarship perhaps added to the genealogy metaphor’s weight.

Recapitulation and Caveat Section 1 highlights a perceived connectivity among idea systems in the Han, as authors did not outright dismiss other programs but permitted themselves a selectivity that saw those other programs as partial glimpses of the truth. It was not “I’m right, and you’re wrong”; it was “I see the big picture, and you see a corner.” Section 2 sketches out a basic explanatory paradigm for that connectivity, a structural metaphor under the guise of a watershed, tree and lineage. The epistemological metaphors were readily interchangeable with one another because of their similar structure. By the middle of the Warring States period, many of these idea systems in fact recognized the same trunk chronology of cultural heroes and royal founders, including the Divine Husbandman said to have brought agriculture to the world, the Yellow Emperor credited with a host of technological, medical and calendrical innovations, the sage kings Yao 堯 and Shun 舜 and the three dynastic founders Yu 禹 of the Xia, Tang 湯 of the Shang and Kings Wen and Wu of the Zhou.73 The “ancestors” of other traditions may even figure into the creative histories of one’s own tradition, as when Confucius appears as a significant character in the Daoist Zhuangzi, a character there portrayed as often right but sometimes wrong.



There his “branch” seems to be portrayed as just beginning to deviate from the Daoist trunk. The lineage metaphor becomes more noticeable when it is compared to the “argument is war” metaphor within the Western tradition. A lineage demonstrates connectivity and the dynamism of a temporal dimension rather than the breaks and stasis of the war metaphor. In fact, the early Chinese tradition repeatedly and explicitly condemned schism when ideas and opinions collided. Several modern scholars such as Walter Ong have noted this difference: Rhetoric of course is essentially antithetical, for the orator speaks in the face of at least implied adversaries. Oratory has deep agonistic roots. The development of the vast rhetorical tradition was distinctive of the west and was related, whether as cause or effect or both, to the tendency among the Greeks and their cultural epigoni to maximize oppositions, in the mental as in the extramental world: this by contrast with Indians and Chinese, who programmatically minimized them.74

Lloyd similarly argues that Greek schools of thought did not primarily hand down a body of learned texts but had to compete for students. Furthermore, students presented their opinions not before their ruler as in early China but before their peers, and this required them to adopt crowd-swaying rhetorical devices and competitive stances. He likens this competitive scholarship to the legal traditions in early Greece that were so different from those in early China: The first fundamental point . . . relates to Chinese attitudes towards the legal experience, whether in civil or in criminal cases, and to litigiousness in general. Civil law as such was almost unheard of. More generally, so far from positively delighting in litigation, as many Greeks seem to have done, so far from developing a taste for confrontational argument in that context and becoming quite expert in its evaluation, the Chinese avoided any brush with the law as far as they possibly could. Disputes that could not be resolved by arbitration were felt to be a breakdown of due order and as such reflected unfavourably on both parties, whoever was in the right. So forensic advocacy of the adversarial type developed in the Greek law-courts can hardly be found in China, but that is not surprising, given that the contexts of its use were lacking.75

In the received Chinese tradition at least, this avoidance of “argument is war” and of confrontational litigiousness is repeatedly voiced. The below



ten examples, all from different primary sources and representing three different idea systems, show how frequently schism was condemned. 1. Confucius said he would judge disputes like anyone else but voiced a desire for the disputants to resolve their differences and avoid litigation at all costs.76 Han sources often cited this statement. 2. Mencius lamented that although he was not fond of disputation, in such an age of decline he had no alternative but to engage in it.77 3. Xunzi repeatedly condemned “disputation and persuasions” (bianshui 辨說), practices that had arisen since the sage kings disappeared and the world fell into chaos. Perverse persuasions and texts that manifested partiality “separated from the proper Dao” (li zhengdao 離正道), but an enlightened ruler did not engage in such practices. Yielding was superior to contentious wrangling.78 4. Zi Gao 子高 (312–262), a sixth-generation descendant of Confucius, continued the tradition that denounced “resplendent verbiage and abundant persuasions” ( fanci fushui 繁辭富說). He argued that the ancients avoided litigation because the people and the government shared the same goals and did not act for private gain.79 5. Chancellor Gongsun Hong 公孫弘 (ca. 200–121), described as “a paragon figure of the virtues later associated with the Confucian tradition,”80 was the first high-ranking official to espouse the Classicist tradition in Emperor Wu’s court. Sima Qian wrote that he gave everything that delighted the emperor a Classicist slant. When it came to disagreements, Gongsun Hong “never disputed them at court” (bu ting bian zhi 不庭辯之) but later spoke with the emperor in private explaining his opinions, a procedure that also pleased the emperor.81 6. Grand Commandant Liu Ju 劉矩 (d. ca. 170 ce) became famous for bringing potential litigants before him for personal interviews, listening to their complaints, offering advice and avoiding all recourse to legal disputation. He would send the would-be litigants home to think, and in every case they abandoned their litigations.82 Thus the Classicist masters condemned disputation, and Han Classicist officials in turn avoided it. 7. Schism was also disparaged by the Daoists. Laozi not surprisingly recognized that, in antiquity, martialism, anger and contention were absent from officialdom because officials practiced the “De of not contending” (bu zheng zhi de 不爭之德).83 8. Zhuangzi dismissed rhetoricians and disputers more consistently and playfully than anyone else. As the Dao had become lost under the later



“resplendent flowers” of recent lines of scholarship, “There thus exists the ‘It’s so’ and ‘It’s not so’ of the Classicists and Mohists, regarding what is so as that which is surely not so and what is not so as that which surely is so” (故有儒墨之是非,以是其所非而非其所是).84 9. The Laozi commentary known as the Xiang’er 想爾, attributed to Zhang Lu 張魯 (fl. 190–215),85 is one of the first texts representing what is often called “religious Daoism” in which Laozi becomes deified, the Dao becomes anthropomorphized and salvation becomes attainable. This text advises against contending with those who do not already delight in the Dao. Arguments of “I’m right; you’re wrong” (我是;若非) are explicitly condemned.86 10. Buddhism appeared in Han China around the middle of the dynasty and began to enter into academic discourse near the end, and its early sutras continued the denunciation of disputation. Translated in 179 ce, the Banzhou sanmeijing 般舟三昧經 (“Meditation of direct encounter with the Buddhas of the present”) is a sutra that calls the actual Buddha to one’s own mind, an act that is possible because, as all is emptiness, clear concentration on the Buddha is in fact nothing short of face-toface contact with the Buddha. Given the nature of emptiness, disciples should harbor no conceptions, and if they harbor no conceptions, they would never dispute because conceptions are a prerequisite for disputation. Disputations “are slanderous and disparaging in terms of emptiness, and therefore one should not engage in disputation” (誹謗於 空,是故不當共諍). Disciples should instead give themselves over to recitation of the sutras.87 To summarize, given the shape of the structuring metaphor as one in which diverse ideas are genetically connected at an earlier stage, thinkers throughout the Han period claimed superiority not by going to war with rivals but by affiliating themselves with the undifferentiated root of knowledge. The so-called Three Teachings (Sanjiao 三教) of Classicism, Daoism and Buddhism regularly dismiss disputation, as do other thinkers such as Mozi, who devoted a whole chapter to explaining how disputation arose from benighted leadership. 88 Disputation is a characteristic of the upper branches where separation and divergence are manifest. Pure rhetoric was roundly denounced as the worst intellectual practice because it possessed no substance at all—no “wood” from the family tree—and only highlighted the spaces between the upper branches. From the shape of the metaphor, from the pre-Han and Han scholars’ discourses as to how their idea systems related to other idea systems, and from the ten anti-disputation ex-



amples listed above, it would appear that “argument is war” is strictly a Western tradition whereas “argument is tracing out lineage” uniquely characterizes early China. Yet such a conclusion would of course be wrong. The very fact that the denunciation of disputation was voiced with such frequency suggests in itself that disputation thrived. A scholar such as Xunzi may have denounced disputation in general, but he certainly engaged in it himself when he found it necessary. Furthermore, several of the above passages relegated the nondisputers of the Dao to the distant past or, as in the last two cases, saw disputation as a symptom of those who fell outside their own religious sects. That is, non-disputation was an aspiration and not a reality. Third, instead of tolerating divergent views, many philosophers and politicians at times actively denounced rivals and even called for their censorship. The passage from The spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü cited in Section 1 hints at such a practice. Elsewhere, the Guanzi 管子, a collection of materials of diverse authorship from the fourth to first centuries bce edited by Liu Xiang, takes an intolerant perspective of rival traditions in certain chapters. Merely listening to the ideas of Songzi, Mozi, and other philosophers or to private criticisms or talk of wealth could cause the state to collapse. Like the aforementioned philosophers denouncing division and disputation, the Guanzi indeed condemns factionalism, but in place of selectivity it advocates single-minded adherence to one doctrine of control.89 Pre-imperial theorists aside, in 213 bce the Qin dynasty famously closed down the marketplace of ideas by banning all talk of alternative positions, and Empress Dowager Dou, who briefly oversaw the Han court, was not open-minded about rival opinions. In terms of metaphor, “argument is war” would even find explicit expression in anecdotes from the Period of Disunion following the Han. A discussion between the famous Buddhist monk Zhi Dun 支遁 (314–66) and the leading politician Yin Hao 殷浩 (d. 356) is recorded as follows: 支道林、殷淵源俱在相王許,相王謂二人﹕「可試一交言。而才性殆 是淵源崤函之固,君其慎焉!」支初作,改轍遠之,數四交,不覺入 其玄中。相王撫肩笑曰﹕「此自是其勝場,安可爭鋒!」 Zhi Daolin [=Zhi Dun] and Yin Yuanyuan [=Yin Hao] were both at the residence of the chancellor-king, and the chancellor-king said to them, “You may endeavor to carry out a conversation, but I fear [the topic of] ‘Talent and nature’ is Yuanyuan’s fortress of the Yao Mountains and Hangu Pass! You ought to be careful there!” When Zhi Daolin began, he always shifted about to keep distant from that topic,



but over and over again he unwittingly entered into such profundities. The chancellor-king clapped Zhi Daolin on the shoulder and laughed, saying, “This is naturally his field of victory. How could you ever cross weapons with him?”90

The Yao Mountains and Hangu Pass were the Qin state’s secure barriers, and so in light of Yin Hao’s superior defense, Zhi Dun lost the war. Thus in early China, the nature of argumentation was not limited to the tracing of genealogy nor to warfare, but it can be said that the former was indeed frequently and adamantly privileged as the ideal paradigm. It was the supreme structure of knowledge, further justified because most traditions jointly owned a semi-fictional past (such as the Yellow Emperor) and shared a reverence for the primal Dao.

Section 3: Modifying Our Approach to the Ancestral Cults But why is understanding this Han “tree” of knowledge necessary before we explore the early imperial ancestral cults? First, the pervasiveness of the lineage metaphor in itself evinces the importance of fully understanding lineage. Second, understanding this basic concept of how idea systems were structured forces us to be wary of applying Western theories and terminologies (theories and terminologies that grew out of a different set of assumptions) to the ancestral cult. It affects how we look at them. Third and most importantly, understanding the ideal of connectivity is a prerequisite to understanding how people in early China related one set of beliefs about the afterlife to another. It affects how they looked at themselves.

Lineage as a Pervasive Structuring Principle Robin Horton defines religion as “the extension of the field of people’s social relationships beyond the confines of purely human society.”91 Building on Horton, Stewart Elliott Guthrie explains that “we typically scan the world with humanlike models” because human relationship networks are a complex structuring tool that we then apply to the nonempirical realm to get meaning out of it.92 That is, the world around us is full of complexities we don’t readily understand, but we do understand how humans interrelate, and so we take that human structure and project it onto the non-human world to see if we can make sense of what would otherwise remain frighteningly mysterious. Gods become father figures because father-child relationships are more tangible to us than are unseen,



nebulous gods. Catherine Bell has recognized a similar projection, particularly in Chinese ritual, when she writes, “It is a language of banking, bureaucratic hierarchy, and closed energy systems that enables human beings to influence the cosmos by extending the meaning and efficacy of those activities that seem to organize the human world most effectively.”93 On the surface, projecting the “humanlike model” of lineage onto both early Chinese cosmological speculation and rituals surrounding postmortem existence—onto both the Han tree of knowledge and the ancestral cult—would make sense. We extend the social relationship pattern we know best to impose order on worlds beyond our ken. Yet in terms of its application to early Chinese paradigms and rituals, projection theory by itself is unsatisfying or at least would require a great deal of modification. Otherwise, why does the ancestral cult not characterize all religion everywhere? And why does the structuring metaphor of lineage not characterize all interactions between differing idea systems? There must be other social, economic and historical reasons why lineage thinking was more pervasive in China than elsewhere and why it then influenced idea system structures beyond the family. Some of those reasons are explored in this study, but the prevalence of lineage logic in early China is in itself enough to justify the study of lineage.

Re-evaluating Our “Religious” Vocabulary The people of early China had no ready word for “religion” as a sui generis discourse, but that of course does not mean they had no religion. They had many of the components that we might consider “religious”—spirits, prayers, sacrifices, afterlife and so forth—but they simply did not draw a circle around those components and then label that circle as we do. The same is true with many of our other umbrella words such as “economics,” “philosophy,” “politics” and “science.” Yet because we are looking at early China from a modern mindset using a Western language, we must at least be wary of what our words—our circles—imply, particularly as our circling and border drawing may be informed by a very different structuring metaphor.94 Consider for example just one of those components of “religion,” namely the afterlife. As Clifford Geertz has argued, simply bandying about such a term presents danger on two sides. “To make the generalization about an afterlife stand up alike for the Confucians and the Calvinists,



the Zen Buddhists and the Tibetan Buddhists, one has to define it in the most general terms, indeed—so general, in fact, that whatever force it seems to have virtually evaporates,” he writes.95 In other words, the more general the term is, the less useful it becomes; the more specific the term is, the less accurate or applicable it becomes. Even writers in the Han dynasty frequently repeated the argument that what was fixed in the mind dissolved when consigned to the spoken word, and the spoken word dissolved when consigned to the written word. This book is guilty of adding further devolutions, translating that written word into a significantly different language and then presenting it to a much later culture on another continent. Can a Confucian conception of “afterlife” survive such a fivefold translation? And might we unknowingly infer certain meanings (and lose others) when using the English word “afterlife” for early Chinese postmortem existence? Now reconsider the umbrella word “religion” and its relationship to Classicism. Opposing any Classicist claims of religiosity, Frederick Mote writes as follows with regard to Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi: I have never been one who denied the large role of religious thought and attitude in the life of the Chinese people, past or present. Nonetheless, I have been quite satisfied with a perception of a Confucianism that can be a complete system of ideas and values, at the level of a philosophy that does not require one to admit any specifically religious content. . . . [T]he Confucian system was complete without admitting into it any role for the transcendental. By “transcendental” I mean that elements of what one regards as truth may not be fully comprehensible by purely rational means.96

In sharp contrast, Rodney Taylor has argued that anyone who fails to see the religious dimensions of the Classicist “heaven” (tian 天) has missed Classicism’s quintessential feature and the full significance of the Classicist religious life: It is time for Confucianism to assume its rightful place amongst the major religious traditions of East Asian cultures and, in turn, the religious traditions of the world. . . . The religious core itself is found in the relationship of humankind to Heaven. Heaven for the Confucian tradition is not thought of, as some have argued, as an abstract philosophical absolute devoid of religious meaning. In the Classical Confucian tradition Heaven functions as a religious authority or absolute often theistic in its portrayal. . . . Thus, in the relationship between Heaven as a religious absolute and the sage as a transformed person, we have the identifi-



cation of a soteriological process and, as a result, the identification of a religious core of the tradition.97

Because “religion” was not a recognized category in early China, it is not surprising that modern opinions on Classicist religiosity can be so split. Everything rests on how one defines it. Thus modern scholars of early China are reduced to relying on their own understandings as to what religion entails or what components get circled, and there are now hundreds of published and extensively defended definitions of religion from which to choose. Yet a commonality emerges from many of the most famous explanations for religion, a commonality drawn from adversariality. In its simplest terms, religion is what is not profane. Western theorists would draw that circle with a firm and heavy hand, from Rudolf Otto’s ganz andere (“wholly other”) in which religion is separated off as the “ir-rational, not merely non-rational” numinous, to Mircea Eliade’s “first possible definition of the sacred” being that “it is the opposite of the profane,” from Émile Durkheim’s “negative cult” that enforces a discontinuity between the sacred and the profane to Victor Turner’s liminal phase as an explicit border-crossing moment between them. That is, much of religious theory in the twentieth century has been devoted to building the kingdoms recognized by Levi-Strauss, the kingdom on the hill as opposed to the secular lowlands. Perhaps we are now all the more conditioned to think this way as we struggle between the competing explanatory systems of science and religion. Such is not to argue that the theories of Otto, Eliade and the rest are wrong or even inapplicable to non-Western traditions, because distinctions between sacred and profane indeed existed in early China. Such is only to argue that emphasizing separation and ignoring what the sacred and profane have in common affirms the Western structuring metaphor of adversariality. Unlike Mote and Taylor’s “Confucianism,” the ancestral cult with its sacrifices and spirits is of course less difficult to pigeonhole as “religion,” at least in popular parlance. Even the few early Chinese thinkers within the elitist genre of discourse who dared to question the existence of spirits still maintained ancestral shrines, spirit tablets and regular sacrifices to the dead because these things embodied other social values. In fact, the ancestral cult is a prime example of a discourse in which it is hard to draw thick lines between sacred and profane precisely because feeding the spirits and promoting social values were perceived as returning to the same root. The



Ritual records represents just one example among many of sacred matters rippling out into the profane; the royal ancestral cult is here treated as Classicism’s religious backbone: 親親故尊祖, 尊祖故敬宗, 敬宗故收族, 收族故宗廟嚴, 宗廟嚴故重社稷, 重社稷故愛百姓, 愛百姓故刑罰中, 刑罰中故庶民安, 庶民安故財用足, 財用足故百志成, 百志成故禮俗刑, 禮俗刑然後樂。

Being near to one’s parents results in honoring the progenitor; Honoring the progenitor results in respecting the trunk lineage; Respecting the trunk lineage results in gathering the collateral lineages; Gathering the collateral lineages results in the lineage shrine becoming dignified; The lineage shrine becoming dignified results in magnifying the altars of land and grain; Magnifying the altars of land and grain results in showing affection for the hundred surnames; Showing affection for the hundred surnames results in punishments being on target; Punishments being on target results in the masses being at peace; The masses being at peace results in material goods being sufficient; Material goods being sufficient results in the hundred ambitions being achieved; The hundred ambitions being achieved results in ritualizing customs and punishment. If customs and punishment are ritualized, only then is there joy.98

Honoring one’s parentage at the lineage shrine is perceived as setting off a chain of behavior that becomes the Classicist program for the world at large. Drawing a line between two of the above steps to denote a shift between religious and secular considerations would be of little value. This extension from ancestor to empire can similarly be expressed through the core concept of xiao 孝 (“filial piety”). In terms of the ancestral cult in particular, filial respect to one’s parents did not recognize death as a threshold at which to terminate one’s duties. In fact, in the early Zhou dynasty xiao was a concrete ancestral rite, namely a food sacrifice done out of filial respect.99 Over the course of the Zhou dynasty, xiao became an abstracted principle, but the ancestral hall was where that princi-



ple was taught. For example, a text excavated in 1995 from the Guodian tombs states, “In general when the sage . . . personally serves the ancestral shrine, he is teaching the people filial piety” (夫聖人…親事祖廟,教 民孝也), a statement frequently echoed in the received literature.100 By the beginning of Han times, the founding emperor’s sacrificial hymns commenced with the words “as great filial piety is perfected” (Daxiao bei yi 大孝備矣) because ancestral sacrifice was just that: the perfection of filial piety.101 The closing lines of the Xiaojing 孝經 (Filial piety canon) are as follows: 為之宗廟,以鬼享之。春秋祭祀,以時思之。生事愛敬,死事哀戚, 生民之本盡矣,死生之義備矣,孝子之事親終矣。 He prepares the lineage shrine for them, receiving them in their ghostly state. In the spring and autumn he carries out sacrifices, thinking of them with each season. Affection and respect are the affairs of life; mourning and sorrow are the affairs of death. [By this,] the root of the people becomes manifested to the utmost, the meaning of the relationship between the living and the dead becomes perfected, and a filial son’s service to his parents is brought to completion.102

The ancestral cult was thus idealized as the ongoing ritualized form of filial piety, a practice carried out throughout one’s life, and seasonal sacrifices to the dead reinforced filial indoctrination on a regular basis. In terms of the Classicist vision of empire, filial piety had become a form of dogma by the time of Mencius. A son serving his parents was his most important duty,103 and his greatest possible infraction against filial piety was not to produce a grandson for them.104 Filial piety and fraternal respect were built into him without requiring his reasoning to attain them, and because these inherent qualities led to benevolence and propriety, Mencius argued that everything else was simply an extension of these into the world.105 This last assertion, that everything in the Classicist program was extrapolated from filial piety, is echoed in several subsequent texts, including the Filial piety canon,106 the Ritual records107 and the Spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü.108 That is, the mechanics of the shrine exemplified by filial piety resonated with the mechanics of the state exemplified by loyalty in what has recently been dubbed the “lord-father analogy.”109 The Huainanzi claims that everyone, no matter how foolish or wise, understands the correctness of “filial piety toward one’s parents within and loyalty toward one’s rulers without” (入孝於親,出忠於君).110



Beyond the prescriptive texts, children probably memorized the Filial piety canon more than any other text in the Han, and to fill the court bureaucracy, the commanderies and kingdoms recommended two to three hundred officer candidates each year, their courtesy title being the “filially pious and incorrupt” (xiaolian 孝廉). Numerous imperial edicts were made on the pretense of filial piety, extravagant burials bankrupted families in the name of filial piety and acts of filial piety were commemorated on stelae and shrines. The Han emperors’ posthumous titles were all prefaced with “the Filial” because they continued the blood sacrifices in the Liu ancestral hall.111 Thus within the household, one grew up with filial respect for one’s forebears, both living and dead; beyond the household, one was intended to extend this filial respect to relationships with one’s community, state, and world.112 Although some of this filial pretence might be mere rhetorical gesture, at the risk of overstating filial piety’s influence, it nevertheless must be acknowledged that filial piety was the privileged vocabulary of the Han and that this filial piety found its most ritualized, tangible and longest enduring expression within the walls of the ancestral shrine. Even though that shrine was “sacred” and superior to the profane workaday world, the sacred and the profane were perceived as mechanically similar and jointly part of a larger system that could be traced back to a common root.

Relativizing Different Beliefs about an Afterlife Adversariality is not limited to the manner in which Western theorists analyze religions; it is inherent within Western religions themselves. Particularly characteristic of post-Reformation Protestant traditions, the importance assigned to belief implicitly emphasizes distinctiveness and separation. Belief only becomes defined and focal if there is a distinct alternative to that belief, either belief in a different religious tradition or the option of not believing at all. The proclamation of “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty” only makes sense if there is also a real possibility of not believing in that god, a possibility that the religion itself can then tout as a danger. Historically, creeds indeed took shape to stave off variation and demarcate one “faith” against others. Thus belief is a characteristic of exclusivist religions, of religions in which “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me” is the central command. This exclusivity manifests itself in the Western tradition by equating relig-



ions with separate communities of people, which means that, in general, one is not allowed to be an Islamic Jew or a Christian atheist. Not only is it impossible to discuss belief in early China because we cannot determine what the early Chinese truly thought, but the role of belief itself and the exclusivity it entails seems relatively absent in the surviving texts that allude to early Chinese notions about the transcendental (as Mote defines it) or heaven (as Taylor defines it). Its absence may again be explained—at least in part—by how differing idea systems interacted with one another as sketched out above via the family tree metaphor. There clearly existed differing interpretations of the afterlife, and although most people probably did not bother comparing their own interpretation with that of others, when they did (and when they wrote about it), emphasis was not placed upon differing beliefs but upon shared origins and common practice. For example, early discussions on worshipping the ancestors often demarcate two levels of thinking that superficially divide into an elitist, Classicist discourse of the academies and courts on one side and a popular discourse of the people on the other. Texts such as the Ritual records privilege the elitist genre, often noting the necessity of manipulating the populace and ensuring obedience. Within this corpus, a mid-Warring States essay entitled the “Jiyi” 祭義 (“Meanings of sacrifice”) demarcates between the elite and popular branches of ancestral worship, claiming that the elite created the popular. According to this work, the living possess both corporeal and ethereal constituents that, at death, dissolve into earth and vapors respectively. The sages were content with understanding these two components in the abstract, but the benighted masses needed something more tangible, and so the passage continues: 因物之精,制為之極,明命鬼神。以為黔首則,百眾以畏,萬民以 服。聖人以是為未足也。築為宮室,設為宗祧,以別親疏遠邇。教民 反古復始,不忘其所由生也。眾之服自此,故聽且速也。 By adhering to the quintessence of things and fixing a standard for them, [the sages] clearly identified “ghosts” and “spirits.” When this was made a model for the common people, then the multitudes were awed and the masses became subservient because of it. The sages still regarded this as insufficient, and so they built halls and established ancestral shrines, distinguishing between family near and far, between those distantly and closely related. This instructed the people to retreat to their beginnings, to return to the origin and never forget their progenitor. The obedience of the masses came from this, and so they listened and submitted.113



The text continues with a brief description of two sacrifices in these shrines, one for ghosts and one for spirits, that taught the people to “return to their progenitor” ( fanshi 反始) and to “love one another” (xiang’ai 相愛) respectively. The focal reason behind taking respect to the utmost, giving vent to one’s feelings and exhausting one’s strength is to look back. “The gentleman returns to antiquity and goes back to his progenitor, never forgetting whence he came” (君子反古復始,不忘其所 由生也).114 Thus the sages pragmatically demarcated spirits and then established their shrines to teach hierarchy. Implicit within this defining process, the sages also distinguished themselves from the benighted masses; they understood the act of remembrance whereas the obedient multitudes only confronted the object of remembrance. The Guanzi takes an almost identical stance and warns that if the state does not honor the spirits, then the people will lack filial piety, respect for elders and obedience to government: 不明鬼神則陋民不悟;不祗山川則威令不聞;不敬宗廟則民乃上校; 不恭祖舊則孝悌不備。 If you do not define the ghosts and spirits, then the rustic people will not stay attentive. If you do not respect the mountains and rivers, then your important edicts will not be heeded. If you do not respect the ancestral hall, then the people will imitate the ruler [and not respect their own ancestors]. If you do not revere your fathers and your ancients, then filial piety and fraternity will not be fulfilled.115

The author would go so far as to advocate putting a tax on sacrifices to the ghosts and spirits because, unlike building taxes, head taxes and livestock taxes, sacrifice is one area in which the people dare not skimp in their expenditures.116 In like manner, the Xunzi distinguishes between the gentleman who understood ancestral remembrance as “the Dao of humans” (ren Dao 人道) and the masses who were only concerned with sacrificing to ghosts.117 The Ritual records, Guanzi, Xunzi and other sources thus distinguish elite from popular belief, but the nature of this distinction is not like what one might find between Western religious traditions. They do not delineate opposing perspectives via “I’m right; you’re wrong”; the sages here do not dismissively judge the masses as ignorant and misguided. On the contrary, the masses are ultimately doing the right things if for the wrong reasons. Here the decisive goal is a sense of hierarchy, filial piety and proper



obedience, a goal the sages themselves already recognize through their understanding of the cosmos. Thus these passages highlight the connections between the elitist and popular idea systems even if the trappings of those systems are different. They espouse the same destination via different roads. Furthermore, texts such as the “Meanings of sacrifice” introduce the temporal element that is characteristic of the Han tree of knowledge and describe a point at which a lesser tradition is branching off from the main trunk in the past. Yet unlike other departures from the privileged traditions described above, here the ancient sages willingly propagated the offshoot. Many early texts treat divination, omens, immortals and other topics that touch upon the non-empirical realm similarly, endeavoring to demonstrate how elitist rationality and popular practice functioned in tandem with one another. To cite just one example, a small text dating from the early years of the Western Han entitled “Yao” 要 (“Essentials”) was excavated in 1973 at Mawangdui 馬王堆 in Hunan. In it, one of his disciples asks Confucius to explain his intense interest in the Changes canon. Confucius replies, “As to the Changes, I regard its prayers and divination as secondary, and I only observe its virtue and propriety” (易,我(復) 〔後〕其祝卜矣,我觀其德義耳也). Using language now familiar, he states, “I only seek its virtue—I am on the same road with the clerks and shamans, but I am returning to a different point” (吾求其德而已,吾 與史巫同涂而殊歸者也).118 Again the esoteric approach is not condemned, although it is held out as inferior to Confucius’s own usage of divination. Other Han stories about divining echo the “Essentials” in describing the lettered and unlettered classes as ultimately sharing the same road. Thus trunk-and-branch relationships trump adversarial relationships when relativizing elite and common “religions,” but here we should not be too quick to separate elites from commoners; it is more a matter of distinguishing an elitist discourse from a commoner discourse. A tree-like structure to knowledge in which the various branches all ultimately return to the same Dao in turn allows a greater degree of tolerance within one’s own personal practice. Speculatively, the Confucius of the Mawangdui text may have venerated the logic of the Changes but still resorted to divination for practical results when the need arose. The author of “Meanings of sacrifice” may have rationally explained the invention of ancestral spir-



its but still returned home to sacrifice to his own lineage ghosts. Because each genre ultimately returned to a common root, shifting among genres to suit one’s changing circumstances might not necessarily have been deemed hypocritical or contradictory as it would in the West. Past students of Chinese religion have indeed taken notice of this ability of individuals to maintain simultaneously different idea systems; at the beginning of the last century, Max Weber observed: There is an almost ineradicable vulgar error that the majority or even all of the Chinese are to be regarded as Buddhists in religion. The source of this misconception is the fact that many Chinese have been brought up in the Confucian ethic (which alone enjoys official approbation) yet still consult Taoist divining priests before building a house, and that Chinese will mourn deceased relatives according to the Confucian rule while also arranging for Buddhist masses to be performed in their memory.119

More recently, Nathan Sivin noted that such clichés of the gentleman acting as a Confucian at work and a Daoist at home still house a degree of truth that we ignore at our peril.120 A tolerance of multiple and even inconsistent genres of discourse will be particularly relevant in this study when several interpretations of the afterlife are presented side by side in Part III. It cannot be assumed that these different interpretations represent different people; again, they might merely represent different genres of discourse within the same individuals. The genres may not be weighted equally, and they may they be consistent with one another; after all, humans then and now do not always live within a single, consistent perception of reality.121 A tolerance of such inconsistencies is particularly common when it comes to matters of the afterlife because reliable accounts of death’s experience are inherently impossible, or as Emily Vermeule explains in her work on death in early Greek art and poetry: The manifold self-contradictions in Greek ideas and phrasing about death are not errors. They are styles of imagining the unimaginable, and are responsive both to personal needs and to old conventions. The same conflicts surge up in many cultures. They are necessary ambiguities in a realm of thinking where thinking cannot really be done, and where there is no experience. Logic is not fruitful in the sphere of death. . . .122



In this study, knowledge about the ancestors will be anything but tidy. Even so, an understanding of the structuring metaphors behind that knowledge helps us at least partially explain how that untidiness could be readily tolerated within the early Chinese tradition. The above discussion on the Han tree of knowledge concludes with a caveat that this tree-like metaphor was not alone in structuring knowledge, that adversariality and its metaphor of war also exerted at least a secondary influence. The same is true of religious idea systems in early China, where at times belief and exclusivity were indeed acknowledged. On one end of the period under study, a purely functionalist Guanzi author utterly dismissed the commoner genre of discourse as well as the commoners themselves: “Thus the wise employ and use the ghosts and spirits whereas the foolish believe in them” (故智者役使鬼神,而愚者信 之).123 On the other end of the period, the Xiang’er commentary advised its readers to vilify anything but the Celestial Masters’ trunk tradition: 勉信道真,棄邪知守本樸。無他思慮,心中曠曠但信道。 Constrain yourself to believe in the Dao’s genuineness. Cast aside heterodox knowledge and maintain the root simplicity. Have no other conceptions of thought; within your mind far and wide, believe only in the Dao.124

Here “belief” explicitly functions in tandem with exclusivity, with pruning away any “heterodox knowledge” from the tree. This kind of mass religion is more indicative of how we understand Western institutional faiths, and the followers of its anthropomorphized Dao indeed saw themselves as a distinct people chosen to survive the end times. Here it is only necessary to note that, as with the family-tree metaphor interlacing idea systems and avoiding contention, tolerating differing genres of religious discourse was as much aspiration as it was actuality. This speculative foray into how differing idea systems interacted with one another is intended as a contextual frame for the following study on early Chinese ancestral cults. Structuring metaphors affect not only how people in early China weighted the different descriptions of afterlife existence, but also how most of us—conditioned via religions born within the Western “argument is war” tradition—endeavor to understand their post-mortem pluralisms. For example, understanding how differing idea systems interrelate may help us nuance the relationship between tidy theory as preserved in the Classics and messy practice as evinced by archeology, a relationship with which we begin this study.

PART I An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance

Alongside the hundreds of definitions for religion in modern scholarship, there are almost as many explanations for ritual. That is, not only is there no consensus as to what religion is, but there is just as little agreement as to what constitutes the practice of it. Among the structuralist, functionalist, phenomenologist and psychoanalytical approaches to ritual, the relatively recent discussions on “performance theory” have been most promising in terms of usefulness, likening ritual to a kind of interactive theater that highlights 1.) ritual’s experiential side, 2.) its framing techniques and 3.) the seemingly complete microcosm it endeavors to offer. In performance theory, ritual is less a coded expression or passive reflection of abstract, hidden social structures—as some other theories on ritual would have it—and more an active event by which culture itself is reproduced. That is not to say ritual is an agent in its own right, and as Catherine Bell emphasizes, “ritual does not mold people; people fashion rituals that mold their world.”1 Because it is focused on how individuals use ritual to shape their own perceptions, performance is less concerned with universal, prefabricated definitions of “religion” or even “ritual”; it is willing to leave these terms as placeholders, their meanings to be worked out by those individuals in practice. Instead performance encourages site-specific understandings and draws upon non-scripted, local, conditional and even

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


psychological data as essential to understanding the religious or ritual experience. Yet those same laudable qualities of performance would seem to eliminate any meaningful study of ritual before the modern age. Unable to interview and survey, we cannot tease out individual experiences in early imperial China or comfortably read between the lines of their surviving scripts. As the Ritual records summarizes, it is indeed possible that rituals were a pervasive experience for the lettered classes: 夫禮始於冠,本於婚,重於喪、祭,尊於朝、聘,和於鄉、射。此禮 之大體也。 The rituals germinate at the capping, take root in marriage, become weighty in mourning and sacrifice, reverential in court attendance and official visits, harmonious in village [banquets] and archery contests. These are the great embodiments of ritual.2

However pervasive rituals may have been, the actual emotional, aesthetic, physical and sensory components of these cappings (by which adulthood is formally recognized), marriages, sacrifices and so forth remain cut off from modern performance analysis. To be blunt, although this book purports to explore how people in early China sacrificed to their ancestors, even to the point of examining their understanding of meditation and other psychical processes, it must acknowledge its limitations. Perhaps performance theory’s chief asset in this kind of history is to keep us humble and honest, quashing any claims of revealing an exact picture of what the ancestral cults meant to people in early China. Even so, the general concerns of performance theory—its experiential side, its framing techniques and its complete microcosm—may serve as a useful scaffold to outline the shape of this building that can never be completely restored to its original state. Performance can at least highlight what would have been significant, giving relative weight to surviving statements on the above three aspects. Even though they are ultimately just idealized prescriptions rather than factual descriptions, extant texts such as the Ritual records explicitly address each of these aspects in remarkable detail. The texts served as a baseline against which actual ritual practices were measured, telling the performers what they should have done and should have experienced even if those performers ended up


Part I

altering, adapting and individuating the prescriptions for their own needs. To continue the construction metaphor, Han sacrificers had the age-old blueprints in front of them even when they built their own extensions and incorporated their own modern conveniences. Sections 4 through 7 of this brief survey of ritual prescriptions examine that blueprint—the shape of the family tree, the orderly degradation of ever-fading ancestors, the sacrificial schedule and so forth—by borrowing the lens of performance theory, and in Section 8 we ask how much the ritual “builders” of early China actually stuck to the plan.

Section 4: Ritual Texts as Performance Scripts Despite the absence of institutional churches, of parishes and popes, the diffused religion that characterizes the ancestral cult could still claim some degree of cohesion via its ritual texts with their so-called three hundred greater rules and three thousand lesser rules.3 Alongside such rulebooks—of which the Ceremonies and rituals is our best example—there existed corpuses on ritual theory such as the Ritual records. While clearly abstract, the latter may not be without its factual underpinnings, or as Michael Puett has recently argued, “it is now possible to see how the logic of sacrifice outlined in the Liji relates to the practices we are seeing in the paleographic materials.”4 He continues by highlighting the importance of this particular corpus: The Liji is a text that would later be canonized as one of the Five Classics and would ultimately become a standard text in the education curriculum for all educated people in China. Moreover . . . it would become the standard of ritual practice for the elites in medieval China, and for the populace as a whole beginning in the late imperial period.5

Although its later impact is undeniable, in the Qin and Han era this corpus was still coalescing, and I must make advance apologies to the reader as we prepare to briefly stray into a bevy of names and dates within its complicated early history. To borrow an apt analogy, texts such as the Ritual records were like messy loose-leaf ring binders into which chapters and their commentarial notes were inserted, shuffled and removed; they were not permanently bound, tidy textbooks handed forward from antiquity.6

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


In perhaps the most extensive recent study on the formation of the Ritual records, Wang E contends that the various chapters themselves originated in three distinct phases beginning in the late Spring and Autumn period and ending in the late Warring States period, that is, from the early fifth century to the late third century bce.7 Other modern scholars more conservatively date the chapters from the fourth to the second century bce.8 Circulating independently, its chapters came to be cited by writers such as Mencius and Xunzi, and its texts were buried in tombs. As noted above, there were also other “ring binders” such as the Ceremonies and rituals available; this latter text was probably regarded as canonical as early as the mid-Warring States period and was officially recognized as such in 136 bce.9 Early in the long reign of Emperor Wu (r. 140–86 bce), these various chapters may have come together in a literary campaign to collect scattered documents, a campaign coordinated by Liu De 劉德 (d. 129 bce), king of Hejian 河間 and patron of scholars. This bibliophile sought out documents such as copies of the Mencius, the Laozi and the Zuo commentary that major Han families had inherited from their pre-imperial forebears, and both a Rituals and a Ritual records were among the texts he preserved.10 From this point onward, tracing the formation of the Ritual records begins to resemble the lineage metaphor described in the Introduction.11 Under Wu’s successor, a certain Meng Qing 孟卿 refused to teach the rituals to his own children “because the Ritual canon was long” ( yi Lijing duo 以禮經多), but he did pass it on to his disciple Hou Cang 后倉 (fl. early first cen. bce) who in turn further lengthened it into Mr. Hou’s Crooked Tower Records (Hou shi Qutai ji 后氏曲臺記), alternatively Mr. Hou’s rituals (Hou shi li 后氏禮), totaling several tens of thousands of characters.12 Hou Cang’s explanations to the rituals are here called “records” ( ji 記), but more significantly, Hou Cang himself had at least four important disciples circulating works at the end of the Western Han that drew from these ritual texts. They were as follows: 1. The court academician Yi Feng 翼奉 (fl. 48–45). He is not important to the history of the Ritual records per se, but in surviving speeches he cites the Ritual records, calling it the Lijing 禮經 or Ritual canon.13


Part I

2. The ritual reformer and chancellor Kuang Heng 匡衡 (d. ca. 30 bce). In justifying his changes to the ancestral cult rituals, he cites the Liji by its current name and includes a direct quotation from it.14 3. Dai De 戴德 (first cen. bce). Credited with trimming Hou Cang’s corpus down to eighty-five chapters, he compiled the Da Dai Liji 大戴禮 記 (Ritual records of Dai the Elder), large fragments of which still survive.15 4. Dai Sheng 戴聖 (first cen. bce). A relative of Dai De,16 he trimmed Hou Cang’s corpus even further to forty-six chapters. His work is known as the Xiao Dai liji 小戴禮記 or the Ritual records of Dai the Younger. According to Eastern Han scholars, this corpus is our surviving Ritual records.17 For the most part, scholars today thus regard the Ritual records as a collection of texts compiled ca. 50 bce from ancient materials. Thus the widely circulating short texts in the mid-Warring States period were gradually gathered into an oversized ring binder to be edited down into a reasonable size near the end of the Western Han. At this time, the Ritual records became a rich resource to justify various conflicting ritual programs, and not just to the immediate disciples of Hou Cang. Overturning many of Kuang Heng’s reforms to the ancestral cult, the famous man of letters and ritual reformist Liu Xin 劉歆 (46 bce–23 ce) also cites the Ritual records by name twice, both accompanied by direct quotations.18 Later overturning the whole dynasty, the usurper Wang Mang 王莽 (r. 9–23 ce) cites it by name four times in his own ritual reforms, with one citation accompanied by direct quotation.19 When the Han dynasty was reinstated after Wang Mang’s interregnum, the growing importance of this ritual corpus was evident in its official recognition at court. The following excerpt begins an edict dated 79 ce: 蓋三代導人,教學為本。漢承暴秦,褒顯儒術,建立五經,為置博 士。其後學者精進,雖曰承師,亦別名家。   孝宣皇帝以為去聖久遠,學不厭博,故遂立《大、小夏侯尚書》, 後又立《京氏易》。   至建武中,復置《顏氏、嚴氏春秋》,《大、小戴禮》博士。此皆 所以扶進微學,尊廣道蓺也…。 During the Three Dynasties, the root of leadership was teaching and study. When the Han inherited the empire from the tyrannical Qin, it praised and broadcast the Classicist arts, establishing the Five Canons and setting up academicians for them. Their subsequent students made clever advancements, but

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


even though they said they were carrying the teaching onward, they were in fact dividing it up into named families. Filial Emperor Xuan (r. 73–48 bce) believed that the late sages lived long ago and far away and that [today’s] studies were unsatisfying and incomplete. Thus he established the Venerable documents of Xiahou the Elder as well as the Venerable documents of Xiahou the Younger, and later established the Changes of Mr. Jing. Coming down to the Jianwu reign period (25–56), academicians for the Spring and autumn annals of Mr. Yan 顏 and the Spring and autumn annals of Mr. Yan 嚴 as well as the Ritual records of Dai the Elder and the Ritual records of Dai the Younger were likewise recognized. These were all ways of rescuing and advancing unknown scholarship, and of venerating and broadening the canons of the Dao. . . .20

This fragmentation pattern, familiar from the Introduction, recounts how scholarship branched off into specialists or “families” as the Classics became identified with individual scholars’ commentaries. To counter that trend toward specialization, Han emperors established academicians, literally “scholars of comprehensiveness” (boshi), but despite their best intentions, more branches grew out from the trunk, including the Ritual records of Dai the Younger. The edict continues in this vein, concluding that something had to be done about the increasingly diverse Classicist materials, and as a result of the edict, the Han court assembled the empire’s Classicist scholars at the White tiger hall in 79 ce. In fact, the received White tiger hall discussion itself evinces the Ritual records’ now prominent role in academic discourse, quoting from it 147 times, almost twice as often as it quotes from its nearest rival.21 Yet the ring binder was still not fully closed; near the end of the Han, Ma Rong 馬融 (79–166) would add three important chapters into the compilation,22 and only at that point did the ring binder finally snap shut for the next thousand years. Just as the various texts within the Ritual records gradually coalesced into a static corpus, the larger idea of what constituted “the Classics” was likewise taking shape, the rituals finding their place among the other canonical disciplines. At first, they were regarded as separate from the other Classics, and just prior to the Han, Xunzi describes education as “beginning in chanting the canons and ending in reading out the rituals” (始乎 誦經,終乎讀禮), thereby implying the rituals were not part of the memorized canon.23 Even after an expert in the Ceremonies and rituals


Part I

was included among the five canonical specialists officially recognized at court in 136 bce, the rituals were still regarded as another kind of learning that set itself apart from the other Classics. For example, in his survey of the imperial collection, Liu Xiang succinctly summarizes the driving lesson of each Classic—the Music served as the expression of benevolence, the Songs taught the utility of propriety and so forth—but the Rituals didn’t textually communicate anything. Drawing upon a common gloss between the similar characters “ritual” (li 禮) and “body” (ti 體), he explained, “The Rituals cast light upon embodiment, and what is brought to light becomes visibly apparent so that there is no need for instruction” (《禮》以明體,明者著見,故無訓也). 24 Rituals don’t tell; they show. There is no chanted message of benevolence, propriety and so forth as in the other Classics; there is instead the performance of such virtues as text-based lessons become visibly embodied. Even so, by the end of the Han the rituals simply became viewed as a text like the rest so that Classicist education “definitely began in the Songs and Documents and ended in the Rituals and Music” (必始於詩、書,而終於禮、樂), a description that is noticeably different from that of Xunzi four centuries earlier.25 Thus the Ritual records in the Han dynasty came to be an ideal performance script, its strictures theoretically emanating from the model Zhou state and perhaps even descending from the venerable Duke of Zhou himself through the hands of Confucius’s disciples. The authority and wide circulation of this text made the Ritual records a baseline against which actual performance was measured.

Section 5: The Experience of Performance We now return to the features of ritual as performance—namely its experiential side, its framing techniques and the seemingly complete microcosm it endeavors to offer. With regard to the first, Catherine Bell has highlighted how ritual cannot be fulfilled through simply reading or hearing about it: First of all, performances communicate on multiple sensory levels, usually involving highly visual imagery, dramatic sounds, and sometimes even tactile, olfactory, and gustatory stimulation. . . . Hence, the power of performance lies in great part in the effect of the heightened multisensory experience it affords: one is not being

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


told or shown something so much as one is led to experience something. And according to the anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff, in ritual-like behavior “not only is seeing believing, doing is believing.”26

Bell writes elsewhere that the notion of “performance” began in the 1960s when anthropologists first sidestepped the mind/body dichotomies that previous approaches to ritual maintained. As a result, performative imagery employs an analytic vocabulary that includes body movement and sensory experience.27 Her emphasis of actual experience meshes well with Michael Nylan’s account of the three ritual canons in early China. Nylan writes as follows: [I]f ritual is a tool for perfecting the self and harmonizing society, the performance aspect of the rites rendered this tool particularly effective. Correct performance of the rites, after all, required the complex coordination of gesture, facial expression, and verbal formulae, an integration that in turn required thorough attunement to the ideas embodied in the rites. . . . And insofar as the successful performance of the rites, unlike the reading of texts, demanded complete engagement of both body and mind, the messages embedded in artful ritual were apt to be internalized by sheer physical repetition of movements, until they permeated one’s whole being, body as well as mind. Hence, the standard punning gloss: “Ritual (li 禮) means ‘body’ and ‘embody’ (ti 體).”28

The sheer detail offered by the Ritual records amply attests to the preoccupation with the full sensory experience, from the visual that precisely details the number of lanterns to be lit in front of the corpse as opposed to the number behind it, to the gustatory that not only prescribes the fragrant herbs for the wine but also specifies the type of wood for the mortar that grinds those herbs. A good example of ritualized body deportment was the standardized expression of personal grief—and simultaneously an expression of one’s personal position within the kinship structure—manifested in the “five [degrees of mourning] clothing” (wufu 五服). In this system, blood and marriage relations within a lineage were marked by the duration of mourning and type of clothing worn in response to a death within the lineage.29 This relationship net could extend from a son’s father (a firstdegree relationship) to a husband’s paternal grandfather’s brother’s wife (a fifth-degree relationship),30 but in general, mourning relationships with all their specific and diffuse mutual obligations extended out to third pa-


Part I

ternal cousins—the great-great-grandfather lineage group—and no further.31 The ritual texts devote extensive coverage to this embodied ritual, and the following passage from the Ritual records elucidates the extent of its performative aspects when prescribing just how the first- through fifth-degree mourners should cry: 斬衰之哭若往而不反,齊衰之哭若往而反,大功之哭三曲而偯,小 功、緦麻哀容可也。此哀之發於聲音者也。 The crying of one wearing the unhemmed coarse hempen garment should be as if he can’t recover after he cries; the crying of one wearing the hemmed coarse hempen garment should be as if he can recover after his cries; and the crying of one wearing the garment of fine hempen cloth should quaver three times and then trail off. For those wearing the garment of finer hempen cloth and the garment of finest hempen cloth, [just] a mournful appearance is permissible. Such is how mourning finds expression in voice.32

On the surface, the five degrees of mourning clothing with their theatrical costumes and stock cries might easily equate with the scripted texts of theater, but such an equation falls short of the intentions behind such prescriptions. First, the highly structured rules of mourning—precisely because of their structure—were to keep excessive emotion in check, thereby preserving the well-being of the mourners. Second, a theatrical performance ends with the final curtain, but these regulated expressions of mourning reinforced lineage and social structures well beyond the particular experience of mourning. After the mourning period when ancestral remembrance evolves into a cyclic routine, the body’s deportment in proper sacrifice continues to heed normative guidelines. The “Meanings of sacrifice” in the Ritual records describes how a paragon of proper ritual behavior such as Confucius carried out a sacrifice—dress of simple sincerity, short and frequent steps, bodily deportment appropriate to the type of sacrifice—and it bluntly prescribes how the participant’s body should posture itself at each stage: 孝子之祭可知也;其立之也敬以詘,其進之也敬以愉,其薦之也敬以 欲。退而立,如將受命,已徹而退,敬齊之色不絕於面,孝子之祭 也。   立而不詘,固也。進而不愉,疏也。薦而不欲,不愛也。退立而不 如受命,敖也。已徹而退,無敬齊之色,而忘本也。如是而祭,失之 矣。

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


One can know whether the sacrifice is that of a filial son.33 He shows reverence while standing by bending forward. He shows reverence while advancing by appearing contented. He shows reverence while offering by supplicating. When he withdraws and stands, he appears as if he is about to receive an order. When he withdraws after [the offering] has already been removed, his reverential and grave expression never leaves his face. Such is the sacrifice of a filial son. Not bending forward while standing is obstinacy. Not appearing contented while advancing is indifference. Not supplicating while offering is unaffectionate. Not appearing as if he is about to receive an order when he withdraws and stands is arrogance. Not having a reverential and grave expression when he withdraws after [the offering] has already been removed is to forget his roots. Such sacrifices are a failure.34

Sun Xidan interprets the bent posture as bodily reverence, the look of contentment as facial reverence and the attitude of supplication as mental reverence.35 In this manner, the Ritual records endeavors to script an ideal performance that fits sensory and bodily parameters.

Section 6: The Framing Techniques of Performance Bell’s second quality of ritual as performance is its ability to define the location and the event: Another feature of performance lies in the dynamics of framing. As noted with regard to sacral symbols, distinctions between sacred and profane, the special and the routine, transcendent ideals and concrete realities can all be evoked by how some activities, places, or people are set off from others. Intrinsic to performance is the communication of a type of frame that says, “This is different, deliberate, and significant—pay attention!”36

As seen in Section 3, religious theorists such as Émile Durkheim and Mircea Eliade emphasize in particular the absoluteness of this kind of sacred-profane division, perhaps because of the Western structural metaphor of “argument is war” that in turn highlights separation. As seen below, early China indeed ritually framed its sacred, but the family-tree metaphor imposes a key condition of inclusivity. Several sources argue that the sacred and the profane are not naturally distinct but were artificially rendered so by humans, namely by the sages, for the sake of convenience alone. For example, Yang Xiong justified the framing aspect of remembrance rituals as follows:


Part I

鬼神耗荒,想之無方,無冬無夏,祭之無度,故聖人著之以祀典。 The ghosts and spirits existed in a nebulous and confused state, and they could not be imagined in terms of location. They [also] could not be imagined in terms of winter or summer, and so sacrifices to them lacked clear standards. Thus the sages manifested [the ghosts and spirits] via the sacrificial doctrines.37

As cited in the Introduction, other sources (including the Ritual records) similarly credit the sages for taking their own understanding of the cosmos and then delineating the ghosts and spirits, as well as for devising a system of ancestral shrines and lineage halls for the masses. That is, originally there had been no such separations, but the sages instituted these expedient frames for the benighted masses, creating a microcosm of altarspace and ritual-time within the mundane world. At least from this relatively elitist perspective, the division between sacred and profane was not an inherent part of the universe itself but had only been projected upon that universe by human sages at one point in history. Regardless of how the frames came into being, the lineage paradigm necessitates that we avoid thinking of the frames’ inside and outside as wholly at odds with one another and acknowledge that they were regarded as connected in some way. An awareness of performance theory’s framing aspect becomes a useful tool for understanding the ancestral cult in particular because this cult is centered upon the absent, upon the people who are no longer physically there and hence in need of framing. In this sense, ancestors are like silhouettes. As a Cai Yong 蔡邕 (133–92) hymn aptly described such an absence in the middle of the picture: 往而不返 潛淪大幽 嗚呼哀哉 几筵虛設 幃帳空陳 品物猶在 不見其人

She is gone, never to return, Sinking into the great darkness. O! Alas! Her table and mat are set out in vain; Her curtains and screens are put up for no reason. Such things are still here, But we don’t see their owner.38

There is a blankness in the middle of this canvas that makes framing all the more necessary, and ritual in turn provided the where and the when— the location and the season—to what otherwise would have been charac-

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


terized as an amorphous and fading uncertainty. In Yang Xiong’s account and here, our absent forebears need framing so we can personally deal with them. Turning our attention to ritual’s temporal and spatial dimensions, we see that, not surprisingly, the earliest ritual texts that prescribe sacrificial schedules are neither entirely consistent nor sufficiently detailed. This resulted in extensive debates during the Han and later dynasties about the length of the mourning period and the routine acts of remembrance over subsequent generations. Occasionally the ritual texts offer contradictory accounts, but most remembrance activities in Table 1 were broadly recognized by the lettered classes and can be attested by multiple sources, including the standard histories and stele inscriptions. Some general observations with regard to this calendar are necessary. First, it must be reiterated that this chart is a conglomeration of multiple sources, mostly from records and treatises of the lettered classes. Some of these acts of remembrance—most notably the sacrifices di 禘 and xia 祫—were in fact more discussed than practiced, although the received historical records of the Han occasionally refer to their being carried out.39 We thus pause to question the overall veracity of this orderly ritual blueprint (presented in Sections 5 through 7) at the end of Part I (Section 8). Yet the blueprint’s orderliness in itself deserves notice, and its high degree of organization may in fact result from the need for a counterbalance to the extreme uncertainty surrounding death. Because human experience does not extend beyond death, Han poets, politicians and philosophers acknowledged their inevitable uncertainties about the realm of the dead, a realm that was envisioned as dark and chaotic within which the unfixed, nebulous dead drifted and whirled as we see in Part V. Extreme uncertainty may have fostered the extreme order found in the ancestral cult’s bubble of ritual-time and altar-space. Second, unlike Western religious conceptions of the soul’s immortality, the ancestors depicted here were destined to fade away over time. The state of the dead completely depended upon their living kin remembering them, in contrast to Western perspectives that regularly posit an absolute divide between an ancestor’s well-being and the actions of his or her living descendants.

Table 1. The sacrificial schedule of mourning and remembrance ____________________________________________________________________ Timing Remembrance description ____________________________________________________________________ Day of death

The death day was marked by a last attempt to summon back the body’s vitality after which wailing, food abstentions and the dressing of the corpse began.

Three days after death

The body was coffined and sometimes temporarily buried in a courtyard, marked by a provisional tablet called a chong 重. Full mourning began.

First day of new (lunar) month after death

A meat sacrifice was offered, although this and the next sacrifice are given less prominence in the ritual texts.

Middle of new month after death

A lesser form of the above sacrifice was offered.

Three months after death

The sacrifice yu 虞 marked the permanent burial of the body in its prepared grave and its replacement in the household with a permanent tablet.

One year after death

The sacrifice xiaoxiang 小祥 marked the lessening of mourning restrictions placed on food and shelter.

Two years after death

The sacrifice daxiang 大祥 marked the further lessening of mourning restrictions placed on food and shelter.

Early in third year after death

The sacrifice tan 禫 marked the end of the mourning period and the transition from occasional to regular sacrifices, from mourning to remembrance.

Table 1 , cont’d. The sacrificial schedule of mourning and remembrance ____________________________________________________________________ Timing Remembrance description ____________________________________________________________________ Seasonal sacrifices for one to four generations

The individual was now part of a regular corporate sacrifice for the lineage forebears and received “auspicious” or “joyful” sacrifices ( ji 吉) accompanied by music rather than the previous “inauspicious” or “mournful” sacrifices (xiong 凶) accompanied by wailing. The number of generations was determined by the rank of the sacrificer (and not the rank of the deceased) as will be discussed below.

Death anniversaries

The descendant did not do his ordinary work on this day and devoted his thoughts to the deceased. This anniversary is given less prominence in the prescriptive texts than the other sacrifices, but it should be noted that, unlike the modern Western fixation with birthdays, the death days were more carefully recorded and observed in early China.

Sacrifices every third/fifth year (imperial only)

The sacrifices di 禘 and xia 祫, much debated during and after the Han, were corporate sacrifices that included older tablets no longer receiving seasonal sacrifices.

Termination of sacrifices

For all ranks of sacrificers, ascendants beyond the cycles of sacrifices eventually “became ghosts” (wei gui 為鬼). Because they had no remembrance shrines, commoners at death were immediately called ghosts. Termination could also result from a lineage dying out ( fini familae) or suffering the punishment of extermination, resulting in hungry ghosts. ____________________________________________________________________


Part I

Finally, the Ritual records ties the sensory and bodily experience (as described in Section 5) together with this temporal frame: 始死,充充如有窮;既殯,瞿瞿如有求而弗得;既葬,皇皇如有望而 弗至。練而慨然,祥而廓然。 When [his parent] has first died, he is pent up as if at the point of breaking. At the coffining, he is startled as if looking for something he can’t find. At the burial, he is irresolute as if expecting something in vain. When he dons softer clothes at the end of the first year of mourning, he is melancholy; when he carries out the [greater] xiang-sacrifice, he is quiet.40

The Tang commentator Kong Yingda 孔穎達 (574–648) interprets this passage as the descendant’s state of mind gradually easing over the course of mourning from intense agitation to quietude.41 Once the mourning period concludes, remembrance shifts to a cyclic routine of seasons and years, and the place of that remembrance embodies another dimension of framing mechanisms. When he asks us to visualize a descendant’s experience of visiting the shrine, Wu Hung has painted a vivid picture of that physical space’s ritualized borders: [L]et us take an imaginary journey to a Three Dynasties temple. First, we enter the town whose tall walls block off the outside. We then walk toward the center where a palace-temple compound stands, again blocked by walls or corridors. Our feeling of secrecy is gradually heightened as we enter the temple yard and penetrate layers of halls leading to the shrine of the founder of the clan, located at the end of the compound. At last, we enter the shrine; in the dim light, numerous shining bronze vessels, decorated with strange images and containing ritual offerings, suddenly loom before us. We find ourselves in a mythical world, the end of our journey where we would encounter the Origin—the Shi. The ritual vessels, hidden deep inside the temple compound, would provide us with the means to communicate with the invisible spirits of ancestors—to present offerings and to ascertain their will. This final stage is described in the Record of Rituals: Thus the dark liquor is offered in the inner chamber; the vessels of fermenting juice are near its entrance; the reddish liquor is in the main hall; and the clear, in a place below. Animal victims are displayed, and the tripods and stands are prepared. The lutes and citherns are arranged in rows, with the flutes, sonorous stones, bells and drums. The prayers and the benedictions are framed. [All of these] aim to bring down the Supreme God, as well as ancestral deities from above.42

Wu Hung fittingly concludes with a passage from the Ritual records to show that this sacred space is like a node between the visible and invisible worlds.

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


The physical journey Wu Hung maps out is also a temporal one in which the end is actually the beginning. He describes how the journey concludes at the “Origin,” the lineage progenitor or shi 始. Within the Han vision of the Zhou ideal, one’s ascendants were divided into two groups, the lineage founder or progenitor and a sequence of the most recent ascendants. As for the former, many early texts closely associate the lineage progenitor with the acquisition of that lineage’s territory. For example, the Guliang commentary to the Spring and autumn annals records: 故德厚者流光,德薄者流卑。是以貴始德之本也,始封必為祖。 Thus as for those rich in virtue, their heritage is brilliant, but as for those poor in virtue, their heritage is meager. Therefore the origin of initial virtue is honored, and he who is the first to be enfeoffed must be treated as a zu-ancestor.43

The titles zu 祖 or zong 宗 in a Han ancestral name denoted ancestors that perpetually received sacrifices,44 and in these sources, remembrance for the zu-ancestor is associated with he who had first acquired the territory to which the descendants still owed their livelihood. “Virtue” here is a power or potency that is transferable to one’s descendants. In turn, the Shang shu dazhuan 尚書大傳 (Great commentary to the Venerable documents) recounts the ideal enfeoffment process in which roughly one-tenth of the fief is allotted to the fief-founder’s sacrifices. It then stresses the permanence of this ancestor’s sacrifices: 其後子孫雖有罪黜,其采地不黜。使其子孫賢者守之,世世以祠其始 受封之人。 Even when his descendants are dismissed because of wrongdoing, this allotment of land is not to be dissolved. The worthies among his descendants are to maintain the land so that, generation after generation, they will sacrifice to the person who first received the fief.45

Thus to study the lineage ideal would be to study the origins of land distribution in early China if this controlled, methodical perception of the past had in fact reflected reality. Before the ancestral hall’s visitor actually reached this first recipient of the land, he or she had to travel back through time via a sequence of the most recent ascendants. According to the Ritual records, a Zhou dynasty king visiting his family shrine would initially pass between the tablets of his father and grandfather and then between the tablets of his great-


Part I

grandfather and great-great-grandfather. These would be arranged with the even-numbered generations or zhao 昭 (counting the lineage progenitor as the first generation) to the visitor’s right and odd-numbered generations or mu 穆 to his left.46 After passing his four most recent forebears in their zhaomu positions, he then came to two collective altars where all the older zhao- and mu-tablets sat in order led by the Zhou dynastic founders, Kings Wen and Wu. Finally, he passed beyond his own dynastic history to confront the clan altar, that of the legendary Hou Ji 后稷. Hou Ji was considered both to have brought grain cultivation to human civilization and to have founded the king’s own lineage that had later given rise to the Zhou dynasty. On Hou Ji’s east-facing table, the zhao- and mubranches merged as all the pre-dynastic ancestors were gathered there.47 Thus the spatial frame for this closed system of Zhou royal ancestral worship would resemble the schematic in Figure 1. As Puett notes above, the Ritual records would become the standard for the populace as a whole beginning in the late imperial period, and indeed this ordering of generational tablets was so robust and tidy that it continued to be used as late as the twentieth century in family shrines. Yet in the prescriptive texts, not everyone worshipped so many past generations, and here rank had its privileges, one being the length of attention devoted to lineage ancestors. Higher ranks—in some cases again measured by the amount of land governed—translated into betterdefined lineages with longer sequences of worshipped ancestors. The Zhou king described above enjoyed seven ancestral shrines, but a feudal lord ideally sacrificed to only the last four generations of ascendants plus the lineage progenitor, and an official only sacrificed to one or two generations. In other words, higher ranks had jurisdiction over more spatial territory as well as over more temporal territory. Higher ranks translated into longer comet trails fading off into history.48 The Ceremonies and rituals, the first ritual text to receive court patronage, describes the ranks of remembered ancestors by starting with the animals and the periphery and finishing at the center of civilization: 禽獸知母而不知父。野人曰﹕「父母何筭焉!」都邑之士則知尊禰 矣。大夫及學士則知尊祖矣。諸侯及其大祖。天子及其始祖之所自 出。尊者尊統上,卑者尊統下。

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


Ho u Ji & pre-Wen/Wu tablets

Ki ng Wen Wen+2 Wen+4 Wen+6 etc.

Ki ng Wu Wu+2 Wu+4 Wu+6 etc.

Penultimate mu-tablet

Penultimate zh ao-tablet

Ul timate mu-tablet

Ultimate zh ao-tablet

Fig. 1. The theoretical shrine structure of the Zhou royal family.

The birds and beasts know their mothers but do not know their fathers. People of the wilds say, “Why do parents matter?” The urbanized official49 understands revering his late father. The grandee and the educated official understand revering their late grandfathers. The feudal lord extends this to his great-grandfathers, and the son of heaven extends this to where his original ancestor arose. Those who are themselves revered in turn revere [those at] the top of the line of succession, and those who are lowly revere [those at] its bottom.50

As in the case of the Zhou king who sacrificed to his legendary forebear Hou Ji, the son of heaven enjoys the privilege of returning to the lineage’s origins. In fact, Zheng Xuan glosses the “original ancestor” here as being one who “was born after a resonance with the spiritual numens, such as [Hou] Ji and Xie” (感神靈而生,若稷契).51 According to the dynastic foundation myths, Hou Ji’s mother stepped on a deity’s footprint, resulting in the miraculous birth of Hou Ji whose lineage would give rise to the Zhou dynasty; Xie’s mother encountered a heaven-sent swallow, resulting in the miraculous birth of Xie, whose lineage would give rise to the Shang dynasty.52 Thus the ultimate origin is beyond the human realm and


Part I

thereby justifies the ruler’s sacrifices to heaven. Such miraculous births also avoid the messy question of whether to venerate the fathers of dynastic founders over the dynastic founders themselves. Implicit in this structure is a now-familiar correlation: the higher-placed person can reach further back in time, closer to the origin and prior to collateral lineages branching off. As seen in the Introduction, this basic paradigm is found both in actual lineages as well as in the perceived structure of knowledge. Yet the Ceremonies and rituals is by no means unique in correlating rank with the length of lineage memory. At least ten received and excavated texts specify the exact number of shrines a lineage possessed, and Table 2 sets out their distribution.53 Several of these sources note that the lowest officers and common people possessed no such shrines to remember any of their ascendants, although some qualify that statement by noting they could make offerings inside their own abodes. Furthermore, these shrine sacrifices did not necessarily preclude graveside sacrifices.54 Three general observations can be drawn from this chart. First, the two types of ancestors—permanent progenitors in the distant past and recent forebears enjoying only a temporary existence—might be seen as working in tandem. As the visitor walked into the confines of the shrine Wu Hung described, he or she began at the recent tangible past, the remembered ancestors, the believable history. This sense of historicity flows backwards and ultimately breathes some life into the mythic ancestor, lending him some degree of veracity. In turn, that mythic ancestor with his superabundance of spirituality and associations with heaven pushes forward a sense of the sacred, ultimately infecting the most recent and profane generations of the dead with some degree of saintliness. There is an exchange between each end of the line of succession, each trading his surplus with the other. Second, the temporary remembrance permitted to recent forebears regardless of their rank meant that ancestors were subject to a process of fading into the past as they became increasingly remote from the living. In this closed system, ancestors basically lived on in human memory for a prescribed period, and once that period was over—once the living had officially forgotten them—the decommissioning of their shrines could proceed according to the stipulations in the ritual handbooks.55

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


Table 2. The prescribed number of remembered ancestors by virtue of rank ____________________________________________________________________ Text

Son of heaven/ Feudal lords Counselors/ Officials King Grandees ____________________________________________________________________ Ritual records (“Royal regulations”) 7 5 3 1 Ritual records (“Ritual vessels”)





Ritual records (“The system of sacrifice”)





Ritual records of Dai the Elder (“Ritual’s three roots”)





Xunzi (“Analysis of ritual”)





Guliang commentary (Xi 15)





Historical records




Discourses within the tradition of Confucius (“Ancestral shrine regulations”)





Guangya (“Explaining palaces”)





Tianzi jianzhou (“The son of heaven establishes his domain” [in two excavated versions]) 7 5 3 2 ____________________________________________________________________

Or to put it crassly, ancestral tablets had their own shelf life, and the ancestral spirits gradually approached their own expiration date. This process of gradually forgetting through formalized rituals—what I will call “structured amnesia”—equates ancestral survival with a mental function, namely the memory of the living, and living memory is a major focus of this study.56


Part I

Finally, it is perhaps now clear that the ancestral cult generally takes vague, immeasurable notions—forgetfulness, emotional ties to parents, uncertainty about the state of the dead—and imposes rigid order upon them. “Structured amnesia” is admittedly an odd phrase, but it highlights the fact that ritual imposes a clear structure on these notions that lack milestones or measures in daily, lived experience. The anthropologist Roy Rappaport has contended that ritual transformed “analogic” change into “digital” change. “Analogic” describes “entities and processes in which value can change through continuous imperceptible gradations,” ranging from the temperature spectrum to levels of prestige. A rise in temperature or prestige is not countable unless some kind of artificial framework is imposed upon it. In contrast, “digital” change is “not through continuous infinitesimal gradations but by discontinuous leaps” that everyone readily recognizes as a clear change of state, an either/or shift. Rappaport thus explains the shift from analogic to digital change: [T]he imposition of the metrics of discrete units upon phenomena which are not themselves composed of discrete units, that is, the imposition of digital computation and signaling upon continuous processes or undifferentiated phenomena, helps to define—make definite—important but vague aspects of the world.57

For instance, the day a person turns eighteen is not naturally marked by a singular, radical change in body and mind, but society has imposed a digital state of change to summarize what is really an analogic process. Suddenly he or she can vote, marry or be drafted into the army because society perceives itself as needing voters, families and armies and hence needs a digital marker to indicate who can and cannot do those things. Ritual is a mechanism that makes digital changes out of analogic ones when society needs such markers in order to function. Forgetting an ancestor is clearly analogic, whereas imposing the framework of remembrance days, posthumous names and stipulated durations of veneration is digital and socially useful. The digitized ancestral cult is socially useful because it defines lineage membership, it assigns exemplars who serve as models and precedents, and it imposes reassuring structural certainties that remove the otherwise inherent anxieties of uncertainty surrounding death and afterlife. The cult imposes clear, digital framing techniques on what would naturally be blurred and confused.

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


Section 7: The Microcosm Created by Performance The final aspect in Bell’s description of ritual as performance is the allencompassing imitation world within these reduced spatial and temporal parameters: Such frames not only distinguish performance as such, they also create a complete and condensed, if somewhat artificial world—like sacral symbols, a type of microcosmic portrayal of the macrocosm. Since the real world is rarely experienced as a coherently ordered totality, the microcosm constructed on stage purports to provide the experience of a mock-totality, an interpretive appropriation of some greater if elusive totalism.58

If the family-tree structural paradigm found in nature and knowledge is true, then the early Chinese ancestral cult is indeed a microcosm of a macrocosm. That is, every segment of the family tree celebrated within each household is a small replica of the larger clan and lineage structure as well as, ultimately, of the perceived genealogical structure of all humankind. Each lineage hall would be located somewhere within a single fractal pattern, a pattern that was the basic paradigm of not just lineages but also culture and knowledge. In his take on the lord-father analogy, Tu Wei-ming argues that “for a traditional Confucian, ancestral worship by filial sons may be taken as the microcosm of an ideal society.”59 Yet in line with performance theory, that microcosm was more than just society or cosmos represented in miniature; that microcosm in fact generated the greater order perceived within society and cosmos. One of the most widely circulated and memorized texts in the Han, the Filial piety canon summarizes this microcosm’s power in a chapter entitled “Yinggan” 應感(“Sympathetic resonance”) as follows: 子曰﹕ 「昔者明王,事父孝,故事天明;事母孝,故事地察;長幼 順,故上下治。天地明察,神明彰矣。 「故雖天子必有尊也,言有父也;必有先也,言有兄也。宗廟致 敬,不忘親也。修身慎行,恐辱先也。宗廟致敬,鬼神著矣。孝悌之 至,通于神明,光于四海,無所不通。 「《詩》云﹕『自西自東,自南自北,無思不服。』」 The master said, “For the enlightened kings of antiquity, filial piety in the service to one’s father thus equated with enlightenment in the service to heaven; filial piety in the service to one’s mother thus equated with ascertainment in the service to earth; and obedience between seniors and juniors thus equated with good gov-


Part I

ernment between those above and those below. When heaven and earth were qualified with enlightenment and ascertainment, the spirits became manifested. “Thus even the son of heaven clearly had those whom he revered like a father; he clearly had those to whom he gave precedence like an elder brother.60 He showed respect to the lineage shrine, never forgetting his parents; he was careful in his conduct when cultivating his person, fearful of shaming his forebears. If he showed respect to the lineage shrine, the ghosts and spirits became defined, and when his filial and fraternal piety peaked, it penetrated into the spiritual, becoming radiant everywhere within the four seas without exception. “The Songs canon states, ‘From the west and from the east, from the south and from the north, there was not a thought that failed to submit.’”61

The Songs canon verse alludes to how Kings Wen and Wu, when founding the Zhou capital, filially revered their ancestors after which they came to display their bright merit until people everywhere loyally recognized their majesty.62 Here in the Filial piety canon and in many contemporaneous texts, that relationship between microcosm and macrocosm is given a spiritual dimension as pure filial piety penetrates all things, bringing a submissive order to the world. Yet the ancestral cult’s filial piety did not so much cause good order everywhere; it instead harmonized with the natural order, engaging in a dance of “sympathetic resonance.” Bell continues her description of ritual’s microcosm by noting that one way in which ritual develops this holism is by generating “powerful experiences of the coherence of cultural categories and attitudes.” As an example, she describes the American town pageants of the nineteenth and twentieth century with their parades of old wagons and farm vehicles, a scene indeed familiar to anyone having grown up in the American Midwest. She concludes: They located a community in historical time and in the social fabric of the larger world, articulating the difference between timeless values and more contingent ones. For this reason, such events were a process that could both generate and integrate differences. . . .63

Here performance theory epitomizes the ancestral cult rituals because it was through these rituals that the family community was defined and located relative to other families of the present and past. After describing how the spirits and ancestors descended to the sacrifice, the passage from the Ritual records quoted by Wu Hung in Section 6 above continues by explaining that the sacrifice is “to rectify the relationship between ruler

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


and subject, to attach importance to the relationship between father and son, to promote harmony between elder and younger brothers, to arrange the relationship between those above and those below and cause husband and wife to have their places—this is called inheriting the blessings of heaven” ( 以正君臣,以篤父子,以睦兄弟,以齊上下,夫婦有 所。是謂承天之祜).64 As in the Filial piety canon, the ancestral sacrifice was clearly meant for more than just the ancestors; it was meant to foster and stratify the living community. The best Han description of how an ancestral sacrifice can “both generate and integrate differences” within a community is found in the Eastern Han farming estate manual known as the Simin yueling 四民月令 (Monthly ordinances of the four classes of people). The surviving fragments begin the year with the first of its ancestral sacrifice descriptions: 正月之旦,是謂「正日」,躬率妻孥,絜祀祖禰。前期三日,家長及 執事,皆致齊焉。及祀日,進酒降神。畢,乃家室尊卑,無小無大, 以次列坐於先祖之前;子、婦、孫、曾、各上椒酒於其家長,稱觴奉 壽,欣欣如也。謁賀君、師、故將、宗人、父兄、父友、友、親、鄉 黨耆老。 The morning of the first month is called “First day.”65 He personally leads his wife and sons in making a purified sacrifice to his grandfather and father.66 For three days prior to this, the family head and overseers all carry out abstentions for it. When the day of the sacrifice arrives, they bring forward the alcohol to cause the spirits to descend. When it is over, the worthy and humble of the household, no matter how young or old, then sit before the ancestors in ranked order. The sons, their wives, the grandsons and the great grandsons each offer up spiced wine to the family head, toasting him with wishes of longevity in a joyous manner. They pay congratulatory calls on their rulers, teachers, former leaders,67 trunk lineage members, paternal uncles, father’s friends, friends, kin and community elders.68

Another text in the Ritual records’ binder, the “Zhongyong” 中庸 (“The central and the universal”), similarly emphasizes how the living and the dead were variously ranked within the shrine to celebrate age and honor while inferiors toasted their superiors in front of the ancestral vessels and seasonal sacrifices.69 Both of these texts are like the town pageant that historically located and then defined the celebrating community, because the ancestral sacrifice denoted where one came from and to whom one owed allegiance. After the sacrifice, networks beyond the immediate lineage were then rewoven via congratulatory calls, and so once again like the


Part I

town pageant, the ancestral sacrifice placed the participant on a larger mental map with a reference point indicating “You are here.” This significance of ancestral cult ties has been duly noted in secondary studies at least as early as Weber, who argued that in China, lineage was placed above and modeled all other ties, thus making it the basic unit of power.70 The order in which the participants arrange themselves before the ancestors reflects the zhao- and mu- positions of the ancestral tablets in front of them. As the Ritual records describes it: 夫祭有昭穆,昭穆者,所以別父子、遠近、長幼、親疏之序而無亂 也。是故有事於大廟,則群昭群穆咸在而不失其倫。此之謂親疏之殺 也。 Sacrifices have zhao- and mu-positions. Zhao- and mu-positions are how the sequence of fathers and sons, close and distant, old and young, near and far relations is demarcated without chaos. Thus when there is an affair in the great shrine, then all the zhao- and mu-positions are present, leaving no gaps in the order. This is called the gradations between near and far.71

At first it may seem arbitrary to impose a binary pattern on ancestral generations, but given average marriage ages (with husbands often marrying much younger wives) and mortality demographics, there may rarely have been more than two generations in coexistence.72 By comparison, in the Greco-Roman world only one in six or seven children at birth had a living paternal grandfather, and by the time a child reached the age of twenty, that proportion fell to fewer than one in a hundred.73 If early China were at all similar, it would have been the norm to have only two coexisting generations, thereby fostering a sense of duality juxtaposing one’s own generation with either the older or younger generation. In either case, one’s own generation was balanced against a single “other,” that other finding ritual expression on the opposite side of the ancestral hall. From the narrow perspective of the zhaomu positions, the ancestral sacrifice would seem to be rather tidy, with two rows of tablets continuing into two rows of sacrificers. Yet beyond this linear order, the family structure becomes exceedingly complex. The White tiger hall discussion systematizes the ancestral cult as follows: 宗其為始祖後者為大宗,此百世之所宗也。宗其為高祖後者,五世而 遷者也。故曰﹕「祖遷于上,宗易于下。」宗其為曾祖後者為曾祖 宗,宗其為祖後者為祖宗,宗其為父後者為父宗。父宗以上至高祖,

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


皆為小宗,以其轉遷,別于大宗也。別子者,自為其子孫祖,繼別者 各自為宗,所謂小宗有四,大宗有一,凡有五宗,人之親所以備矣。 The descendants who [together] revere a progenitor ancestor74 constitute the greater lineage group. This progenitor ancestor is revered for a hundred generations. The descendants who [together] revere a great-great-grandfather promote him upward [beyond worship] after five generations. Therefore [the Ritual records] states, “Ancestors are promoted up above; the lineage changes down below.”75 The descendants who [together] revere a great-grandfather constitute a greatgrandfather lineage. The descendants who [together] revere a grandfather constitute a grandfather lineage. The descendants who [together] revere a father constitute a father lineage. The father lineage up to the great-great-grandfather [lineage] all constitute lesser lineages. They differ from the greater lineage because of their transferals [between generations] and promotions [beyond worship]. Collateral sons are themselves regarded as ancestors by their own sons and grandsons. As for successive collaterals, each forms its own lineage. This is what it means to say “Lesser lineages number four whereas the greater lineage numbers one.” These five lineages together are how human kinship becomes completely defined.76

The White tiger hall discussion is here condensing several passages from the Ritual records to show how lineage members rank in relationship to one another.77 Basically, the smallest lineage group consists of one’s brothers and is called a “father lineage group” because the father is their common tie. The eldest brother serves as that group’s senior member. The next largest group of all the paternal first cousins is called a “grandfather lineage group” as the grandfather is their common tie. The father lineage group is ranked lower to this larger collection of relatives. This pattern is replicated on the larger “great-grandfather lineage group” and “great-great-grandfather lineage group,” namely the second and third paternal cousins respectively. These lineage groups are all defined and, as generations progress, redefined at the bottom end of lineage succession. The greater lineage, if it has survived, is the direct succession from father to eldest son and is not defined via the collateral shifts of the lesser lineages. In discussions that demarcate between trunk and collateral lineages, the former is called a zong 宗 and the latter a zu 族 whereas the whole lineage is dubbed the shi 氏. Yet this technical language is not always heeded. (The lineage progenitor—the original winner of the territory where the lineage enjoys its livelihood—is also called a shi but is written with a different character 始.) After the Han, medieval courts held debates on what actually constituted the imperial family because regional


Part I

rulers might claim descent from the imperial progenitor even though their own bloodlines no longer extended into what constituted the surviving four lesser lineages of the current ruling family. These debates drew on Han sources and interpretations of the Ritual records.78 To illustrate this “lineage system,” or zongfa 宗法 as much later sources would retrospectively dub it, Figure 2 represents an idealized lineage as depicted in the White tiger hall discussion and the Ritual records. The lower right-hand corner is the father lineage, the eldest son (here represented by a circle) leading it. Because his father was not necessarily an eldest son himself, this father lineage is subservient to a first cousin (the eldest son of the eldest paternal uncle) in terms of the grandfather lineage. If his father’s younger brothers had sons (not pictured here), they would rank below his own father lineage in terms of the grandfather lineage. In turn, the larger grandfather lineage ranks below the great-grandfather lineage and is in the hands of a second cousin and so forth. Thus a descendant can be a member of up to five lineage groups at any given time. In this chart, the zong or trunk lineage would refer to vertical connections, and the zu or collateral lineage would refer to horizontal connections. On one hand every son who is not the eldest and hence not heir to the lineage territory has the potential of becoming a progenitor and fostering a new trunk lineage. (Ideally he would strike out to cultivate new lineage territory.) On the other hand, the ritual texts recognize that sometimes there is only one descendant and sometimes none at all, and so the trunk lineage and several of the collateral lineages may be entirely missing. Beyond this lineage structure lies a still larger relationship net many centuries older than the localized family unit with all the intervening generations promoted beyond living remembrance, and this net can be called a xing 姓 (clan), although the early meaning of xing is by no means consistent from source to source.79 Here the progenitor might be mythical, as in the case of Hou Ji and Xie who were born in miraculous circumstances, and affiliation with this clan may also be claimed by numerous contemporaneous descendant groups who by the Han shared a surname or set of surnames. This clan designator does not frequently figure into ancestral rituals. On a grand scale, the Zhou interstate political structure itself was theoretically an expression of this ranking system, with the greater lineage cen-

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


Fig. 2. The ideal family tree structure (in which first sons are represented by circles, second by semi-circles, third by triangles and fourth by squares).

tered in the imperial domain around Zongzhou 宗周 in present-day Shaanxi and later around Chengzhou 成周 in present-day Henan. Various generations of sons and relatives of the Zhou kings were ritually allocated states, allocations sometimes recorded in surviving bronze vessels. According to the Zuo commentary, the son of heaven divided land among his feudal lords, his feudal lords divided land among their dependent families and so forth down the pecking order to the officers who had their dependent kin and the commoners who “each had his apportioned relations and all had their graded precedence” (各有分親,皆有等衰).80 Disputes about hierarchy, marriage alliances and gift-giving were resolved with recourse to the shared lineage structure,81 and one opportunity commonly used for resolving such disputes and reinforcing the norms of social structures was the funeral that brought people together on both the state and local level. The five degrees of mourning clothing theoretically determined funeral attendance, and as one book from the Ritual records stipulates:


Part I

有殯,聞遠兄弟之喪,雖緦必往;非兄弟,雖鄰不往。 As for funerals, if you hear of a distant relative’s death, then you must go even if you are only related by the fifth-degree of mourning; if the deceased is not a relative, then you must not go even if it is your neighbor.82

As this passage indicates, the shrines duly reinforced lineage solidarity whenever it collected for a funeral. Like the mourning rituals, the rites of the subsequent ancestral remembrance further reflected these lineage sub-divisions as collateral branches were not allowed to sacrifice at each other’s shrines. With regard to the sacrificers, the Ritual records and other texts warn, “A son who is not the heir cannot make the sacrifices, and if he does, he must report it to the trunk lineage heir” (支子不祭,祭必告于宗子).83 With regard to the ancestors, Wang Chong wrote, “A [late] father will not eat [the sacrifices] from any son other than the eldest” (父不食於枝庶).84 Only the principal son had the right to sacrifice. Thus when a man carried out the first ancestral sacrifice of the year (as described above in the Monthly ordinances of the four classes of people), he served as a kind of fulcrum or node between all the ancestors arranged in front of him and all the descendants sitting in their ranked order behind him.

Section 8: Do We Trust These Ritual Prescriptions? Perhaps the principal hazard of our picturing the past comes in the form of the sanitized patterns and elegant structures we tend to impose upon it—no matter whether it be an ancient lineage system, twentieth-century Marxism (or any other ism) or modern assumptions about historical progress—because we tend to latch onto convenient models, select the evidence that best supports them and then generalize from there. Patterns and structures are simply easier to fathom than the true messiness of history. As is now apparent, the Ritual records is replete with such tidy models. The ancestors are methodically arranged and survive only for a predetermined number of generations. The descendants are logically ordered, and they make sacrifices according to a precise schedule in a systematic ancestral hall. Not just tidy, the image is also synchronic, as if dating from at least the foundation of the Zhou dynasty. Noah Edward Fehl described the Ritual records (romanized here as Li chi ) as follows:

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


The Li Chi was accepted as the li of early Chou. Hsun Ch’ing [= Xunzi], it was generally held, lived the same life, thinking the same thoughts as Confucius who in turn was not a creator but the faithful transmitter of the li of Chou Kung [= the Duke of Zhou]. Only here and there even the seams of the Chinese puzzle so cleverly contrived and crafted are visible. Under fairly careful examination it looks like a cube entire.85

Thus the three hundred greater rules and three thousand lesser rules would seem to describe the finely tuned mechanics of an efficient vehicle that traveled a straight road from the beginning of the Zhou to the end of the Han on one tank of gas. Yet that image is for the most part fictional. When we read the Ritual records, we are not imagining what they described about their own time; we are imagining what they in turn imagined about an earlier time. Third and second century scholars projected most of the descriptions in the Ritual records backwards onto Zhou history as they thought they knew it or as they surmised how it should have been. These descriptions were rather intended as prescriptions for the scholars’ own age, and the Zhou in fact never experienced “any sustained period of strong, centralized rule overseen by rites-minded early Zhou rulers,” Nylan observes.86 As is evident in their surviving sacrificial vessels, the early Zhou definitely carried out elaborate rituals that revered ancestral spirits and delineated lineage structures; it cannot be said with any certainty, however, that the Ritual records is an accurate portrayal of those rituals. At least by the middle of the Zhou dynasty, kinship structures took a backseat to Realpolitik.87 They were simply one argument—albeit a major one—within a discourse about contested jurisdictions of family authority; they were one tangible expression among competing claims of territorial control. That being the case, a reality check is in order to ask whether the Ritual records and other similar texts had any factual and historical underpinnings. In a worst-case scenario, such prescriptions might have merely been a single line of reasoning forwarded by a few early scholars, utterly alien to how the ancestors were generally perceived in reality, and so we must search beyond these texts for evidence of their broader reception. Exploring their popularity and implementation among the lettered and unlettered classes yields four salient questions that can be interrelated in the following rubric:


Part I

________________________________________________________ Among the lettered classes

Among the unlettered classes

________________________________________________________ Coverage of prescriptive ideas on ritual

How widespread were the idea systems from texts such as the Ritual records among the lettered populace?

How widespread were the idea systems from texts such as the Ritual records among the unlettered populace?

Implementation of prescriptive ideas on ritual

Did the lettered populace actually implement these idea systems?

Did the unlettered populace actually implement these idea systems?

________________________________________________________ Part I concludes by handling these four questions in sequence.88 We pose these questions not so much to definitively answer them—our hindsight is too obstructed for clear resolutions—but by fully developing these questions in relationship to the archeological evidence, historical records, incidental references in literature and even common sense, we can begin a critical exploration of these idea systems on firmer footing.

How widespread were the idea systems from texts such as the Ritual records among the lettered populace? The Ritual records is above described as a kind of ring binder with its individual short texts circulating independently and then gradually coming together to form an anthology during the Western Han. Before unification, those independent texts were sometimes buried in graves, and a fourthcentury bce version of one such text that was excavated at the Guodian tomb in Hubei also numbers among the documents preserved in a collection of bamboo strips published by the Shanghai Museum.89 Entitled the “Black garments” or “Black jacket” (“Ziyi” 緇衣), the received version is about 25 percent longer and in a different order than its two excavated counterparts. Although we might regard these earlier versions as evidence of the Ritual records’ broader circulation, their differences with the received version should also warn us to proceed with caution when Han sources cite these ritual texts by name only. That is, the text they cite might not be the exact same text we now possess. As Edward Shaughnessy con-

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


cludes from comparing the “Black garments” chapters, “Nevertheless, if even a text that has the pedigree of being in the Confucian canon can be as badly distorted as we now see the Liji version of the ‘Zi yi’ is, then it seems to me that all received texts should be read with a certain amount of skepticism—not so much skepticism about their date of composition, as has characterized much of Sinology since the 1920s—but skepticism about the degree to which any particular word or sentence or pericope represents the ‘original’ reading of a text.”90 That is, not only was the ring binder of the Ritual records wide open during the Han, but the broadly circulating texts going into that binder often resembled drafts rather than final versions. As more texts are uncovered, our understanding of how they circulated and evolved will improve perhaps to the point when we can make generalizations and predictions. Now coming to light are other excavated versions of ritual texts such as “Wu wang jianzuo” 武王踐阼 (“King Wu ascends the eastern steps”), which was also found in the Shanghai Museum cache, its received counterpart not from the Liji corpus but what is believed to be its predecessor, the Da Dai Liji (Ritual records of Dai the Elder).91 In still another case, a Gansu grave dating to Wang Mang’s interregnum in the middle of the Han yielded extensive portions of the Ceremonies and rituals on 469 strips when it was excavated in 1959. Generally the same as the received Ceremonies and rituals, the chapters selected for burial extensively cover issues such as the five degrees of mourning clothing as well as the presentation of sacrifices to the ancestral impersonator or shi 尸, that silent figure who sat amidst a maelstrom of activity whom we encountered at the beginning of this book.92 These independent discoveries demonstrate at the very least that the received body of ritual texts was not merely the brainchild of just a few relatively late scholars fantasizing about an ideal rites-dominated life. Elsewhere there is some evidence that the prescriptive ritual texts came to be treated like other portions of the Classicist canon in terms of education, and biographies in the standard histories as well as on inscribed stelae identify these texts as occasionally being chosen as the classic to be mastered in youth. For example, the stele of Xianyu Huang 鮮于璜 (d. 125 ce), grand administrator of Yanmen 雁門 in northern Shanxi 山西, records how the Ritual records constituted one part of his early training:


Part I 岐齔繇是, 含好典常。 治《禮小戴》, 閨族孝友, 溫故知機。 煇光篤實, 升而上聞, 上郡王府君察孝, 除郎中, 遷度遼右部司馬。

By the time he was standing upright and had lost his baby teeth, he followed rightness, Cherishing and delighting in the constant principles. He mastered the Ritual records of Dai the Younger, And within both the inner apartments and the clan at large, he cultivated filial piety and friendliness. He reviewed the old and understood the pivotal.93 Because of his brilliant radiance and truthful sincerity, He advanced upward, his reputation climbing. [Grand Administrator] Wang of Shang Commandery examined his filial piety,94 And appointed Huang as gentleman of the palace, Where he was transferred to the post of rightRegiment major [under the general who] crosses the Liao River.95

In this case the boy Xianyu Huang devoted himself to learning the ritual precepts, probably by rote. Overall, however, such ritual texts were much less popular than the Songs canon or Spring and autumn annals in terms of being selected to shape a person’s early education. Excavated texts and stele inscriptions aside, a host of surviving imperial edicts and court memorials, academic discussions and competing commentaries together attest to the corpus-like nature of this genre of texts; they denote a common body of ritual knowledge—some of which was canonized—rather than separate, independent ideas about the ancestors. Court advisors from at least the middle of the Western Han may have debated the details of how many generations were to be worshipped or who should wear which type of mourning garment, but they referenced the same sources and derived arguments from the same supporting evidence (see Part II). In other words, they shared the same ritual baseline even though their interpretations of that baseline might have differed.

Did the lettered populace actually implement these idea systems? The content of these prescriptive texts can be divided between, on one hand, the individual components that together were necessary for rituals— the ancestors, descendants, sacrifices and shrines—and, on the other, the more complex systems that would interrelate those components—the

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


number of ancestors each class worshipped, the descendants’ extended family structure, the sumptuary laws on animal sacrifices, and the zhaomu structure within that shrine. At the level of individual components, archeology affirms the cast and props lists referenced in the early ritual handbooks and anthologies. For example, the renowned scholar Guo Moruo 郭沫若 (1892–1978) in the 1950s compiled a convenient catalog of phrases from inscribed bronze vessels that allude to Zhou religious perspectives,96 and from that catalog we can account for many of the components in pre-imperial ancestral ritual, including the following: • The highest agency was known as “heaven” (tian 天) or “august heaven” (huangtian 皇天), sometimes anthropomorphized as the “heavenly king(s)” (tianwang 天王), the “lord(s)” (di 帝), the “august lord(s)” (huangdi 皇帝) or the “lord(s) on high” (shangdi 上帝). This agency was “fearsome” (wei 畏) and controlled the “mandate” (ming 命), able to bequeath blessings or calamities. The supernatural realm was thus a projected royal hierarchy, a theocratic state. • This “place of the lord(s)” (disuo 帝所) was located “up above” (shang 上), and the as-yet-undissipated ancestors—often called “the majestic ones” ( yan 嚴) or sometimes simply “spirits” (shen 神) and “ghosts” ( gui 鬼)—were also located there. Those ancestors were likewise able to bequeath blessings, not only personal longevity and lineage longevity (the latter in the form of descendants) but also military victory and peaceful government. They were often portrayed as couples, the parents known as kao 考 (for father) and mu 母 (for mother) and ancestors beyond them known as zu 祖 (for male ancestors) and bi 妣 (for female ancestors). More distant ancestors were sometimes qualified as “high” or “highest” ( gao 高), perhaps coordinating generational time (i.e., earlier ancestors) with physical space (i.e., distance above). As a group, the ancestors were also known as “the resplendent people of before” (qian wen ren 前文人). • The ancestors enjoyed “animal sacrifices” (sheng 牲) just as living rulers did, and they also accepted alcohol, jade and bronze, the last usually in the form of food vessels such as caldrons and platters or musical instruments such as bells and drums. In terms of communication, their will could be ascertained via oracle bones and hexagram casting, and covenants could be established with them or in their presence. Other more recently excavated vessels attest to relatively complex individual components described in the Ritual records and the Ceremonies and rituals including the ancestral impersonator, who was usually played by


Part I

the most recent ancestor’s grandson (i.e., the sacrificer’s son). The lid on a late Spring and Autumn period bronze pot proclaims longevity blessings for the descendants who would participate in a certain forebear’s “ancestral impersonator sacrifice” (shiji 尸祭), thus confirming the existence of this particular cast member within the ritual performance.97 Still other sources make it clear that most all the components of this basic picture continued intact into the Qin and Han eras, although references to the ancestral impersonator himself become rare. Thus the cast and props in the Ritual records were indeed present, but what of the interactive systems that tied these individual components together, systems that constitute the meaning of ritual? Such systems are harder to evince, but some modern scholars of pre- and early imperial China highlight a few such cases, usually adding a caveat that our prescriptive texts remain a sanitized version of what actually took place on the ground. For example, Lothar von Falkenhausen finds archeological evidence to support the prescriptive texts’ portrayal of the complex family tree structure with its trunk and branch lineages (outlined above): “Although this representation [in the Ritual records] is no doubt idealizing, and there may have been considerable flexibility in actual ritual practice, the terminology used in the inscriptions from Hoard 1 at Zhuangbai suggests that Zhou élite lineages were organized according to such general principles at least by Qiang’s time” in the late part of the Middle Western Zhou.98 In his study on Zhou royal animal sacrifices, Okamura Hidenori likewise makes extensive use of these prescriptive texts when he scrutinizes how the different types of animal bones excavated from graves reflect the different levels of social status as stipulated by these texts. Acknowledging that such texts were written from a later Classicist perspective, he contends that we can still use them to begin our analysis as long as we also seek out supporting evidence via the disciplines of animal husbandry, anthropology and archeology.99 And in her lengthy study on early imperial lineage structures, Li Qing maintains that although the prescriptive texts may not have been uniformly heeded from place to place and era to era, they were broadly adopted when it came to delineating the hierarchies of family authority and kinship proximity.100 Noting a surprising lack of unambiguous literary and archeological evidence for aboveground non-noble patrilineal worship halls in the Han,

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Michael Nylan concludes that “there can be no doubt that sumptuary rules [of the type described in the Ritual records] existed in Han, even if scholars are not of one mind on how far sumptuary regulations prevailed at that time.” That prevalence, she continues, would probably have been roughly proportional to the power and proximity of the court.101 Scholars such as Falkenhausen, Okamura, Li and Nylan draw upon the Ritual records in particular to elucidate the excavated evidence of bronzes and bones or the textual evidence of the standard histories, and that evidence in turn would seem to confirm that at least some of these idea systems were indeed implemented in early China to a limited degree. Clustered in close proximity to Qishan in western Shaanxi, three separate archeological sites said to be ancestral shrines from the time of the Zhou dynasty provide a case study in how we use these texts in tandem with physical evidence to understand their ritual systems. Beginning in 1976 at Fengchu 鳳雛 , about twenty-five kilometers northeast of Qishan, excavations uncovered an elaborate, symmetrical compound with a south-facing front gate, inner courtyards and a central main hall (Figure 3). Various historians have identified the compound as an ancestral shrine dating to the early Western Zhou. Huang Xiaofen, for example, affirmed this identification by drawing upon Cai Yong who, at the end of the Han, provided a brief but concrete description of ancestral shrines that states, “As for the structure of the ancestral shrine, the ancients thought of it as like a ruler’s residence with a courtyard in the front and a private chamber in the back” (宗廟之制﹕古(學)〔者〕以為人君之居,前有 朝,後有寢。).102 Huang notes how closely this description matches the floor plans at Fengchu.103 Yet this description of a forecourt and rear chamber seems vague at best, particularly as Cai Yong, writing up to a millennium after the early Western Zhou, argues this floor plan was itself modeled upon a living abode. Cai continues his description by highlighting how even the contents of the shrine’s rear chamber, namely the clothing, caps, tables and staffs, “were the image of things belonging to the living” (xiang sheng zhi ju 象生之具). Thus his relatively late description was not only vague, but it emphasized the fact that the shrine did not possess a unique blueprint.


Part I

Fig. 3. The Fengchu ancestral shrine (SOURCE: Huang Xiaofen,Hanmu de kaoguxue yanjiu, 257 [pl. 110]).

Other interpreters of Fengchu have avoided such vagueness, but by increasing their specificity, they encounter the danger of being too selective when citing the prescriptive texts. For example, a cache of 17,000 divination bones—just under 200 of which were inscribed with divinations about sacrifices, travel, hunting and military campaigns—was found in the front western chambers of the compound.104 In reference to this cache, the earliest reports in the archeological journals draw upon the opening lines of the Ceremonies and rituals, in which divinations were carried out at the ancestral shrine’s gate and the divining stalks, mats and recording tools were laid out in the western antechamber.105 Even if we disregard the fact that this text is specifically describing a capping ritual and that it refers to divi-

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nation via milfoil stalks instead of bones, the problem of selectivity becomes evident when Fengchu is compared to the other two sites where no similar caches survive. Instead, those archeologists select still other texts— including other passages from the Ceremonies and rituals itself—that describe how these western chambers stored the ancestral tablets and archery equipment or served as a rest area for the shrine’s guests.106 None of this is to imply Fengchu was not an ancestral shrine, but this usage of Han prescriptive texts begins to demonstrate the problems of vagary and selectivity. A true hypothesis must exhibit falsifiability (in the Popperian sense); there must be a means of testing it and a possibility of disproving it. Using the same corpus to evince different interpretations gives us no opportunity to disprove the hypothesis that these are in fact ancestral shrines. Five years later and fifty kilometers west of Fengchu, a second highly symmetrical south-facing compound was excavated at Majiazhuang 馬家 莊 near Fengxiang 鳳翔, this one even more impressive because it boasted not only a central shrine but also two nearly identical side shrines, all three looking into a central courtyard and surrounded by a wall with a gatehouse to the south (Figure 4). Because this region has been identified as the city of Yongcheng, which served as the Qin state’s capital from 677 to 383 bce, archeologists have conjectured that these ruins were the official ancestral shrine of the Qin fief. In one of the earliest archeological journals, Han Wei reaches this very conclusion: Ancient documents record a great deal of information about pre-Qin ritual structures such as ancestral shrines. We’ve discovered much overlap between the ruins of Majiazhuang’s ancestral shine on one hand and literary works such as the Venerable documents, the Rituals of the Zhou dynasty, the Ceremonies and rituals and the Ritual records on the other. It serves to show there is much that is reliable in the canonical texts. Moreover, comparing the canonical texts with these ruins also helps us properly understand their descriptions about the organization of pre-Qin palaces and ancestral shrines. Thus the Majiazhuang ancestral shrine excavation provides significant evidence for researching the veracity of literary works with regard to the pre-Qin era.107

Han Wei indeed used a great deal of textual evidence in his analysis of the Majiazhuang site, but he developed his conclusions by imaginatively combining a wide assortment of sources ranging from Han prescriptive texts


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to Southern Song commentaries to Qing dynasty studies of ancient architecture. Drawing a little here and a little there from this historical hodgepodge, he created a complete, single portrait—a portrait that is deceptive because we don’t ultimately know how his relatively late sources acquired their data or whether all these individual puzzle pieces were intended to fit together into the same picture.108 Moreover, Han Wei permitted himself to reinterpret the prescriptive texts to fit the archeological evidence. For example, he cites the Ritual records’ assignment of seven shrines to the Zhou royal family, contending that it was originally five shrines—the four most recent ancestors plus the lineage progenitor—until kings Wen and Wu themselves were about to slip beyond formal remembrance. According to the same text, two more shrines called the “two repository shrines” (ertiao 二祧) were added at that point to accommodate Wen and Wu. Han Wei suggests that the people of Qin would never have incorporated these two shrines into their own lineage worship and would have logically heeded the idea that the son of heaven only possessed five shrines and, by extension, the feudal lords three—in this case the three excavated at Majia zhuang. He draws these conclusions even though none of the ten texts cited in Table 2 assign just three shrines to the feudal lords.109 Again, this is not to imply that the Majiazhuang compound was not an ancestral shrine; it clearly reveals a highly regulated architecture with perhaps a zhaomu layout. Furthermore, the remains of 181 buried sacrifices have been uncovered therein, consisting mainly of cattle and sheep but also including carriages and even humans. The people were mostly lined up in rows in the central courtyard, each usually positioned with its head (when present) to the north. Such patterns strongly suggest both systematic and sacramental meaning, regardless of whether they precisely overlap the prescriptions of later texts. Discovered two years later and just half a kilometer north of Majiazhuang, our final archeological site is not thought to be an ancestral shrine but the Yongcheng palace itself, with three ancestral structures in its innermost compound. The 326-meter-long palace of five adjacent compounds lined up north to south is thought to be contemporaneous with the Yongcheng ancestral shrine, and the palace’s three ancestral structures are thus thought to parallel the three shrines there (Figure 5).

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


Fig. 4. The Majia zhuang ancestral shrine (SOURCE: Xu Lianggao and Wang Wei, “Shaanxi Fufeng Yuntang Xi Zhou jianzhu jizhi de chubu renshi,” 34 [pl. 3]).

This palace characterizes Wu Hung’s description of extrinsic space, as visitors traveled northward to penetrate the deepest recesses of the palace while gradually approaching the sacred. Of interest here is the number of gates through which the visitor must walk. According to the Ritual records’ Han commentaries cited in the archeological journals, the son of heaven should have had five successive gates and the feudal lords three, and other commentaries contend both the son of heaven and the feudal lords should have had three. Countering both prescriptions, the Yongcheng palace has five, and archeologists have explained this difference by hypothesizing that the Qin feudal lords were already overstepping the authority of the Zhou kings, openly building a five-gate palace in their ancestral city.110 In this case it is not the prescriptive texts that are being reinterpreted but the historical situation itself. This argument assumes the sumptuary regulations were generally acknowledged but audaciously broken here. Thus, even when historical facts do not mirror the ritual systems spelled out in the later prescriptive texts, that disagreement in itself is not cause for questioning the texts’ veracity. Assuming for a moment that the archeologists’ hypothesis is correct, why did the Qin rulers openly break the


Part I

sumptuary laws on the number of gates but still heed the ritual regulations on the number of worshipped ancestors? Whatever the answer, none of this is to contend that the archeologists’ scenario is impossible. Instead, the case of these various ancestral shrines clustered near Qishan simply highlights the problems of using ritual systems from later prescriptive texts to interpret Zhou history, namely the problems of vagueness, selectivity of sources, reinterpretation of texts to fit historical evidence and, finally, reinterpretation of historical evidence to fit the texts. There is an added implicit danger of passing undue judgment on the Qin whenever it deviates from the ritual prescriptions of later texts. When it comes to the construction of the Western Han imperial shrines, the overlap between theory and practice is suggestive but again not entirely satisfying. During the second emperor’s reign, the court ritualist Shusun Tong was said to have “established the ceremonial system of the ancestral Fig. 5. The Yongcheng palace shrines” (ding zongmiao yifa 定宗廟 (Source: Huang Xiaofen, Hanmu 儀法) for the Han, but he urged the de kaoguxue yanjiu, 257 [pl. 110]). emperor to move the Han founder’s shrine north of the capital Chang’an, a move that was later deemed irregular. Cai Yong would contend that the Western Han in its early years “did not use the Zhou rituals” (buyong Zhou li 不用周禮) with regard to arranging ancestors into their zhaomu positions.111 Deemphasizing a communal shrine compound indeed seems to have been the practice because throughout the Western Han, individual shrines were erected for

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


each emperor in conjunction with his tomb. Even so, Michael Loewe conjectures that the zhaomu ritual system still managed to influence the geographic locations of the Western Han tombs and their shrines, roughly heeding an alternating left-right positioning relative to Gaozu’s tomb that had been erected due north of the capital Chang’an. Yet subsequent scholarship has criticized this overlay of zhaomu mapping, contending that too many exceptions must be explained away and that too many facets of the zhaomu system as described in the prescriptive texts must be ignored in order to make it work.112 Instead, the tomb sites appear to have been selected in a more haphazard manner, or as Jiao Nanfeng and Ma Yongying conclude, “In the construction of the ancestral shrines, even though Western Han rulers heeded Three Dynasty rituals, they also implemented many changes following the developments of the times and the succession of courts.”113 It would not be until Wang Mang’s Xin interregnum at the beginning of the first century ce that focus would again shift toward a single communal shrine compound, and south of Chang’an there indeed survives the archeological ruins of one containing eleven rectangular foundations in three rows with a twelfth alone in front of the rest, a compound thought to have been Wang Mang’s lineage shrine.114 Here, too, analysts have found it necessary to begin with the Ritual records’ allotment of seven shrines for the son of heaven and then to develop a narrative explaining Wang Mang’s extra five.115 While the details of that story must wait for Section 15, it is still noteworthy to highlight how we assume a prescriptive standard which in turn means we assume anything not fitting that standard as adaptation or even deviance, in the process fostering value judgments and stereotypes about those rulers who built the shrines. Yet by Wang Mang’s time, the Ritual records’ prescriptions were indeed broadly recognized, and Wang Mang himself clearly embraced the trappings of Classicism. Only occasionally will a Han archeological site firmly attest to the existence of ritual systems and not just ritual components, and one of the most explicit examples is a silk diagram of what is perhaps a family tree excavated at Mawangdui (Figure 6), its text discussing the specific application of the five degrees of mourning clothing. Here the family’s observation of this performative ritual was being readjusted because the deceased,


Part I

a young male,116 had died prematurely and was still survived by his father and grandfather, who were thus declared first- and second-degree mourners respectively.117 There are numerous references to the various bereavement garments in the early standard histories as well. All the above examples are caught up with the question of whether forebear remembrance heeded the ritual prescriptions or not, but in the Period of Disunion after the Han, the scholar Yan Zhitui 顏之推 (531–ca. 591) offered a third scenario in which people over-emphasized (or at least appeared to over-emphasize) these idea systems. For example, personal names became tabooed upon death, and the Ritual records offers much advice on them, ranging from how one should ask about the name taboos before entering any particular household, to how one should avoid common words in children’s names lest the taboo become too difficult to observe at death. Citing various passages from the Ritual records, Yan Zhitui contended that observance of name taboos had become more and more meticulous over time, and in his own day it had even reached a point of excess. People were making ridiculous spectacles of themselves by blubbering and wailing whenever they heard or read their parents’ names. In an extreme case, one official would weep upon seeing his father’s name in local correspondence, to the extent that he had to abandon such letters and did not get any work done.118 The same excess—or at least the feigned appearance of excess—applied to death anniversaries. The Ritual records may have only stipulated that one should refrain from merrymaking on such days, but Yan Zhitui complained that people were hiding themselves away in secluded chambers, sometimes secretly eating delicacies and thoroughly enjoying themselves, only creating a façade of respectful remembrance.119 In his opinion, such prescriptions were valuable and pervasive in his day, but they potentially encouraged silly and inappropriate behavior that had little to do with remembrance. As will be seen in later sections, a handful of such anecdotes from Han times survives as well. To recapitulate, the existence of the individual ritual components is easier to prove than the existence of the full ritual systems that are spelled out in the prescriptive texts. We are dependent upon the fortuitous survival of archeological and literary evidence, and even when the physical objects of ritual do survive—bronze vessels, animal bones, shrine ruins and so forth—the intangibles of how those objects related to other ob-

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


jects or were used in actual ceremonies still generally elude us. Ultimately, answering the question of whether the ritual prescriptions were heeded requires a case-by-case approach, and needless to say, these cases will become harder to substantiate when reaching beyond the lettered classes. Yet given that the ritual components do exist, we should at least qualify what we mean by “prescription.” Perhaps some eras and regions did not carry out the prescribed corporate sacrifice every third or fifth year, its precise timing determined by the calendar’s intercalary months, but that does not necessarily mean there were no regular corporate sacrifices. Perhaps the landed lords did not each sacrifice to the prescribed five generations of ancestors whereas officials only sacrificed to two, but that does not necessarily mean there were no obvious differences in recognized pedigree length contingent upon wealth and class. Even if the three hundred greater rules and three thousand lesser rules are not entirely valid descriptions of actual practice, it does not follow there was no practice at all. In the end, the ritual prescriptions might have been intended to streamline existing practice and iron out differences, not create ancestral worship from scratch.

How widespread were the idea systems from texts such as the Ritual records among the unlettered populace? Students of religion recognize that textual and non-textual media potentially carry different kinds of religious idea systems, and one of those students, namely Harvey Whitehouse, has labeled them as the “doctrinal mode” and the “imagistic mode” respectively. As the name implies, the doctrinal mode gives more authority to doctrine, often propagated through orated texts, and exhibits a coherent, elaborate and integrated body of ideas that is usually heavy on morality and can spread over great distances. Conversely, the imagistic mode is non-verbal and best manifested in doing ritual acts and observing taboos; it echoes the performance approach to ritual described by Bell and others above. Whereas the doctrinal mode highlights explanations and exegesis, the imagistic mode garners more authority through mystery, and even its practitioners are uncertain as to why particular things must be done in particular ways.120 Working with the ancestor cults in Papua New Guinea, Whitehouse has


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developed a distinction that is here useful for reifying three limitations on generalization that are relevant to the early Chinese ancestral cult. First, the religion of the prescriptive texts may co-exist with an alternate version only known through the imagistic mode. Second, whereas doctrine (either written or recited) is able to spread geographically and temporally well beyond the first act of communication, the imagistic mode is much more immanent and limited, meaning that its corresponding forms of religion are much more diverse and localized. That is, even if we had full access to a particular religion that utilized the imagistic mode, we couldn’t generalize from it. Third, not only does the imagistic religion evade the historian through a paucity of texts and primary sources, but its focus on mystery and its tolerance of inexplicability also sidesteps so-called scholarly analysis. Because more than nine-tenths of the Han population worked the land and lived in small households of five or six people at some distance from the grand families and their textual traditions, we simply cannot know the complete picture of the early ancestral cults even with our relative abundance of prescriptive and descriptive texts, of physical objects and anthropological insights. When distinguishing between doctrinal and imagistic modes, Whitehouse does not qualify the difference via class, but modern scholarship on early China tends to associate the written or recited fixed text with ruling and literati classes in contrast to “the masses” with their “popular religions.” These associations may require some modification (see below), but the pre-Qin Classicist texts themselves readily divided upper and lower classes. Justifying the division using the economics of specialization, many pre- and early imperial texts separated those who labored with their minds from those who labored with their muscles, with the former ruling the latter.121 Xunzi and others applied this distinction to ancestor worship, contending that “those who eat through the labor of their hands are unable to erect a lineage shrine” (持手而食者不得立宗廟).122 Yet the Ritual records would not deny farmers their ancestral reverence, explaining that they instead sacrificed inside the home and not in an independent structure earmarked for ancestor worship.123 Emphasizing how comprehensive ancestral reverence was, it elsewhere contends that the Duke of Zhou orchestrated the royal ancestral sacrifices up top and then “extended such rituals to the feudal lords and grandees and onward to the

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


Fig. 6. The Mawangdui funerary silk (SOURCE: Fu Juyou and Chen Songchang, Mawangdui Hanmu wenwu, 36).

officers and commoners” (斯禮也,達乎諸侯大夫及士庶人), concluding that “mourning for fathers and mothers was the same without distinction of class” (父母之喪,無貴賤一也).124 According to the ideal, the gradations of remembrance may have depended upon a person’s status, but everyone, regardless of class, was graded within the same system. The distinction between upper and lower, between shang 上 and xia 下, is not without some justification. If the ritual performers were largely unlettered, it seems likely they would rely more upon an imagistic mode rather than any doctrinal mode, thereby diluting the influence of texts such as the Ritual records. Furthermore, even if the performers knew of the doc-


Part I

trinal idea systems, they might not have agreed with them or at least regarded them as useful. To cite a close modern parallel, Stevan Harrell in his field study on the concept of “soul” in today’s Taiwan queried whether literati ideas such as hunpo dualism—an ethereal hun-soul characterized by yang that returned to heaven at death while a corporeal po-soul characterized by yin returned to earth—were widely embraced by the broader populace. He noted a familiarity with this idea but not an acceptance of it: So while it is undeniably true that some Chinese folk believers know about the distinction between hun and p’o on a theoretical level, it seems to fit badly, if at all, with the way they think about “souls” acting or behaving. So we must reject the idea of two “souls” as a basically analytical construct which has little bearing on behavior of folk believers.125

It is this kind of distinction that stymies generalization in early China as well. For example, literati discussions on this hunpo dualism date back to early texts such as the Zuo commentary (although surprisingly not to the prescriptive ritual texts themselves126), but a careful examination of the surviving evidence demonstrates that people rarely employed a tidy scholastic hunpo dualism when envisioning post-mortem existence. Any neatly structured system originating from the doctrinal works of the lettered populace should be viewed with an eye of suspicion, and modern scholarship should avoid generalizations that begin with the words “the early Chinese believed.” This question of whether the unlettered populace might have been familiar with Classicist ancestral doctrine raises an interesting secondary question: Precisely how would such doctrinal ideas have been communicated to the greater farming class? Many Classicist texts assume a ruler’s exemplary behavior percolated down through the masses without explaining the actual mechanics of that percolation, but fortunately we do know about some of his tools. In the Han, the court directly promoted filial piety—and therefore indirectly the ancestral cult—via its officerrecruitment system that sought out the xiaolian 孝廉 or “filially pious and incorrupt”; via its identification of the sanlao 三老 or “thrice venerable” in each district to provide the moral leadership acquired with old age; via its education system that began with the Filial piety canon; via its festivals that formally honored a community’s elderly with meals and the

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gift of official walking staffs; via laws that mitigated punishments for the elderly; and via inscribed plaques that adorned the household entrances of filial descendants and honored seniors. Thus the court indeed possessed a small bundle of instruments that propagated the tendrils of filial piety outward into the rest of the empire. Beyond bureaucratic influence, the lettered populace had other ways of spreading ideas of ancestral remembrance via image and not just doctrine, one of which was the image program found inside cemetery shrines that dotted the countryside. Han anecdotes tell of people visiting these shrines while out walking, and the shrine inscriptions themselves might incite visitors to keep the cemetery clean and undamaged.127 While inside these shrines, visitors could view a number of images or emblemata depicting filial sons and chaste wives, loyal officials and worthy rulers, each image harkening to a popular narrative. To take just one example (and admittedly one that directly bears upon the tools of ritual remembrance), Ding Lan 丁蘭 lost his parents when he was still an adolescent, and he thus made an ancestral statue of his father or, in some versions, his mother. The common theme in all versions is Ding Lan’s intense devotion to the statue as exemplified in his asking it permission when neighbors wanted to borrow something from the household or his mourning for it when it became damaged. Ding Lan’s story survives not only in several early texts but also in stone pictures, such as those carved in relief in each of the three so-called Wu Family shrines, in painted murals, such as that adorning a tomb at Helinge’er in Inner Mongolia, as well as in lacquer images, such as on a basket thought to date from the first century ce that was excavated in the Han’s northeastern-most territories.128 In other words, the simple idea of intense ancestral devotion could be spread via image and not just doctrine, potentially surmounting the literacy barrier. However, the individual ritual components such as an appreciation of filial piety and a knowledge of ancestral statues are still a far cry from the complex idea systems the Duke of Zhou would extend down to the common people.

Did the unlettered populace actually implement these idea systems? Without knowing whether the unlettered populace had sufficient access to the idea systems in the Ritual records and other prescriptive texts, the


Part I

question of whether they implemented them seems moot. Yet there survive some references to the masses echoing remembrance practices of the lettered classes, one such being a stipulated observance period at the death of a relative. Conscripts on the frontier could “take leave” (quning 取寧) to bury a relative, and the excavated bamboo and wood strips from northwestern China demonstrate that such leave was codified with conscripts “taking leave as per the regulations” ( yiling quning 以令取寧) or with the leave “to be fully carried out in accord with the rules and regulations” ( jinqian ru lüling 盡遣如律令).129 First drawing on the Zhangjiashan strips, Fan Zhijun describes how, at the beginning of the Western Han, this leave was limited to thirty days, which as Fan himself notes is shorter than the three months stipulated in the Ritual records for burying a commoner’s parent and far shorter than the three-year mourning period that theoretically extended to everyone. As an act of filial piety, Emperor Xuan 宣 (r. 74–49 bce) significantly extended that thirty days in 66 bce to grant sons leave until the burial was complete, and while the edict’s details are lost, Fan Zhijun demonstrates that the excavated bamboo and wood strips confirm a lengthening of this leave period to the stipulated three months.130 In addition to evidence for mourning close kin, references that tell of the general populace carrying out other acts of remembrance, such as the construction of sacrificial shrines to local heroes, survive in both historical records and stone inscriptions. These incidental references allude to the “hundred surnames” (baixing 百姓), the “people of the region” ( guoren 國人), the “clerks and people” (limin 吏民) or simply “the people” (min 民) building such shrines, but these citations generally offer few further details.131 By way of exception, a stele dedicated to a certain Jing Yun 景雲 erected in 173 ce and excavated in 2004 offers one of the longest and most evocative images of public mourning for their local prefect, clearly contending that commoners mourned and sacrificed alongside their officials for the proper length of time: 如喪考妣,三載泣怛,遏勿八音,百姓流淚,魂靈既載,農夫惻結, 行路撫涕,織婦喑咽,吏民懷慕。戶有祠祭,煙火相望,四時不絕, 深野曠澤,哀聲忉切,追歌遺風,嘆績億世,刻石紀號,永永不滅, 烏呼哀哉,烏呼哀哉!

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It was as if mourning for a parent, and they wept in anguish for three years. All music fell silent, and the commoners let their tears flow. While his hunling was [still] present, the farmers were anxious and knotted up, the travelers brushed away their tears, the weaving women sobbed in silence, and the officials longingly brooded. When the households presented their offerings and sacrifices, the sacrificers could see each other’s smoke and fire in the distance. Sacrifices were presented every season without exception, even deep into the wilds far and wide. Because the sounds of mourning were distressingly pressing, they thus sang about his remnant wind, a sighing that would last for a hundred thousand generations. We inscribed this stone and recorded his name so that it would last forever and never be obliterated—O such anguish! O such anguish!132

Jing Yun’s “wind”—a standard image of an exemplary leader’s invisible influence—would continue to blow, affecting the region at large for years to come and thereby justifying public mourning and seasonal sacrifices. As with all inscriptions, we are of course at the hands of the lettered inscriber and must ask how closely his hyperbolic rhetoric reflected reality. Even so, Jing Yun’s stele and others like it were outdoor monuments for public consumption, not carefully preserved texts kept within the household. Some sources expressly highlight how different ancestral worship was for the unlettered populace as compared to the lettered populace, but they do not argue that these differences were critical. Instead, the masses were doing the right thing but for the wrong reasons. The Huainanzi lists several examples: 世俗言曰﹕「饗大高者而彘為上牲,葬死人者裘不可以藏,相戲以刃 者太祖軵其肘,枕戶橉而臥者鬼神蹠其首。」此皆不著於法令,而聖 人不口傳也。 Folklore includes the following sayings: “When feasting the highest [ancestors], pork is the best sacrifice.” “When burying the dead, don’t inter them with fur.” “When playing around with each other using swords, the grand ancestor will push against your arms.” “When you sleep using the door threshold as a pillow, the ghosts and spirits will tread upon your head.” None of these are recorded in the rules and regulations, and the sages never passed them down by word of mouth.133

Absent in the prescriptive regulations, these popular traditions would seem to be without foundation, but the Huainanzi continues by noting the common sense that informs each saying. Pork was common and so it naturally became a staple in ancestral sacrifices, whereas furs were rare and never to be wasted by burying them in the ground. Playing with swords or


Part I

sleeping with one’s head on a door threshold was obviously dangerous, and so folklore drew upon spiritual agencies to curb such practices. To the masses, the reasons for carrying out these acts and taboos were inexplicable in the manner of Whitehouse’s imagistic mode, and it seemingly took the Huainanzi scholars to locate the true underlying logic. Even the Ritual records itself contends that although the sages understood the cosmological forces of the universe, they had to invent anthropomorphized ghosts and spirits as well as tangible temples and sacrifices in order to teach the masses obedience and organize their family hierarchies (see Section 3).134 What the benighted masses were doing was right even if their reasons were wrong. A few sources were not so tolerant when it came to descriptions of common ancestral sacrifices. Zhang Chao 張超 (fl. second half of second century ce) wrote a poetic exposition deriding inappropriate marriages, citing various historical examples of wives who had brought their husbands down. Painting a picture of a once-worthy man having lowered himself through an improper match, he laments how that man could no longer serve as host in the family’s ancestral shrine but had to shift his worship to more profane settings: 歲時酹祀 詣其先祖 或於馬廄 廚間灶下 東向長跪 接狎觴酒 悉請諸靈 僻邪當主

Amidst the annual and seasonal libation sacrifices, They draw their ancestors near, Either at the stables Or in the kitchen by the stove. Facing east and long kneeling With goblet after goblet of wine, They invite the whole host of spirits, Serving them in their rustic and depraved way.135

Such is the fate of a commoner as he desperately “begs for much but with meager results” (duoqi shaochu 多乞少出). Zhang Chao clearly draws attention to lower-class sacrifices that have strayed far beyond the ritual norms. Tolerant or critical, these sources still originate from the lettered classes. Identifying sources that would present the unlettered populace’s own perspective is more of a challenge, although there may be a glimpse of that viewpoint in the various almanacs or “daybooks” (rishu 日書) that have been excavated in recent years. Among much advice on how to identify

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


thieves by their appearances, what days to marry off a daughter and when to kill livestock, these almanacs stipulate how to appease the “hundred ghosts” (baigui 百鬼), primarily by having the reader be conscious of good and bad timing. As will be seen in Part III, they sometimes identify late parents and grandparents who are “haunting” (sui 祟) their descendants on certain days and causing them to become ill, thereby necessitating particular sacrifices. Other times they explicitly advise against sacrifices, as in the following extract from an almanac excavated in 1998 at Kongjiapo in Hubei that lists the prohibitions to be observed on a particular day: 不可禱祀,歸以禮傷,百鬼不(鄉)〔饗〕。 You are not permitted to carry out prayers and sacrifices. Causing them to return via ritual will bring you harm, and the hundred ghosts will not partake in the feast.136

While the “hundred ghosts” need not specify human apparitions per se, here the language of “causing them to return” ( gui 歸) is commonly associated with ancestral sacrifices in particular and implies the notion of orchestrating a homecoming for the ancestors. A more interesting delimitation of ancestral sacrifice comes to light through a description of a late Qin ceremony dedicated to the “Ancestral Farmer” (Xiannong 先農) excavated in 1993, also in Hubei. It begins with the sacrificer sending his daughter to the marketplace to buy beef and wine, and as she went, she was to do obeisance and proclaim “Everyone sacrifices to grandfather, but I/we alone sacrifice to the Ancestral Farmer” (人皆祠泰父,我獨祠先 農). The text proceeds to detail that sacrifice and includes the promise that, should the household’s harvest outstrip that of its neighbors, the Ancestral Farmer would forever take priority over grandfather.137 In these excavated documents, the status quo is recorded only when it is disrupted; the ubiquity of ancestral sacrifices—”Everyone sacrifices to grandfather”— is mentioned only when those sacrifices are delimited. Finally, when trying to determine whether the masses generally adhered to the ritual prescriptions, it is too easy to envision a homogenous body when there was no doubt a great deal of diversity in regional practice. It is possible and even likely that certain regions heeded the ritual prescriptions more closely than others. For a pre-imperial parallel, the peripheral regions of Chu and Qin preserved the Zhou ritual systems even after they had faded in the more centralized states. Using Chu bronze inscriptions,


Part I

Constance Cook concludes, “Long after the inscribed rhetoric of other states was limited to brief statements on weapons, pieces of the Zhou legacy were still preserved by the Chu royal family.”138 Studying the Qin tombs of both commoners and aristocrats, Falkenhausen similarly surmises, “At the level of ritual vessel assemblages, rigid adherence to sumptuary standards established during Late Western Zhou persisted longer [in Qin] than elsewhere in the Zhou culture sphere.”139 For a post-Han parallel, Yan Zhitui commented upon the different levels of crying spelled out in the Ritual records (see above), observing that southern mourners punctuated their crying with plaintive anguish whereas northern firstdegree mourners only called out to heaven while the rest merely announced their deep pain without any tears. If ritual regionalism can be evinced both before and after the early imperial era in such examples, one should assume the Qin/Han period similarly experienced local variations in how these prescriptions were heeded, even if the primary sources themselves might imply a false sense of uniformity among “those who eat through the labor of their hands.” With regard to the overall rubric of questions on whether the lettered and unlettered classes knew and implemented the ritual prescriptions, let me close with three observations: 1. The prescriptive texts harbor an agenda—namely a unitary vision of empire based on the (most likely false) precedent of a Golden Age— and so we have reason to exercise some caution before assuming this elaborate argument was actually implemented. While from the above evidence it seems likely these texts enjoyed considerable breadth of circulation among the lettered classes, it is easier to verify the existence of the ancestral cult’s components—the sacrifices, impersonators, vessels, tablets, spirits and so forth—than it is to confirm the prescribed systems that interrelated those components. Yet there is some corroborative evidence for those systems as well. At the very least, we cannot assume the prescriptive texts are generally true or false and must tackle each system on a case-by-case basis. 2. However, dividing up beliefs between lettered and unlettered classes may be misleading. As seen in the Introduction, all genres of discourse were regarded as ultimately united, and so the lettered classes might have explained away the spirits as cosmological principles when writing their memorials and edicts at court, only to return home and offer those same

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spirits their pork and prayers. The prescriptive texts might have been regarded as just one among many ways of approaching the spirits. 3. Even if they had not been fully implemented, these prescriptive texts still played an important role, serving as an ongoing baseline, a yardstick from which deviation could be measured. These ritual systems were akin to a rarely enforced speed limit on a major highway: most people knew the limits and accepted the rationality behind them but did not precisely abide by them. They always kept an eye on how much deviance there was between the official limits and their own behavior, and yet only a few might have radically transgressed those limits. Part II’s chronological survey of thirteen imperial case studies will amply demonstrate how people kept an eye on that speed limit while driving at velocities that suited them.

Conclusion Shortly before World War II, the historian E.G. Collingwood wrote extensively on the changing ideas of what constituted “history” in the West. History is no longer a book of precedents to dictate current actions because we have come to recognize an insurmountable psychological gap between us and them, between modern man and the ancients. Under the influence of Cartesian notions of physics and Darwinian notions of evolution, history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had become reconceived as a study of the earlier other, a study of the causes, conditions and people prior to us. At best we can only reconstruct the distant and differentiated past via documents written and unwritten. But what form does that reconstruction take? Collingwood suggests that new historians unknowingly engage in what might be called “thought experiments” (although this is not a term he himself used): So the historian of politics or warfare, presented with an account of certain actions done by Julius Caesar, tries to understand these actions, that is, to discover what thoughts in Caesar’s mind determined him to do them. This implies envisaging for himself the situation in which Caesar stood, and thinking for himself what Caesar thought about the situation and the possible ways of dealing with it. The history of thought, and therefore all history, is the re-enactment of past thought in the historian’s own mind.140

That is, we try to understand their actions by putting ourselves in their shoes even if we are not conscious of this process. When we are explicitly


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encouraged to engage in a mental reconstruction—as in the case of Wu Hung’s “imaginary journey” above—that reconstruction may seem at odds with a so-called objective approach to history. As students of academic disciplines, we are seldom asked to “imagine what it would have been like” because imagination borders upon fictionalization. Yet when a performance approach with its emotional, aesthetic, physical and sensory facets is applied to rituals in cultures that are remote from us, it is only through imagination that we can probe the site-specific and time-specific unscripted experience. It reminds us again that we can only see the scaffold outlining the shape of a crumbling building. As long as we are aware of its limits and willing to ponder the degree of accuracy in each case, we can wager a bet as to what that experience might have been like. Such thought experiments can serve as an academic tool of speculation, leading us to weave disparate materials together and, at the very least, to ask novel questions that test the surviving evidence in new ways. That being the case, we might use the tidy prescriptions of the Ritual records to envisage an individual’s participation in the lineage’s ancestral cult as a long series of performances enduring over the span of a lifetime and beyond. Imagine if you will that, as a child, you first joined the most distant row of sacrificers, the tablets with their fragrant meat and wine perhaps hidden from your view by the rest of the lineage. Season after season as your comprehension of the events grows, you slowly move closer to the sacrifices as younger children fill your wake. The sensory experience of the sights, the smells, the sounds and even the tastes become more meaningful as you approach the incense-laden altar. Capping and marriage result in further adjustments to your seat’s relative position within your extended family.141 Over the years, you pay more and more attention to how the lineage rituals are orchestrated because the time will eventually come when you yourself are leading the sacrifices, unifying the lineage in this ritual. Then one day, you cross the threshold, turning around to face the lineage as you yourself are called a “spirit.” You are still part of the family, and like your living descendants, you seasonally make your way back here for this communal meal. Over the generations, your seat continues to make its progression toward the front of the hall as younger generations still continue to fill your wake. Eventually, long beyond living memory, your tablet finally joins the lineage progenitor and dozens of other ances-

An Imaginary Yardstick for Ritual Performance


tors on the main altar, fully incorporated into the family and finally merged into the lineage’s ultimate beginning.142 What novel questions might this “re-enactment of past thought in the historian’s own mind” raise, particularly with regard to the prescriptive texts on ritual? The observation and performance of those rituals from childhood onward—the habituation of practice—probably trumped those physical texts in terms of serving as a source of information and authority, even to the extent that its structures could pass from generation to generation without going through any conscious discourse or justification. That habituation has implications beyond just knowledge of the rituals themselves. Pierre Bourdieu describes at length how children, who primarily learn through imitation, do not come to enunciate a definable world view; rather, their practice and their world view simply generate one another. In a statement most relevant to a child’s relationship to the ancestral shrine, he writes that it is “in the dialectical relationship between the body and a space structured according to the mythico-ritual oppositions that one finds the form par excellence of the structural apprenticeship which leads to the embodying of the structures of the world, that is, the appropriating by the world of a body thus enabled to appropriate the world.” In this physical, ritualized space where microcosm and macrocosm are united and where divisions and hierarchies are reified, “this tangible classifying system continuously inculcates and reinforces the taxonomic principles underlying all the arbitrary provisions of this culture.”143 That is, we can’t look at the ancestral cult’s ritual practices and spaces as simply the conscious reflection of a world view; because of habitus, we must see the practices and spaces as also causing that world view. While the prescriptive ritual texts may attempt to articulate that view, lifelong experience of practiced ritual is what embeds its authority and meaningfulness into one’s reality. Yet it is the texts that survive, not the experiences themselves, and so my purpose in this book is to forge the strongest possible link between text and experience—or at least between text and recorded experience. At the very least, we can take the ritual components and systems outlined in these prescriptions and compare them to their implementation as preserved in the historical record. Such an attempt is made in Part II.

PART II A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors

In plumbing the nature of early Chinese religions, the Introduction focused upon how diverse idea systems were regarded as springing up from a common root; in probing the role of ritual, Part I drew upon modern performance theory, which highlights ritual’s experiential side, its framing techniques and the microcosm it endeavors to offer. Yet besides saying that ritual is the “doing” of religion, how does the religion in the Introduction ultimately relate to performance ritual in Part I? The anthropologist Roy Rappaport has fruitfully unpacked the content of religion and related it to ritual by sorting out its elements into a fourfold hierarchy of ultimate sacred postulates, cosmological axioms, rules of conduct (including ritual) and on-the-ground adaptations.1 The “crowning bodies of religious discourse,” ultimate sacred postulates are vague, intangible understandings of the big picture; they are the ultimate goals of the cosmos, usually all-encompassing and immune to disproof.2 To that end, they are also so general that they become adaptable to any situation, thus making them enduring and resistant to change. In terms of what we have explored so far, the Dao itself is clearly the superlative ultimate sacred postulate, as all thought systems in early China would trace their roots to this well-rounded totality that explicitly defies definition.3 This unifying vagary then becomes adaptable to any school of thought, easily serving as the common origin of many diverse idea systems. Closely related to the Dao, the slightly more concrete notion of “heaven”

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


or “august heaven” knows no spatial or temporal limits and hence becomes the top of the spiritual hierarchy evident in the Zhou bronze vessel inscriptions. Cosmological axioms are the clusters of conceptions defining the substructure of that big picture, conceptions that are tangible in the social and physical phenomena of daily experience. They are the inherent patterns in nature such as yin and yang, the four seasons and (to be explored below) the five phases. If asked to sketch the basic design of the universe, we should be able to draw out or at least envision these components interrelating with one another. That is, yin and yang, the seasons and so forth are the substructure of the Dao, the internal diversification of the ultimate unity.4 In the early Chinese tradition, those cosmological axioms may find expression within the individual such as yang and yin’s subdivision of the cosmos being mirrored in the hun and po’s subdivision of the human body. Macrocosm and microcosm thereby enjoy a “sympathetic resonance” ( yinggan 應感), and that structuring principle of resonance is itself another cosmological axiom. Rappaport’s “rules of conduct” focus upon humans harmoniously maintaining that resonance. They are the rules and taboos that govern relations among peoples; they are the qualities and conditions that define what is appropriate and inappropriate; and they are expressed through both ritual and daily behavior. Cosmology is transformed into conduct. The idea of yin and yang is translated into building shrines with the original ancestor positioned at the northernmost point of the south-facing shrine, the sacrifices to him laid out with their heads to the north. The idea of seasons is translated into the monthly ordinances and seasonal offerings.5 As for the resonance between microcosm and macrocosm, the Filial piety canon’s chapter entitled “Sympathetic resonance” explicitly enjoins humans to a reverent obedience and virtuous propriety that will ripple out into the rest of the world. The three hundred greater rules and three thousand lesser rules of ritual were first and foremost justified within the logical order of a harmonious universe. Yet ritual expressed on Rappaport’s third level is not merely shaped by an understanding of ultimate sacred postulates and their cosmological axioms filtering downward; it is also influenced by the contemporary, highly changeable social, psychical and physical circumstances of ritual’s performers. These prevailing conditions from the external world lead to


Part II

on-the-ground adaptations as ritual prescriptions twist and bend to actual situations and site-specific applications. Part II is devoted to this fourth level of Rappaport’s hierarchy or, more specifically, to how specific circumstances percolated upward to affect the prescriptive ancestral rituals. Part II provides a chronological frame for the rest of this study, but it is not a traditional history of early imperial China. Instead it is as if that history were being viewed from inside the gates of the imperial ancestral shrine. The events recounted below are a series of thirteen cases or precedents that involve the permanence or impermanence of ancestral tablets and the dead they represented. It is a history that navigates between structured amnesia with its faded, forgotten ancestors and decommissioned shrines on one side, and the desire for perpetual remembrance with its permanent forebears and stone monuments on the other. It is an ongoing, four-century-long debate as to how much authority the ritual prescriptions within the Ritual records and the Ceremonies and rituals should possess in light of actual circumstances and historical realities. In the process of navigating this history—a history that runs from the end of the Qin dynasty to the beginning of the Wei dynasty—this study will raise questions about the relationship between lineage and territory, about ritual pretense versus ritual sincerity, and about heeding a single constant model as opposed to reacting to diverse times.

Section 9: The Second Emperor of Qin’s Ritually Correct Shrine (209 bce) Most histories of early imperial China naturally highlight 221 bce, the year that unification was achieved by the First Emperor of Qin. This brief dynasty of fifteen years, with its capital located at western China’s Xianyang 咸陽, united the territory in more ways than just through land boundaries. From coinage to measures, from writing system to an infrastructure of roads, irrigation networks and defense works, the Qin is credited with defining the imperial state. Should it have survived as long as the dynastic houses before and after it, it might have been credited for amalgamating the ancestral realm as well, drawing upon the prescriptive systems outlined in Part I and adding its own unifying remembrance schemes to it. Yet before we detail the Qin’s attempt at ancestral unifica-

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


tion, let us briefly contextualize it with the following contemporaneous ancestral matters: • Prior to imperial unification, royal ancestral worship had faded, in part replaced with the worship of cosmic and natural deities, because the Zhou court and hereditary nobility in general had declined, but the Classicist program would be seen as resurrecting the ideals of the early Zhou state, including its emphasis on the ancestral cult. • Our knowledge of ancestral worship conducted by the First Emperor (r. 221–210) is limited to rhetorical gestures such as in one of his mountain inscriptions dated to the year of unification that records, “He presented lofty titles to [his ancestors] above, his filial principle manifest and bright” (上薦高號,孝道顯明).6 • With his own father posthumously titled Taishanghuang 太上皇 (“Grand august one on high”), the new emperor himself became Qin shi huangdi 秦始皇帝, literally “Qin progenitor august thearch,” all his successors now to be named relative to himself in a single ancestral queue as “Second generation august thearch,” “Third generation august thearch” and so forth.7 • The First Emperor also pursued immortals and immortality in an avoidance of death that would seem to contradict the precepts of the ancestral cult, but as noted in the Introduction, early Chinese belief systems did not necessarily demand total adherence to one genre of discourse at the exclusion of others.8 • Finally, Han scholars such as Ban Biao 班彪 (3–54) would later blame the First Emperor’s massive book-burning in 213 bce for the subsequent confusion on implementing the structured amnesia systems laid out in the Ritual records, a confusion that led to the Western Han debates to be explored below.9 Han detractors, while enjoying the benefits of unification, criticized the Qin because it unified the Middle Kingdoms through one man and one man only, without offering territorial rewards or land incentives to anyone else. But why such a territorial monopoly? Royal history as it was perceived in the late Zhou was a story of increasing estrangement or indifference within what was in theory a grand extended family, and the consequences of that estrangement were deadly. The Guanzi warns that waning kinship was the first cause of all disputation and contention:


Part II

君人之主,弟兄十人,分國為十,兄弟五人,分國為五。三世則昭穆 同祖,十世則為祏。故伏尸滿衍,兵決而無止。 When a ruler has ten sons, he divides his state ten ways; when a ruler has five sons, he divides his state five ways. For three generations they recognize the same ancestors who are divided into their zhao- and mu-positions, but after ten generations these tablets are stored away in a stone shi-altar. Thereupon fallen corpses will litter the wilds and recourse to arms will continue nonstop.10

Citing the Ritual records, commentators to the Guanzi here define the shi-altar as dedicated to the most distant ancestors who have at last reached an unremembered, ghostly state. In the Guanzi, the fragmentation of the family and the state was directly proportional to the fading of the ancestors. The early loyalty between the brothers who ruled the empire’s different kingdoms was not the same as the later loyalty between third or fourth cousins. At best, the living recognized family ties with anyone who could claim a common ancestor five generations back, but according to the Ritual records, “kinship ties become exhausted” (qinshu jie yi 親屬竭矣) beyond that.11 The First Emperor of Qin would not establish his own sons as feudal lords over various regions to avoid the very problem that the Guanzi and other texts highlighted. That is, the Zhou at first had established its own relatives as rulers of the various states, but according to the Qin emperor’s chief advisor, “afterward the ties grew sparse and distant, and they attacked one another as hated enemies” (然後屬疏 遠,相攻擊如仇讎).12 Yet Qin’s resulting territorial monopoly was repeatedly regarded as its fatal flaw because, from commoners to generals, people were more likely to fight for their own land, not for a landlord. Han detractors also branded the Qin as a barbaric, even animal-like state, ritually unsophisticated and culturally other. In this case, there appears to be little truth to the accusation. The Qin was in fact an old state enfeoffed in the ninth century bce with a legendary pedigree embedded in traditional Zhou mythology.13 According to early sources, its rulers were steeped in traditional Classicist culture, and they made full use of that culture in its courtly exchanges.14 The history of the early imperial ancestral cult does not begin with the First Emperor but with his son, the Second Emperor of Qin 二世皇帝 (r. 210–207), and his construction of the Qin ancestral hall complex. Drawing on that traditional Classicist culture, the Second Emperor commanded that ancestral remembrance be orchestrated into a system closely

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


heeding the Ritual records’ description of proper imperial ancestral worship. In the year he succeeded his father, the Second Emperor’s officials offered him the following memorial as recorded in the Historical records: 古者天子七廟,諸侯五,大夫三,雖萬世世不軼毀。今始皇為極廟, 四海之內皆獻貢職,增犧牲,禮咸備,毋以加。先王廟或在西雍,或 在咸陽。天子儀當獨奉酌祠始皇廟。 In antiquity although the sons of heaven had seven shrines, the feudal lords five and the grandees three, [the lineage progenitor] would never face gradual obliteration even after ten thousand generations. Now the First Emperor will serve as the pivotal shrine, and when all within the four seas offer up their tributary obligations—piling on their sacrifices and fully provisioning the rituals—they shall limit themselves to his shrine. Some of the shrines to past kings are at Xiyong and others at Xianyang. [Yet] in the ceremonies of the son of heaven, it is appropriate that you alone offer up the libation sacrifices to the shrine of the First Emperor.15

The Historical records then notes that the shrines from Duke Xiang 襄 of Qin (r. 777–766) onward were decommissioned to the point that only the stipulated seven remained. Recognized as a feudal lord, Duke Xiang had been the progenitor of the Qin state’s ancestral line.16 That is, he had established the territory upon which his successors had garnered their livelihood.17 Yet the Ceremonies and rituals justifies demoting such ancestors if their descendants acquired the greater state and became the new focus of ancestral remembrance, a practice that further demonstrates the important link between lineage progenitors and territorial acquisition.18 As there had been twenty-five generations of at least thirty Qin rulers between Duke Xiang and the First Emperor, the Second Emperor of Qin’s reduction and systematization must have been significant.19 One can also see here the political necessity of his elevating his own position by becoming the fulcrum between the empire’s sacrificers and the empire’s most eminent ancestor. Otherwise he would have been in danger of becoming just one sacrificer among many, lost in the crowd. Thus the imposition of structure upon ancestral remembrance was one means of securing his own role as august thearch. Yet the final collapse of the Second Emperor’s seven shrines at the hands of a commoner (i.e., Liu Bang 劉邦 or Gaozu 高祖 [r. 202–195], founder of the Han) became a metaphor for the downfall of the Qin empire itself.20 An old state had fallen to a man without pedigree.


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Section 10: The Ancestral Perpetuity of Emperor Wen (157 bce) Despite its brevity, the Qin is today laden with stereotypical associations such as militarism, extremities in law and order and grand-scale public works projects at an enormous cost of human life. By contrast, the subsequent Han dynasty is heralded as four centuries that anchored the imperial state within its greatly expanded borders and established the foundations of what would become China’s famous civil service and examination system. Nowadays, the Han 漢 refers to the ethnic majority, Hanyu 漢語 to the Chinese language in general and Hanxue 漢學 to the “scholarship in the Han style,” a phrase adopted by the Qing forefathers of modern Sinology.21 Yet the transition between Qin and Han was mainly one of ruling lineage, not one of great social or institutional change.22 The Han continued many if not most of the Qin projects and proscriptions, and before turning to how remembrance for one of the first Han rulers already began to strain the ritual prescriptions, let us briefly list some of those continuities concerning ancestral matters: • A holdover from the Second Emperor of Qin’s court, Shusun Tong not only introduced rituals to the new Han empire to transform Liu Bang’s rowdy generals into obedient participants of the court, he is also said to have “established the ceremonial system of the ancestral shrines” (定宗廟儀法) although no details survive.23 • Liu Bang in turn conducted ancestral sacrifices for the major states lost at the end of the Zhou dynasty, including ox sacrifices to Hou Ji, the mythic founder of the Zhou royal lineage, in 199 bce. Four years later he held grave sacrifices to the First Emperor of Qin because the latter had no surviving descendants to carry them out.24 • Even while Liu Bang was still attacking his chief rival Xiang Yu 項羽 (d. 202 bce) and the state of Chu, the first Liu ancestral halls were being established in the western regions under Han control as early as 205 bce, less than two years after the Qin had collapsed.25 • Mimicking the First Emperor of Qin, Liu Bang gave his own father the title Taishanghuang 太上皇 (“Grand august one on high”), and after his father’s death in 197 bce, Liu Bang ordered all the feudal lords and kings to erect shrines for his father in their capitals, an act later seen as establishing imperial unity through this network of physical structures.26

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


• Yet the Han did not continue the First Emperor of Qin’s ban on posthumous names, and at Liu Bang’s death in 195 bce, the assembled subjects proclaimed that the Han founder “arose from the small and minute to turn aside a chaotic age and return it to correctness, bringing a peaceful stability to the world and becoming the grand ‘ancestor’ of the Han, his merit being most ‘high’” (起微細,撥亂世反之正,平定 天下,為漢太祖,功最高).27 Henceforth Liu Bang would be known as “High ancestor” or Gaozu. • While he is better known as Gaozu, his official temple name was elevated to Taizu or “Grand zu-ancestor,” and Gaozu’s son and heir Hui 惠 (r. 195–188) ordered all the commanderies, fiefs and kingdoms to erect shrines in his honor. Evident from the beginning of the Han itself was the perception or at least the rhetoric that a major change in circumstances had accompanied the “changing of surnames” (yixing 易姓), that is, a change in ruling lineages. As he chastised a border king who was turning against his Chinese heritage to embrace alien ways, Lu Jia 陸賈 (ca. 228–ca. 140) identified Liu Bang’s foundation of the Han as nothing short of ordained by heaven. Liu Bang had not only wiped out the Qin, but in just a few years had also vanquished all his rivals such as Xiang Yu, and Lu Jia then summarizes as follows: 皇帝起豐沛,討暴秦,誅彊楚,為天下興利除害,繼五帝三王之業, 統理中國。中國之人以億計,地方萬里,居天下之膏腴,人眾、車 轝、萬物殷富,政由一家,自天地剖洋未始有也。 The emperor arose in the city of Feng in Pei, exterminated the violent Qin and eradicated the fierce Chu. On behalf of the world, he brought about benefit and cast aside harm, continuing the undertaking of the Five Emperors and the Three Kings and bringing a comprehensive order to the Middle Kingdoms. The people of the Middle Kingdoms number in the hundreds of thousands and its land in the tens of thousands of li. It occupies the fertile portion of the world, and its masses of people, its carriages and its myriad things are all in abundance. Its government comes from a single family. There has not been anything like this since heaven and earth first split apart from one another.28

“Its government comes from a single family” was more than just a catchphrase, as Liu Bang divvied up the eastern half of China among his relations—including nine of his own sons and brothers—while he himself engaged in more direct control over the western half by retaining a commandery bureaucracy that had already been established by the First Em-


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peror. His meritorious followers such as his field generals still received fiefs, but the status of a king was chiefly reserved for the Liu lineage. His followers had in fact sworn an oath to that effect with Liu Bang, smearing their lips with the blood of a white horse to sanctify it. Anyone tempted to ennoble a non-Liu would have to face the wrath of the whole empire in this world and that of Liu Bang in the next.29 Perhaps because of an attempted rebellion by the Lü 呂 lineage headed by his own wife shortly after his death,30 Liu Bang’s command comes to be voiced again and again in the Historical records. Liu Bang may have served as the anchor root of the Liu lineage that spread its control across the Han empire, but would he remain its sole point of perpetual remembrance as the First Emperor of Qin was intended to be had his dynasty survived? Here we enter a gray area in which a new precedent was set when it came time to extend ancestral worship to Liu Bang’s son, the Han Emperor Wen 文 (r. 180–157). Emperor Wen himself had made four modifications of his own to ancestral remembrance, namely 1.) increasing the size of the sacrificial sites,31 2.) re-establishing the imperial plowing ceremony at the beginning of the year, the fruits of which were earmarked for the ancestral hall,32 3.) having his own ancestral shrine built during his lifetime—a practice that would continue until after Emperor Xuan’s reign, when economic frugality measures led to a ritual retrenchment,33 and 4.) truncating the three-year mourning period stipulated in the ritual texts to thirty-six days.34 The last is recorded in his testamentary edict of 157 bce and was intended as his own expression of frugality to counter the trend toward lavish burials that disrupted daily life and interrupted normal ancestral sacrifices. Ironically, in that same year his son was about to begin a sacrificial practice on Emperor Wen’s behalf, the consequences of which would significantly drain away larger and larger sums of court finances for the rest of the dynasty. In that year Emperor Wen’s son, the new Emperor Jing 景 (r. 157–141), sent down a request to impose some order upon the music and dances that accompanied the eighth-month wine sacrifice at the ancestral shrines of Gaozu and his sons Hui and Wen. He concluded his request with a generic note stating that the merits of zu-ancestors and the virtues of zongancestors should be recorded on bamboo and silk to be handed down forever without end. Perhaps he was not actually fishing for such a response, but the memorial he received in return met with his approval. Offered in

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


the voice of Chancellor Shentu Jia 申屠嘉 (d. 155 bce), the memorial was as follows: 陛下永思孝道,立昭德之舞以明孝文皇帝之盛德,皆臣嘉等愚所不 及。臣謹議﹕世功莫大於高皇帝,德莫盛於孝文皇帝,高皇廟宜為帝 者太祖之廟,孝文皇帝廟宜為帝者太宗之廟。天自宜世世獻祖宗之 廟。郡國諸侯宜各為孝文皇帝立太宗之廟。諸侯王列侯使者侍祠,天 子歲獻祖宗之廟。請著之竹帛,宜布天下。 Forever thinking upon the general principles of filial piety, your Highness has established the “Radiant virtue” dance to clarify the flourishing virtue of Filial Emperor Wen, which is an act that your subject [Shentu] Jia and others in our foolishness could never have achieved. Our cautious discussion was as follows: There is no merit in the world greater than that of Emperor Gao, and there is no virtue more flourishing than that of Filial Emperor Wen. Emperor Gao’s shrine should become “The shrine of the grand zu-ancestor of emperors” and Filial Emperor Wen’s shrine should become “The shrine of the grand zong-ancestor of emperors.” The sons of heaven should offer up sacrifices to the zu- and zong-ancestral shrines for generation after generation. The commanderies, kingdoms and fiefs should each erect a “Grand zong-ancestor” shrine on behalf of Filial Emperor Wen.35 With delegates of the feudal lords by birth, of the kings and of the feudal lords chosen for their merit all attending the sacrifices, the sons of heaven shall make offerings to the zu- and zong-ancestral shrines. We ask that this be recorded on bamboo and silk and made known to the empire.36

On the surface, this edict clearly counters the restrictions against perpetual remembrance for all except the lineage progenitors and territory founders. Emperor Wen qualified as neither, but here his ancestral position was still immortalized as Taizong, a name that complemented Gaozu’s designation as Taizu. In a sense, Emperor Wen received tenure. However, the Zhou’s own implementation of structured amnesia was itself somewhat inconsistent, allowing permanent shrines for Hou Ji as well as Kings Wen and Wu. The rituals could have been interpreted as opposing Hou Ji’s perpetual remembrance because Kings Wen and Wu had later won the whole of the Middle Kingdoms, thus outranking him. He should have sunk into oblivion as Duke Xiang had done when the First Emperor of Qin eclipsed his achievements. Furthermore, even if Hou Ji, Wen and Wu did indeed merit perpetual sacrifices, they had all won that distinction because of the land they had brought to the lineage, whether it be the initial fief or the whole of China respectively. (This fact would later be highlighted by another Western Han chancellor, Wei Xuancheng 韋玄


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成 [d. 36 bce]). As Gaozu had no pedigree and Emperor Wen had not added to the land, a purist reading of this structured amnesia would limit the Han ancestors to five, namely one progenitor (Gaozu) and four temporary shrines for the most recent forebears.37 Thus one reason why making Emperor Wen a permanent ancestor creates a gray area is because the Zhou’s own implementation of ancestral remembrance was in itself a modification, a modification that in turn became prescriptive for later dynasties. Barring that, the Zhou modification could have opened the door for later dynasties to manipulate the system as well. Yet if the system could be modified, which parts were untouchable? The number of shrines to recent forebears? The combined number of shrines to both recent forebears and permanently remembered ancestors?38 The territorial prerequisite for perpetual remembrance? Over the course of the Han, all these questions would eventually be addressed but not resolved. To make matters more complicated, the Liu lineage would eventually grapple with how to treat the ancestor responsible for the Han restoration of 25 ce. Since that ancestor had won back the territory, does the whole system of remembrance start over again? The supporters of Emperor Wen’s perpetuity could have turned to the Zhou for historical precedence. According to the Zuo commentary, the state of Chen was descended from the sage king Shun 舜 from just before dynastic history, who was in turn descended from the legendary hero Zhuanxu 顓頊 from highest antiquity. Thus Shun was not the lineage progenitor, but “Shun revived it by means of his bright virtue” (舜重之 以明德). When a Zhou historian was asked what that meant for the state of Chen, he replied, “I have heard that flourishing virtue must have a hundred generations of sacrifices; the number of generations for Yu [= Shun] has not yet reached this” (臣聞盛德必百世祀;虞之世數未 也).39 Note that the justification for long-term sacrifices to Shun, who was not recognized as lineage progenitor, is his “flourishing virtue,” the same term used in Shentu Jia’s memorial. As seen in the Guliang commentary cited in Section 6, ancestral virtue was the power or potency transferable to one’s descendants in the form of land, but no doubt the vagueness of the term “virtue” also permitted much interpretation. At least with the territorial prerequisite for perpetual remembrance, there was a tangible standard that relied upon undeniable physical evidence.

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


Even the Ritual records itself offers no single black-and-white solution. Its chapter entitled “Jifa” 祭法 (“Systems of sacrifice”) contains the longest surviving passage from early China on structured amnesia, a chapter that Wang E dates to the middle of the Warring States period. After it describes how ancestors are gradually forgotten, it states that the ruler must also carry out other sacrifices to great men who have fashioned good laws, averted disasters and worked hard throughout their lives to benefit the state. It appends a list of examples including the same sage king Shun, who is said to have toiled to the end of his life. It does not require these sacrifices to be perpetual, but as the examples are all heroes from antiquity recognized in the Han, such can be inferred.40 Elsewhere in the same chapter, it distinguishes between zu and zong as different types of sacrifice but gives little detail except to say that the dedicatee of the former predates the dedicatee of the latter. For example, Shun is said to have carried out a zu-sacrifice to Zhuanxu of distant antiquity and a zong-sacrifice to Yao, his immediate predecessor. (Yao and Shun are the Classicist paragons of sagely rulership, but in terms of lineage, Yao had abdicated to Shun and so was not biologically related to him.) As the chapter continues, the people of Zhou carried out a zu-sacrifice to King Wen and a zongsacrifice to his immediate successor King Wu.41 Thus neither blood relationship nor timing determined these sacrifices in what is in fact a somewhat arbitrary and fictional list of revered forebears. Even so, a precedent existed for the Han to identify Emperor Wen as its own perpetual zongancestor to succeed Liu Bang as its zu-ancestor. In sum, the tidy system of structured amnesia existed alongside an already complicated world of remembrance. First, there existed this elegant system. Second, there existed this system as modified to fit Zhou circumstances, and because the Han regarded the Zhou foundation as a kind of golden age, the Zhou modifications could be regarded as prescriptive or could at least give license for later modifications. Finally, there existed precedents in history and in the ritual texts themselves to which one could turn if the elegant system did not suit one’s needs. Thus Emperor Jing had options, not restrictions. In fact, several apocryphal texts note that the Xia had five shrines, the Shang six and the Zhou seven; one such text concludes that “the minimum cannot be less than five and the maximum cannot exceed seven” (少不減五,多不過七), as


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if these varying descriptions could be merged into a kind of overall prescription.42 Furthermore, one might speculate that what was being systematized seemed in itself to defy the act of systemization. That is, the question at hand is one of filial piety, as Shentu Jia’s memorial above notes. Filial piety means to treat one’s father as exceptional, to treat him in a manner different from everyone else. Paradoxically, what structured amnesia attempted to regulate was exceptionability. Emperor Jing knew his father best, and filial piety demanded that he treat his father in an exceptional manner. Extending that exceptionability to the tidy-but-limiting system of remembrance may have seemed like a small next step. It would become an equally small step for at least ten more Han emperors to come.43

Section 11: Emperor Wu’s Wine-Tribute Scandal (112 bce) Guanzi 管子—also known as Guan Zhong 管仲 (d. 645 bce)—spoke of families drifting apart over the generations, no longer sharing the same recent ancestors and gradually losing an affinity with one another until “fallen corpses will litter the wilds and recourse to arms will continue non-stop.”44 The First Emperor of Qin was advised to avoid such a fate by not entrusting the empire to his relatives and supporters lest their descendants “attack one another as hated enemies.” In the Han as well, the imperial lineage remained conscious of this danger, and by the end of its first century of existence, it sought ways of pruning back the distant collateral branches, specifically by using failed participation in ancestral sacrifices as a pretense to reduce the power of the fiefholders. Before we examine how the grammar of ritual was used to consolidate mid-Western Han imperial power, we should note the following contemporaneous developments in ancestral veneration by way of context: • Since at least 176 bce, the Liu lineage had formalized its blood ties through written “kinship registers” (shuji 屬籍), but this tax-exempt status could be revoked from unworthy and rebellious kinsmen via imperial edicts that proclaimed, “Let them be expunged from the register, and do not allow them to sully our ancestral halls” (除其籍,毋令汙 宗室).45 • Beginning in the middle of Emperor Jing’s reign, mourning rituals such as imperial condolence calls, funerary provisions, eulogies and the

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


assignment of posthumous names were increasingly codified, and during the exceptionally long reign of his successor, Emperor Wu 武 (r. 141–87), high officials steeped in Classicist lore further modified mourning procedures to conform to Classicist ritual.46 • Emperor Wu’s reign is generally recognized as a milestone in the growth of court Classicism, particularly because in 136 bce he established court “academicians” or “scholars of comprehensiveness” (boshi 博士) in five Classicist canons, the specialist in rituals likely being an authority on the Ceremonies and rituals. • Yet that Classicism was sometimes used to augment his contemporaneous pursuits of immortality, an interest he shared with the Qin’s First Emperor before him, and when he organized the feng-sacrifices 封 at Mount Tai to meet with the spirits, he “tended to select from the Classicist arts in order to embellish [the sacrifice]” (頗采儒術以文之).47 • Just as Gaozu had ordered sacrifices to the Zhou progenitor Hou Ji throughout the empire, Emperor Wu enfeoffed the descendants of the Zhou dynasty near their former capital of Luoyang so that sacrifices could be made to their ancestors.48 • Reflecting the theoretical reason for establishing fiefs in the first place, Emperor Wu justified their existence “so that up above there was enough to offer one’s tribute obligation and down below there was enough to provide nourishment at the sacrifices” (上足以奉貢職,下 足以供養祭祀).49 This justification would ostensibly lead to wiping out scores of fiefs in the wine-tribute scandal of 112 bce. In addition to the lessons handed down from Guanzi and the First Emperor of Qin, the Han rulers also had recourse to an alternative lineage structure—that of the nomadic peoples to the north known as the Xiongnu 匈奴—to serve as a counterexample. Emperor Wen had sent a eunuch by the name of Zhonghang Yue 中行說 to serve the court’s interests among the Xiongnu, but once there, he allied himself with his new benefactors. In a later meeting with Han envoys, he attempted to explain the superiority of the Xiongnu lineage system as follows: 父兄死,則妻其妻,惡種姓之失也。故匈奴雖亂,必立宗種。今中國 雖陽不取其父兄之妻,親屬益疏則相殺,至到易姓,皆從此類也。 The reason why the Xiongnu marry the wives of their dead fathers and dead elder brothers is because they hate the loss of a lineage surname. Therefore even if the Xiongnu are in a time of chaos, they have firmly established their lineages. Now a man in the Middle Kingdoms would not even feign to take the wife of his father


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and elder brother. Yet this type [of thinking] leads to kinship relations becoming increasingly distant until [his descendants] come to murder one another, even to the point of [an imperial house] changing its surname.50

Given the historical examples and geographical counterexamples, the Han could have expected that the Liu kings would eventually pursue armed rebellion, although it might not have expected the separatist movements to happen so soon. The Han documents literally charts the lineage history of the Western Han,51 introducing each table with a summary of this interrelationship of lineage, territoriality and conflict. As one of these summaries states: 漢興之初,海內新定,同姓寡少,懲戒亡秦孤立之敗,於是剖裂疆 土,立二等之爵。功臣侯者百有餘邑,尊王子弟,大啟九國。 When the Han first arose and all within the seas was newly stabilized, those with the same surname (the Lius) were few in number. Correcting the mistake of the solitary stance made by the devastated Qin, the Han thereupon cut apart the territory and established two degrees of rank. The meritorious ministers became feudal lords numbering more than a hundred. [Gaozu] respectfully made kings of his sons and younger brothers, and he marked out nine sizable kingdoms.52

In other words, when Gaozu shunned the territorial monopoly that brought the First Emperor down, he assigned kings and feudal lords—the “two degrees of rank”—to govern the eastern half of China. The kingdoms went to his closest blood relatives, and the smaller fiefs were distributed among his other blood relatives, his maternal relatives and his meritorious supporters. For a while, it was an effective means for controlling the new empire. 然諸侯原本以大,末流濫以致溢,小者淫荒越法,大者睽孤橫逆,以 害身喪國。故文帝采賈生之議分齊、趙,景帝用晁錯之計削吳、楚。 However, because the fountainhead of feudal lords was extensive, downriver they swelled [in numbers] to the point of becoming a flood. The smaller ones carried out licentious wildness and transgressed the laws; the larger ones were contrarily monopolizing and defiantly obstructive. They thereupon brought harm to their persons and mourning to their kingdoms. Therefore Emperor Wen heeded Jia Yi’s discussions and divided up [the kingdoms] Qi and Zhao. Emperor Jing utilized Chao Cuo’s plans and pared away at [the kingdoms] Wu and Chu.53

Gaozu divvied up his lands among too many relatives and supporters, meaning that Emperors Wen and Jing later faced numerous distant relatives who acted independently of the empire. In response to these crises,

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their advisors Jia Yi (201–169) and Chao Cuo (d. 154 bce) artfully staved off the separatist threats.54 Emperor Jing in particular is responsible for breaking up several kingdoms such as the Liang, which he divided among the king’s five sons, all of whom then became kings in their own right. Of the four collateral sons, two were reduced to commoner status after committing crimes, and two produced no heirs, so all four of their kingdoms were dissolved within one generation.55 Yet Emperor Jing’s biggest challenge was a major revolt of seven kingdoms in 154 bce led by the southern state of Wu. The rebellious king of Wu had economic motives because independence would have allowed him to develop rich resources in southern China without enduring the tax burdens of Chang’an. It is also said he had personal motives because his son and heir had been killed in Chang’an following a quarrel with the imperial heir apparent over a game of chess. The rebellion was readily repressed after more than a hundred thousand were killed, following which Wu, Chu and the other kingdoms became subdivided into smaller kingdoms. Over the next decade, Emperor Jing made kings of no less than fourteen of his own sons. One of these was the future Emperor Wu.56 Emperor Wu’s approach to the separatist threat of increasingly distant relatives was different. 武帝施主父之冊,下推恩之令,使諸侯王得分戶邑以封子弟,不行黜 陟,而藩國自析。自此以來,齊分為七,趙分為六,梁分為五,淮南 分為三。 Emperor Wu carried out Zhufu [Yan]’s plans, sending down an edict that extolled kindness, causing the feudal lords and kings to divide up their households in order to enfeoff the younger brothers of their heirs. Without [the emperor] carrying out promotions and demotions, the large states divided themselves up. From this time onward, Qi had divided into seven, Zhao into six, Liang into five and Huainan into three regions.57

Instead of reacting to the threat on a case-by-case basis, Emperor Wu heeded Zhufu Yan’s advice and instituted a mechanism in which the kingdoms would subdivide of their own accord. Elsewhere among the same charts, it is explained: 至于孝武,以諸侯王疆土過制,或替差失軌,而子弟為匹夫,輕重不 相準,於是制詔御史﹕「諸侯王或欲推私恩分子弟邑者,令各條上, 朕且臨定其號名。」


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Coming down to the time of Filial Emperor Wu, because the territories of the feudal lords and kings exceeded regulation, some of them were superseding their grades and neglecting precedence. Yet the younger brothers of their heirs were becoming commoners, and light and heavy were not balancing each other out. Thereupon an edict commanded the imperial censors as follows: “Some among the feudal lords and kings desire to extend their personal kindness and to divide up their cities among all their sons. I command that each document be sent upward, and I will oversee and establish their titles and names.”58

Under the guise of an act of kindness, Emperor Wu instigated a policy of partible inheritance. Instead of passing the kingdom down to a single heir intact, thereby leaving the heir’s younger siblings as commoners, the emperor permitted the siblings to acquire fiefs carved out of the kingdom’s territory. Just as the siblings of the emperor usually became kings, the siblings of the king could now become feudal lords.59 On the second tier of hereditary territory, that of the feudal lords, the emperors assigned new fiefs or reassigned old ones just as they did the kingdoms, and although fiefs at the beginning of the Han were mainly assigned for martial valor, over the course of the Western Han more and more of them were awarded for civil merits. Yet on this smaller scale, these fiefs still replicated the problems in the kingdoms: 故逮文、景四五世間,流民即歸,戶口亦息,列侯大者至三四萬戶, 小國自倍,富厚如之。子孫驕逸,忘其先祖之艱難,多陷法禁,隕命 亡國。 Over a span of four or five generations during the reigns of Emperors Wen and Jing, the refugees had returned home, and the population was indeed given rest. The larger of the various fiefs reached thirty to forty thousand households, and the smaller had doubled in size. Their wealth and riches likewise followed suit. Their descendants became arrogant and indolent, forgetting the hardships suffered by their ancestors. Many fell afoul of the laws and restrictions, deviating from the edicts and losing their states.60

Thus this lower tier of hereditary territory was already self-regulating as wayward descendants faced criminal charges that led to the termination of their fiefs. Charts in the Han documents detail the crimes that terminated each fief, crimes that included the following: murder, conspiracy to murder, engaging in spirit curses, fraud, incest, improperly leaving the kingdom, traveling without a passport, traveling in the middle of the imperial highway, leaving roads and bridges in disrepair, lying in a memorial, fixing population registers, rebellion, harboring fugitives, trading with the

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


Xiongnu, conspiring to steal deer in the imperial park, propagating inappropriate music, wearing a short cloak to the palace, coercing a man out of his chickens through intimidation and then selling the chickens in order to make restitution. These criminal convictions could result in loss of the fief, death in prison, execution or suicide. Coupled with the fact that many of the feudal lords never produced male heirs, these circumstances resulted in fiefs usually surviving for only about four generations, with the oldest ones reaching six to eight generations.61 Thus the number of fiefs could be reduced through simple attrition, but it could also be forcefully lowered by holding up a model of proper ancestral worship as a regulatory tool. That is, failure in proper ritual participation could be used as a premise to strip a man of his fief, but this premise raises a key issue of how the court employed Classicist rituals at this time. Was the Classicist agenda used as a unique, comprehensive perspective of the world? Or was it instead a different language through which one communicated and justified one’s own agenda? To be blunt, was Classicist ritual in general, and the ancestor cult in particular, used as a pretense? The charts in the Han documents frequently indicate the end of a fief with the words, “In the fifth year of the Yuanding reign period (112 bce), he was tried because of the wine’s gold and then dismissed” (元鼎五年, 坐酎金免). Ban Gu describes the incident in the imperial records as follows: 九月,列侯坐獻黃金酎祭宗廟不如法奪爵者百六人,丞相趙周下獄 死。 In the ninth month, there were 106 feudal lords who had their hereditary titles snatched away after being tried because the gold they had offered up for the wine sacrifice at the ancestral shrine fell short of the requirement. Chancellor Zhao Zhou was sent down to prison where he died.62

The eighth-month wine sacrifice was the same ritual for which Emperor Jing modified the music and dances on behalf of his father’s shrine in Section 10. The Ritual records detail how the wine—a grain alcohol—was strained, clarified and blended with aromatics, and other sources such as the Monthly ordinances of the four classes of people describe the household master personally overseeing the annual preparation of the yeast, the steeping of the yeast leaven and the brewing of the wine to be used in an-


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cestral worship.63 The eighth-month sacrificial wine began its fermentation at the beginning of that year.64 When the day of the imperial sacrifice arrived, an elaborate procession led by sword-topped banners was made to the ancestral hall,65 and all the feudal lords offered the court a tribute that was proportional to the size of their respective fiefs, a tribute that ostensibly defrayed the expenses of this ancestral sacrifice. At this particular sacrifice in 112 bce, it was not the case that the emperor suddenly noticed a flaw in ritual observance. He was, in fact, quite angry with the feudal lords because they were not freely and willingly contributing to the defense of the empire. In that year the non-Chinese native population in the south known as the Yue 越 had rebelled, and in the west, the people known as the Qiang 羌 had intruded across the Han’s border. In response, Bu Shi 卜式 (fl. end second cen. bce), chancellor of Qi and the Han’s most famous philanthropist, volunteered himself and his family to assist in its suppression, to which Emperor Wu extolled his virtues in an edict that he circulated throughout the empire. Yet no one took the bait. “The feudal lords numbered in the hundreds, but not a single one sought to join the army and strike at the Qiang and the Yue” (皆 莫求從軍擊羌、越).66 In response, the emperor deemed their tributes to the ancestral sacrifice improper and punished them severely. Instead of drafting, the emperor sought volunteerism; instead of taxes, tribute; instead of legal infraction, ritual error. At first sight ritual appears to be a sugarcoated command structure, especially if ritual is used as pretense on one hand and if it yields to pragmatism on the other. In terms of pretense, Emperor Wu was not the first ruler to use sacrificial wine as an excuse to wrest territorial control from others. The Zuo commentary and other pre-Qin texts record a famous story about Guanzi, who in 656 bce accompanied the hegemon Duke Huan 桓 (r. 681–651) of Qi southward. At this time, the Zhou royal lineage was already in decline, and whereas no state ruler had sufficient strength to found a new dynasty, the hegemons had enough power to claim the leadership of the other feudal lords in the name of the Zhou kings. As Duke Huan led the armies of the feudal lords in their invasion of Chu, a messenger from the south asked Guanzi why the north was invading, and Guanzi replied as follows: 爾貢苞茅不入,王祭不共,無以縮酒,寡人是徵。

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Your tribute of wrapped rushes did not arrive at the court and the king’s sacrifice could not be offered because we had no means to strain the wine. It is this I inquire after.67

Guanzi here propagates a triple fiction. First, he “inquires” when he in fact invades. Second, he invades under the pretense of an infraction committed in an ancestral sacrifice. Third, he invades in the name of the Zhou king whose real authority was less than that of the hegemon Duke Huan. Such sanctions against the south on the pretense of ritual lapses would not be unique, and later Empress Lü was said to have ceased trade relations with parts of the south on the grounds that they had presented the court with only male livestock for sacrifice.68 Thus Emperor Wu’s usage of ritual pretense had its precedents, and it would also have its antecedents. For example, not long after Emperor Wu’s reign, a powerful lineage surnamed Huo 霍 considered deposing the Liu imperial lineage. To sow the seeds of confusion, one member of that lineage suggested, “The chancellor on his own authority reduced the sacrifices of lambs, rabbits and frogs in the ancestral hall, and we can charge this against him” (丞相擅減宗廟羔、菟、蛙,可以此罪也).69 Still later, Yang Xiong would question the motives of game taken during the imperial hunts that was ostensibly intended for the ancestral hall, and in a poetic exposition in which he criticizes the audacious spectacle, he wrote: 恐不識者,外之則以為娛樂之遊,內之則不以為乾豆之事。 I fear that someone not acquainted [with the hunt] might view it from the outside as a pleasure excursion and might view it from the inside as not the business of filling the sacrificial vessels.70

Thus in these five cases—in chronological order, Guanzi’s attack on the pretext of not receiving rushes for straining the sacrificial wine, Empress Lü’s complaint about receiving only male sacrificial animals, Emperor Wu’s own wine sacrifice, the Huo lineage’s accusation against the chancellor and Yang Xiong’s opinion of the imperial hunt—sacrificial food and drink were being used as ritual pretenses to cover other agendas. All these cases of ritual pretense give weight to Jia Yi’s observation that, ever since antiquity, officials who had been tried for corruption and removed from office were not called “corrupt” (bulian 不廉) but were instead euphemistically referred to as “having their sacrificial baskets unadorned” ( fugui bushi 簠簋不飾).71


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Ritual structures were not always used only as pretense; they also yielded to pragmatic concerns, again suggesting they may have lacked integrity. A clear example of practicality eclipsing ritual formalism is in the choice of successor, even in the imperial line. A purist interpretation of lineage structure would dictate that Emperor Wen should never have been chosen to succeed his brother, the childless Emperor Hui. Instead, Gaozu’s eldest son’s eldest son, who was then the king of Qi, was next in line. Yet because the king’s maternal relatives were suspect, and the Han had just suffered at the hands of the Lü lineage, he was passed over, as were several others in the third generation. Even though the Liu lineage was explicitly aware they were countering genealogical protocol, Emperor Wen was chosen because he was the oldest of Gaozu’s living sons, and he thus became the second second-generation Liu to rule. Heeding ritual structure was deemed impractical.72 Similar considerations extended to the level of fiefs such as in the case of Zhou Yafu 周亞父 (d. 143 bce), the supreme commander who suppressed the revolt of 154 bce. After a fortuneteller predicted his future status as a feudal lord, he replied, “My elder brother has already replaced my father as feudal lord, and if he dies, his son will replace him, so why do you say I will be the feudal lord?” (臣之兄以代父 侯矣,有如卒,子當代,亞夫何說侯乎?). Yet the eldest son was tried for murder, and even though the fief should either have been terminated or passed on to his eldest son’s son, Emperor Wen personally decided the fief would be given to Zhou Yafu’s own collateral branch.73 Thus when ritual structures were used as a pretense and when they readily yielded to pragmatic concerns, they may have seemed to be a mere façade for a Realpolitik hidden behind them. Nevertheless, the very fact that the language of ritual was never abandoned implies that ritual still retained some authority or fulfilled some need. For example, ritual structures imply a desire to recognize group cohesiveness that command structures lack. The feudal lords ought to have wanted to volunteer to defend the state and ought to have wanted to donate the necessary money for the drinking pleasure of their heroic forebears. They didn’t, and so they were removed from the ritual group, demoted to commoners who must instead abide by law and not ritual. If these interactions had employed the language of command—if Emperor Wu had relied upon his own authority to draft the lords or dismiss them outright—the “ought-ness,” the privilege of participation and the sense of

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belonging to a group would have all given way to simple fear of punishment. In the language of ritual, feudal lord and emperor are both positioned below an idealized cultural system, and even when infractions occur, they could measure the distance they had fallen from that ideal. In the language of command, there is no such relative positioning to an idealized cultural system. Returning to the wine tribute scandal of 112 bce, the lineage charts in the Han documents reveal the resulting devastation of Emperor Wu’s ritual weaponry. Homer Dubs statistically summarized it as follows: If the recordings in these tables are representative of the total number, there were dismissed 71% of the noble families not of the imperial house enfeoffed as marquises by Kao-tsu, 71% of those enfeoffed by other rulers preceding Emperor Wu, 18% of those enfeoffed by Emperor Wu, and 49% of the marquises who were members of the imperial house, i.e. 50% of the total number of marquises. After this purge, the nobility was composed chiefly of members of the imperial house. In 62 B.C., atonement was made for this wholesale dismissal by exempting the families of many of these dismissed nobles and granting them each 20 catties of actual gold.74

As the statistics reveal, Emperor Wu used ritual as a pretense, but he used it selectively and not against the fiefs he himself had assigned. Like Emperor Jing installing fourteen of his own sons as kings, Emperor Wu mainly retained his own hand-selected feudal lords. Thus each emperor in turn pruned back the family tree to keep its branches closer to the trunk, thereby avoiding the dangers envisioned by Guanzi and others.

Section 12: Emperor Xuan’s Sacrifice to His “Ancestors” (65 bce) In its simplest terms, the ancestral cult’s functionalist definition is the father-son transmission of land, but by the second half of the Western Han, two elements of this definition could not be assumed. First, biology never guarantees the existence of a father-son relationship, and, as already noted in Section 11, fiefs regularly petered out after four generations for lack of heir. Soon after Emperor Wu, the imperial family would face the same problem. Second, land was not just inherited, and in the growing market economy of the Western Han, it was increasingly bought and sold. Thus land may have become a weaker prerequisite to justify perpetual remem-


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brance of lineage progenitors. Both of these complications came to the fore by the time it was Emperor Xuan’s turn to approach the Liu altars, but before we explore how he handled his new circumstances, we should contextualize his ancestral sacrifices by listing other contemporaneous ancestral matters with particular emphasis on recent disruptions in the Liu lineage: • The lineal succession after Emperor Wu became rather messy, even to the point of one passed-over son—the king of Yan, or Liu Dan 劉旦 (d. 80 bce)—complaining: 我親武帝長子,反不得立,上書請立廟,又不聽。立者疑非劉氏! I am personally Emperor Wu’s eldest son, but I was not established; I sent up a document requesting to establish the shrines, and again I was not heeded. I suspect the one established as emperor is not even a member of the Liu lineage!”

• The king plotted rebellion, but after numerous omens such as meteorite showers, palace doors that refused to open and rats dancing at his gates, the plots were revealed and he committed suicide.75 • When Emperor Wu’s son and successor, Emperor Zhao 昭 (r. 87–74), later died son-less at the age of twenty-two, Liu He 劉賀 (d. 59 bce), the king of Changyi, was installed, but after a month of behavior that was deemed “perverse and chaotic” (beiluan 悖亂), he was cast out of the court and eventually barred from making ancestral sacrifices. After he and then his sons died prematurely, the court disbanded the fief of this ill-fated collateral line with the words: “It is appropriate by ritual to cut off Liu He’s [lineage] in order to serve the will of heaven” (宜以禮 絕賀,以奉天意).76 • Eventually the Liu lineage stabilized with the accession of Emperor Xuan, and early in his reign he made the ancestral position of Emperor Wu permanent, his title henceforth being Shizong 世宗 (“Epochal zong-ancestor”) and putting him on par with Gaozu and Wen, whose sacrifices were not to be terminated after the stipulated four generations.77 • Emperor Xuan also “reflected upon and contemplated those connected to the ancestral hall whose degree of relationship is not yet too distant but who have been cut off from it because of a crime” (惟念宗 室屬未盡而以罪絕), and he thereupon renewed the Liu registers with their exemptions from tax and corvée labor, reincorporating many relatives despite their criminal records.78

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


• The emperor had also extended this honor of incorporation into the family registers to his regent Huo Guang 霍光 (d. 68 bce), but because the regent’s survivors soon abused their high status, even enlarging Huo Guang’s cemetery to imperial proportions, the emperor wiped them out along with several thousand families of their associates.79 As may already be evident, an economic indicator of dynastic health in general is territorial authority. Because it directly affects all other facets of the dynasty, who controls the land in turn influences how and what one remembers. During the first quarter of the Han dynasty, the two main threats to territorial control were rebellious kings in the interior and nomadic intrusions on the periphery. By Emperor Wu’s consolidation and expansion of the empire, both of these threats were temporarily resolved to the Han’s advantage, and hence Emperor Wu’s reign marks a more significant turning point in China’s history than did the earlier change of surnames from Ying of the Qin to Liu of the Han. However, from Emperor Wu’s reign onward, it was neither borderland nomads nor rebellious relatives who were to siphon away territorial control but instead a third group of people, the estate builders or those who managed to take advantage of the prevailing economic conditions in order to buy up more and more property. Several simultaneous conditions favored the accumulation of available land in the hands of estate builders. First, land could be bought and sold, and a lack of restrictions may have been initially intended to encourage exploitation of more and more land, thereby increasing court income through taxes. Dong Zhongshu traced land trade back to the Qin and lamented that, in his own time, the rich accumulated land and “the poor didn’t have enough land even to stand an awl upon it” (貧者亡立錐之 地).80 Second, taxes shifted from a harvest tax that rose and fell with the bounty of the year to a set acreage tax that still had to be paid even in famine years. Western Han sources complained that, in bad years, half of a poor farmer’s income was absorbed in taxes, forcing him into debt.81 Third, new farming technologies introduced in Emperor Wu’s reign were only affordable to a minority of landowners, and once these landowners began increasing their yields, they gradually bought out their poorer neighbors, fuelling the growing economic inequality.82 There were several calls to reform private land ownership up to the end of the Western


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Han,83 and even the public lands were being meted out to the estate builders through a system of leasehold tenure.84 Thus the imperial government’s direct authority over the land and people was weakened by the intrusion of an increasingly powerful intermediary, and some tenants no longer paid poll or land tax to the government while other tenants left the tax registers altogether as vagrancy rose. In terms of the ancestral cult, one symptom of this sea change is evident at the end of Dubs’ statistical summary in Section 11 above. In the fourth year of the Yuankang reign period (62 bce) during the reign of Emperor Xuan, the court once again recognized the lineages of many of the disbanded fiefs so that they would continue the sacrifices to their progenitors.85 The charts in the Han documents describe their revitalization as follows: 故孝宣皇帝愍而錄之,乃開廟臧,覽舊籍,詔令有司求其子孫,咸出 庸保之中,並受復除,或加以金帛,用章中興之德。 Thus Filial Emperor Xuan was grieved and had records made about them, thereupon opening up the shrine archives and examining the old registers. He sent forth an edict ordering his office-holders to seek out their descendants, and any who were in the employ of others were each to receive remission from compulsory service. Some were given grants of [precious] metal and silk. He thereby displayed the virtues of restoration.86

The new feature of this Xuan restoration is that it was carried out in terms of precious metal—twenty catties ( jin 斤) or just over five kilograms of gold—and not in terms of land.87 For the rest of the dynasty, there was a greater and greater reliance upon cash gifts and transactions rather than land.88 Instead of receiving perpetual lands to maintain sacrificial halls, the descendants could at best enter into the exchange economy with everyone else and purchase a piece of land with no guarantee of perpetuity. A second symptom of this shift in territorial control was the end of the practice of uprooting established families from their own lands and transplanting them into the capital region in order to tend the imperial graves.89 This practice began under the First Emperor of Qin and was repeated seven times in the Western Han, starting with Gaozu. In 20 bce, a subordinate in the office of the grand general by the name of Chen Tang 陳湯 (fl. late first cen. bce) encouraged the emperor to carry out an eighth migration, arguing that “there is an increasing mass of wealthy

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


people east of the passes, most of whom have fixed their claim to the best fields and are causing the poor to serve them” (關東富人益眾,多規良 田,役使貧民).90 Despite early approval of this forced migration, the plan was aborted. In fact, the last successful transplantation had taken place twenty years earlier, leading the historian T’ung-tsu Ch’ü to write that “by this time the powerful families had become increasingly powerful while the government had become increasingly ineffective, and was no longer able to move them.”91 One cannot help but notice a symbolic defeat as entrenched powerful families could no longer be brought to the capital and forced continually to participate in filial rituals below the physical manifestations—the great tomb mounds still visible today—of the Liu imperial lineage. A third and more general (but also more speculative) symptom is how it may have added fuel to the debate on just who merited perpetual remembrance in the ancestral cult. According to the prescriptions (which were arguably seen as actual descriptions of an earlier age), the prerequisite for receiving everlasting sacrifices was winning the empire, kingdom, fief or plot of land upon which the lineage still garnered its livelihood. Yet in these changed economic conditions, the estate builders were not receiving their land from higher authorities—namely from their rulers or their ancestors—but through their own efforts to acquire wealth and buy out their poorer neighbors. In sum, this developing background situation perhaps led to questioning the land criterion for perpetual remembrance within powerful families, giving rise to vaguer justifications such as virtue, merit and achievement, or at least it may have fanned the flames of debate in that direction, a debate to be detailed in Sections 13 and 14 below. Of all the Han emperors up to this point, perhaps none was in a better position to question the higher authority of the ancestral line than Emperor Xuan. He was the first emperor since Gaozu himself to have personally experienced life beyond the opulent court, having grown up in a collateral branch far from Chang’an and living among commoners throughout his formative years. The Han documents describes his fondness for horseracing and cockfighting, and it alludes to his mixing with undesirable elements and even to getting into “trouble” (kun 困) in Shaanxi without going into detail.92 As noted above, the court had already struggled with bringing in the next emperor from a collateral branch and with behavior that fell short of


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the imperial ideal. The king of Changyi’s “perverse and chaotic” conduct that led to his becoming the only Han emperor ever deposed included disobeying the oft-repeated ritual stipulation “serving as a successor means serving as a son” (為人後者,為人子也).93 That is, if a son is adopted from a collateral branch to carry on the direct line of descent, then that adopted son must take on all the roles of the true heir at the expense of his original family. His social paternity (Lat. pater) overruled his biological paternity (Lat. genitor). Although the king of Changyi had worn the proper mourning garments for Emperor Zhao, he had not observed the abstentions from various foods, music and sex as he would for a true father. Furthermore, according to the charges against him: 祖宗廟祠未舉,為璽書使使者持節,以三太牢祠昌邑哀王園廟,稱嗣 子皇帝。 When offerings had not yet been made to the zu- and zong-ancestor shrines, he wrote a letter stamped with the imperial seal and sent couriers bearing staves of imperial authority to have three sets of animals offered at the garden shrine of [his father], King Ai of Changyi, there using the words “your son, the august emperor.”94

First, he should not have carried out any ancestral sacrifices during an imperial mourning period. Second, he should not have used the imperial seals and staves nor the title “august emperor” in self-reference before officially being presented as the new emperor in the ancestral shrine of Gaozu. Third and most relevantly, he should never have sacrificed to his father before sacrificing to his new ancestral line. Functionally, King Ai was no longer his father; the dead twenty-two-year-old Emperor Zhao was. What the king of Changyi should have done, his replacement actually did soon after his accession. Emperor Xuan sent down an edict requesting a discussion of his own ancestral circumstances and then heeded the following advice: 禮「為人後者,為之子也」,故降其父母不得祭,尊祖之義也。陛下 為孝昭帝後,承祖宗之祀,制禮不踰閑。 In ritual, “Serving as a successor means serving as a son,” and so he demotes his father and mother and no longer sacrifices to them. This is the meaning of honoring his ancestors. Your Highness is the successor to Filial Emperor Zhao and

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must continue the sacrifices to the zu- and zong-ancestors, regarding the rituals as restricting and not transgressing their limits.95

The memorial continues by listing the places where his immediate biological ascendants should receive their sacrifices, namely beside their respective graves and not in the imperial shrine itself. Emperor Xuan heeded these ritual protocols. This case is a precedent in the true sense of the word and is expressly heeded by subsequent emperors in varying degrees of exactitude. For example, both Emperors Ai 哀 (r. 7–1 bce) and Ping 平 (r. 1 bce –6 ce) were descended from collateral branches, and upon their accession as children, they were forbidden to see their biological mothers.96 In Emperor Ai’s case, the separation was temporary and gave way to his mother and grandmother receiving higher and higher honors from him, even outstripping the empress dowager and grand empress dowager, his “official” mother and grandmother. The court academician Shi Dan 師丹 (d. 3 ce) used the “serving as a successor means serving as a son” phrase to oppose these high titles, earning the wrath of Emperor Ai. Shi Dan also opposed Emperor Ai’s honoring of his father with the posthumous title Gonghuang or “Respected august one,” but here it is said a frugal compromise was reached in light of the Emperor Xuan precedent. Gonghuang was still worshipped in the capital, but he only received a lesser shrine in the rear hall of another.97 Furthermore, as eight of the eleven Eastern Han empresses were childless, collateral adoption among the Lius developed into the norm rather than the exception, and so juggling both biological and official parents became commonplace, the Xuan precedent frequently being cited. Both the redefinition of parentage and the imperial lineage’s new relationship to the territory due to the estate builders together cast the ancestral cult in a strange new light. Instead of direct control over the land, the imperial lineage had to rely increasingly upon control via an artificial medium—namely cash—to exert its influence. Instead of direct blood descent, the imperial family had to rely increasingly on formulating artificial families to maintain its existence. The two essential prerequisites for lineage authority—land and blood ties—became a step removed, and the conventionally agreed infrastructures of cash and ritual would increasingly intercede between the family and its power base.


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Section 13: Kuang Heng’s Support for a Closed System of Worship (48–43 bce) In the four Han cases detailed above, the tidy prescriptions laid out in the Ritual records such as decommissioning old shrines and removing faded ancestors played at most a limited role in ritual practice. That would now change, and again economics may have been a driving force. Without the limits imposed by ritual, the accumulated sacrifices were becoming too burdensome for the state, and by the time of Emperor Xuan’s successor, Emperor Yuan 元 (r. 49–33), offerings were being presented to 167 shrines, 30 funerary parks and various grave altars spread across China. Ban Gu details the scope of this problem as follows: 日祭於寢,月祭於廟,時祭於便殿。寢,日四上食;廟,歲二十五 祠;便殿,歲四祠。又月一游衣冠。…一歲祠,上食二萬四千四百五 十五,用衛士四萬五千一百二十九人,祝宰樂人萬二千一百四十七 人,養犧牲卒不在數中。 There were daily sacrifices in the private chamber, monthly sacrifices in the [main hall of the] ancestral shrine and seasonal sacrifices in the side halls. In the private chamber, food was offered up four times a day; in the main hall there were twenty-five sacrifices a year; and in the side halls there were sacrifices four times a year. In addition there was the monthly tour of the robes and caps. . . . The sacrificial meals for one year total 24,455; the guards total 45,129; and the invocators and musicians total 12,147. These figures do not include those raising the sacrificial livestock.98

Before we turn to the series of officials who would champion the restrictive ritual prescriptions outlined in Part I, let us first consider why they spoke up only now: • First, Empress Lü in the early years of the Western Han had banned unsolicited discussions of ancestral matters on pain of death, a ban that was only temporally lifted with Emperor Yuan.99 • Second, Emperors Wu and Zhao were still fourth- and fifth-generation Lius, meaning that their sacrifices were still ongoing, and as there was no sixth-generation Liu, it wasn’t until the reigns of Emperors Xuan and Yuan that a restrictive system would begin relegating earlier ancestors to relative oblivion. • As described above, the growth of the estate builders from the midWestern Han onward offers a third possible reason why debate only now begins in earnest because, as bought land came to rival hereditary

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land, a lineage’s complete allegiance to a single land-winning progenitor in antiquity may have only now come into question. • Fourth, by all accounts, Emperor Xuan was simply not interested in Classicist schemes and, implicitly, in the structured amnesia of the prescriptive rituals.100 • Fifth and finally, Sima Qian’s Historical records does not discuss ancestral cult matters in any detail, especially when compared to Ban Gu’s Han documents, but it may simply be because he was less interested in lineage matters than was Ban Gu, who espoused a better established and more conservative Classicist agenda.101 Thus only by Emperor Yuan’s reign was the ability to speak on ancestral matters allowed, the need to speak on the limits and prerequisites of remembrance necessary, and the dogma to ground such speeches fixed. It may be no coincidence that the first person known to have advocated returning to the “ancient regulations” (guzhi 古制) in which the oldest shrines were sequentially decommissioned was the court academician Yi Feng, one of the students of Hou Cang who played a significant role in the history of the Ritual records. Yi Feng was one of the earliest scholars to quote from that work, but he was also a specialist in omens or human-heaven resonance. Little survives of his advocacy of structured amnesia, but Ban Gu notes that it was he who heavily influenced the opinions of Gong Yu 貢禹 (d. 44 bce) and Kuang Heng, the latter also being one of Hou Cang’s disciples.102 Gong Yu was an outspoken counselor of the palace under Emperor Yuan, often lamenting how standards had slipped since the time of Emperor Wu and how the imperial family was given over to too many luxuries. As he was in his eighties, he had witnessed the whole decline. In terms of ancestral remembrance, he advocated two restrictions. First, because the son of heaven was limited to seven shrines in ancient times, the shrines of Emperors Hui and Jing could now be decommissioned as their “nearness has faded away” (qinjin 親盡). Second and more importantly, the commandery shrines did not conform to antiquity and should be rectified, although what that rectification entailed is not stated. Gong Yu died before any action could be taken, but four years later, a sympathetic Emperor Yuan initiated a discussion on the matter.103 Chancellor Wei Xuancheng, a colleague of Gong Yu, had firsthand experience with the imperial shrines. While serving at Emperor Hui’s shrine


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on a particularly rainy day, he had once been charged with improperly traveling by horseback rather than by carriage and was subsequently demoted. More than a decade later, Emperor Yuan offered a series of edicts in which he admitted that the earlier shrines in the kingdoms and commanderies had been a ritual pretense to foster imperial unity and stability. Citing Confucius’s statement that “If I do not [personally] partake in the sacrifice, it’s as if I did not sacrifice” (我不與祭,如不祭), he asked for opinions on decommissioning all these shrines.104 Representing several scores of cosigners, the chancellor agreed that the emperor had to be present at a sacrifice, thereby justifying the elimination of distant shrines. He also favored the systematic elimination of forebears: 禮,王者始受命,諸侯始封之君,皆為太祖。以下,五廟而迭毀,毀 廟之主臧乎太祖…。立親廟四,親親也,親盡而迭毀,親疏之殺,示 有終也。 According to the rituals, kings who are the first to receive the mandate and feudal lords who are the first to be enfeoffed all become grand zu-ancestors. As for their descendants, the fifth shrine back is decommissioned in succession. The tablets of the decommissioned shrines are stored with the grand zu-ancestor. . . . Setting up the four shrines is in order to mark your closeness to recent ascendants. As the ascendants fade, the shrines are decommissioned in succession. The gradual decline from near to far demonstrates that there is an end.105

The fourth tablet back was thus a signpost for an immanent end, and that termination theoretically extended to Emperors Wen and Wu as well because they hadn’t acquired the territory and so could not survive forever. The chancellor’s purist stance aroused detailed counter arguments until he conceded this last point. Yet the rest of his program was generally accepted, and by fits and starts the shrines were decommissioned, including that of Emperor Hui where the chancellor himself had once broken protocol on a rainy day. These three reformers—Yi Feng, Gong Yu and Wei Xuancheng— achieved a significant transformation in ancestral veneration, but the status quo was not to be surrendered easily. The emperor fell ill, and the ancestors came to him in his dreams and scolded him for terminating the shrines in the kingdoms and commanderies. His younger brother also suffered from similar dreams.106 Chancellor Wei Xuancheng had since died, and so when the emperor desired to reinstate the shrines, he approached his new chancellor, Kuang Heng.

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Also a student of Hou Cang, Kuang Heng maintained the course set forth by the three earlier reformers. He strongly advised the emperor to leave the shrines abandoned, and when the emperor’s illness persisted, he directly approached the ancestors, visiting the shrines of Gaozu, Wen and Wu first. In his appeals, he set forth the reasons for not restoring their shrines outside the capital. They were as follows: 1. The original purpose of the shrines was merely a pretense to foster unity within the empire. Their predecessors “acted with a mind to tie together all within the seas and not on behalf of their respected grandfather or majestic father” (將以繫海內之心,非為尊祖嚴親也).107 2. In line with Wei Xuancheng’s previous responses to Emperor Yuan’s call for court discussion, the emperor alone should sacrifice to the ancestors and should not allow a proxy to carry them out. Thus it was only logical that the shrines had to be limited to the capital. 3. The emperor was heeding an older authority, the canon of the ancient sages, that allows for no additional sacrifices. 4. Regional officials were too rustic and crude to offer sacrifices to such magnificent ancestors. 5. “The purport of the sacrifices is to take the people as their root” (祭祀 之義以民為本), but the people were suffering want and were unable to maintain the expensive shrines. The ritual texts even stipulated that in years of famine, the sacrifices were not to be offered, and so such thinking should be applied to the outlying shrines, too.108 Kuang Heng’s final point alludes to the shrines’ accreting costs and suggests, despite his pleas to the contrary, that this adoption of an ancient, closed system of ancestral ritual was also a pretense in its own way. Kuang Heng concluded by stating that, should the ancestors be angry with this prayer, he alone deserved their wrath.109 After leaving the shrines of Gaozu, Wen and Wu, the chancellor apologized to the ancestors of the decommissioned shrines; his prayer— closely resembling Wei Xuancheng’s summation above—begins as follows: 往者大臣以為在昔帝王承祖宗之休典,取象於天地,天序五行,人親 五屬,天子奉天,故率其意而尊其制。是以禘嘗之序,靡有過五。受 命之君躬接于天,萬世不墮。繼烈以下,五廟而遷,上陳太祖,間歲 而祫,其道應天,故福祿永終。 In the past, the major ministers believed that when the emperors and kings in antiquity devised their excellent doctrines on [sacrificing to] the ancestors, they


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took their models from heaven and earth. The heavenly order has five phases; human kinship has the five types of relationships.110 The son of heaven serves heaven, and so he heeds its intentions and respects its system. Thus when it comes to the sequences of various sacrifices, they never go beyond fives. The ruler who [first] received the mandate is personally connected to heaven, and so for ten thousand generations, his shrine is not decommissioned. As for all those who later continue the imperial undertaking,111 they are promoted upward through the five shrines. At the top, they are arrayed with the grand ancestor, partaking in a xia-sacrifice every so many years. When [the ancestors’] path coincides with heaven, their prosperity and fortune then come to an end forever.112

Rules of conduct pertaining to lineage sacrifice must reflect cosmological axioms such as the five phases that in turn are the models of heaven, the ultimate sacred postulate. Kuang Heng’s predecessor Yi Feng had also been a student of the five phases (discussed in Section 15) and had similarly envisioned a tidy, closed system of ancestral veneration. Furthermore, like Wei Xuancheng who stated that “the gradual decline from near to far demonstrates that there is an end,” Kuang Heng also recognized that one’s ancestral existence does eventually “end forever,” a blunt conclusion also found in the popular Filial piety canon that states mourning cannot surpass three years “to show the people that all things come to an end” (示民有終也).113 This ancestral system was indeed a closed one. Kuang Heng’s prayer continues with more arguments for structured amnesia, including a statement that filial piety means carrying on the intentions of the forefathers. Gaozu did not want various individualized ancestors, each the focus of separate worship; he wanted a single system spread forth over the empire and down through time. Thus Emperor Yuan had attempted to impose this closed system on the ancestral sacrifices. Explaining this point to the ancestors, Kuang Heng says: 惟念高皇帝聖德茂盛,受命溥將,欽若稽古,承順天心,子孫本支, 陳錫亡疆。誠以為遷廟合祭,久長之策,高皇帝之意,乃敢不聽? [Emperor Yuan] contemplated the sagacious virtue and flourishing prosperity of August Emperor Gao. The mandate Emperor Gao had received was vastly extensive. He revered the good and examined the ancient; he reverently received and obeyed the mind of heaven. His direct and collateral lines of descent spread it outward without end. [Emperor Yuan] truly believed that the promotion through the shrines and the communal sacrifices are both an eternal plan as well as the will of August Emperor Gao. So dare one not heed it?114

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


Whether Gaozu indeed recognized the structured promotion of ancestors through the five-shrine system remains uncertain, but it is indeed true that permanently remembering every forebear would have devalued Gaozu into one of a crowd of everlasting ancestors. The focus should not have been on individuals but on the unified lineage as a whole, fanning outward in direct and collateral lines, from a single point. Thus ritually removing the ancestors, Kuang Heng argued, in fact shed light upon ancestral virtue and stabilized the imperial undertaking. Anything else would have been contrary to ritual, and if the rituals were not right, the ancestors would not receive their offerings, heaven would not send down its assistance, and the ghosts and spirits would not be fed. In the end, Emperor Yuan’s illness persisted, and so despite Kuang Heng’s arguments, he revived the sacrifices in the abandoned shrines to appease his angry forebears. Yet the satiated ancestors in their revitalized shrines failed to reciprocate, a fact that Kuang Heng pointed out to the next emperor after Emperor Yuan died of his illness. With this new proof, the shrines fell silent once again, this time including those dedicated to Emperor Wen.115

Section 14: Liu Xin’s Opposition to a Closed System of Worship (6–1 bce) The court at the end of the first century bce was rather different from that of Emperor Wu a century earlier. The historical image of Emperor Wu is expansive, even chivalric, as he is credited with enlarging China’s borders, ascending the sacred mountains to sacrifice to heaven and consolidating his holdings within the empire. In contrast, the historical image of Emperor Ai is narrow, focused almost entirely on the court and its internal intrigues and scandals. As already seen, the court seemed to be pulling inward, wielding less direct control over the territory because of the rise of the estate builders and simultaneously carrying out an economic retrenchment. If Emperor Wu’s story is a grand epic, Emperor Ai’s story is a soap opera. Before considering whether Emperor Wu’s heroic image was strong enough to fend off the ritual prescriptions that would terminate his allotted sacrifices, we should briefly note three other contemporaneous ances-


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tral matters to put the court debate on Wu’s postmortem fate into context: • Like the previous courts, that of Emperor Ai remained heavily invested in its sacrifices not only to the ancestors but also to mountains, rivers, stars, immortals and so forth, totaling 37,000 sacrifices carried out in more than 700 locations each year.116 • The last four Western Han emperors repeatedly honored and privileged the registered Lius—literally “those recorded as having connections with the ancestral hall” (宗室有屬籍者)—until they numbered more than a hundred thousand and necessitated “lineage leaders” (zongshi 宗師) in the commanderies and kingdoms to keep any unruly relatives in check.117 • When Wang Mang ruled as regent beginning in 8 bce, four of the last five Western Han emperors also received zong-ancestor titles entailing perpetual worship, namely Emperor Xuan who became Zhongzong 中 宗 (“Central Zong-ancestor”), Emperor Yuan who became Gaozong 高 宗 (“Lofty Zong-ancestor”), Emperor Cheng who became Tongzong 統宗 (“Unifying Zong-ancestor”), and Emperor Ping who became Yuanzong 元宗 (“Primal Zong-ancestor.”)118 This last development—the assignment of more perpetual ancestral titles—should not have been possible given that all perpetual titles were removed at the end of Emperor Yuan’s reign (see Section 13), but the practice had been resurrected by Emperor Ai. Saddled with the family infighting of no less than four empress dowagers—his biological and official mothers and grandmothers—the physically weak Emperor Ai was at times less a ruler and more a pawn. Further complicating political and lineage matters, he funneled much of his power and wealth to his youthful assistant and—as strongly implied by the Han documents—homosexual lover, Dong Xian 董賢 (d. 1 bce). Once while drunk, Emperor Ai casually asked Dong Xian, “What if I wanted to emulate Yao’s abdication to Shun?” (吾欲法堯禪舜,何如?).” A court advisor rebuked the emperor as follows: 天下乃高皇帝天下,非陛下之有也。陛下承宗廟,當傳子孫於亡窮。 統業至重,天子亡戲言! The empire is the August Emperor Gao’s empire and is not a possession of Your Highness. Your Highness inherited the ancestral shrines and should pass the empire down to your sons and grandsons ad infinitum. The role of governing is extremely serious, and the son of heaven should not joke about it!119

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The advisor’s response says something about the corporate nature of lineage, a theme further discussed in Section 16, but of interest here is how Emperor Ai phrased his question, joke or not. He asked about adopting a specific Classicist model of the sage kings and using it to affect his government. By this time, the court had accepted Classicism as the legitimate worldview above all others, but on a more subtle level, Classicism was still navigating between two roles. On one hand, Classicism could be viewed as a conduit through which preexisting ideas were communicated. That is, as the above exchange demonstrates, the canons and histories offered a variety of precedents and models that could be selected to justify an argument, even an extreme one. On the other hand, Classicism could be viewed as the collective body of ideas with their own integrity, prescriptive in nature and capable of shaping the discourse, not just conveying it. This second role is also evident during Emperor Ai’s reign. Government was restructured to fit Classicist precedents more precisely, the three-year mourning period was reinstated, and revelations based on five-phase cosmology altered court policies. In terms of Classicism’s prescriptions for the ancestral cult and whether they possessed the power to change the status quo, the impending removal of the legendary Emperor Wu from the prescriptive ancestral remembrance cycle became the ideal test case. His position was now beyond the four most recent ascendants and therefore theoretically destined for oblivion. Special permission was granted to wave the ban on discussions about the ancestor cults, and a group of fifty-three academicians, superintendents of the imperial household and others cosigned an opinion that held fast to the closed system defended by the chancellors in Emperor Yuan’s reign. “Even though their descendants wish to vaunt their greatness and display their fame, thereby establishing them [as perpetual ancestors], their ghosts and spirits are not to be nourished” (子孫雖欲褒大顯 揚而立之,鬼神不饗也).120 Yet this time the ritual purists had to oppose not merely the phantoms of a sick emperor’s dream but instead the well-reasoned and evidenced argumentation of Grand Coachman Wang Shun 王舜 (d. 11 ce) and Colonel of the Capital Rampart Liu Xin 劉歆 (46 bce—23 ce). Wang Shun and Liu Xin began their lengthy discussion by highlighting the persistent problem of nomadic intrusions into the Middle King-


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doms. China’s territorial integrity could never be guaranteed, even after the Han had settled the empire. Yet with the accession of Emperor Wu, the tables had been turned. Emperor Wu smashed the rebellious tribes of the south, routed the Xiongnu in the north, advanced to Korea in the east and extended his control over Fergana in the west. As a result, “there were no incidents on any of the frontiers, the territory was extended and the borders made distant, and more than ten commanderies were created” (四垂無事,斥地遠境,起十餘郡).121 Thus territorial integrity was still used to justify an ancestor’s permanence, even though the ancestor no longer needed to be the first recipient of that land.122 At the same time, however, “achievements” (gong 功) and “virtue” (de 德) were now seen as accepted (albeit subjective) conditions of permanence. Using both terms, these scholars likewise praised Emperor Wu’s other deeds such as changing the calendar, establishing the feng-sacrifices at Mt. Tai and preserving the descendants of the Zhou ruling house. His impact could still be felt by the current generation and was embedded in China’s borders, calendars and religion. Wang Shun and Liu Xin wrote, “The accumulated generations up to the present day rely upon his wholly uncontentious mind” (永無逆爭之心,至今累世賴之).123 As demonstrated in the Introduction, a lack of contention marked the sage ruler as the direct offshoot of a holistic ideality rooted in the past. This ancestor’s influence had not only not faded away, but it could never fade away because he had shaped the core of Han culture. Yet the Zhou rituals would deny him his deserved reverence because he was neither the lineage founder nor the first recipient of heaven’s mandate, and so Wang Shun and Liu Xin attacked the mechanical nature of the Zhou system itself that was restricted to five or seven shrines. After reviewing some of the descriptions of structured amnesia found in the Ritual records, they argued as follows: 七者,其正法數,可常數者也。宗不在此數中。宗,變也。苟有功德 則宗之,不可預為設數。 故於殷,太甲為太宗,大戊曰中宗,武丁曰高宗。周公為《毋逸》之 戒,舉殷三宗以勸成王。繇是言之,宗無數也,然則所以勸帝者之功 德博矣。 以七廟言之,孝武皇帝未宜毀;以所宗言之,則不可謂無功德。《禮 記》祀典曰:「夫聖王之制祀也,功施於民則祀之,以勞定國則祀之, 能救大災則祀之。》竊觀孝武皇帝,功德皆兼而有焉。凡在於異姓, 猶將特祀之,況于先祖?

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


或說天子五廟無見文,又說中宗、高宗者,宗其道而毀其廟。名與實 異,非尊德貴功之意也。《詩》云:「蔽芾甘棠,勿鬋勿伐,邵伯所 苃。」思其人猶愛其樹,況宗其道而毀其廟乎? 迭毀之禮自有常法,無殊功異德,固以親疏相推及。至祖宗之序,多 少之數,經傳無明文,至尊至重,難以疑文虛說定也。 “Seven” belongs to a standardized model and can be regarded as a set number, but the zong-ancestor designations do not exist inside this set number. The zongancestor designations are variable. If he possesses achievements and virtues, then he should be made a zong-ancestor. The number cannot be fixed in advance. Thus in the Yin [= Shang] dynasty, Taijia became Taizong, Dawu was called Zhongzong and Wuding was called Gaozong.124 When the Duke of Zhou composed his warning entitled “Be without idleness,” he praised these three zongancestors when advising King Cheng.125 From this one can say that the zongancestor designations have no set number. If this is the case, the achievements and virtues one can use to advise an emperor become more wide-ranging. In terms of the seven-shrine system, it would not yet be appropriate to decommission the shrine of Filial Emperor Wu; in terms of having a zong-ancestor designation, it could not be said that he is without achievements and virtues. The sacrificial codes of the Ritual records state, “When the sage kings regulated the sacrifices, if his achievements extended to the people, then they sacrificed to him. If he labored to settle the state, then they sacrificed to him. If he was capable of averting major catastrophes, then they sacrificed to him.”126 In our view of Filial August Emperor Wu, all these achievements and virtues were united and present within him. Now if they were resident in someone with a different surname and one still carried out special sacrifices to him, then how does this compare to when they are resident in one’s own ancestor? Some say that the five-shrine system of the son of heaven does not appear in the texts, and they also say that [the Shang people] may have honored the Dao of Zhongzong and Gaozong but they [still] decommissioned their shrines. [We would reply that] if a name does not match the substance, then this is not the intention behind revering virtue and valuing achievement. The Songs canon states, “The lush and luxuriant birchleaf pear—do not hew it; do not fell it, for here is where the earl of Shao camped.”127 If in thinking of that person they still cherished his tree, then how does this compare to honoring his Dao but decommissioning his shrine? The ritual of discarding shrines in succession comes from set rules without any distinction of achievements or differentiation of virtues. It is [only] fixed by the distance between recent and remote ascendants. The canons and commentaries don’t have any explicit texts when it comes to the sequence of zu- and zongancestors or to how many there are. It’s hard to settle something so reverent and so important by using suspect texts and empty explanations.128


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Liu Xin and Wang Shun then concluded that Emperor Xuan had listened to sound Classicist advice when he had conferred a perpetual ancestral title upon Emperor Wu. Like good debaters, they attacked their opponents’ lack of clear supporting statements from the canons, they provided counter-evidence such as the Duke of Zhou’s advice to King Cheng, they pointed out inconsistencies such as the five-shrine vs. seven-shrine problem, and they argued through analogy using the Duke of Shao’s birchleaf pear, a much-cited symbol from the Songs canon about preserving the past. This is not to say they disagreed with the basic idea that ancestors usually faded away; elsewhere it is clear they supported this principle. They only argued that there were exceptions to this system, exceptions such as Emperor Wu. In the end, Emperor Ai agreed. Overall, Liu Xin and Wang Shun highlighted a very real issue that the living simply do not remember the past according to a formula in which temporal distance is directly proportional to weakness of memory. By way of demonstration, imagine a presidential temple dedicated to the civil ancestors of the United States. Before the current president could make his way to the progenitor’s table with George Washington’s tablet facing outward, he or she must pay homage to the most recent presidents in rows on either side. The living commander-in-chief would easily remember his or her immediate as well as penultimate precedessor, but with each tablet, the memories are less and less distinct, especially by the time the sixth tablet—the sixth most recent president—is reached. Furthermore, if some of these past presidents had served multiple terms, their predecessors would find themselves even further removed from current memory, and such would have been true in the ancestral cult as well. Emperor Wu reigned more than fifty years, and so his predecessors would more likely have been forgotten than the predecessors of, for example, an Emperor Shang who had reigned less than one year. More to the point, although a standardized model of remembrance might at first glance seem adequate in the presidential temple, if one asks the question, “Does this temple truly portray the presidential history you remember and think about?”, the answer would be “No.” Where are Lincoln and Jefferson? Why are FDR and Kennedy left in oblivion while less influential presidents instead make up the numbers of the remembered? The Lincolns and Jeffersons left longerlasting impressions on United States laws, borders and traditions than their more recent heirs.

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Wang Shun and Liu Xin highlighted this point by drawing attention to the fact that Emperor Wu’s influence could still be felt in the borders, calendars and government structures of their own day. By way of example, the poet Yang Xiong was active at the time of these debates, and in his Changyang fu 長楊賦 (“Poetic exposition on the Changyang Palace”), the host extols a highly colored history of the empire to his guest. He boasts how the gods bestowed the mandate upon Gaozu, who had won the empire through sweat and martial valor. Next he explains how Emperor Wen had then followed tradition and attained a perfect, frugal peace. After this Emperor Wu arises like a whirlwind to drive off the barbarians until their bones fill the ravines and cover the deserts. Alluding to a particular occurrence in Emperor Cheng’s reign, Yang Xiong then describes a brutal event in which barbarians were pitted against wild animals in their pens, leading on to other excesses such as hunting without restraint. Yet reason prevails in the end, and they all disperse and return home, leaving behind a more tranquil and orderly China. “This is indeed how one emulates the majesty of the grand ancestor and heeds the standards of Wen and Wu” (亦所以奉太宗之烈,遵文武之度).129 The point to be made here is that it is the grand ancestor Gaozu, Emperor Wen and Emperor Wu who are the remembered images, whereas Emperors Hui, Jing, Zhao, Xuan and the rest are relegated to the backbenches. Prior to Wang Mang’s regency, it was these three emperors who were likewise immune to the mechanics of structured amnesia.

Section 15: The Ancestral Shrine of Wang Mang (20 ce) Regent Wang Mang bestowed upon Han Emperor Yuan the perpetual ancestral title of “Lofty ancestor,” but it was Emperor Wang Mang who then had Yuan’s ancestral shrine torn down. Emperor Yuan’s wife, Wang Zhengjun 王政君 (71 bce–13 ce), was also Wang Mang’s aunt as well as the means whereby he had first gained ingress to the court. To appease this elderly grand empress dowager of the lost Han dynasty, Wang Mang erected a new shrine on behalf of his aunt in the same compound where Yuan’s old shrine lay in ruins. On the pretense of a sightseeing tour, he had carriages fetch the grand empress dowager and bring her to a banquet spread out before her new shrine. The Han documents relates the story:


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既至,見孝元廟廢徹塗地,太后驚,泣曰:「此漢家宗廟,皆有神靈, 與何治而壞之!且使鬼神無知,又何用廟為!如令有知,我乃人之妃 妾,豈宜辱帝之堂以陳饋食哉!」私謂左右曰:「此人嫚神多矣,能久 得祐乎!」飲酒不樂而罷。 When the grand empress dowager arrived, she saw how the shrine of Filial Emperor Yuan had collapsed into the mud, and so she became distressed. In tears, she said, “This is an ancestral shrine of the House of Han, and they are all [still] spiritually numinous. Why are you punishing them and destroying it? Furthermore, if the ghosts and spirits lack sentience, then what further use is [this new] shrine [to me]? But if they do possess sentience, I am merely a man’s concubine. Surely it’s not right to defile the imperial hall just to set out this food [for me]!” Privately she said to her attendants, “This man is insulting the spirits too many times; will he be able to receive their assistance for long?” The drinking banquet was miserable, and so it was terminated.130

Wang Mang’s destructive tendencies were not limited to Emperor Yuan’s shrine. Although he first decided in 9 ce to keep the seven permanent Liu shrines in the capital and continue their sacrifices, a year later he modified that decision, moving Gaozu’s shrine beyond the city walls and “terminating” (ba 罷) all the rest.131 Another ten years later in 20 ce, he then had the shrines of Emperors Wu and Zhao “destroyed” (huai 壞) and turned into a cemetery.132 Later that same year after dreaming about the spiritual numina at the Gaozu shrine, he sent his military men into the building with swords and axes to vandalize its interior, breaking its doors and windows. To exorcise the Han spirits, they lashed at the walls with ochre whips and sprinkled peach water everywhere. Finally he sent his generals to barrack their troops in the shrine’s courtyards.133 Before we turn to the details of Wang Mang’s own set of shrines valorizing his dynasty known as the Xin 新 (9–23)—shrines for which we have more data than any of the Western or Eastern Han—let us briefly contextualize them with his other religious and ancestral changes: • Sorting out the widely scattered imperial ritual sites, Wang Mang organized the most important sacrifices—directional gods, constellation gods, weather gods—into tidy groups laid out in the cardinal directions around his city walls, transforming Chang’an into a cosmic fulcrum and fashioning “the great ritual of heaven and earth” (天地之大禮).134 • Yet despite this desire to impose singular order, the sacrifices still multiplied, and by the end of his reign the various shrines dedicated to

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heaven and earth on down to the lesser ghosts and spirits totaled 1,700 in number.135 • After terminating the vast majority of Han fiefs and removing hereditary privileges from 181 families, Wang Mang duly replaced the taxexempt Liu family registers with his own lineage group of five surnames, and he furthermore rewarded his own supporters among the Lius by conferring the Wang surname upon thirty-two of them.136 Unlike the First Emperor of Qin or Han Emperor Gaozu, this new claimant to the heavenly mandate did not take the empire by force but rose through the ranks of a waning imperial court. Wang Mang adeptly flourished during the intrigues of late Western Han politics, and he orchestrated a lengthy series of omens that legitimized his accession. Many of these omens were either associated with red and fire or with yellow and earth because in terms of the five phases, the latter was replacing the former. As Wang Mang’s innovations to the ancestral cult can only be understood in the context of this correlative cosmology, a brief digression to explain this type of human-heaven resonance is in order. Some time during the fourth or third century bce, Warring States thinkers began to propagate the belief that all time and space slowly cycled through five phases. The transformation inherent in each phase bore the label of a particular material, namely wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Unlike Western theories of the four elements, the five phases do not reduce a thing into its component parts but describe the changes a thing is experiencing. These changes proceed in a predictable order, or to be more precise, in one of two predictable orders. The conquering cycle depicts how one phase is eclipsed by the next, how metal is conquered by fire that is in turn conquered by water and so on. In contrast, the production cycle describes how one phase produces the next, how water gives rise to wood that in turn gives rise to fire and so on. The earliest known proponent of the system, a little known traveling scholar by the name of Zou Yan 騶衍 who lived in the fourth or third century bce,137 is said to have applied the conquering cycle to the historical dynastic sequence in a reform program probably more based on political and moral concerns rather than rational scientific analysis.138 An early example of this application just prior to the Qin survives in the Spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü and begins as follows:


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凡帝王者之將興也,天必先見祥乎下民。黃帝之時,天先見大螾大 螻,黃帝曰:「土氣勝」,土氣勝,故其色尚黃,其事則土。 In general when an emperor or king is about to arise, heaven is certain to first display portents to the people below. In the time of the Yellow Emperor, heaven first displayed large earthworms and large mole crickets [to them], and the Yellow Emperor said, “This is the qi of earth in the conquering position.” When the qi of earth was [indeed] in the conquering position, he favored yellow in his garments and modeled his work upon [the qualities of] the earth phase.139

The next ruler modeled himself upon wood that conquers earth, and the next on metal that conquers wood and so on. The passage ends with the Zhou dynasty ruling under the fire phase and predicts that water is to follow. According to four passages in the Historical records, it was the First Emperor of Qin who then adopted water as his ruling phase, favoring black for his garments. Nathan Sivin contends that although the First Emperor probably did not embrace the moral principles that defined Zou Yan’s reform program, he utilized the panology of the five phases because such ritual changes may have helped him legitimate his accession to power.140 The Han continued the water phase begun by the brief Qin, not adopting earth as a conquering phase until 104 bce during the reign of Emperor Wu. Yet at some point in the first century bce, two interrelated changes occurred. First, the paradigm shifted as the production cycle replaced the conquering cycle in interpreting the dynastic sequence, and second, fire now replaced earth as the Han’s governing phase. Wang Mang needed the first change because he rose to power not through conquest but through abdication, and he resonated with the second change as the red fire of the Han was about to produce the yellow earth of his Xin dynasty. Michael Loewe has argued that only with Wang Mang do we witness the court fully adopting five phase theory and that there is little evidence of the Qin and Western Han courts actually recognizing cosmic patronage according to one of the five phases.141 In terms of the ancestral cult, this change in thinking was dramatic. Instead of the imperial line extending from a single progenitor in the past to the present, that line could now pass through a series of progenitors, one for each repetition of the cycle. History became a corkscrew as each phase lined up with its predecessor. The lineages lengthened as, for example, a legendary emperor by the name of Yan 炎 (whose name translates as

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“Flames”) ruled under the fire phase, his successor in the next age being the sage ruler Yao, and his successor in the imperial age being Han Emperor Gaozu.142 Perhaps because of his name, the Yellow Emperor still ruled under the earth phase in the production cycle, his successor in the next age being the sage ruler Shun, and his successor in the imperial age being Xin Emperor Wang Mang.143 As fire produced ashy earth, the change from Han to Xin was cosmologically justified, and as Yao abdicated to Shun, the Liu-to-Wang transition was further legitimized through canonical precedence. Wang Mang even renamed Gaozu’s shrine the Wenzu miao 文祖廟 or “Shrine of the Civil Ancestor” because that was where Shun received Yao’s abdication.144 Thus what Emperor Ai had only joked about with his lover did in fact foreshadow events that would occur a decade later. Wang Mang had thus devoted himself to composing an elaborate lineage to justify his right to rule, and his ancestral hall became a rhetorical center of power. The charts of the Han documents describe his opportunistic rise to that position as follows: 而本朝短世,國統三絕,是故王莽知漢中外殫微,本末俱弱,亡所忌 憚,生其姦心;因母后之權,假伊周之稱,顓作威福廟堂之上,不降 階序而運天下。 Because of the truncated reigns [of Ai, Ping and an infant emperor] within the imperial court, the system of state was thrice disrupted. Thus Wang Mang realized that, within and without, the Han was failing and spent and that both its root and tips had weakened. Without any qualms, he hatched his treacherous scheming. Using the power of the empress [his aunt], he arrogated the titles of a Yi Yin or a Duke of Zhou. He solitarily established the highest position in an awesome and prosperous ancestral hall. Never even descending the steps to the side halls, he manipulated the empire.145

From surviving descriptions and archaeological reports, the ancestral hall he began building in 20 ce was indeed impressive, of a grander scale than those built by his Han predecessors. Ban Gu notes that both preternaturalism and pretense served as catalysts to the project. For the former, professional qi observers witnessed several prophetic “configurations” (xiang 象) of earth-phase predominance. For the latter, banditry had arisen all over his empire, and so he needed to make a statement of permanence and stability to foster an image of authority.146 In his description of the ancestral complex—a complex built in part using materials recycled from Han


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palaces—Ban Gu provides one of the only textual descriptions of any shrine in early China: 崔發、張邯說莽曰:「德盛者文縟,宜崇其制度,宣視海內,且令萬世 之後無以復加也。」莽乃博徵天下工匠諸圖畫,以望法度算。…殿皆 重屋。太初祖廟東西南北各四十丈,高十七丈,餘廟半之。為銅薄 櫨,飾以金銀琱文,窮極百工之巧。帶高增下,功費數百鉅萬,卒徒 死者萬數。 Cui Fa and Zhang Han said to Wang Mang, “People abundant in virtue are refined and elegant, and it is only right to vaunt their regulations and standards. They should be made widely visible everywhere within the seas, and furthermore they should lead to ten thousand generations of descendants being unable to add anything to it.” Wang Mang therefore searched out the artisans and craftsmen of the empire and inquired into all their plans and drawings to examine their methods and gauge their calculations. . . . All the main halls were multiple stories. The Grand Beginning Ancestral Hall [dedicated to the Yellow Emperor] was a fortyby-forty zhang square [approx. 8500 m2] and reached a height of seventeen zhang [approx. 39 m], and the rest of the halls were half that. They were constructed using bronze brackets and decorated with gold and silver as well as with carved designs, plumbing the depths of all the craftsmen’s skills. They took away the high ground and used it to build up the low ground. It cost huge amounts of cash, and the convicts and conscripts who died [while building it] numbered in the tens of thousands.147

Fragments from other contemporaneous sources describe his shrine as having bronze pillars as well as gold and silver inlays on the ceilings.148 Wang Mang’s ancestral shrine compound was not only grandiose, but it also contained more shrines than any of his predecessors. Instead of five or seven individual ancestors being worshipped, nine of Wang Mang’s forebears were so honored according to the Han documents. In addition to the customary four temporary shrines for his immediate ascendants, he dedicated five permanent shrines to the following ancestors: 1. The Yellow Emperor (beginning of the mythic age) 2. The sage ruler Shun (just prior to the dynastic age) 3. King Hu 胡 of Chen 陳 (enfeoffed at the beginning of the Western Zhou or what might be called the “cultural age”) 4. King Jing 敬 of Qi 齊 (early Eastern Zhou or the beginning of the age of recorded history) 5. King Min 愍 of Jibei 濟北 (beginning of the imperial age)149

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In terms of lineage progenitors, each of these five alleged ancestors was associated with the foundation of a surnamed lineage—Yao 姚, Gui 媯, Chen 陳, Tian 田 and Wang 王 respectively—and so they brought the number of sacrifice recipients to nine.150 In terms of the five phases, both the Yellow Emperor and Shun had begun their rule of the world in resonance with the earth phase that Wang Mang now also claimed, and the implication is that with this new view of cyclic repetition in history, Wang Mang would not only enjoy sacrifices to the end of his dynasty but would also perpetually receive sacrifices from each future imperial lineage that ruled under subsequent earth phases. With the incorporation of the five phases, ancestral longevity had increased by an order of magnitude. As if Wang Mang’s modifications recorded in the Han documents were not complicated enough, archeology from the late 1950s onward has excavated not nine but twelve shrines at the site now identified as his temple complex near Chang’an. Who occupied the remaining three? Various explanations begin with the fact that Liu Xin, who later in his life served as Wang Mang’s own ritual advisor, had already cast aside the prescriptive limits on who warranted perpetual remembrance. One theory draws from additional statements in the Han documents that identifies the legendary ruler Diku 帝嚳 as an ancestor of Wang Mang and adds two of his Tiansurnamed ancestors because they had each earned the title of “king.” Another theory suggests the three extra shrines were for Wang Mang and his own immediate descendants.151 Whatever the details, the ancestral complex was completed two years later, and the spirit tablets were then installed with an elaborate ceremony.152 One year after that, a rebelling convict army burned it to the ground.153 Chang’an was razed, Wang Mang killed, and the Xin dynasty ended with no future dynasty ever claiming descent from it. Grand Empress Dowager Wang’s private prediction to her attendants had proved correct.

Section 16: The Guangwu Restoration and Shrine Reconfiguration (43 ce) In the early stages of what historians Ban Gu, Fan Ye 范曄 (398–446), Sima Biao and others have dubbed the Guangwu “restoration” (zhongxing 中興), amidst the regional infighting a minor omen drew the attention of


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local officials at Confucius’s home village of Queli 闕里 in modern Shandong Province. All the brambles between Confucius’s lecture hall and the village gate had cleared themselves away, unblocking the land for well over a thousand paces. The regional governor and the descendants of Confucius discussed the meaning of this prodigy and reached the conclusion that Confucius desired a revitalization of the long-neglected rituals that would in turn assist the governor in bringing an end to evil. As the crowds gathered for the resurrected rituals, the curious local warlords who had also come to watch the ceremonies were duly ambushed by the governor’s soldiers.154 An uneasy alliance between ritual and military force returned order to the region, and it is this unlikely duality for which the Guangwu restoration is generally remembered. In some ways, Emperor Guangwu 光武 (r. 25–57) restored the Liu ancestral order, and in other ways, he innovated to address new circumstances. Before exploring his innovations with regard to the ancestral shrine configuration, we should first briefly consider a few of his restorations: • Endeavoring to cast the Liu net over the empire once again, Guangwu reestablished the pre-Xin fiefs in 26 ce because “the numina of the ancestors lack that upon which they can depend and return” (先靈無所 依歸), and by the end of his military campaigns in 37 ce, imperial blood relatives held 137 fiefs, maternal relatives held 45 fiefs and those recognized for their achievements, particularly in the battlefield, held 365 fiefs.155 • Guangwu explicitly heeded Emperor Xuan’s precedent for distancing the shrines of his immediate biological ascendants, and in 43 ce, he dismantled the capital shrines that he had built for his four immediate forebears fifteen years earlier, transferring them back to his home region and lowering the ranks of the sacrificers needed to officiate at them.156 • Following Emperor Cheng’s lead in 8 bce, Guangwu enfeoffed two branches of Confucius’s descendants, one also serving as the descendant of the Shang dynasty, and he himself sacrificed to Confucius in the sage’s home state at about the same time the duped warlords met their fate.157 Wang Mang was not simply defeated by a unified resurgence of the Liu lineage. His radical economic policies and extravagant spending, in part fueled by natural disasters, instigated small and large rebellions through-

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out the empire, some led by gentry of the old order but others more akin to peasant revolts. As for the latter, the Red Eyebrows, so called because they painted their eyebrows red to distinguish themselves from the government troops, were the most consequential of the popular uprisings.158 Even the Liu gentry were not unified despite their advantage of having become a large, prosperous and relatively well-ordered lineage. Although Emperor Guangwu is remembered as the first emperor of the Eastern Han, he in fact followed first his third cousin who had taken Chang’an in 23 ce and then a Liu child who had been set up by the Red Eyebrows when they took the capital two years later. He defeated the unorganized and illiterate Red Eyebrows in 27 ce, but it would be another decade until all the imperial pretenders were eliminated. Guangwu’s own collateral branch descended from Emperor Jing, and he himself represented the new class of estate builders that had been nurtured over the course of the Western Han and that would gradually control a majority of Han territory by the end of the dynasty. One reason for moving the Han capital from Chang’an in the west to Luoyang in the center of the empire may have been to keep closer to his own estates. Eastern Han political history in general is characterized by surnamed lineages identified by their particular territories, lineages that competed in forging favorable bonds with the imperial lineage through marriage ties with the emperor. In an era naturally given over to military tactics, the Guangwu restoration is painted as the period of ritual reformation, not just for the remainder of the Han but for subsequent dynasties as well. First, as evident in an inscription left on the side of Mount Tai where he carried out his own feng sacrifice, Guangwu fashioned himself as a ritual reformer. The inscribers list numerous omens, usually in the form of textual prophecies, that indicate Guangwu’s rightful ascent to power and describe his military and ritual achievements. As to those ritual achievements, they debase the Qin for burning the Songs canon and Documents canon, causing all knowledge of music and rituals to dissipate. The Western Han had been hindered by diverse opinions and fragmented texts, leaving the Classics generally misunderstood. Finally it was Guangwu—ninth generation of the red Han—who settled the empire, built the schools and cultivated the rituals, thereby becoming “a sage correcting those mistakes and errors” (聖人正失誤), a sage the inscribers likened to Confucius himself.159


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Second, soon after Emperor Guangwu’s reign, court scholars likewise recognized him and his successor, Emperor Ming 明 (r. 57–75), as the keystone of ritual reformation. All that had gone on before was only leading up to this moment. Ban Gu grew up in the last decades of Emperor Guangwu’s reign, and his history of Western Han court ritual leading up to his own time is a history of unfulfilled attempts to orchestrate a ritual program: 1. Shusun Tong served Emperors Gaozu and Hui but died too early to see through the ritual reforms. 2. Jia Yi served Emperor Wen, who was pleased with his suggestions, but other court advisors criticized them and so they were shelved. 3. Dong Zhongshu served Emperor Wu, but the emperor was too caught up in his military campaigns to listen. 4. Wang Ji 王吉 (d. ca. 48 bce) served Emperor Xuan, who did not accept his discussions, and so he left the court pleading illness. 5. Liu Xiang served Emperor Cheng, who sent down his suggestions to the court for discussion, but both Liu Xiang and Emperor Cheng died before his proposals reached fruition. However, Emperors Guangwu and Ming stemmed the tide. The properly centered Luoyang became a construction site of ritually oriented buildings, the elderly and worthy were ceremonially honored and the emperors personally carried out correct ancestral reverence. Ban Gu concludes, “The awesome ceremonies have already become flourishing and beautiful” (威儀既盛美矣), but he adds—as if to advise Emperor Ming—the rituals had not yet fully extended downward because more schools needed to be built.160 Third, post-Han dynasties in the Period of Disunion also recognized the Guangwu restoration as the origin of their own rituals. For example, Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei in 491 summarized the Han ritual changes as follows: 昔漢高之初,所祀眾神及寢廟不少今日。至于元、成之際,匡衡執 論,乃得減省。後至光武之世,禮儀始備,饗祀有序。 In former times at the beginning of Han Emperor Gaozu’s reign, the host of spirits and number of ancestral shrines receiving sacrifices were no smaller than today. Around the time of Emperors Yuan and Cheng, Kuang Heng dominated the discussion and so managed to economize the sacrifices. Later in Guangwu’s genera-

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tion, the rituals and ceremonies were perfected for the first time; the offerings and sacrifices were put in order.161

This view of the Eastern Han as ritual reformer continues even to the present day.162 Yet this early Eastern Han starting point for ritual reforms isn’t as unambiguous as subsequent scholarship implies. First, although several ritual programs were indeed submitted to the court, many were either tabled or rejected.163 Mired in commentaries and interpretations of fragmented canonical texts, Eastern Han scholars were well aware they were spinning their wheels in contentious ritual debates. Yet even though the Eastern Han court never completely codified ritual, it did stabilize the types of questions raised concerning ritual, focusing on how to apply those canonical texts to ritual practice. In other words, until the end of the Period of Disunion, the debates of ritual scholars had never been lastingly resolved, but Eastern Han scholars were at least united in debating the issues.164 Second, many of the Eastern Han reforms had actually been instigated earlier by Wang Mang. Not surprisingly, the Eastern Han courts generally dismissed Wang Mang as usurper and aberration. The four Han emperors he as Han regent had promoted to receive sacrifices in perpetuity were not recognized, leaving Emperor Guangwu himself to once again bestow the title of “Central Zong-ancestor” upon Emperor Xuan.165 Wang Mang’s fief assignments were not only ignored, but Ban Gu even refused to record them because they did not accord with proper ritual.166 His earth-phase lineage was not due to reign. Nevertheless, when Sima Biao’s treatise on ritual in the Later Han documents describes ceremonies such as announcements made to heaven, suburban sacrifices and welcoming the seasonal qi, it repeatedly states they accorded with “the earlier activities in the Yuanshi reign period” (以元始中故事).167 That reign period from 1 to 6 ce was in fact Wang Mang’s own regency. Furthermore, Guangwu’s list of prophetic omens inscribed on the side of Mount Tai appears to be a repetition of Wang Mang’s own publication of a list of omens upon becoming emperor. When Guangwu died, Emperor Ming recognized him not as a zong-ancestor but as a zu-ancestor, perhaps because he had indeed regained Gaozu’s territory and so merited progenitor status.168 Yet as seen above, it was Wang Mang who had begun the practice of recognizing multiple zu-ancestors or progenitors within the same lineage. Although


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the Eastern Han court could not bring itself to credit him, it clearly continued significant portions of his ritual program. Like the Qin, the Xin was a brief dynasty with a long-lasting impact. Yet there is one ritual reform that clearly seems to belong to the early Eastern Han, namely the corporate shrine in which all the ancestors were venerated in the same place. While the resulting system of imperial ancestral sacrifices would become more streamlined and common sensical, it didn’t arise from reason suddenly overcoming chaos, from cosmological axioms now dictating ritual precepts. Instead, it arose because the reinstated Liu lineage faced a significant and unprecedented problem that required an on-the-ground adaptation of the old rites. Guangwu was a ninth-generation Liu, but in terms of the Western Han emperors, the ninth generation (Emperor Cheng) and the tenth generation (Emperors Ai and Ping) had passed prior to the fifteen-year interregnum. How could the ancestors be reconstituted into an orderly community in such a way that Guangwu, who was not even within the third-cousin relationship network of the most recent lineage heads and thus an outsider, could serve as heir and rely upon them for their spiritual aid and his imperial legitimacy? In other words, how could ritual function as a necessary corrective? His answer was a redefinition of the ancestral community via both altar-space and ritual-time. In terms of where the new emperor should sacrifice, Guangwu basically broke off the tip of the lineage and grafted his own branch in its place. But first he had to get the tablets. In 26 ce, the Red Eyebrows were in close proximity to Chang’an, and so Guangwu’s Grand Minister over the Masses Deng Yu 登禹 (2–58 ce) encamped near the Western Han capital and feasted his men. Then leading all the generals in fasts, he selected an auspicious day, visited the Gaozu shrine in accordance with ritual protocol, gathered together the eleven spirit tablets of the previous emperors and shipped them to the new capital at Luoyang.169 There they waited in Luoyang’s Gaozu shrine until the empire was pacified and the new emperor finally turned his attention to ritual matters. Heeding his advisor Zhang Chun 張純 (d. 56 ce), Guangwu returned the tablets of Emperors Cheng, Ai and Ping to Chang’an and kept the rest (generations one through eight) with him in Luoyang. Then after removing the shrines of his biological ascendants from Luoyang, he embraced his new artificial

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family, treating eighth-generation Emperor Yuan as his “father” even though he had died seventy-five years earlier.170 In addition to the reworked lineage, the physical shrine provided a new sense of ancestral community because all the Eastern Han tablets would henceforth be housed in a single complex. When Emperor Ming later bestowed the perpetual title Shizu 世祖 or “Epochal zu-ancestor” upon his father Guangwu, he erected a temple for him, thus making two main ancestral shrines in Luoyang. Yet when he himself was about to die, Emperor Ming asked that for the sake of frugality no shrine be built on his own behalf and that he instead have his tablet stored in a changing room at his father’s Shizu shrine. His own son Emperor Zhang 章 (r. 75–88 ce) complied and partitioned a section of the changing room that he then named “The shrine of the Illustrious Zong-ancestor” (Xianzong miao 顯 宗廟) where Emperor Ming received his regular sacrifices. For seasonal sacrifices, he joined Guangwu at the main shrine. This ritual accident— “accident” in the sense that his personal desire for only a side chamber was not an essential attribute of ancestral ritual—was later vaunted to demonstrate Emperor Ming’s humility. Because it became a hallmark of compassion and self-sacrifice, it thus evolved into a ritual norm as all subsequent emperors found locations within Guangwu’s shrine. In other words, Luoyang soon possessed just two communal shrines, one dedicated to the Western Han emperors and one dedicated to the Eastern Han emperors.171 For the rest of the Han when announcements were made or new emperors presented to the ancestors, these rituals were carried out at both shrines, symbolically breaking the dynasty into two parts and solidifying Guangwu’s position as a co-progenitor. Even after the Han, the ideal of a single-shrine system—as opposed to individual shrines for individual ancestors—would survive as a precedent heeded by later imperial courts.172 The new communal nature of the Eastern Han ancestral cult was expressed in its rituals, particularly through discussions of two communal sacrifices known as the di 禘 and xia 祫. Little was known of their function in antiquity, and the very lack of knowledge that surrounded them became one of their chief characteristics. “I don’t understand it,” Confucius said of the di-sacrifice, then pointing to his palm and adding, “but for one who understands its explanations, the world would appear here!” (不 知也;知其說者之於天下也,其如示諸斯乎!). 173 In the Han,


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much debate on their meaning was spawned by this lack of knowledge about them, coupled with the fact that rulers knew they ought to be carrying out these sacrifices in order to mimic the ancients and in order to keep the world in their hands. A half dozen chance references to the sacrifices in early texts became canonical keystones for elaborate arguments, and a few dates for them listed in the commentaries to the Spring and autumn annals evolved into an extrapolated sacrificial schedule.174 At best only a handful of details such as its royal nature, its importance and its vague timing that involved cycles of three and five years were known. Even the meanings of the words di and xia were subject to paronomastic glosses and cognate speculations. In Guangwu’s reign, the emperor asked Zhang Chun about them, and Zhang replied that xia 祫 referred to a “communal” (he 合) sacrifice. He further explained as follows: 元始五年,諸王公列侯廟會,始為禘祭。又前十八年親幸長安,亦行 此禮。禮說三年一閏,天氣小備;五年再閏,天氣大備。故三年一 祫,五年一禘。禘之為言諦,諦定昭穆尊卑之義也。禘祭以夏四月, 夏者陽氣在上,陰氣在下,故正尊卑之義也。祫祭以冬十月,冬者五 榖成孰,物備禮成,故合聚飲食也。 In the fifth year of the Yuanshi reign period at a shrine gathering of the various kings, dukes and feudal lords, they carried out the di-sacrifice for the first time. Also eighteen years ago you yourself visited Chang’an and likewise performed this ritual. According to ritual explanations, when one intercalary month is added in the third year, [the alignment of] the heavenly qi reaches a state of lesser perfection. When two intercalary months are added in the fifth year, [the alignment of] the heavenly qi reaches a state of greater perfection. Therefore there is one xia-sacrifice every three years and one di-sacrifice every five years. The word “di-sacrifice” (di 禘) is related to the word “to discriminate” (di 諦), meaning one discriminates and fixes the relationship between zhao- and mu-positions and between the honorable and the dishonorable. The di-sacrifice takes place in the fourth month in summer. Summer is when the yang qi is positioned above and the yin qi is positioned below, which is the meaning of rectifying the relationship between honorable and humble. The xia-sacrifice takes place in the tenth month in winter. Winter is when the five grains are completely ripe. Things have reached a state of perfection and the rituals are completed, and so we “commune” (he 合) to drink and eat.175

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To support his argument of timing the sacrifice, Zhang Chun here employed the metonic system of intercalary months in which the lunar and solar calendars are kept in alignment, and he also used unlikely etymologies. Because there is little to no canonical evidence to support or deny such arguments, a discussant could draw upon any various threes and fives as evidence and select from up to a dozen cognates as proof. This kind of argumentation was not uncommon among the Classicists and was one reason why the Classicists were often not popular. The Eastern Han exegete Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127–200) once wrote in exasperation: 儒家之說禘祫也,通俗不同,學者競傳其聞,是用 爭論從數百年 來矣。 When scholastics explain the di- and xia-sacrifices, their explanations are vulgar and lack agreement. Scholars compete in transmitting what they have heard, and their wrangling and contentious discussions have carried on for several centuries.176

Unbeknownst to Zheng Xuan, such discussions would carry on for several more centuries as well. Argumentation style aside, Guangwu heeded Zhang Chun’s advice and commenced regular communal sacrifices in which all the tablets, including those from decommissioned shrines, were gathered together every few years, arranged in their zhao- and mupositions and then feasted.177 In conclusion, the solidification of the ancestral rituals that has come to characterize the early Eastern Han was in part a strengthening of the lineage’s corporate identity through both its shrine and its sacrificial rituals. Prior to this era, the ancestral system was somewhat more ad hoc, the ancestors functioning a bit more as individuals rather than as members of a community. Ironically, the corporate identity was brought about precisely because the new heir to the Liu heritage, Guangwu, was himself well beyond the community and hence needed to make an effort to define that community.178 Yet it must be emphasized that this change was only a matter of degree, as many of the ancestral dilemmas experienced in the Western Han were carried over into the Eastern Han. Even so, we can see a discernable if slight trend forming here as individuality gave way to the corporate, as ritual pretense yielded to ritual efficacy and as accidents became precedents.


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Section 17: The Imperial Mourning Shed of Chancellor Jing (143 ce) Religions generally accrete rituals and symbols over time, and only with great difficulty do they manage to weed out what is no longer appropriate. In religions that specifically venerate the past—especially in an ancestral cult—that accretive process is perhaps all the more intense, even if the religion includes a disposal mechanism such as structured amnesia that removes faded forebears. Yet weeding out the old can happen through accident rather than plan, as when the Wang Mang interregnum interrupted the lineage rule of the Liu family. It can also result if the new head of the cult is an outsider with less of a vested interest in the traditions, such as Guangwu who was not a direct imperial descendant and did not grow up with a regular dose of ancestral indoctrination inside the Chang’an shrines. The intervener Wang Mang and the outsider Guangwu together may have somewhat stemmed the Western Han accumulation of ancestors and sacrifices, setting the stage for what later dynasties recognized as ritual reformation, but over the next century, religious accretion would reassert itself. In the end, the Eastern Han Liu lineage not only carried over the strongest of the Western Han ancestors and rituals, but it also accumulated its own. Before exploring the theme of religious accretion in terms of the emperor’s imperial progress, in terms of the Hall of Brilliance where the ancestors travel to meet the emperor and especially in terms of the grave mounds where the emperor travels to meet the ancestors, let us note in passing three continuities for the sake of comprehensiveness: • According to the imperial annals of the Later Han documents, the Liu registers discussed in Sections 11, 12, 14 and 15 continued as before, and as in the Western Han, those removed from the registers because of crimes committed or for other reasons were periodically reenrolled.179 • The Eastern Han emperors had apparently also continued Emperor Wu’s policies of partible inheritance and stronger control over the officialdom of the fiefs and kingdoms discussed in Section 11 above.180 • Unfortunately, another practice that survived from the Western Han was “the regulation on unauthorized discussions about the ancestral shrines” (擅議宗廟法) (see Section 13 above), and so any modern sec-

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ondary studies on the ancestral cult must take into account a certain amount of imperial censorship.181 Relaxing imperial censorship near the end of the Western Han had prefaced an attempt at ritual pruning, and so without such a relaxation in the Eastern Han, we might rightly predict that more and more rituals were springing up, the thicket getting ever denser. Such seems to be the case, and this religious accretion is most evident in historical descriptions of imperial progresses. Because the ancestral cult ties time (lineage history) to space (lineage territory), the emperor marked his travels through his ancestral landscape with sacrifices to the past at designated sacred locations.182 In 85 ce, for example, the third Eastern Han emperor commenced one such imperial progress in the tenth year of his reign. The Later Han documents records Emperor Zhang’s tour as follows: 二月,上東巡狩,將至泰山,道使使者奉一太牢祠帝堯於濟陰成陽靈 臺。上至泰山,修光武山南壇兆。辛未,柴祭天地群神如故事。壬 申,宗祀五帝於孝武所作汶上明堂,光武帝配,如雒陽明堂(祀) 〔禮〕。癸酉,更告祀高祖、太宗、世宗、中宗、世祖、顯宗於明 堂,各一太牢。卒事,遂覲東后,饗賜王侯群臣。因行郡國,幸魯, 祠東海恭王,及孔子、七十二弟子。四月,還京都。庚申,告至,祠 高廟、世祖,各一特牛。 In the second month, the emperor traveled eastward on an imperial progress, and when he was about to reach Mount Tai, he ordered that an envoy be sent to offer up a set of sacrificial animals to Yao at Chengyang’s Numina Tower in Jiyin. When the emperor reached Mount Tai, he had Guangwu’s sacrificial platform to the south of the mountain repaired. On the xingwei day,183 he made a burnt offering to heaven, earth and the host of spirits as it had been done in the past. [On the next day which was] renshen, he carried out an ancestral sacrifice to the five lords [of the directions] at the Hall of Brilliance built by Filial Emperor Wu with Guangwu serving as their counterpart, its rituals like those of Luoyang’s Hall of Brilliance.184 [On the next day which was] guiyou, he made a further sacrifice of announcement to Gaozu, Taizong, Shizong, Zhongzong, Shizu and Xianzong at the Hall of Brilliance, offering each of them one set of sacrificial animals. When this business was finished, he thereupon “gave audience to the eastern nobles,” presenting a feast to the kings, marquises and the host of officials. He accordingly traveled through the kingdoms and commanderies, favoring Lu with a visit and sacrificing to King Gong of Donghai as well as to Confucius and his seventy-two disciples. In the fourth month, he returned to the capital. On the gengshen day, he announced his arrival, sacrificing in the Gaozu Shrine and the Shizu Shrine with a special ox at each.185


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Emperor Zhang’s various sacrifices illustrate the accumulation of religious rituals as he carried out old rituals to even older spirits. Just as Wang Mang had venerated the sage king Shun of the yellow earth phase, the Han now fully worshipped the sage king Yao of the red fire phase. By Emperor Zhang’s time, the links between the Liu lineage, the red fire phase and Yao had already existed for roughly 150 years, and in his imperial progress, he sent envoys to the southwest of Mount Tai to make sacrifices at Chengyang, where it was said Yao had died and was buried.186 Emperor Zhang next revitalized Guangwu’s sacrifices from the beginning of the Eastern Han so they were done “as it had been in the past” (ru gushi 如故事).187 He then reached further back to Emperor Wu, installing Guangwu as his own ancestral link in Emperor Wu’s shrine dedicated to the five directional lords, lords who were the personification of the five phases. Accumulation is again evident in his sacrifices to Emperors Gaozu, Wen, Wu, Xuan, Guangwu and Ming. In his reign, they were collectively known as the “two zu-ancestors and four zong-ancestors” (erzu sizong 二 祖四宗).188 Eventually Emperor Zhang himself, along with his son Emperor He 和 (r. 88–106), would join this group, forming the “two zuancestors and six zong-ancestors (erzu liuzong 二祖六宗).189 In a dynasty that arguably should have recognized only one permanent ancestor, the mid-Eastern Han now recognized no less than eight. After formally remembering an earlier king of this region,190 he then cultivated an imperial sacrifice begun only thirteen years earlier in 72 ce by his own father, namely the sacrifice to Confucius and his disciples.191 Thus Emperor Zhang’s eastward imperial progress was marked by a collection of sacrifices accreted from throughout the Han up to his own living memory. Westward imperial progresses, particularly the regular visits to Chang’an, were little different, and they usually included sacrifices to the Gaozu shrine, to the eleven imperial graves around the old capital and to a handful of famous ministers.192 In addition to these sacrifices on either side of their domain, Eastern Han emperors also maintained the ancestral shrines of Luoyang, their capital in the center of that empire. The astronomer and poet Zhang Heng 張衡 (78–137) had grown up during the reigns of Emperors Zhang and He, and he idealized the pageantry of Luoyang’s imperial sacrifices, glorifying its offerings to the environmental and cosmological spirits. He describes it as follows:

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors 然後宗上帝於明堂 推光武以作配 辯方位而正則 五精帥而來摧 尊赤氏之朱光 四靈懋而允懷 於是春秋改節 四時迭代 蒸蒸之心 感物曾思 躬追養於廟祧 奉蒸嘗與禴祠 物牲辯省 設其楅衡 毛炮豚胉 亦有和羹 滌濯靜嘉 禮儀孔明 萬舞奕奕 鍾鼓喤喤 靈祖皇考 來顧來饗 神具醉止 降福穰穰


Only then does the emperor honor the lords on high in the Hall of Brilliance,193 Esteeming Guangwu as their counterpart. Once the directional positions are demarcated and the regulations rectified, The five quintessences are led here and they duly arrive. He honors the vermilion radiance of the Red Lord, And the other four numina are delighted and compliantly satisfied. Thereupon the annual nodes change from spring to autumn;194 The four seasons replace one another in turn. The emperor’s mind, rising upward like steam, Resonates with external things and builds up its thoughts.195 He personally attends to the feast in the ancestral hall, Offering up sacrifices in winter and autumn, in summer and spring. After the sacrificial animals have been thoroughly scrutinized, They attach a protective board across their horns,196 They remove the hair and roast the suckling pig’s shoulders, “And there is also the well-blended broth.”197 [Everything is] spic and span, cleansed and excellent— The rituals and ceremonies are greatly illuminating. “The Wan dance is graceful, graceful”;198 “The bells and drums go huang-huang.”199 Our late numinous grandfather and our late august father Come to watch and come to feast. “When the spirits have all drunk their fill,”200 “They send down blessings in such abundance.”201

Here, too, the Hall of Brilliance is employed in ancestral remembrance, and as the five phases or “quintessences” are welcomed, the red fire phase is given preeminence. As is common in such eulogies, Zhang Heng draws in several poems from the Songs canon, particularly from the Song 頌, or


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“Odes.” The emperor becomes the protagonist in a textbook sacrifice envisioned by the Classicists. In like manner, Emperor Zhang’s eastward imperial progress had been done by the book when he “gave audience to the eastern nobles” at Mount Tai; he was there mimicking the sage ruler Shun as recorded in the Documents canon.202 Emperor Zhang played his scripted role well and conformed to the textual ideal, and when he died four years later, his own perpetual title of “Stern zong-ancestor” (Suzong 肅宗) was in fact derived from passages in the Songs canon itself.203 He became the texts he emulated. This desire for perpetual remembrance, this incessant reluctance to let go of an ancestor, and this growing recognition of the text’s immortalizing power together provide a suitable backdrop for a significant innovation within the Han ancestral cults, namely the permanent stone grave stele. During this era, the tomb and cemetery enjoyed a new emphasis and became a place for the living to meet with individual ancestors. For example, Emperor Ming first led the officials up to Guangwu’s burial mound in 57 ce in what seems to have mimicked Classicist precedent, as King Wen had done the same for his father in the early years of the Zhou.204 The Later Han documents describes the wining and dining of the tomb dedicatee, after which the gathered officials in an orderly fashion presented the harvest statistics and regional troubles of each kingdom and commandery to the spirit in hopes that the ancestor would better understand the activities of his descendants.205 Yet this new emphasis on the tomb was not limited to the imperial lineage, and as the Eastern Han scholar Wang Chong summarized, “In ancient ritual there were shrine offerings; in current custom there are grave sacrifices” (古禮廟祭;今俗墓祀), an observation repeated in many Eastern Han sources.206 It must be noted, however, that the grave sacrifices never replaced the lineage hall sacrifices (as will be amply evident in Sections 18–21); the grave sacrifices were simply added alongside those of the previous ancestral shrines.207 In this case, a large amount of excavated material augments the literary record. Shandong is not only the home of Mount Tai visited by Emperor Zhang, but it is also the region with perhaps the earliest and most extensive usage of stone in the Eastern Han mortuary tradition.208 Above ground, stone was used for cemetery sacrificial halls, for gateposts and for funerary animals; below ground, the stone tomb became relatively common. Li Daoyuan 酈道元 (d. 527 ce) in his Shuijing zhu 水經注 (Com-

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mentary to the River classic) wrote from the vantage point of the sixth century and still saw Han stelae in situ surrounded by the stone medium.209 Such cemeteries, the locations of which were often determined through divination,210 were demarcated from the surrounding land, their borders identified by earthen mounds ( feng),211 stone markers,212 moats213 and other means.214 The abundance of stone is evident in Li Daoyuan’s description of a late Han cemetery located in modern Henan: 彭山西北有漢安邑長尹儉墓。冢西有石廟,廟前有兩石闕,闕東有 碑。闕南有二獅子相對。南有石碣二枚。石柱西南有兩石羊。中平四 年立。 The grave of Yin Jian, chief of Anyi, is located northwest of Peng Mountain. There is a stone shrine west of the grave,215 in front of the shrine there is a pair of stone gateposts, and east of the gateposts there is a stele. South of the gateposts there are two lions facing each other. To the south there are two memorial pillars. Southwest of the stone columns there is a pair of stone sheep. The cemetery was erected in the fourth year of the Zhongping reign period.216

Stone was key to the new Eastern Han cemetery, but what was the attraction of this medium? Li Daoyuan expresses his opinion as he comes across another Han cemetery that did not fare well over time: “The grave mound has been flattened and the tomb destroyed; the stele and animals have been ruined and moved” (墳傾墓毀;碑獸淪移). To Li Daoyuan, it was hardly surprising, as this was the grave of one whom history had come to paint as a villain. He uses a now familiar comparison to demonstrate his point: 夫封者表有德,碑者頌有功,自非此從,何用許為?石至千春,不若 速朽。苞墓萬古,祗彰誚辱。嗚呼,愚亦甚矣。 In general, a fief expresses the possession of virtue, and a stele praises the possession of achievements. If they don’t originate from these qualities, how can they be allowed to exist? Than that this stone last for a thousand springs, it would be better that it quickly decay. [Zhou] Bao’s grave should have lasted many an age, but it only reveals fault and defilement. Oh!—this is indeed the extreme of foolishness!217

Like a prodigy, the stone in this cemetery countered its own nature of permanence to reflect the dead person’s faults. This particular account is thus the exception that proves the rule that the stone of the cemetery was intended to long endure.218 That expectation of endurance was frequently expressed by the stelae themselves. For example, the following stele dedi-


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cated to Yang Tong 楊統 (d. 168), chancellor of Pei 沛, is typical in its boasts of longevity: 逌鐫石立碑,功銘鴻烈,光于億載,俾永不滅…立言不朽,先民所 臧,載名金石,貽于無疆。 They engraved the stone and erected the stele, and the inscription of merit was made vastly illustrious. It will be radiant for a hundred thousand years so that it will never be obliterated. . . . Establishing one’s words so that they do not decay is what our ancestors treasured. Recording one’s name on metal and stone is to hand it down to infinity.219

Although the origins of the stele tradition are uncertain, it may be significant for this history of remembering and forgetting imperial ancestors that some of the earliest known inscriptions did have imperial origins.220 For example, the daughter of Dou Zhang 竇章 (d. 144 ce) found favor with Emperor Shun 順 (r. 125–144), and upon occasion of her early death, the emperor “was forever thinking back to her” (zhuisi zhi wuyi 追思之 無已). He ordered the Astronomy Office to “erect a stele and hymn her virtue” (shubei songde 樹碑頌德), and Dou Zhang himself was singled out to write the hymn.221 More significantly, others allude to imperial remembrance practices and raise the issue as to whether people of lesser status had the right to assume imperial postures. A stele dedicated to another chancellor, a certain Jing 景 who governed Beihai 北海 in modern Shandong, is dated 143 ce and therefore ranks among the oldest stelae.222 On its reverse after a list of eighty-seven people who claim to have observed some form of three-year mourning for Chancellor Jing, the inscription concludes as follows: 堅建囗囗 惟故臣吏 慎終追遠 諒闇沈思 守衛墳園 仁綸禮備 陵成宇立 樹列既就

Firmly erecting [this stele],223 It is his former officials and government servants Who are “meticulous at the end of his life and pursue him as he grows distant,”224 Occupying the mourning shed and deeply thinking upon him. By maintaining and looking after his grave and garden, Benevolence is put in order and the rituals are completed. The tumulus is finished and the residence [for the spirit] has been erected; The trees were positioned and have already matured.

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors 聖典有制 三載已究 當離墓側 永懷靡既 思不可勝 以義割志

乃著遺辭 以明厥意 魂靈瑕顯 降垂嘉祐


The sagacious Classics have their restrictions, And the three-year [mourning period] has already ended.225 We ought to leave the graveside, But we will forever think of him without end. Our thoughts cannot be vanquished,226 But this propriety [of a limited mourning period] would do harm to what is intently fixed within our minds. Thereupon we have produced this lasting text In order to make our thoughts evident. If his hunling be radiant, Then may it send down its excellent protection.227

These concluding couplets highlight two closely related measures against which these eighty-seven mourners theoretically measured proper mourning, namely the imperial and canonical yardsticks. In terms of the imperial yardstick, the most famous mourning shed is described in the Documents classics as one where King Wuding of the Shang spent three years of silent mourning.228 Yet commentators to Jing’s stele mainly discuss why this reference to a ruler’s practice should appear in an official’s stele. For example, the famous canonical scholar Pi Xirui 皮 錫瑞 (1850–1908) used this stele to demonstrate that the mourning shed must not have been limited to the son of heaven, despite the opinions of later scholars.229 Other Han stelae make it clear that the mourning shed was indeed among the consciously borrowed royal images that were being applied to the less-than-royal dead, as demonstrated in the following eulogy dedicated to the wife of an official named Hu 胡: 孤心摧割 靡所底念 仰聸二親 或有神告靈表之文 敢曰亮闇 敘我憂痛 作哀讚書之于碑

My orphaned mind was destroyed and cut up And had nothing upon which to base my thoughts. When looking up to and revering one’s parents, Some people have texts for spirit announcements and for numinous markers that dare speak of the “mourning shed.” Such expresses my anxiety and pain. I composed a mournful eulogy and wrote it on this stele.230

This question of whether stele authors may have commandeered imperial imagery for their own forms of remembrance and rhetoric leads to a larger


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issue about cultural homogeneity. Although still bound by various conventions, the stelae are the first major corpus of texts representing ideas and perspectives of the ancestral cult from beyond the imperial court. Yet the relationship between ancestral perspectives of the officialdom and that of the court is not known. Did imperial perspectives on the ancestors ripple into Han officialdom or vice versa? Did they perhaps develop in tandem with one another, or were they wholly unrelated to one another? From memorials to verse, from scholarly critiques to stone inscriptions, much Han discourse suggests a trickle-down effect, and throughout the Han, emperors were warned against extravagant fashions and unconventional behaviors precisely because they tended to ripple out into the populace. Han poems described how capital fashions were inevitably mimicked in the countryside, and Han political philosophy regularly advocated an exemplary emperor who led by example and not by law. Section 8 above lists some of the concrete ways the court directly fostered the idea of filial piety and indirectly encouraged the idea of ancestral remembrance within the population at large. These stele passages on the mourning shed imply that officialdom adopted ideas and practices from above, but the evidence is far too scant to formulate any definitive conclusions, particularly as there also existed tensions between ties to the court and ties to the region where most of one’s life and lineage existed.231 Yet the imperial accretion of permanent zu- and zong-ancestors bears striking similarity to the accumulation of stone-preserved forebears among the officialdom. That is, Han China was becoming increasingly populated by everlasting ancestors on multiple levels of society. In terms of the canonical yardstick, the same Wuding allusion to the mourning shed likewise refers to knowing the limits of proper mourning but needing to surpass them. That is, once Wuding’s mourning period was over, he still refused to break his silence, a sentiment reflected by Chancellor Jing’s followers who claimed they needed some way of remembering the chancellor after the three years of mourning had elapsed. “The sagacious Classics have their restrictions” that the rememberers would rhetorically circumvent by resorting to a stone inscription. This sentiment is repeated in other inscriptions that acknowledge the canonical system but measure their own strength of remembrance by how much they exceeded that system. These yardsticks were measures, but as noted above, filial piety paradoxically demanded exceptional gestures of loyalty,

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and so the measures were transgressed. As with an oft-ignored speed limit, they were happy to drive faster than what was legally deemed appropriate, even though the speed limit signs were always before them.

Section 18: Empress Liang’s Attempt to Rearrange the Ancestral Order (145 ce) One danger of periodization is highlighting evidence of dynastic waxing and waning in retrospect that, from the perspective of the era itself, simply lacked the grandiose implications later read into it. Hindsight is burdened by our efforts to seek out a larger scheme at work. Not long after the Han collapse, for example, critics would look back to the period known as Huan-Ling (146–89) and transform it into a watchword for dynastic decay, and any evidence supporting that interpretation had a good chance of being preserved and discussed. Yet the actual perspective from the second century ce itself might not have been so dire or at least was a mixture of ups and downs. For example, the court had already enjoyed two revitalization eras in the reigns of Emperors Xuan and Guangwu, both eras dubbed zhongxing 中興 or “restorations.” Thus a person living in the Huan-Ling era need not necessarily have seen a permanent dynastic end approaching. Even amidst the last emperor’s reign, when the ruler had no personal authority and when the capital was in ruins with warlords fighting one another for control, the master of records might still rationalize that although the Han court had become weak, it hadn’t yet reached the level of the Shang dynasty’s violent demise.232 Imperial ritual observances underwent a similar mix of attention and neglect. For example, according to the Later Han documents Emperors Shun and Ling 靈 (r. 168–189) neglected the annual imperial plowing ceremony that led to produce for the ancestral shrine and the feeding of the aged ceremony that honored the state’s elders respectively, both for what have been interpreted as feeble excuses. Yet elsewhere the same text maintains that the later Han emperors did not change any of the rituals and kept their regular sacrifices.233 Some rites in fact had their integrity directly threatened but still survived, and we will examine a handful of such cases after first noting a few other ritual activities that evince a court cognizant of its duties toward the ancestors and other spirits:


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• While ancestral sacrifices tended to proliferate over time, the court occasionally tried to impose certain restrictions, such as terminating all sacrificial offices not found within the “sacrificial code” (sidian 祀典) in 106 ce and banning regional sacrificial halls to local heroes in 165 ce.234 • Conversely, the court at times expanded its commitment to postmortem rituals, particularly in the form of paying for the burial of and sacrifices to commoners in times of disaster, bestowing from two thousand to five thousand cash per person above the age of six.235 • Furthermore, the Eastern Han’s ancestral cult now coexisted with religious Daoism and Buddhism, including on the imperial level as in the case of Emperor Huan who “served the Dao of the Yellow Emperor and Laozi” (shi Huang Lao Dao 事黃老道) and frequently made sacrifices to the latter.236 As will be hypothesized in Part IV, some elements of both these religions may have been made more palatable because of ancestral worship. In addition to its normal ancestral duties, the court saw the now-longstanding ritual prescriptions tested from time to time by people who would have them modified for special cases as in the following two examples from the reigns of Emperors Shun and Huan 桓 (r. 146–168): 1. In 125 ce, a child emperor reigned for just over two hundred days as Empress Dowager Yan oversaw the court. Eleven years later, as the empire was experiencing a series of natural disasters, Emperor Shun summoned his officials to ask them whether it was because in adherence to protocol the child had only been buried with the honors due a king and not an emperor.237 Emperor Shun cited a story in the Documents canon in which a thunderstorm flattened the grain because the slandered Duke of Zhou had not been sufficiently recognized for his loyalty.238 Yet a group of seventy-eight officials advised Emperor Shun not to transgress the ritual restrictions, and because the child’s reign did not cross into the new year (which would have allowed a new reign period to be declared), he had not become a true emperor. They instead cited other precedents from the Spring and autumn annals and attributed the disasters to other causes. Emperor Shun heeded their arguments.239 2. In Emperor Huan’s reign, a son of the eminent Classicist and court advisor Li Gu 李固 (d. 148) pleaded with the court to grant a posthumous title to a friend who had died before securing office. Although posthumous titles were only to be granted to actual office holders, his friend had so much potential as scholar and administrator that he warranted

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such a title anyway. “In former times when ancestral worthies died, there was a code for increasing posthumous honors; in cases of abundant virtue in the Zhou rituals, there are texts about their inscriptions and threnodies” (昔先賢既沒,有加贈之典;周禮盛德,有銘誄 之文). Sagacity and kindness deserved extraordinary rewards, he argued, but even so, the court would not transgress ritual protocol and so did not grant his request.240 These examples would seem to mark a change from the mid-Western Han when ancestral rituals were more a pretense or a language through which Realpolitik worked itself out. Here the rituals are accorded more integrity and can now stave off proposed alterations, even when suggested by the emperor himself. Here large numbers of officials and scholars are arguing at court and using precedents from both canonical and Han times. Yet there is a difference. In the earlier examples, ritual serviced matters of state beyond court ceremony, beyond the bubble of ritual-time and altarspace; in these later examples, there were no great matters at stake that were not matters of ancestral memory itself. Perhaps the starkest example of ritual protocols curbing personal desires took place early in Emperor Huan’s reign, when Empress Dowager Liang attempted to rearrange the ancestral tablets to favor her late husband. According to ritual prescriptions—prescriptions that dictate lineage hierarchy even today—the progenitor tablet enjoys the central position in the shrine or on the altar, the oldest tablets immediately flanking it and the newest tablets standing at the edges. That arrangement also dictated the order of sacrifices, the newest ancestors being served last before the feast for the living begins. In the Han dynasty, those more centralized positions were not only privileged but highly coveted, so much so that some went to the extreme of artfully rearranging the lineage hierarchy in order to gain access to them. Empress Dowager Liang oversaw the court after the death of Emperor Shun in 144 ce until her own death in 150 ce. In terms of the ancestral succession, Emperor Shun’s predecessors were deemed less than ideal. His father Emperor An 安 (r. 106–125), a thirteenth-generation Liu, was uniquely unpopular and so did not receive a perpetual title. Yet in the words of the Later Han documents, “Because no ancestors had been discarded since the Jianwu reign period [i.e., the beginning of the Eastern Han], his regular sacrifices were therefore prolonged” (後以自建武以來 無毀者,故遂常祭).241 That is, the momentum of ancestral accretion


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was so great that Emperor An was still listed within the permanent sacrificial schedule even though he only enjoyed offerings at his graveside. Prior to Emperor An, an infant emperor posthumously called Shang 殤 (r. 106) or “Premature Death”—also of the thirteenth generation—reigned for less than a year, and he, too, received sacrifices at his graveside.242 The resulting generational order thereby gave this infant emperor seniority over Empress Shun’s late husband. So in 145 ce she decided to switch that order.243 The grand master of ceremonies approved of her decision, but a palace attendant by the name of Zhou Ju 周舉 (d. 149 ce) offered a more conservative opinion: 《春秋》魯閔公無子,庶兄僖公代立,其子文公遂躋僖於閔上。孔子 譏之,書曰:「有事于太廟,躋僖公。」《傳》曰:「逆祀也。」及定 公正其序,經曰:「從祀先公」,為萬世法也。今殤帝在先,於秩為 父,順帝在後,於親為子,先後之義不可改,昭穆之序不可亂。 According to the Spring and autumn annals, Duke Min of Lu had no sons, and so his elder half-brother, Duke Xi, replaced him at his death. Duke Xi’s son, Duke Wen, accordingly placed Duke Xi’s tablet above that of Duke Min. Confucius criticized this by saying, “There was a service at the grand shrine, and Duke Xi was moved upward.” The Commentary says, “He carried out a sacrifice that ran contrary to the norm.” When Duke Ding [later] rectified the order, the Canon says, “He carried out a sacrifice to his ancestral dukes that heeded the norm.” This is the system for all generations to follow. Now Emperor Shang is in front, so in terms of order he becomes the father; Emperor Shun is in back, so in terms of relationship he becomes the son. The meaning of “front” and “back” cannot be changed, and the order of the zhao- and mu-positions cannot be brought into chaos.244

Zhou Ju was not the first person in the Han to use Duke Ding’s rectification of tablet order as an argument against showing personal bias and partiality.245 On-the-ground adaptations were permissible only when they did not completely dispense with the rules of conduct derived from higher principles. The empress dowager thereupon checked her personal desire to elevate her husband, heeded sacrificial protocol and even promoted Zhou Ju to a high office. She also issued an edict professing the ritual accord and harmony that manifested itself forty years earlier during the infant emperor’s reign, thereby justifying his worthiness as an imperial ancestor, and she demoted her husband below both him and the despised Emperor An.246

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Ancestral ritual again exerted a degree of integrity not evident in the early Western Han, and the end result was a highly artificial family in which infants became fathers.

Section 19: The Court’s Debate on Remembering Empress Dou (172 ce) According to the ritual prescriptions, first sons continued their trunk lineages as primary heirs whereas all other sons potentially became progenitors of their own collateral branches. Yet two significant groups were proscribed from climbing this patrilineal family tree, one being the eunuchs who theoretically functioned as a safe cohort of inner palace attendants that posed no threat to the imperial bloodlines. Little is known about how eunuchs were selected or promoted, although the eunuchs themselves could still possess their own families, either through having children prior to castration or through adoption. As the only nonrelatives with regular, influential access to the emperor and his immediate family, they wielded more and more authority since the end of the first century, and during the Huan-Ling period, Emperor Huan used the eunuchs to wrest control from his powerful in-laws in 159 ce. Yet that move simply handed more power over to them, much to the disgust of the vocal scholar bureaucrats within the officialdom. Not only were eunuchs regarded as a yin force of castrated and hence unworthy men, they focused upon heightening the supremacy of the emperor—the source of their own power—at the expense of the officialdom. Many matters relevant to the ancestral cult in this period in fact relate to this group that biologically remained outside its strictures: • Early in Emperor Ling’s reign, the emperor’s eunuchs began their fifteen-year control of the court through “the Great Proscription,” banning cliques of scholar bureaucrats from office and anyone related to them within the kin network as defined by the five degrees of mourning clothing.247 • As already seen, the closeness of a blood relationship and how that translated into actual authoritative and fiduciary ties among kin was regularly a tension point in the Han. Here while the scope of the proscription initially included everyone within the five degrees of relationship, this scope was subsequently narrowed to the innermost four de-


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grees, as third cousins were too distantly related and their ties of affection too weak to be considered a threatening clique.248 • In the Great Proscription, to be branded a “clique” or “faction” (danggu 黨錮) in itself carried a harsh condemnation because, as noted in the Introduction, ideal knowledge was comprehensive knowledge, and specialized knowledge or particularized schools were regarded as having branched away from the shared trunk of culture. That is, cliques by their very nature and regardless of their particular dogmas were considered wrong.249 • Yet other ancestral traditions continued to exercise their influence as before. Heeding the Xuan precedent, Eastern Han emperors such as An, Huan and Ling generally recognized their immediate biological ascendants but sequestered their shrines in particular kingdoms, thus not confusing the official succession.250 The other significant group proscribed from climbing the family tree was of course women, and the role of female ancestors up to this point has mainly been relegated to such discussions of biological versus official paternity. Some have even argued that the main purpose of ancestral sacrifice in a wide number of cultures is to uphold patrilineal descent through artifice when biology alone fails to provide clear evidence of kinship. Nancy Jay writes as follows: Rights of membership in a matrilineage may be determined by birth alone, providing sure knowledge of maternity. Paternity never has the same natural certainty, and birth by itself cannot be the sole criterion for patrilineage membership. . . . When the crucial intergenerational link is between father and son, for which birth by itself cannot provide sure evidence, sacrificing may be considered essential for the continuity of the social order. What is needed to provide clear evidence of social and religious paternity is an act as definite and available to the senses as is birth. When membership in patrilineal descent groups is identified by rights of participation in blood sacrifice, evidence of “paternity” is created which is as certain as evidence of maternity, but far more flexible.251

According to Michael Puett, the Ritual records makes a similar argument, namely “that, through sacrifice, the sacrificer is able to create lines of descent that are clearly recognized as not being biologically based.”252 In the Han, that patrilineal flexibility has been abundantly evident, from the Xuan precedent of removing one’s own biological forebears from the capital, to Guangwu’s embrace of the eighth-generation Emperor Yuan as his father despite a seventy-five year gap between them, and finally to infant

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Emperor Shang’s becoming a father in the Liu lineage. The activity of sacrifice structured and reified a flexible, artificial family, a family in which women were for the most part formally absent. As is already evident, one way in which women influenced the ancestral cult, and the court or family in general, was through their positions as empress dowagers and clan matrons. Such are common whenever there is a significant age difference between males and females at marriage, as was the case in ancient Greece. Women who married, on average, at twenty and men who married at thirty would become grandmothers at fifty and grandfathers at sixty.253 The early Chinese ritual prescriptions also recommended twenty as the marriageable age for women and thirty for men, although little comparable work on age demographics has yet been undertaken. The Zoumalou tax records from the end of the Han suggest that, among commoners, the average age difference was eight years, the median closer to five or six.254 Children would thus enjoy the presence and influence of their mothers longer than that of their fathers. A second way that women entered into the discourse of the imperial ancestral cult was in the question of which wife should accompany the emperor into the afterlife. It was recognized that all emperors should have companions, as it was “what our ancestral emperors stipulated and is set forth in the codes and regulations” (先帝所制,典法設張).255 Given that several Han emperors had consecutive empresses and multiple concubines, this question of who should serve as “counterpart” or “accompaniment” ( pei 配) for the late emperor frequently arose.256 That woman’s tablet would perpetually share his mat and enjoy his reflected honors. If there was only one empress, the choice for the emperor’s accompanying tablet was usually clear, but a memorial still had to be submitted to the throne and an edict still had to announce the addition of the tablet. For example, Empress Ma 馬 (40–79), the only wife of Emperor Ming, was officially selected as his posthumous mate. If there were two empresses, a choice had to be made. Guangwu had two consecutive empresses, and the second was chosen for him. Emperor He also had two consecutive empresses, and the second was chosen for him by using Guangwu as a precedent.257 In both cases, the choice is not surprising given that 1.) the second empresses survived their husbands by many years and hence carried personal influence over the court, and 2.) the successors to the empire were their own sons.


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Sometimes the choice of companion could be changed even centuries later. Because Empress Lü had attempted to enfeoff non-Liu kings and thereby take over the Han empire in its earliest years, she was deemed unfit to be coupled with Gaozu. Guangwu replaced her with Gaozu’s consort surnamed Bo 薄. Empress Lü’s tablet was shifted out of the shrine and into the garden where it received only seasonal sacrifices.258 The most explicit case of court debates concerning who should perpetually share the imperial mat arose during the reign of Emperor Ling and concerned his predecessor, Emperor Huan, who had three consecutive empresses as well as several concubines. Cao Jie 曹節 (d. 181) and his fellow eunuch Wang Fu 王甫 (d. 179) bore an intense hatred of the Dou lineage, the family of Emperor Huan’s last empress, because Empress Dou’s father had desired to execute all the eunuchs at court. Instead, her father had been forced to commit suicide, and Empress Dou had lived under house arrest until her death four years later in 172 ce.259 Yet as seen above, tradition seemed to dictate that the last empress be selected as perpetual companion to the emperor in the ancestral shrine. At Empress Dou’s death, the eunuchs duly asked Emperor Ling to replace Empress Dou with a favorite concubine surnamed Feng 馮. The emperor decided to convene a debate to discuss the matter, asking the eunuch Zhao Zhong 趙忠 (d. 189), whom he respectfully called his “mother,” to adjudicate. 詔公卿大會朝堂,令中常侍趙忠監議。太尉李咸時病,乃扶輿而起, 擣椒自隨,謂妻子曰:「若皇太后不得配食桓帝,吾不生還矣。」既 議,坐者數百人,各瞻望中官,良久莫肯先言。趙忠曰:「議當時 定。」怪公卿以下,各相顧望。球曰:「皇太后以盛德良家,母臨天 下,宜配先帝,是無所疑。」忠笑而言曰:「陳廷尉宜便操筆。」 [The emperor] summoned the excellencies and officials to a great meeting in the court hall and ordered Regular Palace Attendant Zhao Zhong to oversee the discussion. At that time, Grand Commandant Li Xian was ill, but propping himself against his carriage, he then climbed up, taking some ground pepper medicine with him,260 and he said to his wife, “If the Grand Empress Dowager [Dou] does not manage to serve as Emperor Huan’s counterpart in his sacrifices, I won’t return home alive.” At the discussion, several hundred people were seated, each of them staring at the eunuchs, and for a long time no one was willing to say the first word. Zhao Zhong said, “This discussion ought to be settled in a timely fashion.” He upbraided the excellencies and officials on down, and they all looked around at each other. [Commandant of Justice Chen] Qiu said, “Because of her abundant virtue and good family and because she oversaw the empire like a mother,

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


the Grand Empress Dowager [Dou] ought to serve as the late emperor’s counterpart. There’s no room for doubt.” Zhao Zhong laughed and said, “Commandant of Justice Chen, you ought to put that into writing.”261

He did. Chen Qiu outlined the care she had given to the Liu ancestral shrines during chaotic times, and he distanced her from the rest of the Dou lineage whom the eunuchs hated. He then argued that Concubine Feng had not only been unaccomplished in life, but in death her bones had been exposed and her “soul’s numen” (hunling 魂靈) defiled by tomb raiders. When Zhao Zhong scoffed at this written reply, Chen Qiu bravely defended the mistreated Dou lineage in general and denounced the way Empress Dou had been locked away in an empty palace. Li Xian jumped in to support Chen Qiu, as did the rest of the audience. Debate continued with both sides turning to precedents. Cao Jie and Wang Fu drew from cases in which bad consorts were indeed remembered separately from their husbands, but Li Xian cited examples of bad consorts who retained their ancestral positions by their husbands’ side. The eunuchs brought up Emperor Wu who was coupled not with Empress Wei but with his beloved concubine Lady Li, to which Li Xian replied that Emperor Wu had personally deposed Empress Wei, and so “it could not be used as a precedent” (不可以為比). Finally the excellencies and officials played their trump card: it was Empress Dou who had officially adopted the current emperor from a collateral branch to continue the imperial succession. By raising this fact, they implied that utterly dismissing Empress Dou would in turn tarnish the decision she had made in selecting Emperor Ling. It is perhaps not surprising that after reviewing the discussions, Emperor Ling favored the excellencies and officials. He maintained the “old restrictions” ( jiuzhi 舊制) of ritual protocol and refused to remove Empress Dou’s tablet, despite the intense feelings of the eunuchs.262 If nothing else, the debate on how to remember Empress Dou conveys the magnitude of ancestral issues. It was a national issue argued before hundreds of people by officials who, if the Later Han documents is accurate, saw it as a matter of life and death. Both sides adamantly defended their positions, drawing upon canonical statements and Han precedents. Most of all, the debate again shows a relatively high degree of ritual integrity. Despite the eunuchs’ domination of the court and their hatred for this particular protocol, the ancestral rituals were still not compromised.


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Section 20: Cai Yong’s Reform in the Waning Han (190 ce) In an interview, the historian and philosopher Paul Ricoeur once commented: There are certain boundary situations, such as war, suffering, guilt, death, in which the individual or community experiences a fundamental existential crisis. At such moments the whole community is put into question. For it is only when it is threatened with destruction from without or from within that a society is compelled to return to the very roots of its identity; to that mythical nucleus which ultimately grounds and determines it. The solution to the immediate crisis is no longer a purely political or technical matter but demands that we ask ourselves the ultimate questions concerning our origins and ends: Where do we come from? Where do we go? In this way, we become aware of our basic capacities and reasons for surviving, for being and continuing to be what we are.263

Flags are waved, myths embraced and systems of symbols brought into sharp relief during an existential crisis.264 The same may be true of orchestrated symbolic action, namely ritual, particularly when those rituals are primarily aimed at defining the individual or community as the ancestral cult was. In 189 ce when Emperor Ling died, the eunuchs lost the political and military support they had enjoyed twenty years earlier, and in a bloody suppression, they were burned out of their palaces and put to the sword. Zhao Zhong, who oversaw the debate in 172 ce, was among them. With the imperial house now weak and ineffectual and the economy strained after five years of constant warfare, warlords vied with one another to rule in the name of the Liu lineage. Within the next two years, one of these warlords, Dong Zhuo 董卓 (d. 192), razed Luoyang, burning down its shrines and looting its imperial tombs.265 He kidnapped the new child emperor—Emperor Xian 獻 (r. 189–220)—and transported him west to the old capital of Chang’an because he could defend it more easily. Emperor Xian did not travel alone; as B. J. Mansvelt Beck describes it, the exodus “was in fact an enormous migration, because willy-nilly thousands of people followed the emperor, ravaging and pillaging for food, and harried by Tung Cho’s soldiers. They formed a miserable throng who could have no hope of return to Lo-yang.”266 Yet the Chang’an that greeted them was not the capital of its former splendor, and Gaozu’s shrine was one of the

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


only imperial buildings to have survived since the Red Eyebrows uprising in the early first century.267 There was one man in Dong Zhuo’s entourage who had plans for restructuring the Liu ancestors to be housed in that shrine, and that man was Cai Yong, the most eminent Classicist scholar of the age. On one hand, it would seem to be an unlikely time for an overhaul of the ancestral shrines and a resurrection of the Zhou ideal of structured amnesia, but that is precisely what Cai Yong proposed and the court accepted. On the other hand, if boundary situations indeed encourage the entrenchment of symbol systems of identity and pose questions such as “Where do we come from?”, then reworking the Liu ancestral cult may have been a logical consequence of the times. Before examining how Cai Yong would revamp the ancestral cult during the waning Han, it is important to understand the general climate of decay and decline that he faced: • The Later Han documents provides a useful summary of the accumulated ancestral sacrifices observed in Emperor Ling’s reign and demonstrates how very few emperors had their sacrifices terminated over the four centuries of Han rule: 靈帝時,京都四時所祭高廟五主,世祖廟七主,少帝三陵,追尊后 三陵,凡牲用十八太牢,皆有副倅。故高廟三主親毀之後,亦但殷 祭之歲奉祠。 By Emperor Ling’s reign, altogether eighteen sets of sacrificial animals plus supplemental animals were used at the seasonal sacrifices in the capital to the five tablets in the Gaozu shrine, the seven tablets in the Shizu shrine, the three graves of the emperors who had died young, and the three graves of retrospectively honored empresses. Additionally after three tablets in the Gaozu Shrine had their sacrifices eliminated [due to generational distance], they only enjoyed offerings during the years when the “Greatest of sacrifices” was celebrated.268

• Yet as the dynasty waned, various scholars within and beyond the court lamented how the shrines, rituals and music were falling apart, such as Ying Shao 應劭 (d. before 204) who observed: “Now [the spirit’s] dwelling structures have been leveled and destroyed; their vessels for sacrificial meats have gone missing” (今營寓夷泯,宰器闕 亡).269


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• Lavish graves fared little better than the shrines and became either the target of widespread looting or subject to demolition to use the land and stone for other purposes.270 • Cemeteries en masse likewise fell victim to political designs as Cao Cao 曹操 (155–220) secured his claim over North China and, in 205 ce, explicitly banned the erection of stone stelae, shrines and animal sculptures because he considered them wasteful and perhaps because these monuments bore witness to Han authority.271 Much of this decay still lay ahead for the Han when Cai Yong drew up his plans to reform the Liu ancestral cult, but he himself had already witnessed sufficient evidence of decline in his own lifetime, his ample writings attesting to this general sense of demise.272 Furthermore, the popular understanding of cosmological time with its dynastic cycles and with empires ruling under a succession of five phases fostered a mindset that now looked for endings and anticipated closure.273 In terms of the particular year 190 ce, that decline may have seemed magnified with the slaughter of the eunuchs, the bloody infighting of the warlords, the destruction of the capital and the kidnapping of the emperor. Against this chaotic background—or, as Ricoeur might have called it, this “boundary situation”—Cai Yong submitted his “Zongmiao diehui yi” 宗廟迭毀議 or “A discussion on the successive elimination of ancestors in the ancestral shrine.” It begins by retracing the accumulation of Western Han ancestors and highlights two Han court advisors, one worthy of praise and the other blame. The former is Xiahou Sheng 夏侯勝 (fl. 70 bce) who bravely denounced granting Emperor Wu a permanent position in the ancestral cult because of the way he had bankrupted the state with his constant warfare. The latter is Liu Xin who insisted on Emperor Wu’s permanent place within the shrine. In Cai Yong’s opinion, Liu Xin thereby encouraged all sons to act with partiality toward their own fathers at the expense of the lineage’s general well-being. Cai Yong then addressed the foundation of the Eastern Han, praising its restoration as well as its first three emperors. However, the long-term decline then set in. 自此以下,政世多釁,權移臣下。嗣帝殷勤,各欲褒崇至親而已。臣 下懦弱,莫能執夏侯之直。故遂衍溢無有方限。今聖遵古復禮以求厥 中,誠合事宜。   禮傳封儀自依家法,不知國家舊有宗儀,聖主賢臣所共刱定。欲就 六廟,黜損所宗。違先帝舊章,未可施行。臣謹案禮制七廟,三昭三 穆與太祖七。

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


Since that time there have been many rifts in government affairs, and power has devolved to the ministers. The descendant emperors were carefully solicitous, each desiring to venerate with reverence only his closest ascendant. The ministers were timid and weak, and none of them was able to be as straightforward as Xiahou Sheng was. Hence the subsequent flood [of ancestors] was without limit. Yet now a sage honors the ancients and returns to the rituals in order to seek out what is right.274 His sincerity rings true, and his affairs are appropriate. In ritual, the rules for passing down fiefs originally derived from relying upon family structures, but people do not understand that the empire of old was also based on lineage rules that sagacious rulers and worthy ministers had together devised and fixed. It is desirable to follow the shrine system of six [zhao- and mupositions] and remove those who have been granted zong-ancestor designations. Yet we have abandoned the former doctrines of past emperors and have not been able to carry them out in practice. In my humble opinion, the rituals impose a limit of seven shrines, the seven being three zhao-positions, three mu-positions and the grand ancestor shrine.275

Like Eastern Han scholars before him, Cai Yong basically breaks the Liu lineage into two separate ancestral halls, and although he is less specific in his treatment of the Western Han ancestors, the reader can deduce a simple system of three permanent ancestors in that shrine, namely Gaozu as progenitor, Emperor Wen as the required zhao-position and—perhaps his biggest innovation—Emperor Xuan as the required mu-position. Yet what of the legendary Emperor Wu? Cai Yong had praised Xiahou Sheng for opposing Wu’s permanent position, and he damned Liu Xin for supporting it. Furthermore, when justifying Emperor Ming’s permanent position in the Eastern Han shrine, he argues, “The Filial Emperor Ming possessed sagacious virtue as well as perceptive enlightenment, and his government was comparable to that of Emperors Wen and Xuan, and so his shrine is called the Xianzong Shrine” (孝明皇帝聖德聰明, 政參文宣,廟稱顯宗).276 Emperor Wu’s absence here is noteworthy. Selecting Xuan over Wu also eliminated a complication inherent in the earlier grouping of Gaozu, Wen and Wu. Both Wen and Wu are evennumbered generations and hence zhao-positions, whereas Xuan is an oddnumbered generation and hence the desired mu-position to complement Wen’s zhao-position. This removal of Emperor Wu, although not explicit in his discussion, is probably Cai Yong’s most significant immediate alteration of the Liu ancestral cult.277 In the Eastern Han shrine, stripping the perpetual titles from Emperors He, An,278 Shun and Huan would seem like a greater immediate


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change, but as they collectively represented the four most recent generations of Lius (generations twelve through fifteen), they still warranted sacrifices at the time. Hence Cai Yong’s alteration was not immediately significant,279 but he did not focus on the immediate, as his conclusion makes clear: 今又總就一堂,崇約尚省,不復改作。惟主及几筵應改而已。正數世 之所闕,為無窮之常典,稽制禮之舊則,合神明之歡心。 If you completely follow the system of a unified hall, then you are also vaunting frugality and venerating economy, never again altering and erecting [shrines]. Only the tablets should accordingly change along with their tables and mats. If you rectify this error that has persisted many generations, then you will make a constant doctrine that is everlasting. You will be comparable to the ancient precepts of regulatory rituals, and you will be in accord with the joyous minds of the spirits.280

In hindsight, there is an obvious irony in this final statement because even though the court adopted Cai Yong’s reform of this tidy ancestral cult for all time to come,281 the current boy ruler was the last of the Liu emperors anyway. As for Dong Zhuo, he was killed two years later, and Cai Yong himself died in prison a few months after that.282 Yet Emperor Xian would rule over this boundary situation, albeit in name only, for another three decades before the transition to a new dynasty could be engineered and a new set of ancestors installed.

Section 21: The Wei Dynasty’s Resurrection of the Zhou Ideal (237 ce) When Han Gaozu’s generals—generals described as sword-swinging lager louts who were vandalizing the palaces—got out of hand, the new emperor turned to his ritual advisor, Shusun Tong, for help. Shusun Tong devised an elaborate mass ceremony that took place in the darkness before dawn at the new palace. Orchestrating hundreds of officials and generals, he lined them up in hierarchical rank on the palace steps beneath unfurled banners, expelling anyone who did not follow the rituals to the letter, and once the emperor was brought into their midst borne upon a litter, each of the guests in turn offered up his congratulations. The ceremony concluded with orderly drinking, the generals having been transformed into trembling, obedient subjects.

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


於是高帝曰:「吾迺今日知為皇帝之貴也。」 Thereupon Emperor Gao announced, “It is on this day that I understand the honor of being emperor.”283

Four hundred and twenty years later when the last Han emperor abdicated, he announced his intentions at Emperor Gao’s ancestral shrine, and in another highly orchestrated ritual attended by all officialdom, he handed over the seals. Praising the selfless abdications of Yao yielding the empire to Shun and Shun in turn yielding it to Yu, he announced that heaven’s numerical dispensation for the Han had run its course, and he invited the king of Wei to ascend an altar built for the occasion and officially receive the empire.284 帝升壇禮畢,顧謂群臣曰:「舜、禹之事,吾知之矣。」 After the [Wei] emperor ascended the altar and the ceremony had concluded, he turned and announced to his host of ministers, “I have come to understand the events concerning Shun and Yu.”285

The Han is portrayed as succeeding via military conquest over the might of Qin and Chu, but the Wei is portrayed as succeeding via peaceful abdication modeled upon the Classicist canons. Rituals in the former were said to have transformed a military force into a civil state; rituals in the latter were used to position the abdication within a larger continuum or greater truth. Without a pedigree, the Lius rose up from obscurity, but ritual assisted in legitimizing their rule. In contrast, the Caos claimed the yellow earth phase and hence descent from the same Shun who had received Yao’s abdication, and through repeated references to this fact, ritual legitimized the Caos. The Sanguo zhi 三國志 (Annals of the Three Kingdoms) concludes its description of the abdication with the Wei declaring the first reign period as Huangchu 黃初 or “Yellow beginning.” Restarting the clock applied to the ancestral halls as well. As evidence of a larger cultural continuum at work under which individual dynasties rose and fell, the Wei did not devise new systems or embrace different religious beliefs but continued the Zhou ideal of structured amnesia. Before examining how that ideal applied to a new set of ancestors, three important continuities should be noted: • This legitimation that appealed both to a cosmological transition of phases as well as to the canonical precedent of Yao’s abdication was thoroughly developed during the last two decades of the Han, not only


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justifying the Cao lineage’s ascent but also allowing the last Han emperor to save face.286 • When Cao Pi 曹丕 of Wei (187–226 ce) forced his abdication, Han Emperor Xian was demoted to the rank of duke and given a city of ten thousand households, and his descendants maintained a hereditary fief into the early fourth century, roughly fifty years after the Wei dynasty itself had fallen.287 • Canonical regulations and Han precedents continued to exhibit a degree of integrity that prevented tampering with the ancestral rituals even by the emperor such as when Wei Emperor Wen desired to enfeoff the families of his mother’s parents but his advisors discouraged him because the ritual codes forbade it.288 Yet even though the ritual restrictions still carried much weight, they were not above some modification. The capital’s imperial ancestral shrine was not finished until 229 ce, two years after the death of Emperor Wen and the accession of his son Emperor Ming 明 (r. 227–239). At that time, the grand master of ceremonies conducted the tablets of the four previous generations—Cao Teng 曹騰, Cao Song 曹嵩, Cao Cao (Emperor Wu 武) and Cao Pi (r. 220–226 as Emperor Wen 文)—from the Cao’s former military headquarters and burial place at Ye 鄴 (modern Henan Province) to the rebuilt Luoyang. Commentators note that an earlier memorial records the presence of still one more tablet at Ye, namely that of an ancestor one generation prior to Cao Teng. They say its absence here indicates that the successive elimination of ancestors after four generations was indeed being heeded.289 Eight years later, the implementation of the Zhou system in a memorial offered to Emperor Ming is explicit: 武皇帝撥亂反正,為魏太祖,樂用武始之舞。文皇帝應天受命,為魏 高祖,樂用咸熙之舞。帝制作興治,為魏烈祖,樂用章(武)[斌] 之舞。三祖之廟,萬世不毀。其餘四廟,親盡迭毀,如周后稷、文、 武廟祧之制。 August Emperor Wu drove away chaos and caused the empire to return to correctness and so becomes Wei Taizu. He will be entertained with the “Dance of the martial beginnings.” August Emperor Wen resonated with heaven and received the mandate and so becomes Wei Gaozu. He will be entertained with the “Dance of universal brilliance.”290 [The present] emperor codified culture and promoted good government, and he will become Wei Liezu. He will be entertained with the “Dance of displayed refinement.” The shrines of the three zuancestors will never be eliminated for ten-thousand generations. As for the re-

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


maining four shrines, when their close ties of kinship have faded, they are to be eliminated in succession. This structure will be like the regulations of the shrines and altars for Hou Ji and Kings Wen and Wu in the Zhou dynasty.291

While the overall structure is the same as in the Zhou, two small changes were introduced. First, all three first emperors were labeled zu-ancestors and not zong-ancestors. They were either treated as a group in their acquisition of the empire, or more likely territoriality was no longer a prerequisite for that particular title. Second, the current emperor, namely Emperor Ming, was granted a permanent ancestral title in his own lifetime. In theory, the system was tidy and reflected the realities of fading memories and the need for a tight, economical ancestral cult, but in practice, no one as yet faced the threat of only temporary remembrance. A third modification carried out in the same year allowed Emperor Wen’s tablet to be permanently accompanied by the tablets of both his empresses. Reflecting Han practice, Emperor Wen had originally been coupled with just his second empress, but his son and successor was descended from the first. Once the seven-shrine system had been declared, a lengthy memorial praising the eminent wives of antiquity was offered up to Emperor Ming, a memorial that requested his mother be added to his father’s shrine.292 In other words, through these modifications Emperor Ming not only secured perpetual remembrance for himself, but he also secured it for his mother. He furthermore ensured that future generations would know of these decisions. The Annals of the Three Kingdoms records, “Thereupon [the memorial] and the seven-shrine discussion were both cast on metal strips and stored away in a metal coffer” (於是與七廟議並 勒金策,藏之金匱).293 The Cao imperial lineage, however, would not last long enough for later generations to consult their everlasting texts.

Conclusion Imagine if you will that you are Han Emperor Wen writing out your last wishes on your deathbed. Your reign in these early years of the dynasty has been fruitful, and you will be remembered as frugal and benevolent, even having insisted that public mourning on your behalf be truncated so as not to burden the young empire. You further justify that reduction in mourning by writing that there is no need for sadness: “Now being fortunate to have enjoyed a full lifespan, I will receive continual sacrifices within the shrine of Gaozu” (今乃幸以天年得復供養于高廟).294 Accord-


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ing to the ancestral observances already implemented in the Qin—its ritualists having directly advised your own father Gaozu and your halfbrother Emperor Hui—you are entitled to occupy your own individual space within the imperial family shrine for four generations until all trace of your direct influence has faded after perhaps a century has passed. As you are forgotten, you will drift into relative oblivion, merging into the corporate lineage in accord with the dictates of the prescriptive texts. Now imagine yourself three centuries and thirteen generations later. If your ancestral spirit is still sentient, you will have noticed that the postmortem existence you had envisioned for yourself didn’t go to plan. First your son Emperor Jing not only secured perpetual remembrance on your behalf, but he also set up shrines for you in every commandery and kingdom. Although such empire-wide remembrance was later downsized, you still received sacrifices in the capital four times a day, in addition to bimonthly, monthly and seasonal offerings. Your wooden tablet was rescued from Chang’an when the Red Eyebrows were about to occupy the city, and you were brought here to Luoyang. Furthermore, you’re not alone. Besides Gaozu, the tablets of three of your Western Han descendants stand beside you in this shrine, and there are another seven in this shrine’s Eastern Han counterpart. So many Liu emperors are now being preserved that it has become the norm, and to receive perpetual sacrifices is no longer special or individuating. Not being made a permanent ancestor—as in the case of your descendant Emperor An—has paradoxically become more distinguishing, more memorable. Besides, the ancestral rituals and music played on your behalf have become haphazard and spare by this time, as if to mirror a fracturing empire. As the case of Emperor Wen demonstrates, when faced with the rigors of historical circumstance, the tidy prescriptions of structured amnesia were not always followed, but that does not mean those prescriptions were unimportant. The above thirteen cases amply evince that these prescriptions were incorporated into many memorials and edicts, and some ritual elements still managed to curb rulers who would wrongly promote one ancestor over another or who would unjustly grant a posthumous name to a commoner. Just as the biblical Ten Commandments are often set aside in modern society, many of the ritual prescriptions may have been routinely ignored even though the idea of these rituals as a cultural anchor remained, to be cited when beneficial and politely ignored when not. Also

A History of Remembering and Forgetting Imperial Ancestors


like the Ten Commandments, there was a certain logic or common sense to some of these ritual constraints such as restricting formal remembrance to the limits of human memory. My feeding an ancestor with physical provisions was directly proportional to my ability to keep that ancestor in my thoughts. However, that raises a new question: If your existence is tied to their memory, are you an agency in your own right, or are you a mental construct of your descendants? As Emperor Wen, are you sentient or symbolic? On one hand, the Liu ancestors are endlessly gobbling up expensive food; on the other, they fade away as the living think less and less about them. These ancestors, if unfed, are at times described as invading dreams and inducing floods, even necessitating their exorcisms via ochre whips. At other times, these ancestors are emblems manufactured purely for the sake of imperial unity, their feeding and worship a façade barely hiding the Realpolitik at work. Is Emperor Wen seen as actually enjoying the ritual dances and tasty sacrifices, or is he a part of the vocabulary of tradition—the grammar of history—that says “we’re unified and legitimate because we have our own Wen and Wu just like the great Zhou dynasty before us (and, as it turns out, just like the Wei dynasty after us)”? The rules of conduct that govern such commemorative feeding would seem to index two different cosmological axioms simultaneously, forcing us to rethink Rappaport’s fourfold hierarchy. To restate the question in awkwardly simplistic terms: Are they they, or are they we? As will be seen in Part III as we move from sacrificer to sacrificee, the answer is probably . . . “Yes.”

PART III A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence

In a Songs canon hymn entitled “Fullness” (“Na” 那), the filial descendant offers up a musical invitation to the spirits using drums, pipes and bells— invitational music that “lets us realize our thoughts” (sui wo si cheng 綏我 思成).1 In another hymn entitled “Illustrious ancestors” (“Liezu” 烈祖), alcoholic offerings bring the spirits down to us and again “allow us to realize our thoughts” (lai wo si cheng 賚我思成).2 By channeling the mind, music invited the spirits. According to the influential commentary by the Eastern Han exegete Zheng Xuan, the pacified mind first endured several days of pre-sacrificial meditations and abstentions and then ultimately visualized the ancestors, thus causing “spiritual brilliance to come and arrive” (shenming laige 神明來格).3 Here incorporating its two principal meanings, “spiritual brilliance” is both a state of mind as well as an extracorporeal being. In a ritualized setting, they were one and the same. Equating spirits with realized thoughts fits well with the structured amnesia prescribed in Part I and extensively debated in Part II. When the descendants focused their minds, the spirits came; when the descendants gradually forgot about them over the generations, they faded away. The Songs canon seems to allude to a cosmological axiom perhaps best summarized as “I think, therefore they are,” a notion we will here dub “performative thinking.” This phrase is loosely adapted from J. D. Austin’s famous “performative utterances,” utterances that do not merely describe but actually change reality by their being said. Declaring “I promise” is a com-

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


mon example of a performative utterance because my saying those words creates obligations and changes the social environment in which I operate. Those words do not simply describe something; they do something. By extension, performative thinking will be the notion that thinking in itself can affect the environment beyond the mind. Yet despite the fact that the Songs canon is one of the most influential texts in early China, to generalize that “the early Chinese believed ghosts were the products of performative thinking” would of course be wrong, both denying a diversity of beliefs about afterlife existence and implying individuals could hold only one belief at a time. Such gross generalizations quickly collapse in light of abundant evidence depicting other kinds of relationships between ascendants and descendants. Part II focused upon the sacrificers, specifically the early imperial families as they embraced, adapted and at times ignored the ritual prescriptions in dealing with their dead. Part III turns to the recipients of those sacrifices, and as the focus of this book is performative thinking, we survey a spectrum of interpretations on afterlife existence using the role of the descendants’ mentation as the changing variable. While it may be wiser to avoid digitizing such analogical notions, this chapter introduces five different relationships between the living and the dead or, more accurately, five different emphases of the living’s interaction with the dead. They are as follows: 1. The living and the dead are two distinct and fully cognizant parties engaged in an exchange relationship. That is, the living treat the dead as external agencies with whom they necessarily interact and exchange goods, the emphasis being on the interaction itself that is characterized as do ut des—“I give in order that you might give.” In these exchange relationships, the descendants’ mental state plays no role. 2. Only the living subject who is sincere or true can engage in exchange relationships with the dead. Here a mental factor enters into the equation because “sincerity” (cheng 誠) becomes a prerequisite for the exchange to be efficacious. 3. The medium of direct interaction between the living and the dead is mental in nature and includes dreams, illnesses and meditations during abstentions. In our spectrum’s second position just mentioned, the cognitive element (sincerity) was merely a precondition placed upon the sacrificer for successful interaction. In this third position, the cognitive element is being actively engaged and manipulated as a conduit


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between the living and their dead. Both the living and their dead remain distinct parties in communication with one another, and either party can initiate or even disrupt this mental conduit. 4. The dead are the objectified thoughts of the living. This fourth category is the “performative thinking” in which the existence of the dead is directly pegged to the minds of their descendants. Here the dead are no longer wholly separate agencies but are a kind of projection of the living. 5. The dead are not sentient and hence there is no interaction. Perhaps best described as “it’s all just in your head,” this position is usually voiced as an explicit contrast to the above beliefs that posit an interactive or at least a conscious dead. It is important to note that these are not mutually independent approaches to interacting with the dead but, when taken together, form a spectrum of approaches dependent upon the degree of external agency assigned to the dead. In the first relationship they are fully separate entities, whereas in the last, they have lost all sense of being. To visualize it another way, mentation enters the spectrum at the second position, extends to the dead in the third, becomes the dead in the fourth and has left the spectrum by the fifth. Furthermore, the role of the sacrificer grows as that of the sacrificee diminishes across this same spectrum. Two caveats must accompany this spectrum. First, the differences among the above approaches to the dead are characterized more by emphasis rather than separation. For example, anecdotes, prescriptions and liturgy most prevalent in the fourth category of performative thinking may still assume the sincerity of the second category and the cognitive medium of the third. Such texts often highlight only a particular aspect without outright dismissal of the others. Yet this spectrum is indeed one of shifting emphasis. The first category lacks any mental prerequisite in the living subject partaking in this interaction whereas the second category requires it. The third category of texts highlights the mental aspect of the medium between the subject and object of the exchange, whereas the fourth fully shifts the spotlight onto the dead as the construct of the subject’s thoughts. Like the first category, the last lacks a mental component, but unlike the first, the last no longer recognizes the dead as having any external agency at all. Overall, this continuum is simply a hindsight categorization that highlights the variable of mental investment, a categorization to organize our understanding and a map to point us toward new avenues of potential exploration. Although the early Chinese themselves

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


never envisioned this spectrum, these demarcations are not wholly academic hindsight because, for example, those who argued for sincerity in sacrifice explicitly separated themselves from the simple do ut des approach of the first category, and those who denied that the dead were sentient explicitly dismissed the other four approaches. This question of whether the early Chinese themselves recognized such distinctions leads to a second caveat, one already familiar since the beginning of this study. These five categories do not necessarily demarcate five groups of people but instead five genres of discourse. That is, even if they are logically inconsistent with one another, they can be simultaneously maintained by the same people. When engaged in a theoretical discourse with cosmological overtones, a person may clearly demarcate between the complementary hun 魂 and po 魄 components of a person’s being that return to heaven and earth respectively. Yet when that same person engaged in active practice, these terms could become switched or joined together without distinction, or they could be coupled with still other terms such as “spirit” (shen 神) or “ghost” ( gui 鬼). The theoretical distinctions simply disappeared. Furthermore, the same sacrificer who performatively thinks of his ancestor will usually offer him physical food for sustenance as well. As seen in many Western studies, the experience of death itself particularly evokes numerous inconsistencies in understanding because, by definition, no one ever lives to tell about it. I will return to this idea of multiple conflicting genres of discourse in the conclusion to this part of our study.

Section 22: The do ut des Relationship Grand Administrator Shi Qi 史祈 doubted the powers of Liu Gen 劉根, a Daoist recluse and teacher living in his region. Because he believed that Liu Gen had been deluding the commoners too long, he threatened to kill the Daoist unless the latter could demonstrate his abilities by making spirits appear. As the Later Han documents describes it, Liu Gen turned his head to the left and whistled, and a moment later dozens of Shi Qi’s own ancestors appeared with their hands tied behind their backs, kowtowing to Liu Gen and profusely apologizing for their descendant’s behavior. They then turned to Shi Qi and harshly chastised him with the following complaint:


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汝為子孫,不能有益先人,而反累辱亡靈!可叩頭為吾陳謝。 As a descendant, you’ve brought no benefit to your ancestors but instead pile up disgrace on the departed spirits! You will plead and apologize on our behalves by kowtowing.

Terrified, Shi Qi apologetically kowtowed to Liu Gen until the blood flowed from his forehead.4 Liu Gen and Shi Qi begin by representing two different approaches to the ancestors—or two different ends of the above spectrum—but ultimately Liu Gen’s is victorious. In Han texts, the living often express anxiety about meeting their ancestors after bringing shame to the lineage, or they predict that they themselves will become miserable, ashamed ghosts.5 From this type of discourse, ancestral spirits are real entities, and as the ancestors here tell Shi Qi, there should be a high level of interaction between them and the living lest the ancestors lose the benefits to which they are entitled. In like manner, a couplet from the divination guide Forest of Changes states, “When we do obeisance to the shrines and pray to the spirits, we cause the spirits to be without trouble” (拜祠禱神,使神無患).6 That is, the dead are not entities residing over and above the mundane world and immune to the consequences of their descendants’ actions as in many Western religions; they instead need nurturing and even protecting from other spirits.7 An excavated document from Yinqueshan explains that, just as the state values sages so it can seek out uprightness and a ruler values scholar-knights so he can seek out fullness, ghosts value food sacrifices so they can seek out their ling 靈 or “numinous efficacy.”8 Sacrifices empower them, and so they remain tied to the living in an ongoing exchange relationship, duly profiting from this exchange. Elsewhere in the Forest of Changes, the reciprocal agreement is fairly straightforward: 繭栗犧牲 敬享鬼神 神嗜飲食 受福多孫

Using a sacrificial calf with budding horns, We respectfully present offerings to the ghosts and spirits. The spirits desire food and drink, Causing us to receive blessings and multiplying our descendants.9

The living give the dead what they need, and they reciprocate by fulfilling our own desires, or as Yang Xiong wrote in one of his own poems describing the elaborate efforts invested in an imperial shrine sacrifice: “Because

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


[the sacrificers] toiled as much as this, the perfected spirits will in turn labor [for them]” (其勤若此,故真神之所勞也).10 An exchange relationship is projected upon the invisible realm. Besides cows and kowtowing, what were the basic units of exchange in this relationship? The Western Han’s Yantielun 鹽鐵論 (Analyses on salt and iron) breaks Han practice down into the upper classes offering cattle as well as dance and drum performances, the middle classes offering sheep and dogs along with music played on zithers and pipes, and the lower classes offering chickens, pigs and incense.11 Other verses in the Forest of Changes additionally refer to the living offering fish, wheat, millet, wine and jade, all further evinced in exacting detail by the ritual canon. As seen in earlier parts of this book, lambs, rabbits and frogs were likewise sacrificed, and using the Monthly ordinances of the four classes of people, this list can be lengthened to include eggs, leeks and melons. Some sources contend that the choice of sacrifice was determined by season, and one early Han imperial hymn glorifies the close associations between harvest and sacrifice: 朱明盛長 敷與萬物 桐生茂豫 靡有所詘 敷華就實 既阜既昌 登成甫田 百鬼迪嘗 廣大建祀 肅雍不忘 神若宥之 傳世無疆

The red brightness (of summer) rises and lengthens, Diffusing throughout the myriad things. They spread and grow vibrantly and indulgently, And nowhere is there any retreat. The expanding flowers and filling fruit Are substantial and flourishing. As they rise up and pack the large fields, The various ghosts make their way to the harvest offering. We set up the sacrifices stretching far and wide; Reverent and courteous, we do not forget them. The spirits are pleased and will assist us, Extending our generations no end.12

Other sources note that the choice of sacrifice in part depended upon the relative worth of the foodstuffs. For example, the Han Feizi relates a story of how Confucius valued glutinous millet as the most important grain to be offered in ancestral sacrifice and simultaneously devalued peaches as the lowest of six types of fruit and thereby not to be used as an offering.13 Still other sources maintain that sacrificial choice could simply be a matter of historical accident. The Historical records claims that the Han practice of offering fruit arose when Emperor Hui and Shusun Tong


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happened to find some cherries while out traveling, the ritual advisor then claiming that the cherries were fit to be offered at the ancestral shrine.14 In return, the ancestors usually sent down blessings of longevity, either personal or lineage, as is evident in the above examples. Another couplet from the Forest of Changes typically states, “When we offer up and advance [sacrifices] to the august ancestor, may there be many descendant generations and longevity” (獻進皇祖,曾孫壽考).15 This choice of exchange unit in itself should not be surprising as it complements the ritual remembrance undertaken by the living. That is, the living prolonged the longevity of their ancestors, and in turn, the ancestors assured that the same family continued to spread into the future. By bequeathing lineage longevity, the ancestors would be securing their own survival, assuring remembrance by future generations. Beneath the wine, millet and pigs, this sacrificial exchange was a reciprocal gift of time. Not all exchanges were intended for mutual bounty and blessings. Spirits or ghosts could be summoned down to inflict harm on a person such as the emperor who was otherwise untouchable to disgruntled subjects.16 Conversely, drought, famine or pestilence might draw the lineage toward its ancestral shrine to seek relief, while illness might lead individual descendants to hold particular ancestors accountable. Here the exchange was one of food for recovery. An almanac or “day book” (rishu 日 書) excavated from a Qin tomb dated ca. 217 bce details how diseases progress over the ten-day week—four or five days of sickness followed by one day of recovery with complete cure on the next—and the ghost responsible for that illness could be determined by the day that the disease began. Not only were the illness-bringing ghosts working to a schedule, but the forces that might exacerbate that illness obeyed five-phase directions and colors. In particular, sui 歲 in this almanac is either Jupiter or its hypothetical counterweight that ostensibly traced out the mirror image of Jupiter’s twelve-year path around the sun. (This counter-Jupiter or shadow Jupiter was regularly used in Han calendrical notation such as recording death years in grave inscriptions even though its twelve-year calendar gradually became divorced from actual Jovian cycles.17) If sui was in a particular direction and exhibited the five-phase color associated with that direction, then the illness would become fatal. I here translate the passage in full to demonstrate how one’s immediate ancestors could number among other baleful spirits engaged in this exchange relationship:

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


甲乙有疾,父母為祟,得之于肉,從東方來,裹以桼(漆)器。戊己 病,庚有〔間〕,辛酢。若不〔酢〕,煩居東方,歲在東方,青色 死。 丙丁有疾,王父為祟,得之赤肉、雄雞、酉(酒)。庚辛病,壬有 間,癸酢。若不酢,煩居南方,歲在南方,赤色死。 戊己有疾,巫堪行,王母為祟,得之于黃色素魚,堇、酉(酒)。 壬癸病,甲有間,乙酢。若不酢,煩居邦中,歲在西方,黃色死。 庚辛有疾,外鬼傷(殤)死為祟,得之犬肉、鮮卵白色。甲乙病, 丙有間,丁酢。若不酢,煩居西方,歲在西方,白色死。 壬癸有疾,母(毋)逢人,外鬼為祟,得之于酉(酒)脯脩節肉。 丙丁疾,戊有間,己酢。若不酢,煩居北方,歲在北方,黑色死。 If you are ill on a jia or yi day, then your [late] parents are haunting you. You can affect them using meat that comes from the east and is presented in a lacquer dish.18 You will be sick until the wu or ji day, recover a bit on the geng day and then be better on the xin day. If you are not better, then the trouble resides in the east. If sui is in the east and is bluish-green in color, you will die. If you are ill on a bing or ding day, then your [late] grandfather is haunting you. You can affect him using red meat, a rooster or wine. You will be sick until the xin or geng day, recover a bit on the ren day and then be better on the gui day. If you are not better, then the trouble resides in the south. If sui is in the south and is reddish in color, you will die. If you are ill on a wu or ji day, then Shaman Kan is active [?] and your [late] grandmother is haunting you.19 You can affect her using yellow dried fish, yellow loam and alcohol. You will be sick until the ren or gui day, recover a bit on the jia day and then be better on the yi day. If you are not better, then the trouble resides within the middle of the state. If sui is in the west and is yellowish in color, you will die. If you are ill on a geng or xin day, then someone who is not in your direct ascendancy and who died prematurely is haunting you. You can affect him using dog meat and the whites from fresh eggs. You will be sick until the jia or yi day, recover a bit on the bing day and then be better on the ding day. If you are not better, then the trouble resides in the west. If sui is in the west and is whitish in color, you will die. If you are ill on a ren or gui day, then someone who is not in your direct ascendancy and whom you don’t know is haunting you. You can affect him using wine, jerky and meat jelly. You will be sick until the bing or ding day, recover a bit on the wu day and then be better on the ji day. If you are not better, then the trouble resides in the north. If sui is in the north and is dark in color, you will die.20

As the above list unfolds, the relationship between the diseased descendant and the responsible spirit becomes more distant, beginning with one’s par-


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ents and ending with strangers. Throughout it demonstrates that such relationships between the living and their dead were not always happy ones. It has been argued that by the late Warring States, funerary ritual had become increasingly focused upon keeping the living and the dead separate, with inscribed burial urns and grave deeds pleading that the dead no longer haunt them.21 With regard to the spectrum that follows, one might speculate that the more anthropomorphized an ancestor (or any cosmic force) becomes, the more potentially malevolent it could be. Regardless, the above day book account adds more sacrificial goods ranging from red meat and yellow fish to dried jerky and meat jelly to the descendants’ offering list which is perhaps a list of curatives as well. But was it a fair exchange relationship? According to Mozi, the supplicators in the state of Lu would seek a hundred blessings from the ghosts and spirits by offering up a single piglet, an exchange ratio that Mozi thought silly. Such a lopsided exchange ratio would make the recipient of gifts fearful of receiving them because the return obligation would be too great.22 In a similar vein, the mid-Han Shuoyuan 說苑 (Garden of persuasions) ridicules a man of Qi who offers up a container of rice, a pot of wine and three fish while praying, “May these barren highlands produce excellent grain, may these stagnant miasmas become a hundred carriages and may they be passed down to my later generations in overflowing abundance” (蟹堁者宜禾,洿邪者百車,傳之後世,洋洋有餘).23 Furthermore, the sacrificers themselves regularly consumed the food after it was offered to the ancestors, rationalizing that the ethereal ancestors only dined upon the sacrifice’s fumes and aromas. The sacrificers incurred little real loss. In certain cases, there is a clear consciousness as to appropriate exchange ratios with the spirits, one of its clearest expressions being in an inscription dedicated not to an ancestral spirit but to a geomantic one. According to an Eastern Han stone inscription dated 181 ce, the Prefect Pei Bi 裴 畢 re-dredged a spillway to augment his region’s geomantic health, which thereupon gave rise to large numbers of high officials. The spillway’s inscription requests that whenever a local resident was appointed to any rank at the regional or imperial court, the appointee was to sacrifice to the lord of the spillway before setting out, with the size of the sacrifice in direct proportion to the rank achieved.24 Here the blessings come first and the gift to the supernatural agents then follows, but the recognition of a proper exchange ratio is explicit. Yet according to at least one Eastern

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


Han source, the volume of exchange could never surpass certain levels. As written in the Qianfulun 潛夫論 (Analyses of a hermit), supplicators may have engaged in an exchange relationship with the ghosts and spirits, but it was limited to only minor advantages and did not extend to matters of heaven such as one’s allotted lifespan.25 Not only does this text counter the conception that the spirits can bestow longevity, but it also argues against a purely do ut des relationship because the sacrificers must possess a degree of sincerity, a sentiment to be explored in the next category of descendant-ascendant relationships. Still other early sources dismiss the do ut des relationship entirely, contending that sacrifices in the ancestral shrine were to express filial piety or atone for wrongdoing and not to seek out one’s desires or recoveries.26 When addressing the idea of gift exchange in other pre-imperial texts such as the Guoyu 國語 (Discourses of the states) and the Zuo commentary, David Schaberg has explored in depth the sense of obligation placed upon the gift recipient in this system of bao 報 or “recompense.” Here the value or size of the gift doesn’t matter so much as entering into a proper system of relationships: Liberality is perhaps not essential to a system of bao, since what is required is objective performances of return rather than a subjective generosity on the part of participants. Yet a ghost of the freedom of the “free” gift hovers about the exchanges as an index of givers’ and receivers’ commitment to the ideal of giving and to the system of exchange itself.27

Schaberg goes on to highlight how gifts necessarily drew lines of demarcation between the giver and the recipient, even demarcating individual and group identity. Jacques Gernet has likewise highlighted how pre-Tang recompense relationships should not be viewed as purely commercial transactions in the modern sense. “A dependent was not paid for his work but recompensed, because his relationship to the employer—one of guest and host—exceeded the narrow economic framework,” he contends, adding that such relationships fostered personal and even quasi-familial ties.28 Although neither Schaberg nor Gernet is here addressing sacrifices to ancestors, we could easily extend such line drawing to the transactions between the living and the dead. The above anecdotes about unequal exchanges would seem to confirm that there was more to the exchange than a purely capitalist transaction. To be sure, it is ambiguous whether the true paragons of virtue would even partake in this kind of marketplace. On one


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hand, the sage kings ideally “did not seek out recompense (bao) from the ghosts and spirits” (非求報於鬼神也) when sacrificing, according to the Garden of persuasions.29 On the other hand, Confucius himself reportedly contended that, if he were attuned to the Way, “I am victorious when I conduct war and I receive blessings when I carry out sacrifices” (我戰則 克,祭則受福), according to the Ritual records.30 Regardless of the ambiguity, the sages would naturally have been regarded as an ideal rather than as representing the popular understanding of sacrificial exchange. Pascal Boyer offers a bleaker explanation for these seemingly lopsided exchanges of one piglet for a hundred blessings or a pot of wine for generations of excess, namely that the sacrificers intuitively knew there was really no exchange at all: You may give a goat to the gods but you still plow your fields to the best of your abilities. The ways in which the gods actually confer benefits are not really described or even thought about. Inasmuch as people get good crops or game, they may well be, in their view, because of the sacrifice, but this is only a conjecture with very little obvious support. In such situations, then, people give resources to the ancestors but the part that the ancestors receive is not obvious, or not visible, or not material. In exchange people receive protection but this is not obvious, or not visible.31

In Boyer’s view, the exchange was actually and intuitively not lopsided at all; naught was traded for naught. Instead the real purpose was to define the sacrificing in-group and establish authority over property, a Durkheimian perspective that will be explored in later sections. In the end, the mutual dependence within this exchange relationship becomes most overt if one of the two parties—namely the living agent— has for some reason ceased to exist. Again the Forest of Changes provides abundant imagery for this unfortunate development. There the ghosts weep when their descendants have perished, whether it be on an individual scale such as a son having died before his time or on a massive scale such as a whole dynasty being wiped out and thereby ending the royal sacrifices.32 The hungry ghosts in their frustration retaliate daily by smashing pots or stealing the sacrifices from other families.33 The Ritual records even insists that kings, feudal lords and great officers should make certain such ghosts are fed by devoting special altars to them.34 They ensured that the exchange in benefits continued or, at the very least, that the other party did not become disgruntled and hence troublesome.

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


Section 23: The Sincere Sacrificer According to the Zuo commentary, a duke of the small state of Yu 虞 was about to permit the armies of Jin to pass through his territory in its campaign against one of his neighbors. The duke’s advisor argued against granting Jin permission because Jin would simply wipe out Yu when it returned from its campaign. The duke stubbornly countered that his state would survive because he maintained a good exchange relationship with the spirits: 公曰:「吾享祀豐絜,神必據我。」對曰:「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。』又曰:『黍稷非 馨,明德惟馨。』又曰:『民不易物,惟德繄物。』如是,則非德,民 不和,神不享矣。神所馮依,將在德矣。若晉取虞,而明德以薦馨 香,神其吐之乎?」 The Duke said, “My sacrificial offerings have been abundant and pure, and so the spirits have definitely come to depend on me.” [His advisor] replied, “I have heard that the ghosts and spirits are not actually close to people; they depend on virtue alone. Thus the Zhou records states, ‘August heaven plays no favorites, and it’s only virtue that it supports.’ It also says, ‘Foxtail and broomcorn millet give off no fragrance; enlightened virtue alone is fragrant.’ It also says, ‘People never make changes to the offerings because it is virtue alone that is the offering.’ If such is true, then when there is no virtue, the people will become disharmonious and the spirits will not enjoy the sacrifices. What the spirits depend on rests in virtue. Should Jin take Yu and make their virtue bright by offering up aromatic incense, would the spirits spit it out?”35

The duke did not listen, and the advisor astutely predicted that Yu would fail to present the winter sacrifices that year. As forecast, Jin took over the sacrifices and in turn offered up Yu’s customary tribute to the Zhou king. The obvious moral of the story is that a do ut des relationship with the spirits was not enough, that a certain quality of character or individual power—here once again de 德, namely “virtue” or “potency”—was prerequisite, and this moral is frequently repeated in the Zuo commentary. For example, an advisor told the duke of Lu that sacrificing the correct quantities of animals, jades and silks was nothing more than a minor expression of “good faith” (xin 信) and the spirits would not respond with blessings.36 For another example, a ruler was advised that he could break a treaty because it was not based on good faith and so the spirits had never been in attendance to authenticate it.37 Furthermore, this demand for vir-


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tue and good faith in dealing with the spirits is not limited to the Zuo commentary because similar statements have been placed in the mouths of Mozi, Guanzi, Xunzi and many others. A character prerequisite continued to be recognized in the Han particularly in the form of being cheng 誠 (“sincere” or “true”), a quality that, according to the Huainanzi, could spread out beyond the living and directly affect the dead: 施死者,非專為生也。誠出於己,則所動者遠矣。 We don’t give to the dead what we would reserve for the living. Sincerity comes forth from the self, but the ones affected are distant.38

As seen in the Introduction, Ban Gu similarly equated ancestral sacrifices with “thinking about the distant,” and elsewhere he, too, recognized the efficacy of “quintessence and sincerity” or “quintessential sincerity” ( jingcheng 精誠) that moved outward toward the invisible realm. For example, he includes one of his father’s essays that begins by demonstrating how the imperial Liu lineage was a later manifestation of Yao and the fire phase, and he continues as follows: 由是言之,帝王之祚,必有明聖顯懿之德,豐功厚利積絫之業,然後 精誠通於神明,流澤加於生民,故能為鬼神所福饗。 From this perspective, emperorship or kingship must possess the virtue of enlightened sagacity and illustrious respectability, and it must possess an accumulated inheritance of abundant achievements and generous benefits. Then and only then can one’s quintessential sincerity penetrate into spiritual brilliance and one’s flowing influence increase among the living. Thereupon one can be blessed by the ghosts and spirits.39

Clearly this relationship involved more than a mere exchange of gifts. As the Forest of Changes simply puts it, “If quintessential sincerity is present, the spirits will assist him” (精誠所在,神為之輔).40 The Extended reflections is more explicit about the process: 或曰,祈請者。「誠以接神,自然應也。故精以底之,犧牲玉帛以昭 祈請。吉朔以通之。『禮云禮云,玉帛云乎哉!』請云祈云,酒膳云 乎哉!非其禮則或愆,非其請則不應。」 Someone asked about praying and supplicating. [I replied,] “If you practice sincerity when interacting with the spirits, they respond of their own accord. Thus your quintessence brings them down, and your sacrificial animals, jades and silks highlight your prayer and supplication. It is on the first day of the month that

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


you communicate with them. When one says ‘Rituals! Rituals!’—is it just jade and silks?’ When one says Prayers! Supplications!—is it just alcohol and food? If the rituals are not done so, then they are misleading and transgressive. If the supplications are not done so, then there will be no resonance.”41

It continues by explaining that supplications work precisely because “there is a responsive resonance between qi and material things” (qi wu yinggan 氣物應感)—that is, between the forces generated in the mind and the concrete objects beyond it.42 Thus a simple exchange is again not enough for the sacrifice to be efficacious. Here one’s quality of being is responsible for first attracting the spirits downward, and then the sacrifice itself draws their attention to the sacrificer’s particular prayer or supplication. Within a Western setting and particularly within post-Reformation Protestantism, religious systems often denounce a mechanical do ut des approach in favor of belief or faith in a particular god, but this type of belief is not what is meant here by “good faith” (xin) or “sincerity” (cheng).43 None of these Chinese sources question whether the mechanical sacrificers actually “believe” in their spirits. Instead, sincerity demands a uniform integrity of character both inside and outside the sacrificial setting lest the highly polished rituals be a mere façade inconsistent with the rest of the sacrificer’s lifestyle. On one hand, if a ruler focused upon the welfare of the people, shed light upon the Dao, put his faith in propriety, fed the masses and spread peace, then according to Yang Xiong, “When it comes to sacrificing to the ghosts and spirits, won’t they indeed partake?” (享于鬼神,不亦饗乎?).44 On the other hand, if a ruler forgot the toils of his forebears, did not maintain his parents’ mortuary complexes, opposed the edicts of the son of heaven and did not study the Dao, then according to one general who was remonstrating against a wayward king of Huainan, “It is clear that the spirit of August Emperor Gao will have no regard for the shrine foodstuffs offered from your hand” (高皇帝之神 必不廟食於大王之手,明白).45 In both of these cases, the propriety expressed inside the ancestral shrine must be in continuity with the sacrificer’s behavior outside the ancestral shrine. Confucius was said to have described the noble who possessed the Way as one who “respected the ghosts even when he was not sacrificing” (不祀而敬鬼) just as he would respect the ruler even when he himself was not an official.46


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Yet if it is a question of the sacrificer’s general behavior and specific actions, can “good faith” and “sincerity” also be classed as mental qualities (and hence a valid category in this mentation spectrum)? In the context of early Chinese thinking about the mind, the answer would seem to be yes. First, the demarcation between mind and body, between the mental and the physical, is generally less pronounced in early Chinese sources. Whereas the demand for a faithful mind in tandem with concrete good works in Western religious systems results from a dualistic perception in which the mind is distinct from matter, the mind in early China was more tightly integrated with the rest of the body, its thinking processes to be numbered alongside other bodily actions. This view of thinking is further explored in Part IV. Second, the early sources that most thoroughly explore the concept of “sincerity” clearly mark it as a mental endeavor. “The central and the universal” in the Ritual records discusses the concept at great length and makes it clear that sincerity comes through much “study” (xue 學) and “thought” (si 思), that only the sage has attained sincerity without conscious mental effort. Sincerity is the basis of “serving one’s parents” (shiqin 事親), and that includes the rituals of ancestral veneration there discussed at some length. As Wing-tsit Chan comments: The quality that brings man and Nature together is ch’eng, sincerity, truth or reality. The extensive discussion of this idea in the Classic makes it at once psychological, metaphysical, and religious. Sincerity is not just a state of mind, but an active force that is always transforming things and completing things, and drawing man and Heaven (T’ien, Nature) together in the same current. Insofar as it is mystical, it tends to be transcendental. But its practical aspect has never been forgotten. In fact, if sincerity is to be true, it must involve strenuous effort at learning and earnest effort at practice.47

Thus in “The central and the universal” at least, sincerity is indeed a quality of mind among other things. Chan’s description of sincerity’s transformative powers that draw together humans and heaven leads to a third way in which sincerity is a mental endeavor. Sincerity is a mental force that can extend outward from the person to the physical environment, an idea further explored in Part IV. In “The central and the universal” and elsewhere, it is said that “extreme sincerity approaches the spirits/spiritual” (zhicheng ru shen 至 誠如神) in that it can cause omens and prodigies to appear as sincerity

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


manifests itself in forms beyond the body.48 Sincerity possesses this potency in the Spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü, where it is again coupled with “quintessence”: 故誠有誠乃合於情,精有精乃通於天。乃通於天,水、木、石之性皆 可動也。又況於有血氣者乎? Thus if sincerity is sincere, then it can commune with one’s environment. If the quintessence is quintessential, then it can penetrate into heaven. If it can penetrate into heaven, then the natures of water, trees and rocks can all be moved. How much the more can it move those things that possess blood and qi?49

Like “The central and the universal,” this text describes sincerity’s power as “spiritual” (shen). The Huainanzi chapter entitled “Grand lineage” (“Taizu” 泰族) is no different, stating, “Therefore when quintessence and sincerity resonate within, forms and qi move in heaven” (故精誠感於 內,形氣動於天), after which it lists a number of omens and prodigies.50 Later it explicitly describes this sincerity as an attribute of the mind (xin), as does the Extended reflections, which states, “When the mind is sincere, then the spirits respond to it” (心誠,則神明應之).51 Thus, according to these diverse sources spanning the Qin and Han dynasties, sincerity was demanded when ritually approaching the spirits and was the necessary prerequisite for performative thinking to begin. Soon after the Han, sincerity of mind also became a major theme in supernatural romances and resurrection tales in anthologies such as the Soushenji 搜神記 (Records about investigating the spirits), where that same sincerity of mind was often credited with resonating into the cosmos and altering the world. Common to most of these advocacies of sincerity is an express dismissal of insincere sacrifices and mindless attempts to interact with the spirits. As is here evident, these writers self-identify as those who truly understand ancestral sacrifices compared to the benighted who are focused on exchanging sacrifices for blessings. One way these writers evince their superior knowledge is by citing canonical texts that support the need for sincerity in sacrifice. Such was already evident in the remonstrations received by the duke of Yu above, remonstrations that included three citations to the Documents canon. Many modern scholars have noted that the Classicist tradition was itself preoccupied with sincerity in terms of emotional authenticity in ritual and uniform integrity of character. Classicism added orthodoxy to orthopraxy.52 Thus it should not be surprising that these passages often make recourse to the texts of a “sincere” tradi-


Part III

tion. For example, the Analyses of the hermit demands uniformity of character within and without the ancestral shrine by drawing the analogy of a life-long wayward subject who suddenly appeared at court repenting his wicked past and asking for great favors in return. He simply would not be taken seriously. It then quotes the Analects, the Filial piety canon, the Songs canon, the Documents canon and the Changes canon to reinforce this point that sincerity must be ongoing for the ancestors to accept the sacrifices and send down blessings. It even cites the above Zuo commentary story of the duke of Yu’s failure to understand sacrifice, following that citation with another eight stories from the same source.53 Just as mastery of the canon separated a lettered man from the masses, the sincerity espoused by that canon in turn marked his sacrifices as superior to those of the masses. Such sincerity was necessary for influencing the world beyond himself and causing the ghosts and spirits to resonate and respond to his requests in a natural, unforced manner.54 To conclude our discussion of this category on a skeptical note, the introduction of an intangible quality of judgment such as sincerity or moral integrity into an otherwise mechanical exchange allows for an “escape clause” when the sacrifices are ineffective. A skeptical reader could be left with such an impression after studying Ban Gu’s list of hundreds of omens that he aligned with contemporaneous political events, omens that often involved the ancestral hall: 1. The imperial granary burned down because heaven judged the emperor’s grain unfit for sacrifice.55 2. The ancestral shrine burned because the descendants were insufficiently moral and thus unfit to offer up sacrifice.56 3. Because the elaborate robes for the ancestral sacrifices were made there, the weaving room burned when the empress had lost her virtue.57 4. The mortuary park burned because inferior people without virtue were deemed unfit to offer sacrifice.58 That is, when unexpected events such as fires happened even though sacrifices were being carried out, blame based upon less tangible qualities such as virtue and morality could be assigned. Likewise when supplications were not answered, the supplicant’s character could be questioned. Conversely if sincerity was deemed more important than ritual mechanics, infractions such as eating meat and drinking alcohol during a mourning period could become permissible as long as the mourner’s mental attitude

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


assured that the food and drink had no taste.59 The sincerity safety valve thus preserved the integrity of ritual exchanges even when exceptional events or exceptional behavior would seem to disprove their efficacy.60

Section 24: The Mental Bridge between Sacrificer and Sacrifice Recipient Elsewhere in the Zuo commentary, the elderly King Wu 武 of Chu (d. 690 bce) was about to attack the state of Sui 隨, and as major military events were often announced at the ancestral hall, he intended to present the army some new weapons from his arsenal there. Yet his meditations in preparation for the ceremony did not go as planned. 將齊,入告夫人鄧曼曰:「余心蕩。」鄧曼歎曰:「王祿盡矣。盈而 蕩,天之道也。先君其知之矣,故臨武事,將發大命,而蕩王心焉。 若師徒無虧,王薨於行,國之福也。」 When the king was about to carry out the sacrificial abstentions, he went into his palace and told his wife Deng Man, “My mind is agitated.” With a sigh, Deng Man said, “Your life has reached its end. The way of nature is that when things are overly full, they grow agitated. The past rulers surely understand this, and so on the eve of your military affair when you are about to issue great orders, they are agitating your mind. It will be a blessing for the state if you die on the march but the army [itself] suffers no harm.”61

The king indeed died en route to Sui, and the army, under the command of one of the king’s subordinates, instead agreed to a peace treaty. Thus the state was blessed but only through the death of its mentally distressed warmonger king. Three simple components in the relationship between the visible and invisible realms emerge in this anecdote, namely a sacrificer on one side, a set of sacrifice recipients on the other and the mental bridge between them. The state of the king’s mind was a key component in his ritual relationship with his forebears, but the forebears themselves could reach into the divide between living and dead and agitate that mental link if they so chose. This anecdote belongs to a small set of stories that highlights the mental bridge between the two agencies engaged in the sacrificial exchange relationship. Unlike the second category that focused upon the prerequisite of sincere character within the sacrificing subject, these stories focus upon the actively manipulated mental medium between sacrifi-


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cer and sacrifice recipient. And unlike the fourth category in which those recipients are dependent upon the thoughts of the sacrificer, the ancestors here are still wholly external agencies who can, as in this case, act contrary to the desires of the sacrificer by disrupting that mental bridge. To glean what little we can about the nature of this mental bridge, consider the following three anecdotes about the briefest-ruling Qin and Western Han emperors and how they all shared the Chu king’s problem. First, to test his control of the court, the eunuch Zhao Gao presented a deer to the Second Emperor of Qin but called it a horse, and many of the court attendants fearfully agreed with him. Thinking himself delusional, the emperor asked the grand diviner why his mind had reached its current state, and the diviner replied, “When you offered up sacrifices to the ghosts and spirits of the ancestral shrine, your pre-sacrificial abstentions were unenlightened” (奉宗廟鬼神,齋戒不明).62 He was then told to embrace virtue and improve his abstentions. Thus like the king of Chu, the emperor’s delusional mental state was associated with unsuccessful abstentions, although here he himself was thought to have caused the failure rather than the ghosts and spirits on the other side of the exchange. Second, two decades later when Han Empress Lü was overseeing the court after Emperor Hui’s death, she issued an edict against his young replacement that said, “Now the emperor’s illness has continued unabated for a long time, and he is thus delusional and confused, unable to continue the lineage or offer up sacrifices in the ancestral shrine” (今皇帝疾 久不已,乃失惑昏亂,不能繼嗣奉宗廟). 63 Again the emperor’s poor mental state was associated with unsatisfactory sacrifices. Finally, more than a century later just after Liu He had been deposed as emperor, one memorial to his successor explained his removal by stating, “Yet Heaven did not bestow the mandate and disrupted his mind so that he deposed himself” (然天不授命,淫亂其心,遂以自亡). Finally true virtue took root at court, and “only then was the ancestral shrine thereby at peace and the world completely at ease” (然後宗廟以 安,天下咸寧).64 Like the king of Chu’s ancestors, it was a supernatural agency that here disrupted the mind of the would-be ruler and sacrificer. In all these accounts, the mental bridge between sacrificer and sacrifice recipient was collapsed by one or the other parties.

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


To understand and place these anecdotes in proper context, we might begin exploring how medical lore and other writings on meditation outlined the relationships between the mind, qi and the spirits. As the earliest surviving guide to meditation, the Guanzi’s “Neiye” 內業 (“Inner undertaking” or “Inner training”) of perhaps the mid-fourth century bce is explicit in associating qi with the mind: 靈氣在心 一來一逝 其細無內 其大無外 所以失之 以躁為害

The numinous qi in the mind Can come one moment and depart the next. It is so fine, nothing can be found inside it; It is so vast, nothing can be found beyond it. The reason why we lose it Is because vexation is harmful.65

This ideal of mental quietude is in turn advocated by later texts. Its language and content likely dating to the Han era, the Huangdi neijing suwen 黃帝內經素問 (Basic questions of the Yellow Emperor’s inner canon) begins by typically describing the unagitated minds of sages that harbor no disruptive thoughts, thus becoming calm receptacles to the quintessential qi as well as quiet abodes for spirits.66 Furthermore, the contemporaneous Huangdi neijing lingshu 黃帝內經靈樞 or Numinous pivot of the Yellow Emperor’s inner canon warns against disrupting the mind, noting that “When the mind is stirred up and thoughts grow anxious, the spirit is injured” (心怵惕思慮則傷神).67 These common claims highlight the fact that qi and spirit are not perpetually sealed within the individual person but come and go in search of the most hospitable environment. In this genre an agitated mind makes an uncomfortable dwelling and drives the spirit away. While medical and meditation texts focus on the well-being of the individual without discussing how one individual might affect another through this invisible internet, other texts provide early evidence of such multi-party interactions, as in the Spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü: 身在乎秦,所親愛在乎齊,死而志氣不安,精或往來也。 If you yourself live in Qin and the one you intimately love lives in Qi, and if that person dies, then the qi fixed in your mind will be ill at ease because your quintessence would uncertainly roam back and forth.68

We will encounter other similar statements and anecdotes in Part IV, but for the present it need only be noted that the qi passing into and out of an


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individual person can form a mental bridge with other specific individuals. If it is possible to take these texts together, they depict an early Chinese cosmology in which mental energies of qi, quintessence and spirit move back and forth, freely circulating and sometimes forming fixed connections. Approaching this mental bridge from still another angle, we see that the ancestors could also access the living at other times when concentration was not focused upon the sunlit, mundane world. Writers as diverse as Han Feizi and Wang Chong have associated the seeing of ghosts and ancestors with delusional illnesses, although they tend to dismiss the veracity of such spiritual encounters.69 Seeing spirits in dreams is more common, such as in the Zuo commentary and the Spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü where dreams can spur the dreamer to carry out ancestral sacrifices.70 As described in Section 13, Emperor Yuan in the Western Han dreamed of his own ancestors berating him because he had terminated their sacrifices.71 Yet the Huainanzi recognizes an interesting obstacle to dreaming one’s ancestors: What if the dreamer had never seen the ancestor in life and so had no image to conjure up while asleep? Such would have been the case for families in which the father had died young: 遺腹子不思其父,無貌于心也;不夢見像,無形于目也。 The posthumous son does not think upon his father because he has no image of him in his mind; he does not see his father’s appearance in his dreams because he has no form in his eyes.72

While the Huainanzi offers no solution to this problem, it would presumably have been a significant dilemma for any form of sacrifice in which visualization played a significant role. For example, whenever a distant collateral branch was recruited to continue the trunk lineage sacrifices—as in the case of the Emperor Xuan precedent—that mental link between sacrificer and ancestor would have been hampered. Regardless, Eastern Han spirits continued to communicate via dreams, and these slightly later texts offer a bit more detail about the nature of this dreamscape medium itself while at the same time incorporating ideas such as “quintessential sincerity” (see Section 23 above). For example, in one of Ban Gu’s poetic expositions, the historian writes about his despondency of not properly continuing his lineage’s legacy, a despondency that crept into his sleep when “my hun-soul in such desolation interacted with the spirits; my quintessential sincerity issued forth during my night sleep” (魂

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


煢煢與神交兮,精誠發於宵寐).73 He then describes his dream in which he meets a “hidden man” ( youren 幽人), a dream he must interpret using occult manuals. One such occult manual, the relatively late alchemical text Cantongqi 參同契 (“Kinship of the three”), in fact warns sacrificers that their misguided offerings could themselves conjure up spirits who would tax their rest: 累土立壇宇 朝暮敬祭祠 鬼物見形象 夢寐感慨之

You pile up earth and construct an altar space, Respectfully offering up sacrifices day and night, But ghostly creatures take shape, Bringing emotional distress to your dreamful sleep.

The text concludes that, while the mind might be temporarily convinced that the sacrifices had been successfully exchanged for longevity, the body would actually be doomed to an early demise.74 As an aside, it should be noted that we might easily fail to appreciate how meaningful these dreams were in earlier eras, but Alan F. Segal recognizes that the “validity of dreams as divine communication was almost universally accepted in the Hellenistic world.”75 Within the field of comparative religions, this bridge has even evolved its own name and acronym—a “religiously interpreted state of consciousness” (RISC)—and scholars including Segal interpret biblical dreams, historical visions and ecstatic journeys as potentially the product of trainable, self-induced RISC experiences, one of the triggers for which was a routine of dietary abstentions (to be discussed below). Segal emphasizes that cultural expectations count a great deal toward both the incidence and interpretation of such states, that we in turn need to recognize our own cultural situatedness when we consider those experiences: The point of bringing in such research [on psychology concerning states of consciousness] is not to reduce all revelations to misunderstood ordinary experience but to show that religiously interpreted states of consciousness are neither exotic nor uninterpretable in our notions of ordinary possibility. We should not treat the claims as impossible or insane; rather they can be real experiences interpreted by another system of causation than we might usually choose today.76

In other words, these dream experiences in early China may have simply been “business as usual” and perfectly legitimate in terms of their understanding of the cosmos. In fact, they seem to have been so common that dreamers had to choose which ones actually warranted interpretation.


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Near the end of the Han, Wang Fu wrote, “The only times you should thus prognosticate [about dreams] is when your quintessential sincerity is influencing and compelling you or when the spiritual numens are making pronouncements to you” (惟其時有精誠之所感薄,神靈之所告 者,乃有占爾).77 As in the Hellenistic world, dreams for Wang Fu were a valid form of divine communication and worthy of interpretation. In addition to dream prognosticators, various hired specialists arose to help conduct traffic on this mental bridge between the living and the spirits, of which three in particular warrant attention. First, shamans sometimes intervened between the living and their spirits, even the spirits of past emperors. In one famous case, a shaman who brought down a spirit tearfully announced, “Filial Emperor Wu has descended into me” (孝武 帝下我), after which everyone around her fell to the ground in prostration. The dead emperor then proclaimed how the line of imperial succession should continue, and the shaman was richly paid for her services.78 Second, diviners could enter this mental bridge and even beat the spirits who might be inflicting illness upon the living. In her study of two sets of fourth-century bce excavated divination documents from southern China, Constance Cook describes a diviner’s technique of ritually beating people to release them from the grips of spiritual agencies, the term for such a cure being a “mental attack” (sigong 思攻). For example, a certain Diviner Chen Yi 陳乙 “mentally attacked and released [his client Shao Tuo 邵佗] from the ancestors and from those who died in battle” (思攻 解於祖與兵死).79 Finally, the army might employ specialists who in turn used the ghosts and spirits to disrupt people’s minds. The military treatise known as the Liutao 六韜 (Six strategies), excavated fragments of which date it to at least the second century bce, stipulates that the general’s entourage should include the following: 術士二人。主為譎詐,依托鬼神,以惑眾心。 Two technicians in charge of generating deceitful treachery, relying upon and sustaining the ghosts and spirits in order to delude the minds of the masses.80

The Documents of Zhou similarly describes the king’s employing shamans to delude his enemies.81 Thus instead of attacking the spirits as Diviner Chen Yi did, these particular specialists employed the spirits to disturb the minds of the people or the enemy. It should be noted that the military treatises devote extremely little space to such psychological warfare. Even

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


so, together these three types of mental traffic controllers further evince the cognitive nature of the bridge between the living and their spirits. One hundred years ago in Edinburgh, the famous psychologist William James seemingly explained away every historic account that claimed the direct presence of a deity, reducing them all to psychological phenomena, but then he appeased his predominantly Christian audience with the following caveat: But just as our primary wide-awake consciousness throws open our senses to the touch of things material, so it is logically conceivable that if there be higher spiritual agencies that can directly touch us, the psychological condition of their doing so might be our possession of a subconscious region which alone should yield access to them. The hubbub of the waking life might close a door which in the dreamy Subliminal might remain ajar or open.82

By allowing the possibility of a mental bridge distinct from the sunlit material shore in which spiritual interactions could take place, James left open a back door that let him escape charges of atheism. Early Chinese texts posit the existence of this kind of mental realm as well, but even when using all the evidence available, we cannot make any deeper conclusions, just as James could never further explore what was behind that door possibly left ajar. Perhaps because of the diverse nature of the sources discussed above—from medical lore to meditation guides, from court anthologies to poetry, from standard histories to military treatises—we cannot reduce this mental meeting ground to a single, rigid structure of any complexity or coherency and can at best only highlight a generalized conception. Each text has its own context and perhaps should not be used in tandem with the others. Nevertheless, the fact that so many different types of texts allude to it may in itself argue for the pervasiveness of this notion.

Section 25: The Thought-Full Sacrifice Recipient Performative thinking as applied to the ancestral cult—or “I think; therefore they are”—has so far in this book only been circumscribed and not handled directly. In the Introduction, Ban Gu argued that sacrificial ritual was based upon the “emotion of thinking about the distant” (思遠之情). “Thinking” here and throughout has often carried with it a sense of extreme longing for the absent.


Part III

In Part I, the prescriptive texts of ritual set out a form of structured amnesia in which the ancestors received physical sacrifices only as long as they survived within the lineage memory, with higher status lineages enjoying longer memories. That structured amnesia in itself couples thinking about the ancestors with their actual existence because forgetting by the living directly entailed fading by the dead. In Part II, the Western Han chancellor Wei Xuancheng strongly advocated that structured amnesia be adopted by the court. His own memorial, cosigned by seventy members of the court, began, “We have heard that when it comes to a sacrifice, it is not that something arrives from beyond but that it comes forth from within, born of the mind” (臣聞祭, 非自外至者也,繇中出,生於心也).83 Wei Xuancheng and his cosigners downgraded the external agent in sacrifice and upgraded the role of the sacrificer’s mind. Elsewhere in Part II, the poet Zhang Heng when describing the imperial ancestral sacrifice likewise highlighted the sacrificer’s mind: 蒸蒸之心 感物曾思

The emperor’s mind, rising upward like steam, Resonates with external things and builds up its thoughts.84

Part III began with the ancestral hymns of the Songs canon describing a successful sacrifice with phrases such as “in a tranquil manner, our thoughts become realized” and “the realization of our thoughts is granted to us.” The idea of thought-full ancestors, which so far has only been glimpsed and contextualized, will here come to the fore as our spectrum shifts its mentation variable to the object of sacrifice, the ancestors themselves. In the study of other ancient religions, modern scholars have resorted to the idea of ritual as performative, as not merely representing reality in a different medium but actually shaping that reality. “Thus, the great funerary rituals of ancient Egypt were not simple acts of piety for the corpse but performative utterances, processes of actual revivification in the afterlife,” Segal writes in his history of the afterlife in Western religions. “The artist who created the sacred objects was called sankh, ‘giver of life,’ and the ritual of bringing the corpse life was called heka, a great cosmic power to make rituals effective.”85 This performative aspect is now being applied to early China, and in Michael Puett’s interpretation of the Ritual records’ texts on sacrifice, the act of defining or naming is equivalent to the act of

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


generating that which is defined or named. The doing of ritual actually transformed and humanized the divine world: The implication of this is that, if there were no humans defining natural powers as spirits and sacrificing to them, and if there were no humans defining particular dead humans as ancestors and sacrificing to them, then those spirits and ancestors, and the entire hierarchy that should exist amongst them, would not exist. There would simply be dead humans. . . .86

The Ritual records forwards “the notion that the spirits and ancestors are the product, not the cause, of ritual.”87 With such claims, this prescriptive corpus is clearly concerned with the big picture or the meta-discourse that surrounds sacrifice, but below I want to develop this theme of ancestors as the product of ritual—and in particular the product of ritualized thinking—on the smaller scale as we examine the evidence connecting sacrificer and spirit who both entered the bubble of ritual-time and altar-space. Zheng Xuan’s commentary to the above phrases from the Songs canon cites one particular passage that well describes how pre-sacrifice rituals focused the sacrificer’s thoughts. This passage is found in the “Jiyi” 祭義 (“Meanings of sacrifices”) in the Ritual records: 齊之日,思其居處,思其笑語,思其志意,思其所樂,思其所嗜。齊 三日,乃見其所為齊者。祭之日,入室,優然必有見乎其位;周還出 戶,肅然必有聞乎其容聲;出戶而聽,愾然必有聞乎其嘆息之聲。 During the days of abstention, think upon (your ancestor’s) dwelling, think upon his amusing talk, think upon his intentions and ideas, think upon his entertainments and think upon his desires. After three days of abstentions, thereupon visualize (the ancestor) for whom your abstentions were carried out. Coming to the day of the sacrifice when entering the hall, in awe you will definitely see him in his place. When making the rounds to go out the door, in reverence you will definitely hear his voice. When going out the door and listening, in resignation you will definitely hear the sound of his sighs.88

Here there is no sense of ancestors suspended in the void, waiting for their descendants to seek them out. In his gloss on this passage, Zheng Xuan describes this visualization as the “maturation of thought” (si zhi shu ye 思之熟也).89 This passage is repeated in other Han texts such as the Garden of persuasions, which then adds the following: 聖主將祭,必潔齋精思,若親之在。方興未登, 之容貌彷彿。此孝子之誠也。



Part III

When a sage ruler is about to sacrifice, he must conduct purifying abstentions and concentrate his thoughts as if his parents were present. Just when he is rising but not yet upright, he is so distressed and so irresolute. He wholly focuses his imagination on his parents’ form and likeness. Such is the sincerity of the filial son.90

This condition of “as if his parents were present” recalls Confucius who, in the Analects, always sacrificed as if the spirits were present. As for the evocation of sincerity, the Changes canon describes the pre-sacrificial ablutions as “being sincere and grave” ( youfu yongruo 有孚顒若). Drawing upon a line from the Analects, Wang Bi explains that the greatest occasion for observing a king was at the ancestral sacrifice, and the most important part of the sacrifice was the prior ablution, the offering itself being relatively simple and without moral message.91 Superficially it may seem odd that such texts would have descendants meditate upon an ancestor’s house, amusing talk, entertainments and so forth, but writing on “The collective memory of the family,” Maurice Halbwachs contends that concentrating on particular household scenes of the past is more replete with meaning and morality than might first be apparent: A given scene which took place in our home, in which our parents were the principal actors, and which has been fixed in our memory therefore does not reappear as the depiction of a day such as we experienced it in the past. We compose it anew and introduce elements borrowed from several periods which preceded or followed the scene in question. The notion we have at this moment of recreation of the moral nature of our parents and of the event itself—now judged from a distance—imposes itself on our mind with so much power that we cannot escape being inspired by it. . . . [E]ach figure expresses an entire character, as each fact recapitulates an entire period in the life of the group. They coexist as images and notions. When we reflect upon them, it seems indeed as if we had again taken up contact with the past.92

Similarly, as Janet Coleman describes how John of la Rochelle regarded reminiscence, “it is a search that is pursued per similia just as when the identity of a person whom we have seen is forgotten and we return to the place, the time and the acts through which we recorded the person, seeing him in such a place at such a time and doing something and thereby recognizing him.”93 Thus the call in these early Chinese texts to visualize an ancestor within the appropriate living context is not without its logic.

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


With the ancestor so silhouetted against the things around him or her, “contact with the past” would seem restored. Another text in the Ritual records, the “Jiaotesheng” 郊特牲 (“The single victim at the suburban sacrifice”), states dark clothing was to be worn during abstentions to reflect one’s “thoughts of darkness and obscurity” ( yinyou si 陰幽思). One thinks his or her way into the darkness, and after three days of such thinking, one will “definitely envision the sacrifice recipient” (必見其所祭者), it concludes.94 A third text in the Ritual records anthology, namely the “Jitong” 祭統 (“Summary on sacrifice”) further describes this endeavor to focus the mind by removing any distractions during these pre-sacrificial abstentions: 及其將齊也,防其邪物,訖其耆欲,耳不聽樂。故記曰:「齊者不 樂」,言不敢散其志也。心不苟慮,必依於道;手足不苟動,必依於 禮。是故君子之齊也,專致其精明之德也。 When about to carry out abstentions, he guards against all heterodox things, he halts all his desires, and his ears do not listen to music. Therefore the records say, “One engaged in abstentions does not engage in music,” which means one does not dare dissipate that which is fixed in his mind. His mind has no careless concerns and must depend upon the Dao; his hands and feet make no careless movements and must depend upon the rituals. Therefore in the noble’s abstentions, he concentrates and transmits the virtue/potency (de) of his quintessential enlightenment.95

The Huainanzi similarly defines abstentions as refraining from music, sex, feasting and angry emotions, and apocryphal texts add that one is not allowed to enter the shrine until these abstentions and visualizations are done.96 Together these various passages all illustrate the pre-sacrificial activities of mental concentration and the visualizations that result from those activities. In addition to the abstentions, the ancestral hall itself with its physical shrines and tablets was believed to foster the visualizations described by these texts. For example, the Eastern Han scholar He Xiu 何休 (129–182) theorized that in the ancestral tablet “one envisions (the ancestors’) visage and form and so serves them” (想見其容貌而事之), a statement echoed by other scholars such as Zheng Xuan and Liu Xi 劉熙 (ca. 200 ce).97 The White tiger hall discussion further elucidates how the filial son’s mind used the hall’s physical forms to assist in visualization:


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王者所以立宗廟何?曰:生死殊路,故「敬鬼神而遠之。」緣生以事死 敬亡若事存,故欲立宗廟而祭之。此孝子之心所以追養繼孝也。宗者 尊也。廟者貌也。象先祖之尊貌也。 Why does a king establish ancestral shrines? The answer is that life and death are different roads, and so “one respects the ghosts and spirits but keeps them at a distance.”98 He imitates the living in order to serve the dead and respects the dead as if he were serving the living, and so he desires to erect ancestral shrines and to sacrifice to them. This is how the filial son’s mind pursues the nourishment (of his ascendants) and continues filial piety. The word for “ancestral” is akin to the word for “veneration,” and the word for “shrine” is akin to the word for “form,” and so the ancestral shrine is for representing the venerable forms of the ancestors.99

Thus the shrine with its fixed forms was the physical center for representing the ancestors, a tangible mnemonic device or catalyst for turning the descendant’s mind toward filial thought. Yet the thoughtfulness invested in ancestral remembrance extends beyond prescriptive texts such as the Ritual records and White tiger hall discussion, and when a Han ruler weighed in to sanction or prohibit remembrance sacrifices for certain Liu lineage members, those sacrifices could sometimes be identified in terms of the thoughtfulness they engendered. Because Empress Lü at the death of one of the late Gaozu’s sons in 181 bce “believed he had committed suicide over a woman, there were no rituals of thoughtful offerings in the ancestral shrine, and his heirs were cast aside” 以為用婦人故自殺,無思奉宗廟禮,廢其嗣.100 Later a remorseful Emperor Wu lamented the fact that his heir had been charged with witchcraft and subsequently killed, and he found a way of broadcasting his fondness for his late son to the empire: 上憐太子無辜,乃作「思子宮」,為「歸來望思之臺」於湖。天下聞 而悲之。 The emperor pitied the fact that his heir apparent had been innocent, and so he erected the “Palace of thinking about his son” and built the “Tower for causing [his spirit] to come back and expectantly thinking upon [him]” at Hu. The empire heard about it and grieved for him.101

The ruins of this thoughtful memorial survived into the Tang dynasty. Around the same time that he erected the memorial to his son , Emperor Wu had a tomb park built for his late consort (and mother of the future Emperor Zhao) Zhao Jieyu 趙婕妤, and a roofing tile believed to be from

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its sacrificial hall still survives, bearing the command “Let us never forget one another” (Chang wu xiangwang 長毋相忘).102 Sometimes that imperial thoughtfulness even became manifested in the liturgy itself. At least at the beginning of the imperial era, ancestral hymns of the Songs canon were performed at various stages of the sacrifices, such as when the grand supplicant summoned the spirits at the gate or when the emperor entered the shrine.103 Besides the Songs canon and the hymns later inscribed on Eastern Han stelae, the only other verifiable collection of ancestral hymns from early China is found in the Han records, the earliest ones attributed to Lady Tangshan (Tangshan furen 唐 山夫人), a consort of Han Emperor Gaozu. These hymns were composed in the Chu style and set to panpipes and flutes in 193 bce.104 For Lady Tangshan, the shrine functioned like a beacon within an interplay of light and dark, and this interplay extended to the world of thought, as evinced by the following text for her first two hymns: 大孝備矣 休德昭清 高張四縣 樂充宮庭 芬樹羽林 雲景杳冥 金支秀華 庶旄翠旌 七始華始 肅倡和聲 神來晏娭 庶幾是聽 粥粥音送 細齊人情 忽乘青玄 熙事備成 清思眑眑 經緯冥冥

As great filial piety is perfected, Excellent virtue is radiant and pure. The square frames [holding bells and chimes] tower high, As music fills the hall and court. The incense sticks are a forest of plumes; The cloudy scene an obscuring darkness. [There are] metal branches and elegant blossoms;105 A host of yak-tail flags and kingfisher banners. As for the Qishi huashi music,106 The song is majestic, the tones harmonious. As the spirits come to feast and frolic, We hope they will listen [to this music].107 Zhou! Zhou!—the music ushers in the spirits,108 Arousing and purifying human emotions. Suddenly, [the spirits] ride off on the darkness, And the shining event concludes. Our clear thoughts grow so dim, As the warp and weft [of heaven and earth] fall so dark.109

Here the spirit’s presence seems uncertain within the cloudy atmosphere amidst the waving banners, and the sacrificers can only “hope” the spirits are listening in this bubble of altar-space and ritual-time. After this expression of ambiguity, both the spirit’s entrance and exit coincide with changes in the psyche of the human participants. First the spirit arrives,


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and the sacrificers’ emotions are aroused and purified. Then in the closing couplets, there is an explicit coincidence of four events, namely 1.) the spirit departs, 2.) the musical performance ends, 3.) the sacrificers’ thoughts dim, and 4.) their surroundings darken. Just as the earlier abstentions focused the mind until the ancestors could be visualized at the sacrifice, upon conclusion of the sacrifice and the end of the music, the mind reverted to the mundane world and the spirit simultaneously faded to black. The link between music and spirits here and elsewhere borders on something akin to performative thinking in that the spirits and the music are almost one and the same thing. As the Ritual records’ “Musical records” summarizes, “In terms of illumination, there are rituals and music; in terms of obscurity, there are ghosts and spirits” (明則有禮樂;幽 則有鬼神).110 Ritual and music are the illuminated counterpart of the spirit realm, defining that dark, blurry world through their prescriptive measures and harmonized rhythms. Thus when the thought-focusing musical ritual ended, so did the presence of the ghosts and spirits. The Han picture of ancestral spirits as the product of performative thinking tends to rationalize these supernatural agencies, making them almost utterly dependent upon the living. As Chu Shaosun 褚少孫 (ca. 104–ca. 30) summarized, “Ghosts and spirits can’t take shape of their own accord but require humans to be born” (鬼神不能自成,須人而生).111 Yet this picture only comes into focus after we piece together numerous phrases, passages and hymns, the general ideas of which are repeated in many different early genres of discourse. Even so, we are not the first students of the ancestral cult to reconstruct that picture. A thousand years after the period under study, the great neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi 朱 熹 (1130–1200) broke the elaborate beliefs in and fanciful stories about ghosts and spirits down into a few cosmological building blocks fitting a single, coherent system, parts of which will now sound familiar from the evidence above. According to Zhu Xi and other scholars of his age, the whole cosmos could be reduced to its substance (qi) and the configurations in which that substance moved (li 理 or “pattern”). The world is an interaction of bricks and blueprints, and when a person of the world dies, the bricks may be disassembled but the blueprint survives. A lineage is distinct from any other lineage because its particular blueprint is being handed down from generation to generation like a genetic code, and so we possess the patterns of our ancestors. Perpetuating our ancestors is simply

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a matter of reinstalling substance into that configuration, a matter of projecting qi into that hereditary pattern. As the mind’s thoughts are a form of qi, sacrificial ritual then becomes a way of refining and directing the descendant’s thoughts to reconstruct or “re-member” his or her particular ancestor. This conception of ancestral ritual has major implications for the existence of ancestors, particularly for their existence outside the bubble of ritual-time and altar-space. As recorded in Zhu Xi’s collected statements: 問:「祭祀之理,還是有其誠則有其神,無其誠則無其神否?」曰: 「鬼神之理,即是此心之理。…非有一物積於空虛之中,以待子孫之 求也。但主祭祀者既是他一氣之流傳,則盡其誠敬感格之時,此氣固 寓此也。 Someone asked, “When it comes to the concept of pattern in sacrificial offerings, is it the case that ‘when sincerity exists, the spirits exist, and when sincerity does not exist, the spirits do not exist?’” Zhu Xi said, “The pattern of ghosts and spirits is indeed the pattern of one’s present mind”. . . . [He continued], “It’s not the case that there is anything amassing out there in the void just waiting for its descendants to seek it out. It’s only the case that, if the sacrificer is indeed the flowing continuation of that unique qi-vapor, then when he exhausts the influential power of his sincerity and reverence, that qi-vapor solidifies and lodges in his presence.”112

Thus the mind is not only essential in contacting ancestral spirits; its thoughts in fact reconstruct the spirits in a very real way. The sacrifice is food for thought (or more accurately “thought is food”), and ancestral ritual is an exercise in performative thinking, in thinking that, in and of itself, impacts the environment outside the thinker by re-creating the ancestor in the presence of his descendant. Zhu Xi has frequently been described as “the most influential figure in Chinese intellectual history after Confucius himself,”113 and yet in much of his work, he was not so much an innovator as he was a selector of earlier ideas. Drawing upon a vast volume of earlier works and their commentaries, he was able to locate and juxtapose various texts that seemed to share a common perception of the world, and by streamlining that perception, he was able to explicate a comprehensive view of the universe that could be supported by the textual heritage. Here his conception of ancestral spirits is not new, much of it being rooted in pre- and early imperial culture; the difference is that Zhu Xi hung all these ideas on a tidy, robust structure that was probably not as well articulated in the Han.


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That is, his ideas about ancestral spirits are a crystallization of existing notions about sacrificial ritual, notions ranging from the pervasiveness of qi to the role of the descendant’s mind in an ancestor’s existence. While Han descriptions of sacrifice may already conclude “it is not that something arrives from beyond but that it comes forth from within, born of the mind,” we must wait until Zhu Xi to have the mechanics of this conclusion fully explained. Zhu Xi’s later systematization aside, it can be startling to realize from this analysis that certain categories of early ancestral reverence were in fact a form of meditation. The modern image of early China quickly assigns the practice of meditation to the Daoists and later to the Buddhists, usually saying nothing of the ancestral cult or the Classicist tradition. At best, we couple lineage cults with Durkheimian notions in which religious practices fostered group identity; at worst, we dismiss the ancestral cults as merely mechanical, naive and uninteresting. As a result, the ancestral cult today remains incredibly understudied when compared to Chinese contemporaneous religious systems such as Daoism and Buddhism. Yet as our understanding of the ancestral cult unfolds, we gradually learn that meditation was basic to it at least by the middle of the Spring and Autumn Period, if not much earlier.114 That is, Daoism should not stand out in early Chinese culture as uniquely focused upon the psychical; the ancestral cult was, too. There are no doubt key differences in their trajectories, but they use the same tools and even seem to borrow from one another. For the purpose of comparison, consider how Daoism in early China employed many of the ideas and concepts discussed so far in this study. In general, the earliest philosophical texts have little to say about postmortem existence, although one intriguing line in the Laozi alludes to a now-familiar mental component: “Those who die but are not forgotten are longevous” (死而不忘者,壽也).115 (In Chinese, “longevity” or shou 壽 was not limited to the living lifespan but was also a term applied to afterlife existence, as in the case of shou being used as a modifier for ancestral halls and tomb mounds.) It would seem that remembrance prolonged ancestral existence, although this line from the Laozi does not seem to be representative of philosophical Daoism in general, which embraced transformation at death, thereby removing its sting. Regardless, many of the individual ideas and components associated with the traditional ancestral cult are also found in mystic and meditation texts such as the following

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passage from the Guanzi’s “Inner undertaking,” a work that is regarded as an original expression of Daoist philosophy: 搏氣如神 萬物備存 能搏乎?能一乎? 能無卜筮而知吉凶乎?

If you seize the qi and head for the spiritual, The myriad things will all be complete and present. Can you seize them? Can you unite them? Can you understand the auspicious and inauspicious without resorting to the divinations of turtle shell and stalks? 能止乎?能已乎? Can you halt? Can you finish? 能勿求諸人而之己乎? Can you seek it in yourself without seeking it in everyone else? 思之思之又重思之 You think about it, think about it and again think about it— 思之而不通 You think about it without penetrating it. 鬼神將通之 When ghosts and spirits would penetrate it, 非鬼神之力也 It’s not because of their power; 精氣之極也 It’s because they are the maximized concentration of qi.116 四體既正 Once the four limbs are aligned, 血氣既靜 And the blood and qi stilled, 一意搏心 Then unify your intentions and seize your mind. 耳目不淫 If your ears and eyes are not inundated, 雖遠若近 Then even the distant will be as if near.117

The “Inner undertaking” here shares many components with the ancestral cult’s performative thinking, including the focusing of the mind, the removal of external distractions, the notion that access to the spirits arises from the self and not beyond, the equating of spirits with qi and the idea of bringing the distant near. These qualities and results are also focal in the Huainanzi, another text regarded as foundational to the Daoist tradition: 使耳目精明玄達而無誘慕,氣志虛靜恬愉而省嗜慾,五藏定寧充盈而 不泄,精神內守形骸而不外越,則望於往世之前,而視於來事之後。 If the ear and eye are quintessentially bright and profoundly acute without temptations and desires; if the qi and that which is fixed within the mind are empty and calm, quiet and contented with its lusts and wants diminished; if the five organs are settled and calm, full and replete with no seepage; if the quintessential spirit remains housed within the body’s form without escaping; then you will gaze upon the times prior to past generations and will see beyond things to come.118


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This passage continues by listing familiar disruptions to quietude, namely chromatic variety that bamboozles the eye, tonal variety that confounds the ear and flavor variety that confuses the mouth. These are the very stimulants removed by the pre-sacrifice abstentions in the ancestral cult. Instead of color, the sacrificer resorts to “thoughts of darkness” and even dark clothing; instead of tonal variety, he refrains from engaging in music; and instead of flavor variety, he restricts himself to bland foods without strong-tasting spices or vegetables (see Section 30). The sacrificers were indeed practicing what the philosophical Daoists preached. Not only was there a shared vocabulary of ritual activities to be performed, but there was also a common goal of bridging spatial and temporal gaps. The “Inner undertaking” concludes that “even the distant will be as if near,” and the Huainanzi concludes that the person engaged in meditation “will gaze upon the times prior to past generations and will see beyond things to come.” In the ancestral cult, sacrificers would encounter their distant ancestors and ultimately “return to the progenitor” ( fanshi 反始) as time is suspended. Despite the similarity of tools they employed to bridge time and space, there remains a significant difference in trajectory between Daoist and pre-sacrifice meditations. While the “Inner undertaking” shares a preoccupation with thinking and even repeats the term si 思 in a way that is reminiscent of the Ritual records, discursive thinking in Daoist texts is ultimately fruitless and cannot penetrate the spiritual.119 In contrast, thinking in the language of ancestral sacrifice is object-oriented and is often synonymous with “longing for” a particular thing or person—longing for that ancestor envisioned in his former dwelling, that spirit who dissipates when Lady Tangshan’s hymn ends, that son to whom the emperor dedicates his “Tower for causing [his spirit] to come back and expectantly thinking upon [him].” Thus the type of mental endeavor in philosophical Daoism differed from that of the ancestral cult because the former vaunts the apophatic (negating, forgetting or emptying of consciousness) whereas the latter is clearly object-oriented.120 Pre-sacrifice meditations were not for the purpose of totally emptying the mind but were intended to help the sacrificer focus on the ancestors, their past households and entertainments, as part of a process of visualizing a specific, concrete image. Briefly glancing ahead toward the next major religious idea system, one might speculate that Buddhism in its emphasis of the cosmos being mind-

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generated and mind-shaped was also not quite so novel when it arrived in China in the middle of the Han. Performative thinking was already well established in China (see Part IV), and the ancestral cult was its clearest systematic expression of reified thought. In other words, while Daoism and Buddhism were both radically different from the ancestral cult, they still shared key building blocks with it. Daoism and Buddhism may have even owed a debt to ancestor-focused meditation for laying that groundwork that would make their own programs of the mind more acceptable.

Section 26: The Complete Denial of Ancestral Existence Xunzi once claimed that ghosts were simply a product of anxiety or hallucination, and these apparitions were thus incapable of bestowing any blessings upon the living.121 For a fuller elaboration of this skepticism, we must wait for Wang Chong who was in many ways the direct heir of Xunzi’s thinking. In his essay entitled “Ding gui” 訂鬼 (“Settling the issue of ghosts”), he begins by acknowledging a relationship between the thoughts of the living and the existence of ghosts and spirits, a relationship that at first seems familiar: 凡天地之間有鬼,非人死精神為之也,皆人思念存想之所致也。 Generally, it is not the case that people die and their quintessential spirits become ghosts that exist between heaven and earth. Ghosts are all evoked by people’s intense thinking and fixated imaginations.122

By itself, this statement would seem to foreshadow Zhu Xi, who would also claim that ghosts were not out in some Great Beyond waiting for descendants to summon them. Yet as he continues, Wang Chong’s argument takes a turn that in fact echoes the skeptical Xunzi. 致之何由?由於疾病。人病則憂懼,憂懼則鬼出。凡人不病則不畏 懼。故得病寢衽,畏懼鬼至。畏懼則存想,存想則目虛見。 How are they evoked? It is through intense illness. When one is ill, one becomes troubled and fearful, and when troubled and fearful, ghosts result. Generally, when one is not ill, then one is not troubled and fearful, but if one gets sick and lies down on a sleeping mat to rest, one is troubled and fearful and the ghosts arrive. If troubled and fearful, then one’s imagination becomes fixated, and once the imagination is fixated, then the eyes see things that are not there.123

“Seeing things that are not there” (xujian 虛見) could even be rendered “delusional.” He continues to explain that if we are particularly anxious,


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such as when sleeping alone in an empty hall, our intense thoughts “leak” (xie 泄) from our eyes and ears until we see what we think are ghosts. Yet they are not our ancestors; they are merely the products of our leaking quintessence when we are weakened by sleep, illness or insanity. Thus Wang Chong confirms that there is indeed a connection between the mind’s qi and these so-called ghosts, but these ghosts are not evoked through controlled rituals nor do they actually exist in or impact the real world.124 Elsewhere Wang Chong still acknowledges the role of intense thinking within ancestral rituals, but such thoughts do not stray beyond the secular realm: 禮,宗廟之主,以木為之,長尺二寸,以象先祖。孝子入廟,主心事 之,雖知木主非親,亦當盡敬,有所主事。 According to ritual, the tablet of the ancestral shrine is made of wood, is one chi two cun in height and is used to symbolize the ancestor. When a filial son enters the shrine, he channels his mind into serving it. Even though he knows the wooden tablet is not his parent, he still considers it appropriate to be exhaustively reverent and concentrates upon serving it.125

Employing paronomastic logic, Wang Chong here equates zhu 主, the “tablet,” with zhu 主 (variably zhu 注), “to concentrate” or “to channel.” Yet his denial of spiritual existence is not to say the cosmos out there is, so to speak, dead. The cosmos retains its dynamism, but it is a social and natural dynamism of impersonal laws and systems rather than individuated external agencies who might consciously seek to bless us. He explicitly states that the living and dead do not engage in a do ut des relationship, despite the fact that the world believes such to be the case. Sacrifices are proper and should indeed be carried out, but they are really a manifestation of the host’s kindness and an expression of the fact that he could never disregard his ancestors or forget whence he came.126 They are a mark of respect without any notion of supernatural utility, perhaps like our putting flowers on gravestones each Memorial Day without any expectation that our particular loved ones will actually be smelling or looking at them. For Wang Chong, such reverent offerings are modeled upon the rewards a ruler might give to a person who has served his state. In like fashion, a son respectfully honors his parents, even after their death, by continuing to recognize the benefits they brought to the family. Sages understand these principles and behave as if they are really serving ghosts and spirits,

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but that service is merely a metaphor for the more abstract notion of exerted kindness and the respectful recognition of achievements.127 It is a gesture of filial piety using tangible human models such as the giving of food, and so such offerings of dried meat and incense are really part of the common grammar of devotion.128 Wang Chong’s denial of supernatural agencies was not isolated. Perhaps with Xunzi in mind, Sima Qian had earlier remarked that “many scholars say there are no ghosts and spirits” (學者多言無鬼神), and Wang Chong’s contemporary Ban Gu repeats Sima Qian’s generalization.129 Nor were these denials limited to a single school. Several offered explanations bordering on anthropological theory as to why false beliefs in ghosts and spirits arise: • Some Classicists contended that the sages created the idea of ghosts and spirits to encourage awe and obedience in the masses, and they extended this idea into ancestral worship to instill within everyone the proper hierarchical structure of lineages.130 • Some Mohists argued that a belief in ghosts and spirits was an appropriate form of social control. Ready to reward or punish, ghosts and spirits always watched every individual, even when that individual was alone in the woods or in a cave. What the law did for the public self, religion did for the private self, and thus the people held to one standard without thought of deviation. In the Han, this perspective was not uncommon.131 • Some contributors to the Huainanzi maintained that belief in ghosts and spirits was a substitute for common sense. As seen in Part I, commoners might rambunctiously play with swords even though it could lead to injury, but when they discovered that ghosts disapproved and would jostle their arms to ensure someone got hurt, the swords were put away. Thus folklore about ghosts and spirits kept the people from harming themselves even though the thinking person might recognize the real reasons why such folklore evolved. • Other contributors to the Huainanzi saw gods as projected human resources. Life required certain abstract necessities for survival, and commoners thought they could guarantee those necessities if they could transform them into trade goods with anthropomorphic providers. That is, fire became associated with Lord Yan 炎 who then became the hearth god, and grain became associated with Hou Ji who then became


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the god of grain. One could deal with a human-like entity better than with an abstract necessity.132 In all these cases of dissent, their writers juxtapose these common, unenlightened beliefs against the truth as their respective idea systems saw it. A mindful distinction of categories is present here, a distinction parallel to the above demarcation between the first and second divisions in which “those in the know” dismissed simple do ut des sacrifices that were made without the investment of sincerity. Scholars in these various schools not only denied the existence of ghosts and spirits, but they also provided accounts as to why such superstitions arose. Yet in each case, we must cautiously append the qualifier “some” when speaking of these scholars because the traditions they represented were not internally consistent and their overall positions were often ambiguous. For example, perhaps because it was a loose-leaf ring binder combining many different texts, the Ritual records includes conflicting statements on whether the spirits exist at all. Mozi also gives a mixed message, in one instance admitting that ghosts might not exist although sacrifices to them were at least a good excuse for a party, and in another contending that the vast array of ghost stories can’t all be wrong. Furthermore, Mozi lampoons those Classicists who deny the existence of ghosts but still continue to carry out sacrifices to them. In his view, such hypocrisy is like practicing guest rituals when there were no guests or making fishnets when there were no fish.133 The ambiguity that we might read into these various intellectual traditions is more explicitly replicated on a smaller scale in terms of individual statements about the existence of post-mortem agents. It was surprisingly common for Han writers to express uncertainty as to whether spirits existed or, if they did exist, whether the spirits were sentient and efficacious. For example, the Garden of persuasions criticizes those who put their trust in the spirits because blessings came to the benevolent even if they didn’t pray while disasters could still befall the pious sacrificer who followed the ritual requirements to the letter. Even if the spirits were “sentient” ( youzhi 有知), they wouldn’t heed sacrificers who otherwise led reckless lives.134 To be studied more fully in Part V, this admission of uncertainty and the question of sentience may have arisen precisely because there were so many possible approaches to the spiritual realm. The category of denying sentient, efficacious spirits is fortunate to be represented by a scholar as articulate as Wang Chong, but it is equally for-

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tunate to possess an instructive sequence of related anecdotes from several different sources on the remembrance of one man, namely King Wen, the sagacious founder of the Zhou dynasty. He himself was said to have been the paragon of a filial son engaged in proper remembrance. According to the Ritual records, he served the dead with his sacrifices as earnestly as he served the living, and he thought about his ancestors so intently that it was as if he did not wish to go on living himself. Always sad on the anniversaries of their deaths, he looked “as if he saw his parents” (ru jian qin 如見親) whenever he had to use their tabooed names. His thoughts remained with them not just on the day of sacrifice but also the day after.135 The rationalistic, ghost-free approach to ancestors is most evident in a variety of statements about King Wen’s own transition into the ancestral realm. By the Han it was said that immediately after King Wen’s death, the whole world turned their contented minds to serving him as their ancestor, and the Duke of Zhou in particular reverently intoned the late king’s virtues by composing the “Qingmiao” 清廟 (“Immaculate shrine”), the most frequently cited ancestral hymn of the Songs canon.136 Yet just how they envisioned King Wen’s postmortem existence was a matter of debate, as is clear in the Great commentary to the Venerable documents. A discussion about the use of zither-like stringed instruments called the qin 琴 and the se 瑟 in the ancestral shrine states: 故周公升歌文王之功烈德澤。苟在廟中嘗見文王者,愀然如復見文 王。故書曰:「搏拊琴瑟以詠,祖考來假。」此之謂也。 Thus the Duke of Zhou raised up songs on the meritorious luster and the virtuous favor of King Wen. Those in the shrine who had once seen King Wen were anxious as if they were seeing King Wen again. And so this is what it means when the Documents canon says, “The qin and se are strummed and plucked in order to intone, causing the ancestors to come and draw near.”137

In its original context, the quoted line from the Documents canon (also known as the Venerable documents) has nothing to do with King Wen and clearly assumes that the approaching spirits were active external agencies in their own right. It places these spirits in tandem with other tangible actors in this ceremony, namely the son of the previous ruler who takes his ritual seat and all the nobles who in turn courteously yield their seats to one another. Altogether, the alluded passage shows how each group of the ritual participants was placing itself in its proper position for the sacrifice. Yet here the Great commentary is clearly converting the spir-


Part III

its into figments of the mind. The participants who had once known him simply appear as if they see King Wen again, which this rationalizing commentary claims was the original meaning behind “causing the ancestors to come.” The Spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü takes the remembrance of King Wen up to the time of Confucius, and here, too, there is a rationalization of what at first appears to be King Wen’s ghost: 蓋聞孔丘、墨翟晝日諷誦習業,夜親見文王、周公旦而問焉。用志如 此其精也,何事而不達?何為而不成?故曰精而熟之,鬼將告之。非 鬼告之也,精而熟之也。 It is generally said that, morning and evening, Confucius and Mozi would recite and chant their training, and at night they could personally see King Wen and the Duke of Zhou, asking questions of them. When what was fixed in their minds was so concentrated as this, was there any task they could not complete? Was there any activity they could not finish? Thus it is said, “When you concentrate on it to the point of maturation, the ghosts will make pronouncements on it.” Yet it is not the case that the ghosts will make pronouncements on it; it is [instead] the case that you concentrate on it to the point of maturation.138

Again it is explicit that King Wen’s ghostly existence is giving way to a purely psychical endeavor as spirits in earlier texts give way to devoted thought in later ones. Some commentators believe that this passage is discussing a statement in the oft-memorized abecedarian Jijiupian 急就篇 (Quick mastery of the characters) that states, “The product of accumulated study has nothing to do with ghosts and spirits” (積學所致非鬼神).139 One advances via study, not via the supernatural. Sima Qian himself writes about Confucius’s experience of learning to play the qin and how it caused him to connect with King Wen. The sage first mastered the melody, next the phrasing and finally the mind’s “fixation” (zhi 志) behind the music. As a last step, he devoted deep thought to it, letting his own mind travel far until he began to visualize in detail the man evoked by this qin piece—a dark complexion, a tall stature, vacant eyes, a royal bearing. “Who could this be other than King Wen!” (非 文王其誰能為此也!).140 As noted above, in the Ritual records ghosts and spirits were the shadowy counterpart of music and ritual, and here Confucius used the qin music to expand his mind until he actually saw and could describe the man behind the music. It is only after he pieces together the visual evidence that he concludes this man must be King Wen.

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


That is, he did not know in advance whom he was seeking, but when he rarefied his mind, he then discovered King Wen. Here the subject’s mind, the object’s physical attributes and music are welded together. But did King Wen’s ancestral spirit actually visit Confucius, thereby helping him identify the composer? Not necessarily. The Classicist tradition thoroughly believed in the persistence and integrity of King Wen’s cultural reformation, a contention repeatedly made in the Analects that insists the way of King Wen survived in all people wise and foolish.141 Wen died, but wen—the “culture” (wen 文) he epitomized—survived, to be evoked through the tools that best excavate the subtleties of character. Drawing upon the same story as Sima Qian, the Huainanzi highlights the pervasiveness and permanence of King Wen’s cultural reformation: 孔子學鼓琴於師襄,而論文王之志,見微以知明矣。…作之上古,施 及千歲而文不滅,況於并世化民乎! By studying how to play the qin with Shi Xiang, Confucius analyzed what was fixed in King Wen’s mind, exposing the subtleties in order to understand his intellect. . . . When such culture (wen) is established in high antiquity and hasn’t perished a thousand years later, surely it could unite the ages and transform the people!142

The idea of physiognomy was broadly accepted by thinkers at least as early as Mencius, meaning that the mind’s qualities manifested in the body’s appearance and ultimately denying a strict demarcation between mind and matter. Here using the study of music, Confucius had access to the qualities of King Wen’s mind, and through what might be called “reverse physiognomy,” he was able to extrapolate the person’s appearance from these qualities. With music, Confucius got to the mind; with the mind, he got to the details of appearance; and with the appearance, he recognized the composer. In this story, King Wen’s spirit did not need to visit Confucius personally, although it clearly echoes the meditations and visualizations of the pre-sacrificial abstentions. In Sima Qian’s final appraisal, the grand historian speaks of allowing his own mind to travel where he could not go and notes that whenever he read Confucius’s works, he could also “imagine seeing him as a man” (想見其為人).143 For Confucius and for Sima Qian, music and literature were mental catalysts that evoked concrete images of the people behind them. Such visualizations of the dead need not have had any ghostly implications.


Part III

Finally, when Yang Xiong was once asked about spirits, he simply equated them with the mind. When pushed for clarification, he explained that no one could seek out the spirits in the realms of heaven and earth but only in the domain of humanity itself. He then cited the case of Confucius seeking out King Wen, saying that Confucius “focused his mind on King Wen until he got him” (潛心於文王矣,達之). He concluded that “spirits only exist in that upon which one focuses” (神在所潛而已 矣).144 Denying any extra-corporeal existence, this passage restricts King Wen to the inner recesses of the human mind.

Conclusion Imagine if you will that you are one of the many officials who in 40 bce cosigned Chancellor Wei Xuancheng’s memorial on reducing the number of sacrifices to the Liu imperial ancestors in the regional shrines as well as eliminating the forgotten imperial ancestors within Chang’an’s own shrines. As noted above, that memorial began: “We have heard that when it comes to a sacrifice, it is not the case that something arrives from beyond but that it comes forth from within, born of the mind.” This line of reasoning that diminishes the influence of independent spirits accords with how you were taught to interpret the Classics that have now come to characterize court rhetoric. Ancestors were either reproduced before you by your trained and focused mind in a highly regulated setting, or taken a step further, they never even got beyond your own head. If the emperor now tightens his belt by ending hundreds of sacrifices, he need not worry about angry spirits taking revenge. In general, that kind of thinking was just a later offshoot of how the sages of antiquity understood the world. As with most officials, it is likely that you originally came from the outlying commanderies to Chang’an either to finish your Classicist studies or to work through your probationary period before being assigned to your initial office posting. The belief system you left behind in your hometown most likely did not tally with these Classicist rationalizations that you now espouse at court. Whenever you leave the capital and are no longer in the shadows of the imperial palace and Grand Academy, it is very possible that you still generously sacrifice meat and music to your lineage spirits and even recognize the efficacy of malicious ghosts. When you look at it from inside the reality of your household shrine, the Classicist line of reasoning may seem like a theoretical abstraction, an impractical ideal. More

A Spectrum of Interpretations on Afterlife Existence


to the point, you probably aren’t too bothered by any discrepancies between these apparently different idea systems. If your discourse is dictated by the “primacy of the situation”—to borrow a phrase coined by Paul R. Goldin—you may not be too concerned about reaching a one-size-fits-all understanding of the afterlife.145 A caveat frequently raised throughout this study is the possibility of the same people maintaining multiple inconsistent genres of discourse, of a scholar perhaps embracing rationalistic attitudes toward spirits while at court but beseeching his ancestors for blessings while at home. This inconsistency should not surprise us. Survey after survey indicates that more than four-fifths of the U.S. population believes in the existence of a god, but a cosmology centered around a theistic agent and focused on faithbased absolutes is inconsistent with a cosmology explored via the scientific method upon which our technological progress is based. This major conceptual debate has raged for centuries, yet that intellectual debate might not significantly impact our everyday practical existence. Perhaps we tend not to seek reconciliation between these two positions because 1.) any reconciliation is not necessary for our personal daily experience and so it is simply not sought, or 2.) understanding the reconciliation is beyond us due to the fact that a.) “God moves in mysterious ways,” b.) our brains are not sufficiently evolved to grapple with the greatest principles of the universe or c.) religion and science simply answer different questions. As to the last, religion is said to address matters of meaning and moral value, whereas science is limited to the composition of the universe and how it works. The evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould even gave this separation of discourse genres its own name and acronym: “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA).146 Thus we ourselves continue to operate in different genres of discourse depending on the situation and usually do not worry about the inconsistencies. The five ways of understanding the ancestors outlined here in Part III likewise do not identify five groups of people but merely five approaches to the spirits, differing approaches potentially held simultaneously by the same people in early imperial China. This fivefold division itself is arbitrary, only used here to highlight the changing role of the mind.147 Furthermore, any apparent inconsistencies may have been mitigated by the family-tree metaphor that gave structure to knowledge (see the Introduction). No matter whether they espoused the existence of independent


Part III

ghosts and spirits on one hand or the impersonal forces of yin and yang on the other, these understandings were likely seen as different branches of interpretation, branches that could be traced back to a common root. They may have thus tolerated apparent inconsistencies even more readily than we do. When a Wang Chong argues that your ancestral tablet is merely a piece of wood, he still justifies your filial veneration of it for the sake of filial veneration itself. He does not urge you to burn your tablets and ignore your ancestral memory. As already discussed, certain sections of the Ritual records similarly argue that the sages had invented the notion of ghosts and spirits as well as the system of shrines and sacrifices, but it was the hierarchical authority they instilled within everyone that was paramount. That is, the act was more important than the intent; orthopraxy was more important than orthodoxy. Inconsistent explanations were secondary. Even so, it finally must be recognized that this tolerant approach in itself might have merely been a product of the lettered populace, of erudite discussions about canonical texts and not of the masses. We lack sufficient evidence from the latter to know how they would have reacted to Classicist rationalizations. From the perspective of the common people, dismissive atheists such as the Grand Administrator Shi Qi may have indeed disgraced their very real ancestors, ancestors who in turn deserved the apologetic kowtowing from unfilial descendants until the blood flowed from their foreheads.

PART IV The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking

When discussing texts that closely intertwine memory and spirits, Part III used the phrase “performative thinking” for thinking that, in and of itself, directly impacts the environment outside the thinker. As already noted, I adapted this notion from J. D. Austin’s “performative utterances,” utterances that, by Austin’s own definition, do not merely report about or stimulate an act but are the very execution of the act itself, such as when someone pledges “I do” in a marriage ceremony or is pronounced “Guilty!” at a trial.1 The celebratory wedding or the courtroom drama are highly ritualized institutions in modern society, and Austin was an early catalyst to current performance definitions of ritual, definitions that moved ritual away from being merely symbolic action representing other realities. In performance theory, humans indeed use ritual to shape and change their perceived world. But are we justified in moving from Austin’s understanding of performative utterance to this much stranger idea of performative thinking? Performative utterance works because we as a society have agreed to recognize the institutions of marriage and law, their rituals becoming culturally accepted conventions. As a product of an individual’s mind and not social conventions, performative thinking would seem to demand different background assumptions in order for it to work. What allows a cul-


Part IV

ture to accept the idea that thoughts can alter reality, even to the point of sustaining supernatural entities? The Western tradition is not without its own candidates for this sort of performative thinking. In her study on the Greek view of death, Emily Vermeule depicts the soul as “the wind-breath psyche that left the carcass and went elsewhere into a pool of personalities which could be activated by memory.”2 That psyche was not capable of spiritual feeling or mental anguish but witlessly mourned the loss of its body and of the sunlight it had once enjoyed. Its existence as an underworld image was doomed if the person’s identity on earth had faded from common memory. Conversely, it could last forever—becoming a “dead immortal”—if its owner had entered into mythology or history. Thus if it was remembered, its existence was prolonged. Yet prolonging existence through memory appears to have played little role within the subsequent Western tradition, perhaps because of this tradition’s pronounced separation between body and soul. One’s soul was thought to enjoy an independence from all materiality as well as from all living beings, and medieval scholars who argued otherwise—who argued that the soul did not act entirely separately and untouched by the world—were subject to condemnation and even censorship.3 In modern times, achieving immortality within the memories of the living is usually limited to a good reputation that survives the individual without any causal link to that individual’s own afterlife existence. In other words, thinking about the dead is not in itself regarded as hypostasizing the dead, as causing their continued existence. Such is not to suggest that mental investment plays no role in Western religion. On the contrary, homo religiosus has clearly come to invest his or her spiritual agencies with mentation to some degree. One of the most eminent sociologists of the past century, Émile Durkheim has argued that the thoughtful bridge between believer and believed is indeed the implicit basis of religion: The sacred beings are sacred only because they are imagined as sacred. Let us stop believing in them, and they will be as if they were not. In this respect, even those that have a physical form, and are known to us through sense experience, depend on the thought of the faithful who venerate them. The sacredness that defines them as objects of the cult is not given in their natural makeup; it is superadded to them by belief. . . . If we think less hard about them, they count for less to us and we count less on them; they exist to a lesser degree.4

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


As Durkheim summarized, “What the worshipper in reality gives his god is not the food he places on the altar or the blood that he causes to flow from his veins: It is his thought.”5 For Durkheim, a person’s thought sustains the sacred, but Durkheim’s is an outsider’s academic perspective and not necessarily an equation the religious person would accept. From the latter’s point of view, a person doesn’t mentally generate his or her gods; the gods just are. Yet that doesn’t entirely remove the necessity of directing thought at the gods, and when defining the membership of a religious organization, the postReformation Protestant tradition tends to adopt terms such as “the believers” or “the faithful,” words in part extolling a cognitive component of religion as if religion were what we think more than what we do. Furthermore, those Western traditions can even borrow the language of thought-sustained entities when it comes to explaining difficult ideas. For example, the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England has modernized the concept of soul in metaphorical terms as follows: If today we are to continue to use language about the soul we may perhaps best understand it as the “information-bearing pattern” of the body. . . . Death dissolves the embodiment of that pattern, but the person whose that pattern is, is “remembered” by God, who in love holds that unique being in his care.6

According to the commission, this pattern is the carrier of memories and of personality, and “its essence is the web of relationships in which the parts are organised.”7 Thus actual afterlife existence is indeed equated with being remembered, although here the rememberer is God, an entity external to humanity, and remembrance is used more as a metaphor than as a direct description. One genre of discourse that frequently resorts to humans thinking their supernatural agencies into existence is modern literature in its many forms. Roughly contemporaneous with Durkheim, Rainer Maria Rilke explains the existence of the unicorn as follows: Indeed it never was. Yet because they loved it, a pure creature happened. They always allowed room. And in that room, clear and left open, it easily raised its head and scarcely needed to be. They fed it with no grain, but ever with the possibility that it might be.8


Part IV

The English humorist Terry Pratchett extends such thinking to the gods of his own imaginative Discworld, writing that “gods come into being and grow and flourish because they are believed in. Belief itself is the food of the gods. . . . Any god could start small. Any god could grow in stature as its believers increased. And dwindle as they decreased. It was like a great big game of ladders and snakes.”9 (Interestingly, Durkheim, Rilke and Pratchett all make a parallel between existence-sustaining thought and food offerings.) Yet perhaps the most famous fictional example of thought generating supernatural existence comes from Peter Pan explaining Tinker Bell’s endangered existence with the words, “You see, children know such a lot now, they soon don’t believe in fairies, and every time a child says, ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.”10 Mythical beings and Discworld gods aside, the idea not surprisingly extends to the dead as well, and Ulrich Plenzdorf’s play Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. is a prime example of explicitly equating remembrance and afterlife existence. As the play begins, the protagonist is already dead and explains his presence on stage as follows: It’s really bad luck that I then crossed over the Jordan, but if there’s any consolation, I didn’t feel much. . . . Besides, pity isn’t common on the other side of the Jordan. Everyone here knows what’s in store for us. That is, we cease to exist when you cease to think about us. My chances are pretty bad because I was so young.11

Just as Vermeule described the psyche as being activated by the memories of the living, Plenzdorf’s dead protagonist is dependent upon those who would think about him. Even his association of premature death with a more limited afterlife has parallels in both early Greece and early China. Like Plenzdorf, David Eagleman imagines a death after death “sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” Until then, we wait in a giant lobby that looks like an infinite airport waiting room, lamenting how our remembered selves become distant from who we really were. “And that is the curse of this room: since we live in the heads of those who remember us, we lose control of our lives and become who they want us to be.”12 Thus a rather diverse group of writers—poets, playwrights, novelists, historians of ancient Greece and French sociologists—is utilizing this idea that thought sustains supernatural existence, and yet not one of them

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


necessarily believes that the idea is true. They are either looking at their subject matter from another continent or another era, or they are creating that imaginary place and time through their literary endeavors. Conversely, there are some “believers” or “faithful”—ranging from philosophical Buddhists to New Age spiritualists—who embrace the idea of the mind altering reality. One of the most explicit cases of modern thought-sustained entities came about in the 1970s among a group of Canadians who were carrying out what they regarded as an occult experiment to generate such a being through their collectively focused thoughts. They knowingly fabricated a biography of an English nobleman of the 1600s, thoroughly memorized the details of his life and visualized his appearance, and after a year of preparations that included training in meditation, “Philip” joined their group, announcing his presence through table rappings and movements. Members of the group were under no pretense that any such spirit existed, and Philip’s answers to their questions generally conformed to their expectations, even when the group confused historical facts. Yet they insist they truly generated a “thought form”: And although this account of the experiment has been written as if Philip was indeed a new existing entity they had brought into being, the group as a whole was perfectly conscious of the fact that it was they who had created him, filled out his historical life and that of the characters surrounding him, and that he was—if one can use the analogy—a personality creation of their own minds.13

After their experiences, they came to believe that ghosts and spirits in general were not pre-existing external agencies but instead the product of intense psychic energies manifesting beyond the mind.14 Beckoned forth by her readers, Tinker Bell had flown out of her storybook. As this collection of examples demonstrates, the notion of thoughtsustained supernatural entities, although not foreign to the West, seems to only belong to fiction and fringe cultures. Why then did performative thinking take a stronger hold in early China to the point that Classicists gave it structure and defined the processes through which thought sustained the dead? Parts I and II established theories and chronologies linking imperial remembrance of the dead to the fading process experienced by imperial ancestors—their “structured amnesia”—but did not explain how thinking about the dead could be tied to their actual existence. Part III endeavored to contextualize the thought-full dead via contemporaneous notions of postmortem existence. In turn, Part IV attempts to contex-


Part IV

tualize them via contemporaneous notions of performative thinking. By first examining its theoretical mechanics and then surveying its various applications including Han forms of ominous prodigies, divination, physiognomy, Daoism and Buddhism, it explores how mind influenced matter in early imperial China. As will be seen, performative thinking was regarded as a natural reality of the cosmos, not merely an artificial construction of society. Often couched in the language of qi, these intense thoughts in particular circumstances naturally resonated with the cosmological cycles of yinyang and the five phases. Although there are thus close parallels between Austin’s performative utterances and the performative thinking presented here, the former is a sociological matter whereas the latter is an ontological one.

Section 27: The Han Theory of Performative Thinking Other students of early China have made recourse to Austin’s idea of performative utterances, most notably Herbert Fingarette, who applied Austin to Confucius’s rituals as spelled out in the Analects. In his controversial reconstruction, Fingarette argued that Confucian rites were a kind of formulaic magic in which the will of the sacrificer was accomplished through particular rituals, gestures and incantations, that rites were explicitly “a luminous point of concentration.” He wrote: Confucius wanted to teach us, as a corollary, that sacred ceremony in its narrower root meaning is not a totally mysterious appeasement of spirits external to human and earthly life. Spirit is no longer an external being influenced by the ceremony; it is that that is expressed and comes most alive in the ceremony.15

For Fingarette, a spiritual dimension was not located within each individual but existed in a public manner manifested via ritual. Thus, in the same way that performative utterances are not simply statements that report on the world, Confucius’s ritual did not merely symbolize meanings beyond itself. To tackle the mechanics of concentration, ritual and spirits in the very different world of the early empires, six interrelated terms must first be briefly explained, in some cases adding a few more details than has been necessary up to this point. Each term or phrase—mind, that which is fixed within the mind, thought, qi, spirit and heaven—is pregnant with meaning, and the explanations below are by no means exhaustive; they are,

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


in fact, not even adequate as far as full definitions go. Most have generated worthy book-length studies, and here I highlight only a few features of each relevant to the discussion that follows. Mind (xin 心). In modern English, a distinction is made between “brain” and “mind,” the former being a physical organ and the latter being a sum of the conscious and unconscious processes and faculties that arise from the former. The brain is the stage; the mind is the play. In early Chinese terminology, no such distinction is made, and xin is both the physical organ as well as the self’s mental domain. As the physical organ, it refers to the heart and not the brain—just as it did in early Western traditions prior to Hippocrates—and is thus sometimes translated as the “heart-mind.” For Xunzi it “occupies the central cavity to oversee the five offices” (居中 虛以治五官) of ears, eyes, nose, mouth and physical frame.16 In a manner somewhat reminiscent of Aristotle, Han writers such as Ban Gu and Xun Yue highlight the importance of keeping the abdomen’s central cavity healthy lest the mind become befogged, ill-at-ease and influenced by noxious qi from without.17 Because xin simultaneously indexes both one’s mental and physical core, sharp Western distinctions such as “soul and body” or “mind over matter”—that is, a passive and separate observing mind existing over and above material bodies and concrete environments—are more muted. That being the case, performative thinking in which thoughts translate into physicality becomes more tenable. That Which Is Fixed within the Mind (zhi 志). Notoriously difficult to translate, zhi is sometimes rendered as “will,” “intention” or “ambition.” It usually refers to things intently held within the mind; it is a “fixation” without that term’s negative psychological overtones. The term can also be used as a verb such as in the case of a student taking his teacher’s canonical explanations and “fixing them in his mind, never daring to forget them” (志之於心,弗敢忘).18 Early Chinese writers were most concerned with how one accurately communicated one’s zhi to others, especially within the genres of verse and philosophy.19 Thought (si 思). In terms of the character’s written script, both “that which is fixed within the mind” (zhi 志) and “thought” (si 思) are visually founded upon the xin 心 or “mind” radical. “Thought” is similar to “that which is fixed within the mind,” but in relative terms, thought tends to be more general and often refers to the process of thinking rather than its


Part IV

content. The one ambiguity to be noted here is the thought’s origin. Thoughts can either “come” (zhi 至 、 致) to me as if from outside, or they can also be envisioned as originating within my mind. As an example of the latter, if I am intensely homesick, my “mind vomits thought” (xin tu si 心吐思),20 an appropriate image if the mind is in fact in the abdomen. In poetry and eulogies, si often carries with it implications of yearning, and in a common simile, such yearning is like the northern horse that longingly faces the northern wind or the southern bird that anxiously veers toward the sun whenever taking flight.21 Thought is often focused upon what is absent. Qi (氣). Etymologically, qi refers to either atmospheric vapors on one hand or bodily energies and breaths on the other, and starting there, Lloyd and Sivin listed the phenomena to which it was applied in preimperial usages: “air, breath, smoke, mist, fog, the shades of the dead, cloud forms, more or less everything that is perceptible but intangible; the physical vitalities, whether inborn or derived from food and breath; cosmic forces and climatic influences that affect health; and groupings of seasons, flavors, colors, musical modes, and much else.”22 Not surprisingly, translators of qi are united only in their desire not to translate it. Before its transliteration (although not necessarily its meaning) entered everyday English, qi was variously rendered as “vital energies,” “ether,” “material force,” “matter-energy” or “stuff/energy,” a set of translations that would earmark qi as a category of physics. A. C. Graham described it as “the universal fluid, active as Yang and passive as Yin, out of which all things condense and into which they dissolve.”23 Yet Benjamin Schwartz wrote that although qi might seem to be a sort of “circulating fluidum” with properties of matter on one hand, and it might possess dynamic qualities warranting the label of energy on the other, those qualities of physics would still not be enough to convey the full sense of the word: It is also clear, however, that ch’i comes to embrace properties which we would call psychic, emotional, spiritual, numinous, and even “mystical.” It is precisely at this point that Western definitions of “matter” and the physical which systematically exclude these properties from their definition do not at all correspond to ch’i.24

Perhaps for this reason there exists another set of translations that read more like religion than physics: qi is “pneuma,” “spirit,” “subtle spirits” or

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


even “psychophysical stuff.” Just as xin means both mental state and physical organ, the last translation of “psychophysical stuff” aptly highlights the fact that qi bridges the same two domains held to be separate in the West. Even so, the problem of defining qi is not merely with those who would attempt to translate it into another language and culture; the problem already existed in early China. As Michael Puett has rightly observed, there was no actual consensus as to how much of reality consisted of qi. Some early texts present the universe as monistic, as entirely defined by qi; others contrast qi with forms; still others add a theistic element, namely agencies over and above the combination of qi and forms.25 Spirit (shen 神) and Spirit Brilliance (shenming 神明). Like xin and qi that bridge the gap between being the physical and the psychological, shen or shenming can also be conceived as both an entity or extra-corporeal agency (a spirit) on one hand and a state or mental exertion (spirituality) on the other. With regard to the first perspective, ancestral sacrifices evoke “spirits”; with regard to the second, the thinking mind can reach a state of “spirituality” via study, pre-sacrificial abstentions or breathing exercises. This spirituality need not reside strictly within a person as we tend to conceive it in the modern West. That is, shenming is a state unbounded by human physicality, and the thinking human can become aligned within it. Huan Tan 桓譚 (43 bce–28 ce) similarly described the notion of qi, namely that our spiritual qi within is able to connect with the spiritual qi without, as if qi is not so much a component inside us but we are a potential container for it.26 In the same way, the two interpretations of shen—spirituality and spirit—can in fact overlap; intense mental exertion (shenming) and external spirits (also shenming) can indeed be one and the same. This overlap will be parsed out below, but for now, it is only necessary to recognize the common term that denotes both a spirit and the spiritual. Heaven (tian 天). In a manner that would have been familiar to Rappaport, heaven is an ultimate sacred postulate that tends toward unity and shuns clear definition. In the Han, this heaven carried numerous shells of meaning, ranging from the sky above us to the highest agency (also existing above us), and from everything found in nature to, ultimately, the sum of all that is beyond individual human endeavor. As sky, it is often paired with its complement “earth” (di 地), the two terms together having cos-


Part IV

mological and holistic implications. As the highest agency, it came to top the Zhou spiritual hierarchy and often figures in bronze inscriptions (see Section 8). As nature (particularly in philosophical texts), it is the extrahuman world as it is and also as it ought to be; in this case, it is not necessarily an agency capable of direct interaction with humans. Finally, as all that is beyond individual human endeavor, it consists of natural forces and mass opinion, of ocean tides and human tides, of everything beyond one’s own control. By extension of this final idea, some sources from the Mencius onward implicitly and explicitly identify the “mind of heaven” (tianxin 天心) with the masses.27 That is, the people en masse are sagacious and divine, even though as individuated units they may be ignorant and petty. Again it must be reiterated that these explanations highlight only those features relevant to this particular study.28 These terms will be more fully developed and more finely nuanced throughout the following discussion on the theories and applications of performative thinking.

From Inner to Outer in the “Great Preface” Early Chinese ethical writings frequently employ the mechanics of moving from inner to outer, thereby justifying self-transformation as the beginning of the Classicist ideal. Ethics in the Daxue 大學 (Great learning) famously commences with the concept of investigating things and fulfilling one’s understanding, which in turn makes thought sincere, attunes the mind, cultivates the person, rectifies the family, well governs the state and finally pacifies the world.29 In this schematic understanding, four stages of development occur within the mental realm (by Western demarcations) before progressing outward into the environment beyond the self. Using all the terms explained above and more, Han medical texts similarly delineate as many as ten stages of progressional development within the socalled mental realm alone.30 Yet this movement from inner to outer is not confined to ethical and medical texts; it typifies several key passages on literary, musical and cosmological theory. Described as “the most authoritative statement on the nature and function of poetry in traditional China,” the “Great preface” to the Songs canon took its final form by at least the first century ce, perhaps at the hand of the scholar Wei Hong 衛宏. Echoing statements found in the Documents classic, Mencius, Zuo commentary and other ear-

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


lier sources, it is a loose synthesis of poetic theories from the Warring States era onward. A variety of Han sources pre- and postdating Wei Hong also reflect its general sentiment. Needless to say, a great deal of scholarship has already been devoted to it, but of particular interest here is its own description of this movement from inner to outer: 詩者,志之所之也。在心為志。發言為詩。情動於中而形於言。言之 不足,故嗟歎之。嗟歎之不足,故永歌之。永歌之不足,不知手之舞 之,足之蹈之也。 The poem is where that which is fixed within the mind is destined. Within the mind, it is that which is fixed therein; when it comes out as words, it is the poem. When the emotions are stirred within, they become reified as words. When the words are insufficient, we then heave a sigh. When heaving a sigh is insufficient, we then intone them. When intoning is insufficient, we unconsciously dance them out with our hands and tap them out with our feet.31

Here the movement from inner to outer is a reification process as emotions first crystallize into words and then sighs, tones and physical movements. Mind materializes into auditory and visual expressions. In his commentary to this passage, Stephen Owen brings qi into this materialization process: In ordinary language ch’i or breath is expelled in the act of speaking. In more difficult emotional situations, still more breath comes out, creating a “sighing” intonation of speech. Singing (and later the chanting of poetry) is placed at the next degree of intensity in the expulsion of ch’i. Finally, when the mouth can no longer accommodate the accumulation of it, ch’i courses through the veins, throwing the body into movement, into dance.32

It should also be noted that this movement from inner to outer is depicted as a natural process. The hands and feet “unconsciously” move to the rhythms and meters of the poem’s crystallized emotions. As it is, this statement in the “Great preface” would raise no objection within modern Western thinking because even though the mental realm is finding expression in the physical realm, this expression is limited to the person whose emotions have been stirred, namely to his poetic words or her tapping feet. Later in the “Great preface,” poetry is also credited with rectifying the relationships between individuals, transforming the people and changing local customs. This effect, too, would seem reasonable from a modern perspective because so far these emotions have not altered the physical world itself. Rilke’s unicorn has not appeared. Yet the same pref-


Part IV

ace further vaunts that poetry is ultimately able to “stir heaven and earth and resonate with ghosts and spirits” (動天地,感鬼神).33 Poetry becomes a stage in the shift from the inmost to the outmost—from moving emotions within to moving heaven and earth without—but the mechanics are here left unexplained, making this ultimate movement seem like a rhetorical flourish at best.

From Inner to Outer in the “Musical Records” Several sections of the Ritual records also espouse a vector of transformative influence from inner to outer; in “The central and the universal,” for example, it is only when the sincere person fully realizes the self that he can in turn fully realize other people and then other things. At that point such a person can “join in the transformative and nurturing [powers] of heaven and earth” (zan tiandi zhi huayu 贊天地之化育) and finally “form a triad with heaven and earth” ( yu tiandi can yi 與天地參矣).34 Like the “Great preface” to the Songs canon, the actual mechanics remain unexplained, perhaps left to oral commentaries and teaching discussions that would accompany a recited text. Again like the “Great Preface,” sometimes music served as a more specific medium of that outward transformative influence, but here too canonical sources offered only the barest schematics. Early stories from the “Shun dian” 舜典 of the Documents canon (later to be repeated in the Historical records) speak of poetry putting ideas into words and to songs then prolonging those words, resulting in resonances that harmonized humans and spirits and even inspired all animals to dance.35 In other words, a large number of sources allude to poetry, sincerity or music welling up from within to impact the world beyond, but without any detail, we might be tempted to give such statements no more credence than modern tropes such as a “faith that can move mountains” or “love makes the world go round,” not taking them literally. Fortunately one version of that musical charisma, namely the “Yueji” 樂記 (“Musical records”), offers a bit more explanation as to how the sequential process works. Like the “Great Preface,” the “Musical records” was another Han summation of earlier ideas from at least the Warring States era onward, and it repeats language from earlier sources such as the Xunzi. In fact, the “Great preface” itself was most likely a restatement of some of its principal ideas about music’s effects on the mind, ideas that were duly expanded to describe its effects upon the cosmos as well.

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


The “Musical records” as a whole demonstrates the idea of movement from inner to outer, as highlighted by Scott Cook: The entire idea behind the Yue Ji could probably be reduced to a single theme— that of harmony. It is essentially one and the same harmony that begins in this text with the harmony of music proper, moves on to harmony in society, and ends up in nothing less than the harmony of the entire natural order.36

The text itself confirms this outward movement, and the longest single statement of a progressional sequence in the “Musical records” reads as follows: 致樂以治心,則易、直、子、諒之心油然生矣。易、直、子、諒之心 生則樂,樂則安,安則久,久則天,天則神。天則不言而信,神則不 怒而威,致樂以治心者也。 If one brings forth music that well governs the mind, then an untroubled, upright, caring and faithful mind is readily produced. If an untroubled, upright, caring and faithful mind is produced, then there is joy. If there is joy, then there is peace. If there is peace, then there is endurance. If there is endurance, then it is heavenly. If it is heavenly, then it is spiritual. If it is heavenly, then one is trusted without having to say a word; if it is spiritual, then one is awesome without expressing rage. This is all due to bringing forth music that well governs the mind.37

As in the Great Preface, if the progression of stages ended here, it would not be untenable from a modern Western perspective. (This is especially true when the above “heavenly” and “spiritual” are not rendered more literally as simply “heaven” and “spirit.”) Yet the sequence extending outward from the mind travels much further along two parallel paths. The first path has music reaching out from the ruler’s mind to affect the ethics of the populace. The “Musical records” favors the ideal of exemplariness in which the best ruler does not order the populace to obey but instead sets a good example and is thereby emulated. This traditional duality between law-bound, punishment-oriented causative rule on one hand and ritual-bound, participation-oriented exemplary rule on the other is prevalent in early sources. Here the exemplary ruler “is trusted without having to say a word.” The text elsewhere states that whatever the ruler likes and dislikes will ripple down to his subjects, who will then mirror him.38 When the people see the ruler’s goodness—goodness manifested because of the music he hears—they will simply fall in line as if partaking in a grand dance.39 Not just influenced by music himself, the ruler in turn uses music to transform those same people, “resonating and mov-


Part IV

ing their good minds” (感動人之善心) without “venting the mind’s noxious qi” (放心邪氣).40 The text as a whole is heavily influenced by correlative cosmology, recognizing that “in the pattern of myriad things, each thing moves other things within its category” (萬物之理各以類相 動也). Such thinking extends to qi and music types: 凡姦聲惑人而逆氣應之,逆氣成象而淫樂興焉。正聲惑人而順氣應 之,順氣成象而和樂興焉。倡和有應。 In general, when licentious sounds influence humans, then noxious qi [in the mind] responds to them, and when noxious qi takes form, heterodox music arises from it. When upright sounds influence humans, then accommodating qi [in the mind] responds to them, and when accommodating qi takes form, harmonious music arises from it. What leads and what follows are responsive.41

In addition to its description of the mind’s qi, this passage describes how people are affected by sounds and then in turn produce the music appropriate to those sounds. Elsewhere in the same text, when the ruler hears the different sounds unique to stringed instruments, stone chimes, bamboo flutes, bells and drums, he is compelled to think (si) of the different government offices he most associates with each kind of sound.42 The second path has music reaching out from the ruler’s mind to affect the natural world. It must be said that although the “Musical records” devotes much attention to the relationship between music and nature, most of the time it is a metaphorical or parallel relationship, not an interactive one. That is, music and ritual are the counterparts to heaven and earth because a single pattern informs them all. Music and ritual represent the divisions of society and the workings of the cosmos.43 Yet there are a few passages that suggest an interactive relationship, such as near its end when the “Musical records” grandly describes the general impact of “songs” ( ge 歌) within this correlative cosmos: 動己而天地應焉,四時和焉,星辰理焉,萬物育焉。 When they move the self, then heaven and earth respond to it, the four seasons harmonize with it, the constellations are patterned by it and the myriad things are nourished by it.44

Specifically, music is able to bring down the spiritual and congeal it into a tangible form, allowing it to shed light upon the whole world. The great man who uses this crystalized spirituality can then synchronize heaven and earth as well as yin and yang, and he can even imbue all plants and an-

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


imals with unexcelled fertility through his proper resonance with the wellaligned cosmic cycles.45 Comparing the “Musical records” with earlier accounts such as Xunzi and a musical treatise excavated at Guodian, Erica Brindley contends that this cosmically efficacious component in the “Musical records” is new and reflective of early Chinese thinkers’ growing interest in correlative cosmology. “Music does more than just represent or allude to cosmic harmony,” she writes. “It synchronizes itself with the natural rhythms of Heaven and Earth so as to contribute to the overall harmony of the cosmos.”46 Here the properly attuned mind—through the medium of music—is indeed impacting the world. These parallel paths of affecting popular ethics and affecting the physical environment demonstrate an important but usually overlooked association. On one hand, the Classicist ideal vaunts an exemplary ruler whom the people desire to emulate. Rather than being told what to do and then obeying out of fear, they naturally transform themselves to mimic this model sovereign. On the other hand, correlative cosmology is based upon categories of resonance within an all-encompassing pattern and not based upon fearsome gods sending down commandments. Exemplary rule and correlative cosmology were in fact the same model applied to different realms. Both opposed the idea of an external agency imposing its will, whether through laws in the former or through cause-and-effect relationships via god-like agencies in the latter. Both favored selftransformation, whether through mimicking the ideal ruler in the former or through a natural non-causal resonance in the latter. And both idealized a single comprehensive order, whether through ritual hierarchies in the former or through a pattern of categories in the latter. Historically, both grew to influence the Qin and Han courts, and both were advocated by the same people. At least in this aspect, the Classicists presented a consistent message. The good government of the exemplary ruler and the cosmos of correlative cosmology mirrored one another. The “Musical records” offers a theoretical model for the ruler’s mind influencing his greater environment, whether it be through the mimicry of the people or the resonance of a correlative cosmos. The “Great preface” and the “Musical records” serve as the loci classici of literary and musical theory, and in a fragmentary fashion, the ideas they summarize are spread throughout numerous early Chinese sources. They also share a general approach of how the ruler’s mind through poetry and music posi-


Part IV

tively influenced the populace. Other contemporaneous sources emphasize how the people needed that positive influence because unsavory, debauched music always threatened to disrupt human morals and cosmological alignment. For example, the Spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü similarly presents the mechanics of how music is a manifestation of the mind and in turn ripples into the general populace, but it also describes a darker side. 流辟誂越慆濫之音出,則淫蕩之氣、邪慢之心感矣;感則百姦眾辟從 此產矣。 When unmediated, misguided and reckless tones are produced, then licentious qi and a noxious mind resonate. When they resonate, then a host of depravities and a mass of perversities arise from it.47

As seen below, most other early texts tended to obsess about these mindproduced depravities and perversities rather than extol the harmonies vaunted by the “Great preface” and the “Musical records.”

From Inner to Outer in the “Five Activities” Using the same language as these two famous texts, Ban Gu praised the chanting and intoning of poetry that resonates with the mind and rectifies that which is fixed therein. He noted that, because of its potency, it was only natural that proper music be offered up 1.) in the ancestral shrines so that the ghosts and spirits were nourished, 2.) in the court so that the ministers were harmonized, and 3.) in the schools so that the multitudes became united. He then traced the effects of music as it spread throughout the empire as follows: 聽者無不虛己竦神,說而承流,是以海內遍知上德,被服其風,光煇 日新,化上遷善,而不知所以然,至於萬物不夭,天地順而嘉應降。 Everyone who hears [the music] empties his self and respects the spirits, finding pleasure in it and spreading it forth. Thereupon everyone within the four seas will understand the ruler’s virtue, and they all will bend under his wind, radiantly bright and daily renewed. They are transformed to advance upward and reformed to do good, even though they don’t understand why they do so. This transformation reaches the point of the myriad things suffering no premature demise, to heaven and earth becoming compliant and to excellent responses descending from above.48

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


Not only does musical influence again spread outward reaching cosmic proportions, but the listeners are unconsciously moved as they were in the “Great preface.” Ban Gu cited canonical texts describing how the animals had been influenced by music and concluded that humans and spirits would naturally be moved as well.49 His conclusion even draws upon correlative cosmology: 故樂者,聖人之所以感天地,通神明,安萬民,成性類者也。 Thus music is how the sage resonates with heaven and earth, penetrates into the spiritual brilliance, pacifies the myriad people and completes the natural categories.50

As is becoming evident in these various texts, music was perhaps the easiest medium to understand and demonstrate the manifestation of mind in the world, and yet it was definitely not the mind’s only means of expression. While Ban Gu is well known and even criticized for his Classicist conservatism, he is less remembered for the great attention he devoted to correlative cosmology. In his “Wuxing zhi” 五行志 (“Treatise of the five phases”), he took the five phases as a principal schematic and then lined them up with other sets of five—the five faults of rulership, the five seasonal weather patterns and so forth—that were mostly derived from the “Hongfan” 洪範 (“Great plans”) chapter of the Documents canon. He thus devised five clusters of qualities. Also drawing from other Classicists such as Dong Zhongshu, Liu Xiang, and Liu Xin who had done similar work, he thereby extrapolated an intricate pattern of omens that corresponded to certain types of rulership behavior. His resulting scheme can be reconstructed as a chart (see Table 3) denoting fourteen types of omen manifestations (the rows) for each of the five phases (the columns). The first seven rows (from “Quality” to “Ill omen”) are all sets of five found in the “Great plans” itself, and rows nine through thirteen denote the increasing severity of the omen—from gestation when it is dubbed a “prodigy” to its most extreme when the severe “inner and outer omens” become manifest.51 Ultimately Ban Gu made a kind of five-phase template that could be used to categorize all omens past and present, not only helping the interpreter discern the problem indexed by that omen—a problem in the ruler’s appearance, perception, speech and so forth—but also the severity of that problem. For example, the red fire phase at the height of yang is

Table 3. Ban Gu’s five-phase prognostication scheme (SOURCE: Han documents 27) ____________________________________________________________________ Wood Metal ____________________________________________________________________ Quality

bending, straightening (quzhi 曲直)

liquefying, solidifying (congge 從革)

Ruler’s activity (shi 事)

appearance (mao 貌)

speech ( yan 言)

Positive trait

respectfulness ( gong 恭)

concord (cong 從)

Characteristic each trait initiates

reverence (su 肅)

orderliness (ai 艾)

Good omen (xiuzheng 休徵)

seasonable rain (shiyu 時雨)

seasonable sun (shiyang 時陽)


overbearing (kuang 狂)

usurping ( jian 僭)

Ill omen ( jiuzheng 咎徵)

constant rain (hengyu 恒雨)

constant sun (hengyang 恒陽)

Negative extreme ( ji 極 )

evil (e 惡)

grief (you 憂)

Prodigy ( yao 妖)

clothing ( fu 服)

verse (shi 詩)

Misfortune (nie 孽)

tortoises (gui 龜)

armored creatures ( jiechong 介蟲)

Calamity (huo 禍)

chickens ( ji 雞)

dogs (quan 犬)

Sickness (e 痾)

topsy-turvy (xiati shengshang 下體生上)

mouth & tongue (koushe 口舌)

Inner and outer omens (shengxiang 眚祥)



Opposing phase (tian 沴)



Table 3, cont’d. Ban Gu’s five-phase prognostication scheme (SOURCE: Han documents 27) ____________________________________________________________________ Fire Water Earth ____________________________________________________________________ blazing, ascending ( yanshang 炎上)

soaking, descending (runxia 潤下)

sowing, reaping ( jiase 稼穡)

sight (shi 視)

hearing (ting 聽)

thought (si 思)

enlightenment (ming 明)

clarity (cong 聰)

discernment (rui 睿)

wisdom (zhe 悊)

deliberation (mou 謀)

sagacity (sheng 聖)

seasonable warmth (shiyu 時燠)

seasonable cold (shihan 時寒)

seasonable wind (shifeng 時風)

negligent (shu 舒)

hasty ( ji 急)

confused (meng 霿)

constant heat (hengyu 恒燠)

constant cold (henghan 恒寒)

constant wind (hengfeng 恒風)

illness ( ji 疾)

poverty ( pin 貧)

truncation (xiong duan zhe 凶短折)

grass (cao 草)

drums ( gu 鼓)

state of being gorged and benighted (zhiye 脂夜)

scaleless, furless creatures (luochong 蠃蟲)

fish ( yu 魚)

flowers (hua 華)

sheep ( yang 羊)

pigs (shi 豕)

cattle (niu 牛)

eye (mu 目)

ear (er 耳)

heart-mind & abdomen (xinfu 心腹)






all except earth


Part IV

bright and associated with sight, with the eyes and with enlightenment, and in terms of meteorology, it is associated with heat. Thus when there was a problem with the ruler’s enlightenment or when he was negligent in how he saw the things around him, an omen involving constant heat or eye disease was possible. Depending upon the subtype of corresponding omen, a knowledgeable prognosticator could then determine the seriousness of the problem. The connections between many of the phenomena are not readily understandable, but Ban Gu appended lengthy statements explaining the links. For example, sheep have big eyes but poor vision, and many of them tend to die in years of excessive heat, and so prodigies associated with sheep are associated with the fire phase. Needless to say, some of the associations are arbitrary, and Ban Gu himself lists alternative associations offered by other cosmologists such as Liu Xin. Ban Gu justified these correspondences by examining the historical records and culling hundreds of examples of omens and the political events with which they were temporally associated. Some of the categories were sufficiently broad so as to admit any number of qualities exhibited by a particular omen. When the king of Yan in 80 bce plotted rebellion because he had been passed over for emperor (see Section 12), a rat danced with its tail in its mouth at his palace gates for a day and a night until it died. Because the rat was yellow—our “brown” falling under the color rubric huang 黃—the event became classified under the yellow earth phase and interpretations proceeded from there. Such is how these hundreds of historical omens, along with the flaws in rulership they indexed, became slotted into a grand history of human-heaven resonance. The relevance of Ban Gu’s correlative cosmology to this discussion lies in the second set of five qualities from the “Great plans” that Ban Gu and others merged with the five phases, namely the “five activities” or “five performances” (wushi 五事). These activities involved particular types of behavior.52 As seen in the second row of the chart, the two complementary visual activities (the yang activities) were “appearance” (mao 貌) and “seeing” (shi 視) associated with wood and fire respectively, and the two complementary auditory activities (the yin activities) were “speaking” ( yan 言) and “listening” (ting 聽) associated with metal and water. In other words, the differences within the pairings concerned the relative direction of the action—how one was seen and in turn saw others for the yang pair and how one was heard and in turn heard others for the yin pair.

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


Thus all four were qualities of a relationship between self and other and not qualities intrinsic to either the self or the other separately. Such was also true with the fifth of the five activities, namely the activity or behavior of “thinking” (si). Thought was not merely kept inside the head but was—like seeing, appearing, listening and speaking—a way of interacting with the external world.53 Here Ban Gu is following several pre-imperial philosophers who had given the mind a sensory function; Jane Geaney summarizes how those earlier works such as the Xunzi and Laozi listed the mind alongside other sensory organs: The heartmind does have some capacity that permits it to rule over the senses. But this does not eliminate the possibility that the heartmind is a sense, or very much like a sense. In fact, it seems to be the proper consequence of the ruler analogy that the heartmind would be one of the senses. Rulers may be superior to their subjects in important ways, but even if they are descendants of ancestors in heaven, they are not a different species of being.54

Geaney further notes that in early Chinese philosophy, “In the course of its interaction with things, parts of the heartmind seem to move from inside to outside.”55 As an example, she cites a warning in the Zhuangzi against allowing one’s peace of mind to “escape” (chu 出) lest there result repute, fame, “abnormalities” ( yao 妖) and “misfortunes” (nie 孽).56 In addition to such vocabulary, these pre-imperial themes—the mind’s position both above and alongside the other senses, its interaction with the external world, and the resulting abnormalities in that world when it becomes unbalanced—all come together in Ban Gu’s treatise. Ban Gu assigns great importance to the five activities because in his treatise he discusses all the other sets of five that follow in the above chart—diseases, calamities, misfortunes, animals, weather and so forth (rows three through fourteen)—in terms of these five activities, not the five phases. In other words, the actual text is divided into ten parts or ten sets of historical omens, namely five basic categories headed by the phases and then the five much larger categories headed by these activities or performances.57 Thus if there were flaws in the ruler’s performance of thought, these flaws could resonate into omens such as constant wind, illnesses of the heart-mind,58 earthquakes, and oddities with flowers and with cattle. Some of the associations are clear; in the case of earthquakes, the mind’s thinking is correlated to the earth phase, which occupies the


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center position among the phases. Other associations require more explanation, as in the case of cattle. Ban Gu explains, “the cow has a large mind [heart organ] but is unable to think and deliberate, and so if the qi of [the ruler’s] thoughts and mind deteriorate, there will thus be calamities involving cattle” (牛大心而不能思慮,思心氣毀,故有牛禍).59 Such is the manner in which a resonating wave can move from within the mental realm into the physical world at large. Ban Gu then appends thirty-five historical cases of earthquakes, cattle mutations, mental illness and windstorms that ultimately corresponded to the ruler’s failure in the performance of his thinking. For example, one of the cases pulled from the Zuo commentary references music theory. In 521 bce, the Zhou dynasty’s King Jing 景 (r. 544–520) was about to have a bell that was off key cast despite a warning from his music director, who advised the king that the mind cannot long endure loud bells that were not correctly pitched. Ban Gu here brings in Liu Xiang’s comments by way of context: 是時景王好聽淫聲,適庶不明,思心霿亂,明年以心疾崩,近心腹之 痾,凶短之極者也。 At this time, King Jing delighted in listening to licentious tones and had not distinguished between his rightful heirs. His thoughts and mind were confused and chaotic, and in the next year he died because of an illness to the heart-mind. This approximates a sickness involving the heart-mind and abdomen and is an extreme case of “truncation.”60

In Ban Gu’s system charted above, “truncation” was the general quality that became manifested when the ruler’s misbehavior peaked. Here the ominous event is closer to home than cattle mutations or earthquakes and is limited to the king’s deluded desire to cast an off-key bell. Yet in Han correlative cosmology, they all resonate with the ruler’s poor performance of thinking. Such is how the mind became manifested beyond itself. As noted above, Ban Gu is not innovative; he is simply well organized. Furthermore, he is not the last to make this argument. Many court advisors in the Han and beyond resorted to the categories and language of the “Great plans” to explain contemporary prodigies and calamities, but the true pervasiveness of this kind of analysis cannot be known, and there were other groups of advisors (such as military strategists) who explicitly shunned a reliance upon omen interpretation.

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


To recapitulate, the “Great preface,” the “Musical records,” Ban Gu’s “Treatise of the five phases” and other texts all allude to the mechanics of how thinking in itself ripples out from the mind to impact the world beyond the self. These texts begin to give us some context in which we can better appreciate how descendants could thoughtfully sustain their ancestors via ritual abstentions and sacrifices because their performative thinking was part of a larger discourse. All these texts are broad-based, either notable in their own right—even to the point of appearing within several different larger works—or synchronizing many scholars’ previous efforts. Here it is becoming clear that correlative cosmology recognizes no Western distinction between matter and mind, body and soul, and as noted in the beginning of this section, the word xin (like qi and shenming) overlaps physical and cognitive qualities, not recognizing the stark division that our own culture might impose upon them. Thus thinking resonated into the rest of the world just as any other behavior of the ruler, whether he was conscious of it or not. Yet even though the “Great preface” and the “Musical records” were well-known texts, by themselves these descriptions of performative thinking could be dismissed as merely theoretical constructions with little real impact. Instead the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and so it is necessary to demonstrate performative thinking’s pervasiveness by reviewing its various direct applications, applications ranging from imperial edicts to popular religions.

Section 28: The Han Application of Performative Thinking As already noted in our discussion of the ritual ring binder, surviving texts such as those in the previous section should be viewed as arguments rather than descriptions, and we clearly cannot assume they represent “what the early Chinese thought.” Yet they are not necessarily arguments in the Western sense of contested positions between people or of reactions against the status quo. As seen with the family tree metaphor, the authors of the “Great preface,” the “Musical records” and so forth may simply have been overlaying an interpretation that, at its core, was regarded as a better, truer and fuller explanation of an offshoot popular understanding. Although such theoretical texts remain vague about the connection between the mind and its external environment, a surprisingly large number


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of anecdotes in diverse genres of discourse that could readily be labeled as examples of performative thinking survive.

The Mind of the Masses Alters the Physical World The best documented category of thoughts affecting the physical world is that of popular discontent generating ominous portents. This form of performative thinking was well established prior to the Han, and the Zuo commentary includes several cases, the earliest dated 680 bce in which a snake fight at the city gates is explained as follows: 人之所忌,其氣燄以取之。妖由人興也。人無釁焉,妖不自作。人棄 常,則妖興,故有妖。 When the qi associated with human anxieties flared up, they occasioned [this snake fight] because prodigies rise up from the people. If the people had been without strife, then such prodigies would never have occurred of their own accord. When people deviate from normality, then these prodigies arise. That’s why they exist.61

This passage was frequently cited in the Han. Other anecdotes in the Zuo commentary accord with this warning that when virtue among them became perverted, the people would fall into a “chaos that results in prodigies and catastrophes arising” (亂則妖災生).62 Sometimes the texts document very brief anecdotes such as rocks talking because the local populace had become mentally agitated.63 Other times the stories are thoroughly developed, the longest involving the vicious ghost of a deceased noble of Zheng 鄭 called Boyou 伯有 (d. 543 bce). The story of Boyou’s ghost begins when, in 536 bce, the Zheng code of punishments was cast onto bronze vessels, leading a Jin statesman named Shu Xiang 叔向 to chastise his Zheng counterpart named Zichan 子產. Shu Xiang warned Zichan that instead of deciding criminal matters on a case-by-case basis, which would lead to the people standing in awe of their rulers’ power and wisdom, the Zheng government had opted for an inflexible system of law and punishment that would cause the people to lose faith in their rulers. Instead of embodying an ideal government in which the people were encouraged to imitate the sovereign’s virtues, these ironclad punishments would cause the people to develop contentious minds, abandon ritual norms and embrace chaos. They would no longer embrace the spirit of a good ruler’s proper government but spend their time trying

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


to figure out how to get around the letter of the law; their virtue of self regulation would give way to gaming the system.64 Here again is the classic debate between a law-based government with a feared dictator and a ritual-based government with an exemplary ruler. Zichan admitted that Shu Xiang was right and that Zheng’s explicit penal code could at best serve as a stopgap to stem the tide of lawlessness in the current age.65 The Zuo commentary’s entry for the next year relates the story of Boyou’s ghost haunting the Zheng populace, and its authors explicitly state that the people of Zheng began terrifying each other with Boyou stories “in the second month of the year when the punishment documents were cast” (鑄刑書之歲二月).66 This explicit link between the two stories in consecutive years (which is rare in the Zuo commentary) indicates that Shu Xiang was right—the people had become agitated exactly when the new penal code was cast on the bronze vessels, and an abnormal disruption resulted in the form of a murderous, angry ghost. The combined story therefore follows the established formula of popular unrest resulting in prodigies. As it happened, Boyou’s lineage had thoroughly pervaded Zheng society, and so when the Zheng populace grew agitated because their government had embraced an explicit code of punishments, it was not surprising that Boyou’s ghost became their fearsome focus. Here the Zuo commentary offers a famous description of the postmortem elements of the body and an explanation of why Boyou in particular could carry out his ghostly rampage: 人生始化曰魄,既生魄,陽曰魂。用物精多,則魂魄強,是以有精爽 至於神明。 匹夫匹婦強死,其魂魄猶能馮依於人,以為淫厲,況良霄!我先君 穆公之冑,子良之孫,子耳之子,敝邑之卿,從政三世矣。鄭雖無 腆,抑諺曰「蕞爾國」,而三世執其政柄,其用物也弘矣,其取精也 多矣。其族又大,所馮厚矣,而強死,能為鬼,不亦宜乎! The first transformation in human life is called the po, and when the po is produced, its yang counterpart is called the hun.67 If daily sustenance and quintessence are abundant, the hun and po then strengthen, and because of this, the quintessential vigor reaches spiritual brilliance.68 If common men or women were to die while (the hunpo remains) strong, their hunpo would still be capable of depending upon others and could become malevolent apparitions.69 How much the more so in the case of Liang Xiao [= Boyou]! He was the descendant of our former lord Duke Mu, the grandson of Ziliang and the son of Zi’er, all of whom were nobles of our state and assisted in


Part IV

government for three generations. Although the state of Zheng is not prosperous and is even commonly called a “petty state,” they have held on to their governing authority for three generations. His sacrificial sustenance became bountiful, and his accumulated quintessence abundant. Furthermore because his lineage is large, he has much upon which he can depend. Isn’t it appropriate, then, that having died when (his hunpo was) strong, he became a ghost?70

The po and hun were innate entities that, together with the external support of the lineage’s daily sustenance and quintessence, permitted Boyou to penetrate into the shenming, or “spiritual brilliance.”71 If the hunpo of mere commoners were able to enter this extramundane realm to become malevolent apparitions, then all the more so could Boyou, whose large and powerful lineage was a strong relationship net that continued to buttress his hunpo and define his existence.72 His lineage was deeply rooted throughout Zheng and so represented the agitated people. Only by attempting to restore the people’s faith in government did Zichan bring an end to Boyou’s attacks.73 More specifically, Zichan remedied the situation by promoting two people to higher office, one of them being a son of Boyou. “If a ghost has a place to return home, then it will not become a malevolent apparition. I gave him a place to return” (鬼有 所歸,乃不為厲,吾為之歸也).74 The term li 厲, translated here as “malevolent apparition,” implies a cruel ghost, and in the Zhuangzi, it describes hungry ghosts from annihilated kingdoms who were left without descendants or means of support.75 According to ritual, the level of ancestral sacrifice depended upon the rank of the descendants, and so by promoting and appeasing the descendants, Zichan in turn satiated Boyou with more sacrifices.76 Yet the other person Zichan promoted was not related to Boyou but came from a previously disgraced lineage, and when Zichan was asked about him, the statesman explained it was necessary to please the people by demonstrating the government’s good faith and impartiality. When the people became selfish and lacked propriety, they displayed disobedience and opposed the government, and so the government had to placate them and calm their minds in order to inspire trust and quiet their ghosts. This interpretation of the Boyou story is admittedly my own reading, but because of the Zuo commentary’s precedence of popular distress leading to anomalies, its explicit link between the two episodes can be read as cause and effect. Publication of an exacting system of punishments led to a popular unrest that manifested in killer ghosts punishing the people,

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ghosts who dissipated only when a government of worthy officials was restored. To summarize the Zuo commentary evidence, several early anecdotes describe how certain conditions can lead to the minds of the masses projecting their fears into prodigies, including the actual reappearance of the dead. Such cases of performative thinking also occur in other pre-imperial works. For example, in the Discourses of the states a Zhou minister explains that it is humans that bring chaos to the qi of heaven and earth, suppressing the yang and trapping the yin underneath until earthquakes result.77 For a second example, in the Zhanguoce 戰國策 (Stratagems of the Warring States) the king of Qin voices his anger about a local ruler who wanted to retain his small territory, warning him that a king’s wrath could produce a hundred thousand corpses and saturate the earth with blood for miles. The local ruler in turn replied with various historical precedents in which the wrath of commoners resulted in celestial abnormalities and terrestrial prodigies. “When they harbored anger without releasing it, omens and malignancies were sent down from heaven” (懷怒未發,休 祲降於天). Chastened, the king duly apologized.78 In turn, Han sources offer an abundance of accounts in which the popular mood echoed into the cosmos to result in prodigious events. The Han records alone provides at least a dozen cases, many of them tracing a chain of events from final prodigy back to its ultimate cause or, perhaps more correctly, its ultimate resonator. For example, in reply to a question raised by Emperor Wu in his search for worthy scholars, the philosopher Dong Zhongshu wrote: 刑罰不中,則生邪氣;邪氣積於下,怨惡畜於上。上下不和,則陰陽 繆盭而妖孽生矣。此災異所緣而起也。 When punishments are not on target, then this produces noxious qi. The noxious qi accumulates down below, and resentful hatreds collect up above. When what is below and above are in discord, then the yinyang gets twisted up and prodigies and misfortunes are born. This is how calamities and abnormalities originate and arise.79

This type of explanation was applied to specific misfortunes such as earthquakes during Emperor Yuan’s reign, leading one court advisor to begin his memorial, “I have heard that when the people’s qi become internally obstructed, then there is a sympathetic shaking of heaven and earth” (臣聞人氣內逆,則感動天地). 80 Still later, Liu Xiang at-


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tempted to point out a similar chain of relationships to Emperor Cheng in protest against the resources that were being poured into the imperial mausoleums—mausoleums that were encroaching upon existing graves. He noted that these resentments were not limited to the living: 死者恨於下,生者愁於上,怨氣感動陰陽,因之以饑饉。 Down below the dead are hateful, and up above, the living are anxious. The qi of their resentment resonates with and shifts the yinyang that then responds to these resentments with famine.81

Also during Emperor Cheng’s reign, Gu Yong 谷永 (d. c. 9 bce) listed numerous shortcomings of government such as heeding the words of empresses, splitting up families and imposing high taxes that led to popular discontent: 百姓愁怨,則卦氣悖亂,咎徵著郵,上天震怒,災異婁降。 When the commoners are anxious and resentful, then the annual cycle’s qi becomes contrary and chaotic, inauspicious prognostications make the errors manifest, heaven on high rumbles in anger, and calamities and abnormalities are frequently sent down.82

He continues with another list, this time of natural phenomena that result from this disruption, including eclipses, inconsistent planetary motions, floods, droughts, famines and the premature deaths of both humans and animals. Several other Han records statements continue in this vein, although a few of them depict a parallel positive chain of relationships. In answer to a different question posed by Emperor Wu, Gongsun Hong praised the auspicious signs that correlated with the current enlightened rule: 臣聞之,氣同則從,聲比則應。今人主和德於上,百姓和合於下,故 心和則氣和,氣和則形和,形和則聲和,聲和則天地之和應矣。故陰 陽和,風雨時,甘露降,五榖登,六畜蕃,嘉禾興,朱草生,山不 童,澤不涸,此和之至也。 I have heard that when qi are the same, then they heed [one another], and when sounds are comparable, then they resonate. The current ruler is harmoniously virtuous up above, and the commoners are harmoniously united down below. Thus, if their minds are harmonious, then their qi are harmonious. If qi are harmonious, then forms are harmonious. If forms are harmonious, then sounds are harmonious. If sounds are harmonious, then the harmony of heaven and earth responds. Thus, the yinyang is harmonious, the wind and rain are seasonal, the sweet dew descends, the five crops rise up, the six domesticated animals are boun-

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tiful, the excellent grain flourishes, the red grass grows, the mountains are not barren, and the wetlands are not dry. Such is the height of harmony.83

Gongsun Hong’s litany continues with the elimination of premature death, the bright clarity of the sun and moon, and the arrival of phoenixes and dragons. Taken as a whole, these and other passages in the Han records depict a correlative cosmology in which the collective minds of the masses are the pivot between rulership and natural phenomena. As is clear from the above, rulership could be good or bad for many reasons, and natural phenomena could take many auspicious and inauspicious forms, but in between, the only variable was contentment within the people’s minds. It was their minds that produced the qi that in turn altered the physical world. Such memorials continue on into the Eastern Han, and that of Palace Attendant Zhang Heng offers an interesting variant on the theme. Addressing the high level of wrangling and wastefulness within the unrefined court, he wrote: 褒美誡惡,有心皆同,故怨讟溢乎四海,神明降其禍孽。頃年雨常不 足,思求所失,則《洪範》所謂「僭恒陽若」也。懼群臣奢泰,昏迷 典式,自下逼上,用速咎徵。又前年京都地震土裂,土裂者威分,地 震者民擾也。 All minds can become united in praise or censure, and so if resentment and murmuring flood all the land within the four seas, the spirits (shenming) will send down calamities and misfortunes. In recent years the rains have never been sufficient, and if we think through the problem, it would be what the “Great plans” would call “the constant sunshine associated with usurpation.” I fear that the officialdom has become wasteful and extravagant, bringing confusion to the statutes and rules, and when upward pressure is being brought to bear on the ruler, this ill omen quickly results. In recent years the capital has also experienced earthquakes and rifts in the ground. The rifts in the ground indicate imposing divisions whereas the earthquakes indicate the people’s agitation.84

Here Zhang Heng’s memorial demonstrates an ambiguity in this system in which the people’s resentment and agitation convert into droughts and earthquakes. It is not in this case pure resonance as external agencies—the spirits—send down the calamities in response to that agitation.85 Zhang Heng has introduced an intermediary. This ambiguity exists in other preand early imperial descriptions of sympathetic resonance, including those of Dong Zhongshu and Ban Gu where heaven is occasionally described as


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a caring and concerned entity and not something more mechanical and impersonal. Zhang Heng also uses the same citations and vocabulary as found in Ban Gu’s comprehensive chart on the five phases and five activities described in Section 27, implying that Ban Gu’s approach to humanheaven resonance had a broader appeal. Perhaps indicating the pervasiveness of the idea, the people’s mental agitation rippling out into the physical environment was not limited to memorials of imperial advisors but also extends to the imperial edicts themselves. Emperor Guangwu laments an ongoing drought in 29 ce and links it to the large number of people still incarcerated since the end of the Xin and the restoration of the Han. “The masses are anxious and hateful—is this resonating with and shifting heaven’s qi?” (元元愁恨,感動 天氣乎?). He thereby reduced the prison population.86 Conversely, Emperor An in 117 ce concluded that popular resentment resulted not in droughts but in floods. “In general, continuous rains are brought about by the resentment of the people” (夫霖雨者,人怨之所致).87 Similar statements can be found in the edicts from the courts of Emperors Shun 順 (r. 125–44) and Zhi 質 (r. 145–46).88 Thus the idea that the minds of the people could affect natural phenomena was sufficiently pervasive to be repeatedly voiced in the highest memorials and mandates throughout the dynasty. Beyond the standard histories, other Han sources such as the Xin yu 新 語 (New discourses) in the Western Han and the Analyses of the hermit in the Eastern Han repeat this formulation. With echoes of Mencius, the latter argues that “Heaven takes the people as its mind” (天以民為心) and then presents its own lengthy syllogistic chain: 故君臣法令善則民安樂,民安樂則天心慰,天心慰則陰陽和,陰陽和 則五榖豐,五榖豐而民眉壽,民眉壽則興於義,興於義而無姦行,無 姦行則世平,而國家寧、社稷安,而君尊榮矣。是故天心、陰陽、君 臣、民氓、善惡相輔至而代相徵也。 Thus if the regulations concerning the ruler-subject bond are good, the people will be at peace and joyous. If the people are at peace and joyous, the mind of heaven will be compassionate. If the mind of heaven is compassionate, the yinyang will be harmonious. If the yinyang is harmonious, the five crops will be bountiful. If the five crops are bountiful, the people will be longevous. If the people are longevous, they will flourish in terms of propriety. If they flourish in terms of propriety, they will lack licentious behavior. If they lack licentious behavior, the age will be at peace, the state will enjoy amity, the altars to land and grain will

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


be tranquil and the ruler will be revered and glorious. For this reason, the mind of heaven, the yinyang, the ruler-subject bond, the people as well as their likes and dislikes all support one another to the utmost, and they verify one another in turn.89

Again, the mind of the people becomes a lynchpin in this correlative cosmology, affecting the physical world. The popularity of this idea was so widespread that it inspired at least one scholar to offer detailed counterarguments against it. Wang Chong argued that relative to heaven, humans were small and merely reactive to the forces of nature, and for every legend about someone’s mental energy rippling outward to affect nature, he reminds his readers of an equal if not greater number of catastrophic cases of mass carnage or tragic deaths of great heroes in which silent heaven seemed unmoved. Wang Chong imagines his critics contending that great sincerity of mind would be necessary to move mountains—a sincerity that also figured into certain types of relationships with the ancestral spirits in Part III—but he answers those imagined critics by pointing out that all the wishful thinking and desperate desiring for a piece of fruit hanging only a foot away won’t bring it into the mouth, just as all the desire of the masses to be warm in the winter or cool in the summer won’t actually alter the seasonal temperatures.90 Wang Chong aside, the human desire to incorporate the masses within the chain of correlative cosmology is of course not surprising. Although correlative cosmologists professed to look at the biggest picture of eternal dualisms and celestial cycles, they were in fact mainly focused upon the particular role of humans and their governance within that picture. The vast majority of cosmological speculations directly involved humans as affecting or being affected by the cosmos; rarely were the dualisms or cycles analyzed purely for the sake of understanding those dualisms and cycles. The role of the masses relative to the cosmos served as a necessary conversion point from the tangible and controllable to the intangible and uncontrollable. That is, the effects of taxation policies, punishment systems, wars, dynastic changes, rulership behavior and so forth went into this “black box”—the mind of the masses—and out came the invisible qi that resonated with the yinyang, the weather, the planets and more. With tangible, cause-and-effect relationships on one side and intangible, resonance relationships on the other, the thoughts of the masses were infused with cosmological significance.


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Even so, is this type of thinking “performative” in the sense of Austin’s or even Fingarette’s understanding of the term? While it is true their thoughts were believed to change reality, it was not a controlled change as one might affect by uttering “I do” at a wedding or “Guilty!” at a trial. Thus far, the issue has been more of how they felt rather than what they were thinking about. The content of their thoughts was not being realized beyond their minds; rather, their moods were being reflected by the weather. Yet this widely accepted belief at least partially fits our understanding of “performative.” A much better fit can be found within the rhetoric surrounding the emperor’s own mental cogitations.

The Mind of the Emperor Alters the Physical World According to the Huainanzi, the Zhou founder King Wu in a time of emergency was able to focus his quintessence, gather his thoughts and build up his spirit to such an extreme that his psychic energies lashed out, causing a storm to abate. It then draws an analogy relevant to the study at hand: 夫全性保真,不虧其身,遭急迫難,精通于天。若乃未始出其宗者, 何為而不成! If you keep your nature intact, protect your genuineness and avoid damaging your person, when you encounter an emergency or face hardship, your quintessence will penetrate heaven. You will be like one who has yet to emerge from his ancestor—is there anything you couldn’t do?91

Having not yet become differentiated, “one who has yet to emerge from his ancestor” is one whose quintessence still equates with the cosmos as a whole. With mental state and material environment undistinguished from one another, the supreme mind could easily bend the environment to its will. The Huainanzi uses the same analogy in at least two other places, once advocating abstention-like purifications until one is “as tranquil as one who has yet to emerge from his ancestor, thereupon becoming grandly penetrative” (莫若未始出其宗,乃為大通).92 In the case of King Wu, his psychic power spread forth to beat back wind and wave, thereby allowing him to complete his rebellion against the last Shang ruler in battle. For the Huainanzi, he was an exemplar of performative thinking.

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


Yet that psychic power could work against rebels, too—something that the king of Huainan himself should have perhaps realized. Prior to Liu An’s rebellion in 122 bce, his advisor Wu Pi 伍被 strongly urged him to reconsider his plans. According to the Han documents, Wu Pi argued that the successful rebellions of the past only occurred when the age was ready and fully conducive to those who would be catalysts of change. The current reign of the powerful Emperor Wu was not such an age, and as Wu Pi rhetorically extolled the emperor’s power, he described how the emperor’s mere thoughts were capable of becoming immediately realized even over great distances: 當今陛下臨制天下,壹齊海內,氾愛蒸庶,布德施惠。口雖未言,聲 疾雷震;令雖未出,化馳如神。心有所懷,威動千里;下之應上,猶 景嚮也。 Coming down to the current emperor’s control and regulation of the empire, he has unified and equalized all within the seas. His love for the masses is overflowing; he spreads his virtue and unfurls his kindness. Before his mouth even utters a word, its sound hastens forth as quickly as a crack of thunder. Before his edict is even issued, its transformations race out like the spirits. What is harbored in his mind sends out mighty repercussions a thousand li away. Below responds to above as quickly as a shadow can take shape or an echo can be heard.93

Albeit as a rhetorical flourish, here is a second case of performative thinking, and like the Huainanzi’s description of King Wu, this hyperbolic passage highlights how the ruler reified his thoughts because he was complete master of his realm. One of the most detailed examples of this rhetorical flourish occurs in a letter to the acting emperor Wang Mang just a year before he officially declared a change in ruling house. In 7 ce, his army had quelled a threemonth rebellion against the regent’s authority, and one of his officers by the name of Chen Chong 陳崇 sent back the following flattering letter: 陛下奉天洪範,心合寶龜,膺受元命,豫知成敗,(感)〔咸〕應兆 占,是謂配天。配天之主,慮則移氣,言則動物,施則成化。 臣崇伏讀詔書下日,竊計其時,聖思始發,而反虜仍破;詔文始書, 反虜大敗;制書始下,反虜畢斬。眾將未及齊其鋒芒,臣崇未及盡其 愚慮,而事已決矣。 Your highness has upheld heaven’s “Great plans,” and your mind concurs with the “Treasured turtle.”94 You have received the primal mandate. You possess foreknowledge of success and failure and in all cases accord with divinations via


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shell and lot. This means you are heaven’s counterpart. When a ruler who is heaven’s counterpart ruminates, he is shifting the qi; when he speaks, he is stirring up matter; when he acts, he is achieving transformations. When your subject Chong humbly read the issue date of your proclamation text, he ventured to calculate the timing [of the proclamation’s drafting process]. When your sagacious thoughts were first formulated, the rebellious caitiffs were continuously being smashed. When the proclamation’s text was first drafted, the rebellious caitiffs suffered a major defeat. When the draft of the order was first sent down, the rebellious caitiffs were all executed. The host of generals had not yet organized their pointed weaponry into formation, and your subject Chong had not yet finished formulating his foolish strategies when this affair had already been settled.95

Like Wu Pi’s adolation of Emperor Wu, Chen Chong’s flattery would identify the ruler’s thinking as performative, but here the mechanics are more explicit. A normal ruler could only predict the future with a finite degree of accuracy, and he would be many times removed from his distant lineage progenitor, a progenitor who was himself directly linked to and descended from heaven (in other words, heaven’s “counterpart”). Yet like “one who has yet to emerge from his ancestor” in the Huainanzi’s praise for King Wu, the recipient of the primal mandate did not suffer such separation and differentiation. This ruler knew the future and was directly linked to heaven. His desires were not like a template imposed upon heaven; rather his mind was a clone of heaven’s mind because he was so closely related. The thoughts in his head were a clone of the qi in heaven, and so the machinations of heaven and of himself were not distinct from one another. Here performative thinking was possible because the thinker and the environment outside the thinker shared the same genetic code— or so the sycophant Chen Chong would argue. The Han documents concludes that, upon receipt of this letter, Wang Mang was greatly pleased. Although similar rhetorical flourishes occur in Eastern Han memorials, this formulation is not limited to the standard histories.96 Again the Analyses of the hermit provides further evidence of this relationship between the ideal ruler and the cosmos: 王者至貴,與天通精,心有所想,意有所慮,未發聲色,天為變移。 The king is the height of honorability, and his quintessence penetrates heaven. Heaven transforms and shifts because of what his mind thinks and what his intellect plans, even before [those thoughts and plans] find auditory or visual expression.97

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


Similar statements can be found in Han apocryphal literature.98 The principal difference between these statements and the prodigies brought about by the minds of the masses is that here the product is from the particular thoughts of authoritative individuals and is not merely a general reflection of popular sentiment. Just as the masses were equated with the mind of heaven, the ruler is here similarly expanded to embody heaven’s quintessence.

Mind Influencing Matter in Divination Performative thinking was by no means limited to the grandest agencies such as the vast masses or greatest emperors. The same Huainanzi passage that admired King Wu’s ability to quell the storm also recognized that psychic capacity in the most ordinary commoner even if he or she were as inconsequential as a feather and as lowly as a weed. They could still “concentrate their quintessence and train their thoughts, marshal their focus and build up their spirit until it rises to penetrate the Nine Heavens and drifts outward to arouse utmost quintessence” (專精厲意,委務積 神,上通九天,游厲至精).99 Even so, most people could never have expected to meet with such grandiose experiences; if they encountered the notion of performative thinking at all, it would have been within smaller, more intimate circumstances such as divinations, religious rituals, meditations and, as seen in Part III, ancestral sacrifices. Some divinatory systems such as physiognomy were ultimately based upon the physical manifestation of the psyche, although physiognomy’s efficacy was not universally recognized. On one hand, Mencius claimed that traits such as benevolence and wisdom began in the mind and then diffused throughout the body so that a noble’s nature was evident— particularly via the pupils of the eyes—without his having to say a single word.100 On the other hand, Xunzi dismissed physiognomy because the greatest of nobles—Confucius himself—had a face reminiscent of an exorcist’s mask.101 Han works such as the Extended reflections based the principle of physiognomy on the idea that “in general the spiritual qi and the bodily form embrace one another” (夫神氣形容之相包也).102 Here any division between mind and body or inner being and outer expression is muted at best. Yet like droughts and floods reflecting the mood of the masses, physiognomy revealed only the general psyche and not any spe-


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cific concerns of the mind. Those more specific concerns had to be addressed by other forms of divination. Just as there existed diverse forms of divination, there also existed diverse explanations as to why divination worked. Many scholars claimed that divination was a way of communicating with spiritual agencies, even ancestors, who then directed the divination responses. This claim even extended to the point of addressing the divination tools as agencies in their own right. In the Ceremonies and rituals, the diviner directly addresses the divination stalks, asking them whether a particular day would be suitable for an ancestral sacrifice.103 For other scholars, the nature of divination’s spiritual element—namely whether shen indexed particular agencies (“spirits”) or a general state (“the spiritual”)—appears somewhat ambiguous, as seen in Yang Xiong’s explanation of why “quintessence” or “concentrate” ( jing 精) is so important in divination: 是故欲知不可知,則擬之以乎挂兆。測深摹遠,則索之以乎思慮。二 者其以精立乎!夫精以卜筮,神動其變,精以思慮,謀合其適。精以 立正,莫之能仆。精以有守,莫之能奪。故夫抽天下之蔓蔓,散天下 之混混者,非精其孰能之? Thus when they wish to know the unknown, they determine it via divination graphs and bones; when they wish to fathom the deep and trace out the distant, they inquire into it via thinking and deliberating. Surely both of these cases come about through [the process of] “concentration”! When concentration is applied to crack making and stalk manipulating, the spirits [or the spiritual] bring about the changes [in these media]; when concentration is applied to thinking and deliberating, one’s plans find accord with what is appropriate. What concentration erects, no one can knock down; what concentration holds, no one can take away. So is there anything other than concentration that can unravel the world’s tangles and sift out the world’s chaos?104

Yang Xiong highlights the process of focusing, of narrowing down to the quintessence of the matter, and he draws an overt parallel between divination and the centered mind. In terms of the former, shen plays a role in shifting the number of stalks and shaping the cracks, but it’s not entirely clear whether shen is here an external entity or one’s own intense mental exertion. This ambiguity may simply result from our Western vocabulary that endeavors to demarcate between the two, but as will be seen, it was a fruitful ambiguity that allowed thinkers such as Wang Chong to explain away divination responses as the physical manifestation of what was on the mind.

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In his chapter on divination in the Lunheng 論衡 (Analytical balance), Wang Chong acknowledges that divination was real, but he regards it more as a symptom of correlative cosmology, that good people naturally resonate with good omens and that divination was in turn a form of controlled omen. His main disagreement with current practice was that humans were simply not smart enough to interpret divination correctly. He dismissed the common belief that divination was a way of asking heaven and earth questions because he believed heaven was distant and unconcerned with human affairs. He thus describes one divination explanation that attempts to get around this problem by claiming that a piece of heaven and earth resides within each of us: 或曰﹕「人懷天地之氣。天地之氣,在形體之中,神明是矣。人將卜 筮,告令蓍龜,則神以耳聞口言。若己思念,神明從胸腹之中聞知其 旨。」 Some say, “Humans embosom the qi of heaven and earth. That presence of heaven and earth’s qi within the physical body is one’s ‘spiritual brilliance.’ When humans are about to engage in crack making and stalk manipulating, they announce the divination charge to the lots and shells. The spirit then hears via the ear what the mouth is saying. It’s as if the spirit from its location within the breast hears and understands the gist of a person’s own thoughts.”

Yet Wang Chong did not recognize one’s “spiritual brilliance” as being an entity distinct from one’s own thinking. In response to those who held such beliefs, he offered a different spatial schematic: 夫思慮者,己之神也。為兆數者,亦己之神也。一身之神,在胸中為 思慮,在胸外為兆數,猶人入戶而坐,出門而行也。行坐不異意,出 入不易情。如神明為兆數,不宜與思慮異。 The act of thinking is one’s own spirit, and the act of divining is also one’s own spirit. As for the individual’s spirit, within his breast it takes the form of thinking, and outside his breast it takes the form of divination. This situation is like a person’s entering his household and sitting, or like his exiting his gate and traveling. His traveling or sitting does not change his sentiments, and his exiting or entering does not alter his feelings. Just as his spiritual brilliance forms a divination, it should be no different from his thinking.105

Thus in opposition to those who believed spirit and thinking reside separately within the body, Wang Chong believed there existed a pervasive spirit or spiritual brilliance—a shen 神 or shenming 神明—that is present


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within as thinking and manifested without as a divination result. Instead of seeing them as closely parallel as Yang Xiong did, he saw them as one and the same. Either formulation is relevant to performative thinking. In Yang Xiong’s view, the person’s thoughts are voiced in the charge that is announced to the spirit (or heaven and earth’s qi within the body) that produces the divination result. Although the spirit is separate from one’s thoughts, it is still the internal and intangible part of the self that projects outward and creates physical changes outside the body. In Wang Chong ‘s view, thoughts within and divination results without are different manifestations of the same spirit. In either case, the inner non-corporeal elements of the self become manifested in the outer corporeal form of the divination stalks.

Mind Influencing Matter in Daoist Mysticism Relative to the Classicists, philosophical Daoists didn’t emphasize an anthropocentric cosmos, and so their texts do not dwell on how the mind of the masses or their human ruler could affect the yinyang, the seasons and the weather.106 Furthermore, several Daoist writers expressed misgivings about divination or any attempt to forecast and then manipulate change because they believed humans should simply resonate with natural transformations. Yet it is evident from various texts now labeled as Daoist that like the Classicists and diviners, these writers struggled with the relationship between mind and environment and with how one crossed over the bridge from one to the other. Possibly the oldest surviving mystical text in China, the “Inner undertaking” of the Guanzi presents a “seamless web . . . connecting the psychological, physiological, and spiritual aspects of the human being.”107 This valuable text not only expands our understanding of terms such as qi, mind and spirit, but it also demonstrates how these terms are related to one another, offering a blueprint that positions the individual mind relative to the rest of the cosmos. For example, it describes a cosmos not unlike that later depicted by Wang Chong, but instead of his pervasive “spiritual brilliance” that exists both inside and outside the individual human, it assigns this role to the “quintessence” which it in turn defines as a concentration of qi. Its first section of verse may even have some relevance to the ancestral cult:

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking 凡物之精 此則為生 下生五榖 上為列星 流於天地之閒 謂之鬼神 藏於胸中 謂之聖人


As for the quintessence of things, It is this that gives them life. Below it gives life to the five grains, And above it forms the constellated stars. When it flows between heaven and earth, We speak of “ghosts and spirits.” When it is stored up within a person’s chest, We speak of “sages.”108

Outside an individual, quintessence may thus manifest as ghosts and spirits, and inside the individual, it may manifest as sagacity. The mind, if kept tranquil through proper training such as postured sitting and regulated breathing, serves as a lodging place for the pervasive qi. Even so, the “Inner undertaking” is less concerned with how the mind ripples out to the rest of the world and more concerned with how the rest of the world ripples into the mind. The direction of the psychical flow is from outward to inward—opposite to the texts and examples discussed above—and as its title makes clear, the focus is upon interiority. Here the calm mind is made receptive to the qi, the quintessence or the Dao. Once this mind grasps and embodies the pattern of the world, it then becomes physically manifest either through a well-developed body or through wellordered speech that in turn causes others to engage in well-ordered tasks. The sage’s thinking in itself does not alter the external world and so cannot be termed “performative.” Yet there is evidence that such ideas of performative thinking were not far removed from the “Inner undertaking.” Several passages in the text allude to the noble who transforms the external world without altering the qi, to an “aligned mind” (zhengxin 正心) causing the myriad things to attain their proper measures, and to a “whole mind” (quanxin 全心) never encountering harm from the human or natural world. These are all suggestive of inner cogitation being able to affect outer circumstances. Because the text predates a thoroughly developed correlative cosmology and because it focuses upon interiority and not upon external matters, such ideas ultimately remain understated and must await later “Daoist” texts— if we are permitted to slip back into isms—to highlight them. Harold Roth, who has studied this text in depth, explains: Indeed, in the later Huai-nan Tzu this ability to influence and even transform other things was conceived of as occurring through a mysterious resonance be-


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tween the highly refined vital essence of a sage-ruler and the vital essences that occur in all things. The basis for what the Huai-nan Tzu calls this “numinous transformation” is found in this passage [on transforming the external world without altering the qi] from the Inward Training. This transformation can occur without deliberate intentional activity by sages because they have directly experienced how the Way is the guiding principle of themselves and all phenomena. The retention of this experience of the Way qualifies as an extrovertive mystical experience.109

Roth here refers to Huainanzi descriptions of the spiritual quintessence in which that which is fixed within the exemplary ruler’s mind extends its influence more than a thousand li away.110 He also sees possible evidence for this outward transformative power in a famous successor to the “Inner undertaking,” namely the Laozi which he and others date to no earlier than 300 bce with shorter, earlier versions compiled around the middle of the fourth century bce.111 In recent years, several students of Daoist history have attempted to trace out its early chronology using fragmentary evidence from received and excavated literature, and these histories have drawn upon the various mantic traditions of the Han, as Mark Csikszentmihalyi recently summarized: All Daoists’ efforts to control qi 氣, both in the body and the universe, their cultivation of spirit forces in the self and the stars, as well as their many ritual activities of purification, expiation, release of the dead and renewal of the world are unthinkable without a worldview that proposes a correspondence of all forces under Heaven and allows the determination of the auspicious times, places and methods. Thus mantic practices, which during the Han were employed at all levels of society and served many different functions, came to play a key role in the techniques of later Daoism and popular religion.112

An example of these mantic practices, according to scholars such as Isabelle Robinet and Paul W. Kroll, is the ecstatic journey preserved in poetic format. In these shamanistic flights, the protagonist sends his or her mind traveling to the ends of the cosmos and beyond. While Robinet labels the whole of the Chuci 楚辭 (Chu lyrics) as indicative of this Daoist tradition, Kroll specifically identifies this collection’s “Yuan you” 遠遊 (“Far roaming”) as the earliest substantial poem built upon identifiably Daoist themes, a poem he tentatively dates to the 130s bce, linking it to the regional court where the Huainanzi was composed.113 In fact, some of

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the language of “Far roaming” is reminiscent of the mental alignment and quietude advocated by the “Inner undertaking.” Early in the poem, the protagonist “sends his thoughts afar” ( yaosi 遙思) as his spirit dashes away, leaving his withered form behind. He “interiorizes his thoughtful examination” (nei weisheng 內惟省) to locate the origin of his properly aligned qi, and in silent emptiness, he naturally achieves his goal.114 Such language is further reminiscent of the Huainanzi, particularly in its chapter describing ecstatic journeys in which the sage meditatively removes from his mind all external social concerns as well as audiovisual inputs, after which he can survey the cosmos, wander to the limits of existence and meet with the spirits. Yet his true destination is not outbound: 心有所至而神唯然在之,反之於虛則消鑠滅息,此聖人之游也。 Where the mind is directed, the spirit quickly lodges there; when the mind returns to emptiness, then the spirit melts and dissolves. Such is the journey of a sage.115

In these outbound journeys that are simultaneously inbound, the shamans or meditators travel via thought, but ultimately they only play the role of a glorified visitor and not of an agency who is able to alter the visited realms beyond the body. Even so, these ecstatic journeys vividly recount another form of projected thought, of crossing the bridge, again demonstrating a means whereby the mind was not restricted to within the material body. In ecstatic journeys of the Western Han, the thoughtful traveler often encountered external agencies around the cosmos in the form of transcendents, deities and historical heroes. While Daoist ideas about projected and performative thinking continued into the Eastern Han as religious movements increased in size and organization, external agencies gradually became more than just people to visit on a sightseeing tour and instead came to play a key role in the mystical experience itself. According to current research, the Taiping jing 太平經 (Canon of great peace) is a text edited in the sixth century compiling earlier material most likely from the second century.116 It continues already familiar ideas such as the ruler’s benevolent thoughts engendering “auspicious responses” (ruiying 瑞應) in the world.117 Yet thoughts can elicit more than just impersonal signs, as the following passage demonstrates:


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是故思神致神,思真致真,思仙致仙,思道致道,思智致智。聖人之 精思賢人,致賢人之神來祐之;思邪,致愚人之鬼來惑之。人可思 念,皆有可致,在可思者優劣而已。故上士為君,乃思神真;中士為 君,乃心通而多智;下士為君,無可能思,隨命可為。 Therefore when you think about spirits, spirits are evoked; when you think about perfected ones, perfected ones are evoked; when you think about immortals, immortals are evoked; and when you think about wise ones, wise ones are evoked. When the quintessence of a sage thinks upon a worthy person, he has evoked the spirit of a worthy person to assist him; when his thoughts go astray, he has evoked the ghosts of fools to misguide him. Whenever a person is capable of thinking and contemplating, someone can be evoked every time; who is evoked just depends upon the thinker’s own excellence or vileness. Thus when a top-level person becomes ruler, he thus thinks about spirits and perfected ones; when a midlevel person becomes ruler, his mind thus penetrates outward and multiplies the wise ones [who will come to his aid]; and when a low-level person becomes ruler, he lacks the ability to think and receives his deserved fate.118

Thus thoughts can attract non-corporeal external agencies, an idea that closely echoes certain approaches to the ancestral cult detailed in Part III. Another manner in which thoughts altered the world beyond the heart-mind was by transforming objects such as bodily organs into other objects or even into agencies in their own right. Han medical thinking sometimes treated the organs as spiritual agencies or at least as dwellings for spiritual agencies. Continuing this thinking, the Canon of great peace describes how Daoist adepts could engage in interior visualization and see their viscera as specific officials wearing properly colored clothing, thus giving the adept a means of understanding and negotiating with the components of his own body.119 Such focused thinking was only the beginning of a long tradition of inner visualizations. In an apocryphal (and probably post-Han) chapter of The Yellow Emperor’s classic of internal medicine, a healthy person could fend off external toxins by imagining how each organ produced its colored qi that would then extend outward in the appropriate direction to transform into defensive imagery that correlated with the five phases. The white qi of the lungs would be mentally extended westward and transformed into weapons and armor; the red qi of the mind would be mentally extended southward and transformed into a fiery brilliance.120 Similarly in the Daoist text Baopuzi 抱朴子 (The master who embraces simplicity) compiled in the early fourth century ce, one could “think” (si 思) one’s body into jade, one’s mind into a blazing fire

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or one’s qi into a cloud-like protective envelope, all to stave off pestilence.121 Even as early as the last decades of the Han, this kind of visualization was not without its critics. The Extended reflections praises good mastery of one’s qi and likens it to Yu the Great channeling the waterways of China, but it warns against excessive storage of qi, excessive “guiding and pulling” (daoyin 導引) exercises and excessive “inner visualization” (neishi 內視) lest the body lose its equilibrium. While inner visualization does have some benefits, if practiced in excess it attempts too much control of the body’s natural processes and eventually impedes the qi that ought to circulate freely.122 The alchemical manual “Kinship of the three” similarly dismisses “the thoughts produced via inward visualization” (內視有所 思).123 While the Xiang’er commentary to the Laozi regularly interprets many abstract notions—including the Dao itself—as anthropomorphized external agencies, it too is critical of certain meditation practices such as those concerned with breathing and sex.124 Furthermore, it explicitly denounces anthropomorphic visualizations of the Dao for purposes of contemplation, for the purposes of “thinking upon and imagining it” (sixiang zhi 思想之).125 Interpreting abstract notions and bodily organs as anthropomorphized agencies sets what has been called “religious” Daoism apart from its philosophical predecessors, but both perspectives tend to emphasize the tranquil, emptied mind and body as receptive to psychical forces, as internalizing what comes from beyond. They both credited the mind with more than the ability to merely process data and command the body, and it was this fertile environment that let a new cultural tradition from west of China to take root, a tradition that would take performative thinking to the extreme.

Mind Influencing Matter in Buddhist Meditation As it gradually entered China starting in the middle of the Han, Buddhism brought with it new elaborate idea systems, but those idea systems went through a filtration and translation process. They were filtered as only certain types of texts were selected for transmission, in particular texts focused on what has been called “Buddhist yoga.” According to Erik Zürcher, this category of texts consisted of “the preparatory technique of counting the respirations leading to mental concentration (ānāpānasmŗti


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安般,數息觀); the contemplation of the body as being perishable, composed of elements, impure and full of suffering; the visualization of internal and external images of various colors, etc.”126 As for the translation process, they were rendered into a language that resembled Daoism and has come to be called geyi 格義 Buddhism, although whether Buddhism was initially attractive because it seemed akin to Daoism or because it offered a radical alternative to Daoism is a matter of current debate.127 Regardless, Buddhism’s early entry into China is best not described as a clash between two distinct idea systems because early Chinese Buddhism was a selected, translated and conditioned set of notions that gradually spread beyond the eastern reaches of the Taklamakan Desert. The Buddhist idea system would not gain independent integrity until perhaps the fifth century when Buddhism flourished through an organized monastic community and an impressive number of sanctuaries scattered throughout the empire, and even then it would always maintain certain Chinese qualities. One Buddhist text that circulated by the end of the Han was the Banzhou sanmei jing 般舟三昧經 (“Meditation of direct encounter with the Buddhas of the present”).128 Its second chapter is devoted to how one uses meditation to meet the Buddha Amitābha who created the Western Paradise through his own perfected mental powers. The Buddhist adepts are here urged to “concentrate with the whole mind” ( yixin nian 一心念) upon Amitābha for up to seven days and seven nights until they see him while they are either awake or dreaming. Here thoughts become realized simply because of the basic nature of the cosmos, a point that this chapter itself makes clear: 自念三處,欲處、色處、無想處,是三處意所為耳。我所念即見。心 作佛,心自見,心是佛,心是怛薩阿竭,心是我身,心見佛。心不自 知心,心不自見心。心有想為癡,心無想是泥洹。 When contemplating to oneself the “Three Realms”—the Realm of Desire, the Realm of Form and the Realm of Formlessness—these “Three Realms” are simply the product of one’s own ideas. That which I contemplate, I see. As for my mind generating the Buddha, my mind sees itself, but my mind is the Buddha, my mind is the Tathāgata and my mind is my body. [So] my mind sees the Buddha. If my mind does not itself understand my mind, then my mind will not itself see my mind. If my mind possesses imaginings, then it becomes stupid. [Yet] if my mind has no imaginings, then this is Nirvana.129

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By no means unique to the “Meditation of direct encounter with the Buddhas of the present,” this new perspective was obviously radical in the Han, but judging from the early Chinese history of performative and projected thinking, it may have been radical only in degree. That is, the shift from Han pre-Buddhist thinking to Han Buddhist thinking was not quite so dramatic. Prior to Buddhism, it was already accepted that the mind could affect the environment in certain conditions, and then in Han Buddhism, it was accepted that the mind was the environment because to regard them as separate would have been improper dualistic thinking. What Buddhism ultimately did was extend performative thinking beyond particular ritual situations or various great sages. It made performative thinking the absolute basis of everything.

Performative Thinking and the Poetry of Absence To demonstrate “performative thinking,” this discussion began with a few examples in Western literature ranging from Rilke’s poetry to Peter Pan. Appropriately, it also ends with just a few more literary examples, this time from the early Chinese tradition itself. Judging from the hymns “Fullness” and “Illustrious ancestors” cited in the introduction to Part III, performative thinking is already present in the poetry of the Songs canon, but it does not seem to be limited to ancestral music. According to the Mao commentary, the poem “Jiong” 駉 describes the affection of Duke Xi 僖 (r. 659–627) for his horses, and it serves as a veritable glossary of equine terms. After numerous synonyms for horses and adjectives describing their superior qualities, each of the four verses ends with Duke Xi’s concern for their well-being. For example, the first ends by saying, “He thinks endlessly, and as he thinks of his horses, they become good” (思無疆,思馬斯臧).130 Several commentators past and present have taken this relationship between the duke’s thinking and the horses’ quality as a causative one. That is, Duke Xi’s anxious thoughts thereupon cause the horses to become good, strong, upright or fast. As Roel Sterckx has explained: The final couplet of each stanza ends with a mnemonic act: the duke thinks of his horses, and thus they become good, fine, active, and swift. The enumerative recital of horse terms vivifies the strength of the stallions and the duke’s mnemonic act of channeling his mind (si ) empowers their strength. The recitative character


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of the poem together with its elaborate horse terminology has led some to speculate that the poem was chanted as a prayer during a sacrifice to a horse spirit.131

The last verse of “Jiong” repeats this formula by saying, “He thinks without swerving, and as he thinks of his horses, they become fast” (思無 邪,思馬斯徂).132 The first half of this statement is also one of the most famous summations of the Songs canon as a whole, a statement attributed to Confucius in the Analects. Commentators are split in this statement’s interpretation, and it is even possible—perhaps even likely—that in both the Songs canon and the Analects, si is originally a meaningless particle that has nothing to do with thinking at all. Regardless of its original meaning, Han interpretations take it as a cognitive act, as did the great neoConfucian scholar Zhu Xi in the Song. Yet if Confucius said (or was interpreted to have said) that this canon embodied “thinking without swerving,” did he mean the thoughts of the poets or of the later reciters? Does he refer to thoughtful reflection or focused meditation? Following sixth century commentaries, Steven Van Zoeren has argued for the latter: [H]e selected out from the Odes a single line to “cover” all the other lines one might select and quote from the Odes (rather like saying “The best line in the Odes is …”). The phrase meant something like “as for thoughts: no swerving” or “as for your thoughts [your focus]: let there be no swerving.” This interpretation has the advantage of harmonizing with the other uses of the term si in the Analects, which, as Arthur Waley pointed out, have more to do with the focus of the attention than with reflection or cognition as such.133

If this interpretation is correct (or if it was at least accepted in the Han dynasty), Confucius saw the greatest of poems as directing thoughts, perhaps not to the degree of performative thinking in “Jiong” but at least in terms of focusing the mind in general. Another statement on thinking and poetry that has confused commentators since the Han dynasty is found in the Analects. Here Confucius dismisses a pair of couplets as banal: 「唐棣之華,偏其反而。豈不爾思?室是遠而。」子曰:「未之思也, 夫何遠之有?」 “The flowers of the tangdi tree bend back and forth. How could it be that I’m not thinking of you? It’s the fact that your hall is so far away.” The master said, “He has not thought of this person yet. Otherwise how could he consider this person so distant?”134

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Although this statement is repeated by several Han sources and thereafter analyzed by numerous commentaries, there is again no consensus as to what Confucius wanted to say. Some commentarial works such as the Sishu baishu 四書稗疏 (Brief notes on the Four books) in the Ming dynasty explain that it “speaks of when thinking is sincere and worthies just come of their own accord” (言思之誠而賢者自至耳), somewhat like what the Canon of great peace (cited above) would later contend.135 As the poem only exists in this fragment, whether the poem is indeed performative thinking and whether it is addressed to a court worthy or a loved one remains unknown. More is known about a clearly parallel statement found in the Xunzi because the cited poem remains part of the Songs canon: 詩曰:「瞻彼日月,悠悠我思。道之云遠,曷云能來!」子曰:「伊稽 首,不其有來乎?」 The Songs states, “I gaze upon that sun and moon, and my thoughts stretch over such a distance. The road is long, so how could one come?” The master said, “If one’s head were bowed down to the ground, would there not be such a ‘coming’?”136

The poem from the Songs canon is “Xiong zhi” 雄雉 (“The male pheasant”), and Confucius’s comment (via Xunzi) is again not entirely clear. It seems to denote ritual reverence causing the realization of one’s longing thoughts. As seen elsewhere in the Songs canon, when sincere thoughts are realized, the spirits “come” (lai 來). Regardless, both of Confucius’s statements credit the act of intense thinking with more power than did the poets he criticizes. Distance was eradicated through thought, although whether the subject of those thoughts was present in mind or in person is not stated. As already seen in the beginning of this book, such a discourse can extend to ancestral sacrifice because sacrifice derives from natural emotions in which the living “think about the distant” (siyuan 思遠) lest the ancestors become forgotten.137 Likewise in the verses of the “Inner undertaking” described above, if the mind is calmly focused while the body is properly postured and the breathing regulated, “even the distant will appear near” (sui yuan ruo jin 雖遠若近).138 The most famous Han anecdote of distance being eradicated by thought among the living centers upon Confucius’s disciple Zengzi 曾子 (early fifth century bce), who is early China’s paragon of filial piety and who also serves as Confucius’s interlocutor in the Filial piety canon. Famous enough to be questioned and criticized by Wang Chong, the story


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highlights how the extremely filial Zengzi felt discomfort whenever his mother did, even when they were separated by a great distance. According to the tradition that Wang Chong quotes, “This is because of the shared qi of extreme filial piety toward one’s father and mother, meaning that whenever their bodies are injured or ill, one’s quintessential spirit will resonate” (蓋以至孝與父母同氣,體有疾病,精神輒感).139 A cartouche at the Wu Liang shrine depicting Zengzi’s mother notes how her son’s filial piety “traversed and resonated with the spirits and divinities because it penetrated into the spiritual” (以通神明,貫感神祇).140 Once again there is an ambiguity as to whether Zengzi’s filial piety was purely resonant or if external agencies figured into the equation. Regardless, apocryphal texts contend that Zengzi could feel his mother’s pain even a thousand li away.141 Han poetry and poetic tropes greatly expand upon the theme of thinking about the absent. Poetic expositions describe ignored imperial consorts alone in their palaces intensely thinking about their absent mates and letting their own “spirits” (shen 神 or hun 魂) fly beyond their imprisoning walls.142 In Wang Can’s “Siyou fu” 思友賦 (“Poetic exposition on thinking about a friend”), the poet climbs a city tower and gazes at the distant graves of old friends, imagining their bodies buried in the darkness and their faint spirits ever thinning in the far distance.143 Verses such as those included in the “Nineteen old poems” often describe the passionate thoughts of separation—both separation in life and separation caused by death—and these thoughts are regularly sparked by looking at old tombs or ancient graveyards being plowed under. Sometimes these poems express a carpe diem sentiment, but other times they end in simple lament. In a few Han cases, such thinking and distress could indeed be seen as performative like their Songs canon predecessors and the Zengzi anecdotes. Attached to the end of the Later Han documents’ biography of Liang Hong 梁鴻 (fl. early first cen. ce) are three lines of verse he wrote when he was traveling through the homeland of an old friend by the name of Gao Hui 高恢, who had become a Daoist recluse at Mount Hua. The verse is as follows: 鳥嚶嚶兮友之期 念高子兮僕懷思 想念恢兮爰集茲

The bird calls and calls in expectation of its friend. Contemplating Master Gao, I embosom such thoughts. Because I imagine and contemplate [Gao] Hui, we will thus meet here.144

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Yet his confidence in performative thinking was apparently not justified, as the next line of the biography notes that they never saw each other again. Perhaps people in the Han viewed such poetic moves about intense thought erasing distance and circumventing absence in the same way we ourselves might view Rilke’s unicorn or Barrie’s Peter Pan—interesting ideas but in truth limited to the realm of evocative verse and fairy tales. Perhaps no one was expected to believe that the discomforts of Zengzi’s mother actually resonated with her son, instead regarding this anecdote as an exaggerated story that made its filial message memorable to old and young alike. Yet there is one significant difference: Zengzi’s story— whether believed or not—existed within a cultural manifold that pervasively evinced this idea of performative thinking in imperial edict and court memorial, in Classicist tract and Buddhist religion, in omen interpretations, divination charges and, of course, ancestral sacrifices. Perhaps people in the Han, if they instead heard us recounting Peter Pan’s story, would be just as amazed by our own cultural manifold in which only children were clapping Tinker Bell back into existence.

Conclusion Imagine if you will that you are Emperor Wu, and you have just lost your beloved consort Lady Li (see Section 19). One of your trusted court magicians claims that he can actually make her appear before you, and he thereupon devises what might have been a kind of shadow puppet show on your behalf. Seated behind a curtained enclosure, you anxiously watch her returning shade, and as a result of the experience, you begin a poem with the line, “Was it she; was it not?” (Shi xie; fei xie? 是邪,非 邪?).145 To explain your grief, you then compose a poetic exposition in which you “imagine her soul” (xiang hunling xi 想魂靈兮).146 In these verses you repeatedly describe the intensity of your emotions, “the thoughts like rolling waves and the sorrow that occupy my mind” (思若 流波,怛兮在心).147 The following three couplets express your mental agitation: 神煢煢以遙思兮 精浮游而出疆 託沈陰以壙久兮

So desolate, my spirit sends its thoughts afar; Set adrift, my quintessence transcends its limits. She is cast away to sink into the darkness, neglected forever,

278 惜蕃華之未央 念窮極之不還兮 惟幼眇之相羊

Part IV And I regret she never reached her full bloom. I contemplate the finality of her never returning; I conceive of her faintness off in distant heights.148

Thus engulfed in thoughtful anguish, you failed to see your lost love. Or did you? These last words admit to uncertainty. Earlier you perhaps saw her through gauze curtains, and here in your intense contemplation you perhaps conceive of her faint presence in the distance. Did your intense, far-roaming thoughts ultimately reach her? The emperor’s lines are provocative precisely because they balance on a knife’s edge of ambiguity. The poem itself places the scenario in a kind of second-person voice, leaving it for the reader to decide whether Lady Li was really there. Such expressions of uncertainty were actually part of the standard grammar of the ancestral cult as descendants contemplated their invisible, intangible forebears during the thoughtful rituals (see Part V). Perhaps because of his privileged position at the fulcrum of the cosmos, the emperor’s mind can indeed transform reality. In like manner, the collective mind of the masses—again a totalizing entity—can alter the environment as their mental qi reached outward to generate droughts, floods and ghosts such as the angry Boyou. The emperors and the masses were treated as the mind of their respective worlds, and so what was manifested in that mind in turn manifested in their worlds. In Part V, the sacrificing descendant similarly serves as master of his bubble delimited by ritual time and altar space, that performative microcosm where ceremonial actions became amplified beyond the normal laws of physics. That is, for the mind to affect the world, the mind had to be properly positioned in the center of that world. Part IV has endeavored to trace this movement from mind to world in many different genres of discourse, ranging from capstone texts such as the “Great preface,” the “Musical records” and Ban Gu’s “Treatise of the five phases” to standard histories, Classicist philosophies, Daoist scriptures and Buddhist sutras. One might rightfully question the combination of such disparate sources representing the various isms because, without a doubt, each genre nuanced the mind-world relationship differently. However, my goal here was merely to demonstrate how widespread the general principle was, thereby giving context to the mind-world relationship particular to the ancestral cult. To put it another way, sometimes scholars dress their ideas with a hat from source A, a sash from source B

The Context of Early Chinese Performative Thinking


and a shoe from source C, creating a complete ensemble even though there may have been no precedent for such a fashion combination and even if the result of such clashing styles offends the eye. Although I draw upon numerous disparate sources, I hope that my purport is different and simpler, as I am only noting that we see variations of this hat in source A as well as in source B and even in source C. That is, throughout this study I dip into a number of different genres of discourse but only in an attempt to demonstrate the pervasiveness of a simple idea. In the end, all I want to argue is that the idea of ritually thinking the ancestors into existence would have been reasonable and natural given the unique context surveyed above. To the early Chinese, a thought-sustained ancestor would not have been deemed odd because of the bigger Han picture in which performative thinking was broadly grounded upon notions of qi and correlative cosmology. Conversely, it is perhaps even possible that these ideas of performative thinking were themselves deemed reasonable precisely because of their corollary within the ancestral cult. That is, perhaps the tradition of thought-sustained ancestors was itself the bigger picture that in the end gave credence to all these other manifestations of performative thinking.

PART V The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories

Because cultures express ideas using more than just written words, textoriented historians can have great difficulty in understanding and communicating the “meaning” of some of the most basic components of experiences past. Past experiences are often measured in difficult-to-articulate symbols rather than words, and Lakoff and Johnson argue that humans tend to rely more upon such symbols when a particular idea cannot be clearly defined by experience in any direct fashion. They write that “we tend to structure the less concrete and inherently vaguer concepts (like those for the emotions) in terms of more concrete concepts, which are more clearly delineated in our experience,” giving rise to thinking via metaphor and symbol.1 As a result, the less tangible the idea, the more we depend upon metaphor and symbol to communicate it. Postmortem existence qualifies as one of the “inherently vaguer concepts” because it is well beyond the realm of mundane experience and immune to direct reportage, and it thus follows that the afterlife is prone to a symbolic discourse. Ever-demarcating words and word-transcending symbols are indeed two media that are often at loggerheads with one another. One of the most famous writers on the hermeneutics of symbols, Paul Ricoeur places word precision and symbolic representation on opposite ends of a communications spectrum, the former sitting alongside reductionism and science and the latter clustering with poetry and religiosity. To put it another way, on the reductionist end of the spectrum words are normally used to separate one thing from another as meanings get usefully divided

The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories


up into one word, one sense. On the expansionist end of the spectrum, symbols merge meanings into chord-like images or potent polysemous signs, as in poetry’s ability to mean more than one thing and gesture beyond surface connotations.2 Perhaps to the relief of the textual historian, humanity’s normal, everyday tendency is to face toward the reductionist “wordy” end of the spectrum, but Ricoeur argues we wrongly undervalue the symbolic discourse of poetry and religiosity.3 In terms of this study, early discussions of postmortem existence tended to be a matter of “religiosity” rather than science, its inherently vague content again more the subject of symbolic discourse rather than precisely articulated analysis. In sum, looking at early textual explanations alone would simply be dwelling on the wrong end of the spectrum. More importantly, Ricoeur further explains that Symbol X is not merely a referent or index to Meaning Y. Instead there must be something inherent within the symbol itself that specifically correlates with a particular meaning. For example, after explaining at length a natural connection between the concept of sin and the symbol of stain, he summarizes as follows: [A]n essential characteristic of the symbol is the fact that it is never completely arbitrary. It is not empty; rather, there always remains the trace of a natural relationship between the signifier and the signified, as in the analogy that we have suggested between the existential experience of impurity and the actual physical stain or blemish. In the same manner, to take an example from the work of Mircea Eliade, the force of cosmic symbolism lies in the non-arbitrary relationship between the visible sky and the invisible order which it manifests; the sky speaks of wisdom and justice, of immensity and order, by virtue of the analogical power of its primary signification.4

Here he is most likely referencing Eliade’s The sacred and the profane in which Eliade argues that, when humans behold the sky, they simultaneously belittle themselves. “For the sky, by its own mode of being, reveals transcendence, force, eternity,” he writes. “It exists absolutely because it is high, infinite, eternal, powerful.”5 Hence heaven in many cultures, including early China, was transformed into an authoritative transcendent agency or, in Rappaport’s words, an ultimate sacred postulate. As sin is naturally symbolized by stain and power by sky, is death inherently manifested in particularly evocative symbols? At the very least, one can say that death removes any chance of physically interacting with


Part V

the person who has died and that, over time, the memory of the dead will inevitably fade as well. Almost too obvious to mention, there is a transformation from physicality/detail to a loss of physicality/detail. So what symbol best captures a sense of increasing vagueness? The question almost answers itself. Decreasing visibility is increasing dimness, a shift from light to dark. Combining poetry with religiosity, an ancestral hymn would logically sit on the symbolic end of Ricoeur’s spectrum, and because it addresses an issue ultimately beyond human experience, it should be a treasure trove of the types of symbols addressed by Lakoff, Johnson and Ricoeur. Reconsider for a moment Lady Tangshan’s hymns from Part III—repeated here for the sake of convenience—and note the symbol clusters of light and dark that find expression: As great filial piety is perfected, Excellent virtue is radiant and pure. The square frames [holding bells and chimes] tower high, As music fills the hall and court. The incense sticks are a forest of plumes; The cloudy scene an obscuring darkness. [There are] metal branches and elegant blossoms, A host of yak-tail flags and kingfisher-feather banners. As for the Qishi huashi music, The song is majestic, the tones harmonious. As the spirits come to feast and frolic, We hope they will listen [to this music]. Zhou! Zhou!—the music ushers in the spirits, Arousing and purifying human emotions. Suddenly, [the spirits] ride off on the darkness, And the shining event concludes. Our clear thoughts grow so dim, As the warp and weft [of heaven and earth] fall so dark.6

The sacrifice itself is light—radiant, pure, the shining event—whereas the world beyond the sacrifice, both spatially and temporally, is dark. The symbolic divisions are not perfect (and rarely are) as the smoky cloud of incense hovering over the scene is darkness as well, but there is at least a clear awareness that light and dark mean something. Furthermore the penultimate line furnishes an explicit natural link between human experience and symbol, showing us why postmortem existence is equated with

The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories


increasing darkness just as sin is equated with stain and power with sky. Ancestors are memories, and here when the mind dims, the ancestors do, too. Against this background, there are still other, less noticeable shifts from the visible to the invisible, such as material incense transforming into ethereal smoke and physical musical instruments giving rise to invisible melodies, both of which are enjoyed by the increasingly intangible ancestors. Even the concept of uncertainty itself—“We hope they will listen [to this music]”—is a form of dimness, an acknowledgement that things are not guaranteed and certain. One could easily expand this line of reasoning to physical space (north is the direction of dimness) and cyclic time (winter is the season of dimness), and these resulting extensions also came to be an inherent part of the early Chinese ancestor cult. These symbol clusters become all the more prominent in the correlative cosmologies of the Han dynasty as they were no longer merely descriptive of death and remembrance but also prescriptive as well. If ancestral rituals were not bright and immaculate or if sanctioned killings were not carried out in winter’s darkness, then cosmological harmonies would be thrown off balance and consequences would be suffered. The final part of this study on ancestral memory is about the symbol clusters associated with death and remembrance, and if pure symbols are indeed naturally linked to the concepts they express, Part V’s exploration of the light/dark symbolic interplay can only be understood after having thoroughly investigated the dynamics of ancestral memory as discussed in Parts I through IV. By first understanding the concepts of fading memories, structured amnesia and performative thinking, we are in a better position to appreciate the symbol clusters of the “shining event” amidst the darkened warp and weft of heaven and earth as we here move from psyche to psychodrama. That is, the metaphorical dimming of memory leads to the actual dimming of ancestral existence. Section 29 begins with that darkened warp and weft, the dim chaos manifested at the periphery of the cosmos. Life was to death as the known world of the Middle Kingdoms was to the faint edges of time and space. Section 30 then returns from the darkened periphery to the center’s bright bubble of altar-space and ritualtime to explore how it prescribed an immaculate setting and orderly schedule with everything in its place. This section will pay particular attention to the sacrificers’ mental investment during the abstentions as


Part V

well as to the sacrifice’s emphasis on precision, order and stasis, staving off the threatening darkness. With dark periphery and bright center in place, there remains a gray in-between voiced in ritualized expressions of uncertainty, a regularly articulated doubt that was surprisingly common in early imperial China. As already seen in Part III’s less mechanical approaches to the dead, the descendant’s psyche—his or her mind, qi, sincerity and so forth—was essential in reaching out to the remembered dead, and by moving away from simple do ut des mechanics and toward intangible mental acts, a confrontation with uncertainty became inevitable. Section 31 thereby concludes this book by examining how that gray uncertainty came to be expressed and managed. Thus we hope to better understand early conceptions of postmortem existence by examining the system of symbols used to express it. Fortunately the textual historian’s job is made easier throughout this examination because ancestral worshippers didn’t merely list the various symbols of light and dark, of order and chaos. They also appreciated the concept of “symbol” in and of itself, even to the point that they were well aware how their own dead were fated to become symbols in their own right. Boiling off the details and reducing the ancestor to an essential, streamlined symbol was a preservation strategy, giving him or her a better chance of survival in the dim periphery.

Section 29: The Symbol Cluster of Darkness on the Edge In Lady Tangshan’s hymn, darkness possessed both a temporal dimension—it resumed after the illuminating sacrifices concluded—as well as a spatial dimension as the warp and weft of heaven and earth dimmed. Following her cue out to the edge of the cosmos, we should consider both time and space in the discussion that follows, subdividing each in terms of the near periphery, which still exhibits the rudimentary divisions of seasons and directions, as well as the far periphery, which becomes completely devoid of all demarcation.

Winter’s Darkness Melding annual climatic change with ideal government behavior, the “Yueling” 月令 (“Monthly ordinances”) is a small calendrical text found in the Spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü, the Ritual records and the

The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories


Huainanzi with relatively few variances, and it has recently been argued that the Han emperors attempted to follow its seasonal prescriptions at least in general terms.7 All three versions depict the winter months as dark and torpid, with water solidifying and the qi of heaven and earth separating and hibernating in their respective positions. Overseen by the spirit Xuanming 玄冥, literally “Mysterious dark,”8 winter is the time when humans mimetically see to their walls, gates and locks, meticulously care for their storehouses and avoid traveling from home. In fact any strangers abroad were to be arrested, and if the wrong ordinances happened to be carried out, a symptom of the resulting disharmony was that of the ruler’s population wandering away as well as insects shaking off their torpidity and emerging from the ground. The season’s overriding activity was in fact non-activity as natural forces congealed and humans practiced quietude. Even the artisans were ordered to standardize their wares during winter, removing any excessiveness “lest they agitate the minds of those above” ( yi dang shangxin 以蕩上心). Nobles were to fast and abstain from any indulgences such as music and sex, calmly awaiting the contentious and dangerous moment when yin and yang forces switched dominancy and settled into their new roles. The ruler himself ritually marked the season by sacrificing in the Xuantang 玄堂 or “Mysterious halls.” His robes, his carriages, his horses and his flags were appropriately dark in color, and in the Huainanzi version, his consorts were also to wear dark colors as they played their sonorous stone chimes during this somber season. The ruler not only carried out special sacrifices to the ancestors in this season, but he also had all changes in ranks and territories assessed in terms of how much each person owed the court, ostensibly to defray the court’s sacrificial expenses. As artisans labeled every vessel and as the lords’ positions were meticulously committed to writing, the human realm generally responded to the seasonal darkness and danger with order and stasis.9 The images that cluster around winter are of course not limited to the “Seasonal ordinances,” and the Classicists made full use of this macrocosmic order to serve as a model for human rulership. For example, when Dong Zhongshu advised the emperor about proper punishments, he justified his remarks with cosmological language, making generalizations such as follows:


Part V

是故陽常居大夏,而以生育養長為事;陰常居大冬,而積於空虛不用 之處。 Thus yang forever occupies the position of Great Summer and takes birth, nurturing, nourishing and maturing as its activity; yin forever occupies the position of Great Winter and accumulates in empty, unused places.10

The contrast here highlights the different dynamics of yang and yin, and it is typical in the received literature. The most detailed surviving description of winter’s symbol cluster comes from Ban Gu’s “Treatise of the five phases,” specifically in his description of omens that correlate with the water phase, and its beginning is here translated at length because he incorporates several direct references to the ancestral cult, references unique to the water/winter/north cluster. As noted in Part IV, the canonical sanction for developing a fivephase cosmos is found in the “Great plans” chapter of the Documents canon, also known as the Venerable documents, and there it states that water’s natural dynamic is to “soak and descend” (runxia 潤下). This canon later generated an early Han commentary named the Great commentary to the Venerable documents that now survives only in fragments, and Ban Gu begins by quoting that commentary: 傳曰﹕「簡宗廟,不禱祠,廢祭祀,逆天時,則水不潤下。」 說曰﹕水,北方,終臧萬物者也。其於人道,命終而形臧,精神放 越,聖人為之宗廟以收魂氣,春秋祭祀,以終孝道。王者即位,必郊 祀天地,禱祈神衹,望秩山川,懷柔百神,亡不宗事。慎其齊戒,致 其嚴敬,鬼神歆饗,多獲福助。此聖王所以順事陰氣,和神人也。至 發號施令,亦奉天時。十二月咸得其氣,則陰陽調而終始成。如此則 水得其性矣。若乃不敬鬼神,(致)〔政〕令逆時,則水失其性。霧 水暴出,百川逆溢,壞鄉邑,溺人民,及淫雨傷稼穡,是為水不潤 下。 The Commentary says, “If [the ruler] misuses the ancestral shrine, does not pray and worship, casts aside the offerings and opposes the natural seasons, then water will not soak and descend.” By way of explanation, water correlates with the north and is the death and concealment of the myriad things. As for the way of humanity, when life ends and form then disappears, the spirit is released and transcends. Wise men build ancestral temples in order to receive the hun-soul’s qi. They carry out the spring and autumn sacrifices in order to continue the filial way until the end. When a ruler ascends the throne, he must carry out the sacrifices in the suburbs to heaven and earth, pray to the spirits, sacrifice from afar to a series of mountains and rivers, summon and pacify the spirits as well as cast aside disrespectful practices. If

The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories


he is attentive in his abstentions and conveys his genuine respect, the ghosts and spirits will accept the fragrance and enjoy the sacrifice, and he very much secures their blessings and assistance. This is why the sage-king obeys and serves the yin qi and harmonizes with the spirit people. When he issues titles and bestows ordinances, he likewise heeds the natural seasons. In the twelfth month, everything receives this qi, the yin and yang are in harmony and the cycle is complete. Should this be the case, then water attains its essence. Yet if the ruler does not respect the ghosts and spirits and his government ordinances oppose the seasons, then water loses its essence. Mist and precipitation will excessively issue forth, all the rivers will overflow to damage the cities and drown the people, and the inundating rains will harm the sowing and reaping. This is because “water will not soak and descend.”11

As noted above, all of Ban Gu’s references to the ancestral cult are collected under the rubric of this water/winter/north cluster. We have a clue that these associations between cult and water were not just academic ponderings because there survives a chance reference to Emperor Yuan’s shrine where the bronze ornaments on its gate were shaped like a turtle and snake, the five-phase animal emblem for this cluster.12 In terms of Ban Gu’s treatise, it should not be surprising that cases listed under this category include several examples of misusing the ancestral shrines. For example, Liu Xin linked a major flood dated 670 bce to a certain duke trying to impress his wife by ignoring proper sumptuary standards and excessively decorating his lineage shrine with ornately carved rafters and red-painted pillars.13 In early texts, almost all detailed references to a shrine’s physical appearance are in fact found within criticisms of undue opulence in what should have remained an austere and orderly environment.14 Because the duke had tampered with the human focal point of yin, the natural world resonated with an excess of water.

Darkness at the Edge of Time The cycle of the seasons remains well within the realm of experience, but if we shift into the grander expanses of linear time and venture further and further into the past, the symbolic language becomes decidedly more winter-like. For example, the Warring States cosmologist Zou Yan catalogued events of the present until he found a pattern “and then extrapolated and extended the record further back to before heaven and earth were born, to the dark obscurity that could not be contemplated or derived” (推而遠之,至天地未生,窈冥不可考而原也。).15 Ying


Part V

Shao similarly begins his Fengsu tongyi 風俗通義 (Comprehensive discourse on customs) as follows: 蓋天地剖分,萬物萌毓,非有典藝之文,堅基可據,推當今以覽太古 ,自昭昭而本冥冥,乃欲審其事而建其論,董其是非而綜其詳矣。 When heaven and earth split from one another and the myriad things first sprouted and began to mature, there were no canonical texts. If our foundation is to be reliable, we must extrapolate from the present to peer into grand antiquity, from our perspective of such radiance back to the roots in such darkness. Then we can examine these affairs and ground our analysis, understand what is and isn’t and weave together the details.16

Distant antiquity is murky and dim compared to the radiant, highly delineated present. Just as in English usage, the unknown tends to be painted with a dark brush, the resulting imagery obscured and shadowy. For both Zou Yan and Ying Shao, the origin of the cosmos was darkly veiled. Yet a depiction of the beginning of linear time as “the dark obscurity” ( yaoming 窈冥) or “such darkness” (mingming 冥冥) is more than a mere metaphor for our lack of detailed knowledge. Cosmogonies such as the “Dao yuan” 道原 excavated at Mawangdui indeed begin in physical darkness. In fact, even the concept of “darkness” is not sufficient to convey the origin of the cosmos because darkness only came about as a complementary pairing with light. The text begins as follows: 恆旡之初, 洞同大虛, 虛同為一, 恆一而止。 濕濕夢夢, 未有明晦。 神微周盈, 精靜不熙。

In the beginning of constant nothingness, There existed a complete uniformity and a great emptiness. This emptiness and uniformity became one— The constant one and nothing more. So misty and so blurry, There did not yet exist light and dark. The spiritual was subtle, dispersed everywhere; The quintessential was at rest, having not yet arisen.17

This vision of the beginning of linear time is not unique. The Huainanzi chapter entitled “Jingshen” 精神 (“The quintessential and the spiritual”) begins with the words, 古未有天地之時,惟像無形,窈窈冥冥,芒芠漠閔,澒濛鴻洞,莫知 其門。

The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories


In antiquity when heaven and earth did not yet exist, there were only images but no forms. So obscure and so dark, immense and boundless, vast and infinite—no one could know its gateway.18

A threshold or gateway implies a demarcation of inner and outer, but the undifferentiated origin of the cosmos is boundless, defying any attempt to delimit its boundaries. The beginning of linear time is both metaphorically and physically dark and undifferentiated. It is also dark and undifferentiated in terms of epistemology, in terms of how knowledge of the world is shaped. Recall from this book’s introduction that knowledge was commonly conceived as being shaped like a tree. The upper branches of the present are highly differentiated and spindly, but as one returns through time down the trunk toward the root, knowledge’s content merges and amalgamates. That is, the loss of detail as one goes backwards through time is not attributable merely to the limitations of our own minds; that increasing loss of demarcation is inherent in the temporal dimension of knowledge itself. As the opening chapter to the Laozi states, the Dao is “the dimness of dimness—gateway to the myriad secrets” (玄之又玄,眾妙之門).19 It is that mysterious darkness, that primordial state or uncarved block, to which the Daoist is repeatedly urged to return. A further note of explanation is warranted here because this move from delineated plurality to dim unity is a basic premise in Daoism to which many of the images described below allude. As I understand the Laozi, every time a definition is made, an anti-definition is simultaneously constructed. As its pivotal second chapter argues, “beauty” is only understood alongside “ugliness,” “good” alongside “bad” and so forth. That is, whenever the label “A” is generated, the label “Not-A” simultaneously albeit unconsciously springs into existence. This simple paradigm is the key to understanding the whole of the text. A pot is only useful if there is a not-pot inside it (so it can hold something), and a wheel is only useful if there is a not-wheel at the hub (so it can accommodate the axle), as the Laozi’s eleventh chapter states. It is the emptiness around a thing that ascribes meaning and utility to it. Applying this paradigm to other chapters of the Laozi, benevolence and righteousness only arose when the great Dao fell because not-benevolence and not-righteousness had to co-appear by definition (literally), and their appearance thus appropriately coincided with the Dao’s fall.20 Even the opening lines of the Laozi can be un-


Part V

derstood via dualistic logic. The Dao cannot be spoken because the moment one says “Dao,” it creates “Not-Dao,” which early Daoist texts deny as a possibility particularly in terms of cosmogony. Nor is this problem of anti-definitions limited to language because the Laozi condemns differentiation into categories such as colors, tones and tastes, which become divided up in other ways. In this text, such a condemnation even applies to the ruler or the sage who would distinguish himself—the higher he raises himself, the lower he positions everyone else.21 Thus the Laozi repeatedly advocates returning to the primordial state, the uncarved block, the “dimness of dimness” before language, colors, tastes and so forth generate As and, implicitly, Not-As. A murky gray becomes the desired return destination of philosophical Daoists.22 This intellectual privileging of mystery and dark beginnings is of course not the Laozi’s monopoly. It is so pervasive that when Yang Xiong reworked the Changes canon into a new system, he called it the Taixuan 太玄, which can be rendered the Grand dimness or, more commonly, the Grand mystery. Nylan describes thus Yang Xiong’s usage of the term “mystery”: The term translated as “Mystery” (hsüan) carries a range of meaning from “black” to “darkness” to “hidden” to “mystery.” Its overtones are “stillness,” “isolation,” “nondifferentiation,” and “inaccessibility by purely rational processes.” In early Chinese thought such ideas bear no unpleasant connotations. They express that dimension of experience that can be known only by quiet and deep contemplation, or by illumination. Yang Hsiung uses hsüan in his book title to indicate the profound stage of darkness, silence, ambiguity, and indefiniteness out of which creation springs.23

Yang Xiong similarly uses the term “mystery” or “dimness” in his poetic exposition entitled “Jie chao” 解嘲 (“Dispelling criticism”): 是故知玄知默,守道之極;爰清爰靜,游神之廷;惟寂惟寞,守德之 宅。 Thus if you understand the dimness and understand the darkness, then you will uphold the ridgepole of the Dao. If you adduce purity and adduce tranquility, then you will travel to the court of the spiritual. If you contemplate stillness and contemplate silence, then you will take care of the house of virtue.24

A symbol cluster is here taking shape—mystery, dimness, silence, stillness—and it is here that the spiritual finds a home, an association that

The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories


is explored in detail below. For now, it is simply useful to note this desire to return to undifferentiated, dark origins. That darkness in turn admits to other uncertainties, such as whether there exists a creator or any other agency external to the cosmos and prior to that mystery.25 Nylan adds an important addendum to what superficially appears to be a Daoist discourse: “As is typical for Han, Yang combined his borrowed cosmogonic language with the ethical system espoused by early Confucian tradition.”26 That is, these images are not the exclusive domain of any particular tradition or ism. Compared to the Daoists, Classicists did not concern themselves with linear history beyond human social development, but like the Daoists, they did incorporate some of this same imagery of darkness in their vivid descriptions of cyclic time denoted by the Ritual records, the writings of Ban Gu and other sources described above. Thus the winter phase of cyclic time and the beginning of linear time share major images of darkness and a responsive call for order, and they have in common less noticeable ones, too. For example, the winter phase in cyclic time is the water phase, and when it becomes disharmonious, the most common prodigy is flooding. By comparison, the beginning of linear time was “so misty” (shishi 濕濕), and many of the terms used to describe its immensity and vastness were originally descriptive phrases for watery expanses. For a second and more relevant example, the peripheries of linear and cyclic time seem to be places where extramundane agencies reside—Ban Gu’s fragrance-accepting ghosts and Yang Xiong’s “court of the spiritual.” Furthermore, the two have more than just content in common; they both evoked from humans a strong mental response to these peripheral moments, namely a calm equilibrium of the mind fostered through careful purifications.

North’s Darkness Above we surveyed the temporal fringe by beginning with winter as the season of darkness and then transcending all seasonal experience to consider the dim origins of linear time. Here let us similarly investigate the spatial dimension, setting off northward in the direction of darkness and then traveling beyond all notions of compass points to the undemarcated and dim periphery of space.


Part V

In early and medieval China, the visual symbols of physical directionality reflect the interplay of light and dark on the boundaries of the knowable world. These symbols are usually found in verse—in detailed accounts of ecstatic journeys or grandiose imperial buildings—and poetry with its parallel couplets readily amplifies the pairings and quarterings of the spatial cosmos.27 One of the best examples is found in the first (or so its author claims) rhapsody or poetic exposition to expound upon the whole cosmos itself, namely the “Tiandifu” 天地賦 (“Poetic exposition on heaven and earth”) by Chenggong Sui 成公綏 (231–273). Written shortly after the Han, this poem of seventy-two couplets completely relies upon Han antecedents for its symbols, and so this piece serves as an excellent introduction to early Chinese cosmology. For us, the work basically functions as a summary of early mythology. About halfway through his poem (which also opens in a disordered and turbid darkness), Chenggong Sui leads his reader to the edge of the world: 昆吾嘉於南極 燭龍曜於北阯 扶桑高于萬仞 尋木長于千里

Kunwu adorned the farthest southern reaches, And a Torch Dragon glittered in the northern foothills. The Fusang Tree was taller than ten thousand ren, And the Xun Tree reached higher than a thousand li. 28

Here Chenggong Sui lists four specific localities on the borders of the inhabited world—Kunwu in the south, the Torch Dragon in the north, the Fusang Tree in the east and the Xun Tree in the west. The Huainanzi and Zhang Heng’s “Sixuanfu” 思玄賦 (“Poetic exposition on pondering the mystery”) both identify Kunwu as the sun’s midday stopping point in the south. The latter further identifies it as a great kiln of flaming fire.29 In contrast, the Torch Dragon lives in the land of northern darkness. Guo Pu 郭璞 (276–324), quoting earlier sources, records that the sky was not big enough to cover the northwest corner of the earth, and so a dragon holding a torch in its mouth gave light to the “Gate of Heaven” (Tianmen 天門). He also quotes the Huainanzi in stating that this dragon never saw the sun.30 The Fusang Tree, a giant mulberry tree from which the sun began its daily progress, is here contrasted with the Xun Tree, which Guo Pu describes as a tree of darkness: 渺渺尋木, 生于河邊,

The Xun Tree so vast, Growing beside the Yellow River:

The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories 竦枝千里, 上干雲天, 垂陰四極, 下蓋虞淵。


Its uplifted branches are a thousand li long, Its rising trunk clouds heaven. The shade it casts down reaches in all directions, Descending to cover the Abyss of Anxiety.31

When the sun reached the Abyss of Anxiety, which the Huainanzi records was its daily penultimate stop, the yellow dusk of evening began.32 Thus all four of Chenggong Sui’s lines refer to the brightness and darkness of the mythological periphery, a theme reiterated by the next set of four peripheral markers thirty lines later: 東至暘谷 西極泰濛 南暨丹炮 北盡空同

To the east, reaching Yanggu, And to the west, extending all the way to Taimeng, To the south, ending in Danpao, And to the north, terminating at Kongtong.33

These compass symbols are closely related to the previous inventory. For example, as the beginning of Guo Pu’s “Youxian shi” 遊僊詩 (“Poem on wandering immortals”) describes, Yanggu was the valley home to the Fusang Tree: 暘谷吐靈曜, 扶桑森千丈。 朱霞升東山, 朝日何晃朗。

Yanggu spews out its numinous brilliance, And the Fusang Tree burgeons a thousand zhang. A crimson mist arises from the eastern hills, And the morning sun is so dazzling.34

Thus Yanggu symbolized the beginning of light. Likewise, Taimeng, which commentators equate with Mengfan 蒙氾 or Menggu 蒙谷, can be connected to the Xun Tree in the west and the end of light.35 To my knowledge, the name Danpao (“Cinnabar roast”) is unique to Chenggong Sui, and yet evidence suggests it was another name for Danxue 丹穴 or “Cinnabar cave,” which other sources label as the southernmost point of the world.36 Kongtong, as the Erya described it, was directly below the Dipper, and Yang Xiong identifies the Dipper as the precise center of darkness.37 Therefore these four place names are all linked to the sun’s locations—Yanggu with where it rises, Danpao/Danxue with its extremely hot mid-way point, Taimeng with where it sets and Kongtong with where it is absent. That is, the eight symbols of the periphery are linked to one another by the common theme of light and darkness.


Part V

Like the five-phase seasonal division of the year, only one quarter of this spatial scheme is given over to unadulterated darkness, and in correlative cosmology, the season of winter and the direction of north are of course closely linked to one another. In his schematic of seasons, directions, organic phases and so forth, Yang Xiong clustered winter, north, absence, formlessness and darkness, and the first line of Ban Gu’s explanation about the water phase above also equated winter with the north.38 The following verse from the Forest of Changes likewise typically links winter and northern imagery: 長夜短日 陰為陽賊 萬物空枯 藏於北陸

The nights lengthen as the days shorten, And yin becomes the destroyer of yang. The myriad things are emptied and withered, Concealed in the northern lands. 39

A postmortem existence could easily merge into this symbol cluster, and elsewhere the same text identifies hibernating creatures—which also “cannot see the sun and moon” (bujian riyue 不見日月)—as the neighbors of the dead.40 The Ritual records is more explicit, justifying the burial of corpses to the north because that was the region of “darkness” ( you 幽), whereas the Huainanzi describes the extreme north as descending downward into the Yellow Springs, a common name for the land of the dead.41 In its elucidation of the famous ritual of “summoning the hun-soul” (zhao hun 招魂), the Ritual records further explains the particular actions of the ritual’s participants as follows: 望反諸幽,求諸鬼神之道也;北面,求諸幽之義也。 Looking to bring [the hun-soul] back from the darkness is the way of seeking for it among the ghosts and spirits; facing north means seeking for it in the darkness.42

Zheng Xuan here comments that the “ghosts and spirits live in darkness” (鬼神處幽暗). Thus both winter in cyclic time and north in directionality carry a great deal of symbolic significance and provide a vocabulary for imagining the realm of the dead. As seen in Section 8, Zhou shrines were entered via the south with the progenitor located in the north, and sacrifices buried in those shrines were also placed with their heads to the north.

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Darkness at the Edge of Space When we moved beyond cyclic time to the grander scheme of linear time, we no longer associated just one season with darkness because the whole of time became more and more murky as we moved further into the past. Relatively speaking, the same is true in terms of space. Once we move beyond the sunless north, the whole of the periphery regardless of direction becomes disordered and dim, and even the idea of “direction” itself begins to lose its relevance. One can imagine nested spheres of order becoming more chaotic as one moves beyond the middle core. A good Han example of this nesting of spheres appears in the twelfth chapter of the Huainanzi in which a man named Lu Ao 盧敖 journeys far from home, passing beyond the Xuanque 玄闕 or “Dimness Watchtower” in the north where he meets a man from the periphery or, to be more precise, from the penultimate periphery. The man’s physical appearance was itself a bit chaotic with his sunken eyes, black hair, elongated neck and protruding shoulders, and he duly chides Lu Ao for his limited vision of the universe: 嘻!子中州之民,寧肯而遠至此。此猶光乎日月而載列星,陰陽之所 行,四時之所生。其比夫不名之地,猶窔奧也。若我南游乎岡 之野 ,北息乎沉墨之鄉,西窮窅冥之黨,東開鴻濛之光。此其下無地而上 無天,聽焉無聞,視焉(無)〔則〕眴。此其外,猶有汰沃之氾。其 餘一舉而千萬里,吾猶未能之在。 Ah! You, sir, belong to the people of the middle regions, but you would rather travel far out to this point. This place is still illuminated by the sun and moon and contains the stellar constellations. It’s where yin and yang still operate and the four seasons initiate affairs. Yet compared to the domain where there can be no names, it’s still just a corner inside a room. Such is on par with my traveling south to the wilds of Rising Vacancy, my resting in the north at Sinking Inkiness, my penetrating westward into the place of Somber Darkness and my driving eastward into the radiance of Vast Mistiness. There’s no earth below and no heaven above those places. In those places, I listen but there is no hearing; I gaze but there’s only dizzying confusion. Yet beyond all this, there are still the shores of the Scouring Wash. There a single movement covers ten million li. I cannot reside there yet.43

To summarize, the cosmic traveler Lu Ao meets refers to four nested spheres:


Part V

1. Lu Ao’s homeland is the innermost sphere, called the zhongzhou 中州 or “middle regions.” 2. The middle regions’ surrounding realm remains under the domain of the complementary forces of yinyang and the cyclic rotations of the seasons. 3. Beyond that, everything becomes unclear. In this third sphere, there exist no names, an idea already seen above in the Laozi because the process of naming would itself generate distinctions. The speaker resorts to giving us place names, but each of these names alludes to a lack of clarity. (It is of interest that whereas he describes himself as “traveling through” the eastern, southern and western places, in the north he is “resting” [xi 息] at Sinking Inkiness, again associating quietude with the north.) 4. The three innermost spheres are surrounded by a mass of water. Note that by moving into a fourth sphere, he is transcending murky namelessness into a unity that evades conceptualization—he “cannot reside there yet.” Such is logically necessary. While it is possible to conceptualize the gray state that dismisses A/Not-A distinctions, the very fact that it is conceptualized negates its very existence. There must be a step beyond that defies all conceptualization and hence description. Thus we can identify magnitudes of macrocosms. In the closer macrocosm of yinyang and the five phases, the symbol cluster of darkness (including postmortem existence) is limited to one of four directions and one of four seasons. As in this case, Lu Ao heads toward the dimmer, more distant periphery via a northbound journey. In the farthest macrocosm that moves beyond conventional differentiation, the notion of “black”—which could only have been defined by the simultaneous notion of “white”—becomes replaced by an undifferentiated gray, a confused mistiness. Elsewhere the Huainanzi at length describes the zhenren 真人 (“genuine people”) who live out in these outer formless and fathomless realms, and in a telling statement relevant to the study at hand, these denizens of the periphery “employ the ghosts and spirits as their servants” ( yishi guishen 役使鬼神).44 The most common expression of mapping the universe is the poetry genre of ecstatic journeys briefly described in Part IV, with the “Lisao” 離騷 of the Chuci 楚辭 (Chu lyrics) being its most famous example. This genre has been characterized as a combination of scholarly literature, shamanic vision and meditation guide, and in it, the cosmic tourist visits the scenic spots on his map of all time and space, usually collecting an en-

The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories


tourage of deities and spirits in his wake before finally attempting to ride off the map itself. It is in these finales that the cosmic periphery becomes breached, such as in Sima Xiangru’s “Darenfu” 大人賦 (“Poetic exposition of the great man”) in which the rider draws away from the northern frontier to move beyond his mythological retinue. The piece then concludes: 遺屯騎於玄闕兮 軼先驅於寒門 下崢嶸而無地兮 上寥廓而無天 視眩眠而無見兮 聽惝怳而無聞 乘虛無而上假兮 超無友而獨存

I leave the assembled riders at the Dimness Watchtower And urge forward my lead mount into the Cold Gate. I descend the precipitous drops, but there is no earth. I ascend the empty expanse, but there is no heaven. I gaze into the blurry dimness, but there is no seeing. I listen to the agitated delirium, but there is no hearing. I ride empty nothingness and ascend on high; I step beyond [even] non-division and exist alone.45

Here note that Sima Xiangru’s point of departure, Dimness Watchtower, is the same place that Lu Ao had reached, and his quartet of negatives— no earth, no heaven, no seeing, no hearing—is identical to the description of the third outermost sphere provided by Lu Ao’s acquaintance. The last line is often understood as the lone rider being without friends or companions, and such is true because he has left the mythic gods behind, perhaps returning to pre-mythic times. Yet it should also be read as the ultimate movement from plurality to unity. The previous two couplets indicate his movement beyond differentiation; this last couplet shows how he at last moves beyond even not-differentiation into the farthest macrocosm that defies all conceptualization. The “Far roaming” chapter of the Chu lyrics shares some of Sima Xiangru’s imagery, as well as this need to move beyond even the core concepts associated with Daoism. As in the Huainanzi and the “Poetic exposition of the great man,” the protagonist leaves the map via the icy north, through Cold Gate and past the deity Mysterious Dark who, as already seen in the “Monthly Ordinances,” oversees winter. The piece concludes as follows: 下崢嶸而無地兮 上寥廓而無天 視儵忽而無見兮

I descend the precipitous drops, but there is no earth. I ascend the empty expanse, but there is no heaven. I gaze into the now-black/now-white, but there is no seeing.

298 聽惝怳而無聞 超無為以至清兮 與泰初而為鄰

Part V I listen to the agitated delirium, but there is no hearing. Stepping beyond [even] wuwei to reach Purity, I come into the presence of the Grand Beginning and become contiguous [with it].46

Again, the protagonist ends with the same quartet of negatives, and again, differentiation is left behind as plurality yields to unity. Even the core Daoist concept of wuwei or “causelessness” must be transcended for the ultimate exit. Furthermore, the last line merges the decisive periphery of the spatial cosmos with the decisive periphery of linear time. The chaos of the periphery is not limited to these landscapes and is embodied in their residents, as seen in the strange appearance of Lu Ao’s acquaintance. Immediately after his last list of compass point symbols, Chenggong Sui leads his readers to the very limits of the world itself with a description of the denizens of that periphery: 遐方外區 絕域殊鄰 人首蛇軀 烏翼龍身 衣毛被羽 或介或鱗 棲林浮水 若獸若人 居于大荒之外 處于巨海之濱

In the distant places and outlying regions, Isolated territories and foreign borderlands, (The people have) human heads and snake torsos, The wings of crows and the bodies of dragons.47 Covered in fur, bedecked in feathers, Some shelled, others scaled, They roost in the forests and float upon the waters— Half-man, half-beast. They dwell in the great beyond’s far reaches,48 Living on the shores of a giant sea.49

As in the Huainanzi, a shoreline marks the end of the traveler’s journey, and in descriptions akin to the Shanhaijing 山海經 (Mountain and seas canon), the taxonomic categories here become jumbled on the edges of the world as a kind of disorder is generally manifested in the peripheral populace.50 To summarize, the voyage to the periphery is first an environmental transition. If one ventures toward the borders of time and space, one can expect it to be dark, mysterious, blurry, misty, dim, obscure, inky, empty, expansive, cold, wet, torpid and silent. In the mundane world, we experience these qualities mostly in winter and in the north, and we mythologize them with gods such as Mysterious Dark and places such as the Cold

The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories


Gate. Yet this journey is also an inner transition of the mind. The “Monthly ordinances” and the “Treatise on the five phases” advocate abstentions from all distractions, keeping the mind free of agitation, and Yang Xiong urged his readers to understand dimness, adduce tranquility and contemplate stillness. Modern scholarship also assigns the poetry of ecstatic journeys to Daoist notions of self-cultivation such as breath control, diet and alchemy. As the individual mentally reaches into the extremes of the dark and blurry, names become lost and language contradicts itself. If we take it a step further, darkness may be a symbol of the periphery, but symbols cease to exist as the intellect passes beyond all A/Not-A discourse—beyond all symbols—to return to the root. As a final example of humans reaching out to the peripheral darkness, Yang Xiong’s “Ganquanfu” 甘泉賦 (“Sweetsprings poetic exposition”) colorfully imagines the construction of a particularly tall imperial tower. Habituated as we are to skyscrapers and air travel, we can easily overlook how unique and meaningful the experience of gazing out from a tower must have been for earlier cultures that were generally confined to singlestory dwellings. In the Han, towers were frequently depicted as nodes of interaction between the human and the spiritual. For example, Emperor Wu built edifices such as the “Tower of spiritual brilliance” and the “Tower of penetrating heaven” and was advised to build others because immortals delighted in high places.51 Models of towers frequently number among the mingqi 明器—literally “vessels of brilliance”—found in tombs as well.52 In terms of literature, the tower through hyperbole and poetic license becomes the setting for the interplay of the grander dynamic cosmic forces, forces drawn down to an ostensibly more human scale. The tower in the “Sweetsprings poetic exposition” in particular becomes a human-constructed microcosm, penetrating into the dark and disordered periphery. In 11 bce, Emperor Cheng sought an heir, and so a major sacrifice was carried out at Sweetsprings to the “Shangxuan” 上玄 or “Mystery on High.” The poetic exposition begins by devoting much prose and verse to the sacrificial preparations and subsequent expedition to the tower, at which point its splendors are depicted. The following is a small portion of Yang Xiong’s rhapsody that describes the construction and psychological impact of this edifice:

300 於是大夏雲譎波詭 嶊嶉而成觀 仰撟首以高視兮 目冥眴而亡見 正瀏濫以弘惝兮 指東西之漫漫 徒回回以徨徨兮 魂固眇眇而昏亂

Part V Thereupon the most fantastic of all the clouds and of all the waves Were piled up so high to complete this lookout tower. If you were to lift your head to gaze way up, Your vision would become dim and blurry and you would lose all sense of seeing. Straight ahead of you the visual clarity is sweeping and unsettling As you trace out such an expanse from east to west. So dazzled and so agitated, Your hun-soul decidedly diminishes so much and becomes darkly confused.53

This imperial tower is so high that its visitors lose their eyesight when they look up, just as the cosmic travelers do when passing through the sphere of non-differentiation. Even when they look straight ahead, they experience a classic case of vertigo as if their minds can’t handle the immensity of this world beyond a world. Later Ban Gu would similarly describe such vertigo in which a tower visitor’s vision grew blurry and mind confused even before reaching the halfway point, leaving the hun-soul extremely agitated as the visitor groped for support in fear of falling.54 Elsewhere in Yang Xiong’s poem, the mind-numbing trepidation is not limited to humans as spirits also have trouble with this tower’s height, and even immortals become confounded and fall into a dreamlike state.55 Such mental agitation should not be surprising because at the top of the pavilion “all is disorderly, dark and ‘confusedly formed’” (紛蒙籠以 掍成).56 The last phrase refers back to the beginning of the Laozi’s twenty-fifth chapter that describes the silent void predating heaven and earth, indicating that this tower has reached the murky periphery of time and space itself.57 Yet not everyone falls victim to this confusion. Amidst the continuous transformations, the son of heaven is here described as standing “sedately” (muran 穆然)—a word often used to describe one’s appearance in meditation—and his manner is calm despite the chaotic assault on eye and ear. Yang Xiong then describes the emperor’s mindset as follows:

The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories


惟夫所以澄心清魂,儲精垂思,感動天地,逆釐三神者。 It is in this place that he cleanses his mind and purifies his hun-soul, accumulating his quintessence and causing his thoughts to descend, to resonate with heaven and earth and accept the blessings of the three spirits [of heaven, earth and mountain].58

Thus the chaos of this dark peripheral moment has the potential of confusing the people who find themselves in it. However, the son of heaven is prepared, keeping a disciplined, purified mind, and it is from this vantage point that he is able to alter the world through his thoughts. In the human-constructed microcosm of ancestral ritual—microcosm being the third and final element of performance theory—the equivalent role to the son of heaven would be played by the chief sacrificer, and so we now turn to how that man in the middle cleanses his own time and place in preparation for interaction with the spirits.

Section 30: The Symbol Cluster of Light in the Center Ricoeur has contended that with symbols “there always remains the trace of a natural relationship between the signifier and the signified,” and Section 29 demonstrates how the signified of increasing temporal and spatial distance corresponded to the signifier of increasing darkness and chaos. When it comes to death, which is similarly a transition from presence to absence or from familiarity to forgetting, it is no surprise that the symbolic vocabulary is the same, namely a movement from light to dark, from day to night, from definition and fixity to dimness and displacement. Yet it is not merely a case of symbolic overlap because dying was in fact a case of falling into the past and expulsion outward into the periphery. Section 30 endeavors to refract the imperial Sweetsprings’ experience into that of myriad household altars. Just as the temporal and spatial dimensions were handled separately above, this section begins with ritual time, subdividing it between the darkness of death on one hand and the “shining event” of sacrifice on the other, and then it transitions to altar space, similarly subdividing it between the dimness of the tomb and the immaculate order of the shrine.


Part V

Ritual Time—Death as “Sinking into the Great Darkness” Perhaps the most explicit versified example of the dead drifting off into the chaotic periphery can be found in the famous Chu lyrics poem entitled “Zhaohun” 招魂 (“Summoning the hun-soul”). As seen above in the Ritual records, the hun-soul was summoned from among the ghosts and spirits in the northern darkness, but in this poem, that essence of a person who is dead, dying or otherwise non compos mentis is strongly advised not to fly off in any direction because peripheral horrors are found everywhere. The east is full of soul-eating giants and burning suns, whereas the west is nothing but vast desolation—wind-blown deserts wandered by elephant-sized ants and gourd-sized wasps. The north is predictably freezing and the south a jungle home to cannibals and multi-headed pythons. Up and down fare no better, and so the only safe option is to remain in the center: 魂兮歸來, 反故居些。 天地四方, 多賊姦些。 像設君室, 靜閒安些。

Hun-soul, come back And return to your old home. Heaven, earth and the four directions Possess many dangers and evils. We have set forth semblances (xiang) of your halls— They are quiet, relaxed and calm.59

The poem goes on to depict the opulent screens and mats, the music and dancing and the succulent foods that the household will provide if the hun-soul stays in the center. According to the prescriptive texts, the summoning of the hun-soul preceded the actual declaration of death, but once death was acknowledged, the descendants expressed worries that their ancestor was indeed cast adrift in the darkened periphery. For example, Cai Yong first describes the anguish of absence as felt by the family of a certain Lady Ma 馬: 懿等追想定省,尋思彷彿。哀窮念極,不知所裁。 [As for I, her son] Yi and others, we longingly imagined asking after her health and beseechingly thought of her likeness. With our mourning this intense and our longing this extreme, we did not know how to control ourselves.60

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Her son’s thoughts were amplified because of her absence, and Cai Yong’s hymn juxtaposes her disappearance from the center and her new uncertain presence on the periphery: 往而不返 潛淪大幽 嗚呼哀哉 几筵虛設 幃帳空陳 品物猶在 不見其人 魂氣飄颻 焉所安神 兄弟何依 姊妹何親

She is gone, never to return, Sinking into the great darkness. O! Alas! Her table and mat are set out in vain; Her curtains and screens are put up for no reason. Such things are still here, But we don’t see their owner. The qi of her hun-soul whirls and drifts; Where can we settle her spirit? Upon what can her sons (now) depend? And to what can her daughters draw near?61

Both sides of the lineage—the dead and the living—were cast adrift with her death; her hun-soul whirled about, and her descendants had lost an important buttress. Like “Summoning the hun-soul,” this hymn describes an empty frame, the outline of her image now only supplied by the things with which she once surrounded herself. She herself exists adrift in the “great darkness” beyond the vacant middle. In another poem, this state of flux is similarly depicted in a father’s lament for his dead son: 生時不識父 死後知我誰 孤魂遊窮暮 飄颻安所依

During his life, he never knew his father; After he is dead, will he understand who I am? His solitary hun-soul travels the far reaches of night— Whirling and drifting, where can it find that upon which to depend?62

Just as this boy lacked the security of knowing his father well in life, his hun-soul lacks a similar point of fixity in death and now lives on the distant, dark periphery, the “far reaches of night.” Yang Xiong echoes this sentiment, lamenting that ghosts and spirits are generally left “diminished and discarded” (haohuang 耗荒) with no sense of time or place, completely lost except for the regular rituals instituted by the sages.63 One lei 誄 or “threnody” even highlights this homelessness by contrasting it to the territorial bonds the dead leave behind: 背去國家 都茲玄陰

He turned his back and left his state and household, And took up residence in this dim yin,

304 幽居冥冥 靡所且窮

Part V Remotely living in such darkness, Displaced and destitute.64

As the fading dead gradually lost definition, they also lost the fixity of place they had known in life, all manner of pinpointing them dissipating over time. In terms of temporal symbols, death’s transformation belongs, not surprisingly, to the symbolic vocabulary of night. As a prognostication from the Forest of Changes records: 舉被覆目 不見日月 衣裳簠簋 就長夜室

We raise a cloth to cover the eyes; (The deceased) cannot see the sun and moon. Clothing and sacrificial vessels Are taken to the Hall of Long Night.65

Han threnodies as well as excavated “grave records” (muzhi 墓誌) likewise equate death with the long night, and “grave deeds” (muquan 墓券) further attest that the dead belong to yin.66 Nowhere is such imagery more frequent than in grave stelae that typically depict death as the bright sun returning to “the dim yin” (xuanyin 玄陰)67 or describe their dedicatees as traveling the “great dimness” (daxuan 大玄).68 In one stele preface, Mi Heng 禰衡 (fl. ca. 200 ce) likened the dedicatee’s death to the imminent approach of night, recording that “the sun and moon are now dark; heaven and earth have lost their radiance” (日月則陰,天地不光).69 In still another, this darkness forces the descendants to visualize their ancestor: 魂神超邁 家兮冥冥 遺孤忉絕 于嗟想形

The hun-soul and spirit have transcended, And the household is utterly dark. The surviving orphans are aggrieved and cut off, Imagining his form with a sigh.70

Just as Lady Ma’s son “longingly imagined” and “beseechingly thought” of his mother in Cai Yong’s hymn above, here the descendants again resort to their imaginations when confronting absence. The mental endeavors outlined in Part III become necessary to penetrate the long night, and so we now turn to the generations of cyclic remembrance rites that followed death, rites that would fend off permanent darkness as long as possible.

The Symbolic Language of Fading Memories


Ritual Time—Remembrance as “the Height of Quintessential Brilliance” There was much more involved in remembrance rites than simply following through with their performance on the scheduled day; to foster the imagination, they required preparation in the form of pre-sacrificial abstentions. Just as the emperor visiting Yang Xiong’s tower did not reach the top suddenly but like all other visitors had to climb up from the ground to that vantage point gradually, sacrificers to their ancestors made themselves ready for the event over the course of several days. Therefore, before carrying out the ritual sacrifice itself, its participants needed to be physically and mentally prepared. Wang Chong generalized that “abstentions and purifications are the most important component of sacrificial rituals” (祭祀之禮, 齊戒潔 清,重之至也).71 Why might that have been the case? Modern theorists and scholars would answer that they transition the sacrificer into a different frame of reference or state of mind. For example, Durkheim argues that pre-ritual abstentions are not only common throughout the world but also necessary: [N]o one can engage in a religious ceremony of any importance without first submitting to a sort of initiation that introduces him gradually into the sacred world. Anointings, purifications, and blessings can be used for this, all being essentially positive operations; but the same results can be achieved through fasts and vigils, or through retreat and silence—that is, by ritual abstinences that are nothing more than definite prohibitions put into practice.72

Durkheim emphasizes how such abstentions, which he deems ascetic rites of the “negative cult”—modify the worshippers, moving them away from the profane world and thereby putting them on a more equal footing with the occupants of the spiritual world. In terms of early Chinese practice, Nylan has described ritual preparations in a similar fashion when she writes: Preparation for the rites (fasting, purification, lustration, meditation) begins the process of breakdown by interrupting the normal, numbing routines of daily life, the better to induce in participants a deep receptivity to change. Such preparations can also signify, to oneself and others, the commitment necessary to focus one’s energies on the solemn rites, being mindful of the benefits accruing from serene acceptance of the imminent, irresistible change.73


Part V

Nylan is referring to the crucial transitions in life such as birth, coming of age, marriage and death, and most of the recorded abstentions in prescriptive and descriptive literature do indeed precede occasions of major change. They can include both regularly recurring as well as unique changes as in the following: 1. The beginning of a new season74 2. The commencement of sericulture activities75 3. Long-distance travel76 4. Marriage77 5. Appointment of a high official or general78 6. The bestowal of a major title79 7. Recovery of ancient artifacts or texts80 8. Impending death81 I would hasten to add that abstentions were not limited to life-changing events only, that they could also precede more routine occurrences such as regular sacrifices to the spirits, scheduled prayers on behalf of the people or simply going to court.82 Yet in all cases, abstentions were outlays of time and effort to secure profitable outcomes in moments of uncertainty; they were personal investments in the futures market. Let us step back and consider the nature of this investment. We have access to several brief descriptions for the imperial class such as in the “Monthly ordinances” for winter when a ruler carried out abstentions to calm his mind and await the dangerous moment of yin and yang forces switching dominancy. The Spring and autumn annals of Mr. Lü adds the following details: 君子齋戒,處必揜,身欲靜無躁。止聲色,無或進。薄滋味,無致和 。退嗜慾,定心氣。百官靜,事無刑。以定晏陰之所成。 When a gentleman carries out abstentions and vigils, his household must be shut, and his person seeks out quietude with no disturbance. He puts aside music and beautiful things and has no visitors. He eats food of little taste and without complex flavors. He withdraws from all desires and settles his mind’s qi. His government is one of quietude, and he carries out its business without punishments. All this is to settle and bring quietude to the fulfillment of yin.83

Such is how abstentions are described near the beginning of the imperial period, and the Huainanzi echoes this depiction a century later.84 The Later Han documents provides additional information on imperial abstentions from near the end of the Han:

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凡齋,天地七日,宗廟、山川五日,小祠三日。齋日內有汙染,解齋 ,副倅行禮。先齋一日,有汙穢災變,齋祀如儀。大喪,唯天郊越紼 而齋,地以下皆百日後乃齋,如故事。 In general, abstentions before [sacrifices to] heaven and earth last seven days, before those to the ancestral shrine and to the mountains and rivers five days and before lesser sacrifices three days. If some form of impurity or pollution occurs during the abstention period, the abstentions are disbanded and assistants will carry out the rituals. If there are impurities or improprieties, omens or mishaps up to a day prior to the abstentions, the abstentions and sacrifices are still carried out as per protocol. When [the ruler] is mourning for a parent, he only “crosses the ropes” and carries out abstentions for the sacrifice to heaven. All others are postponed for a hundred days and then carried out as normal.85

According to commentaries on the Ritual records, “crossing the ropes” refers to the fact that a hearse always had its pulling ropes tied to it (so that it can be quickly removed in the event of fire), and those ropes served as a symbolic proscriptive barrier for normal ritual activity except, as noted here, for the mandatory sacrifices to heaven.86 The length of the abstention period here generally accords with several texts in the Ritual records that distinguish between “diluted” or “reduced abstentions” (sanzhai 散齋) carried out over a period of seven days and “intensive abstentions” (zhizhai 致齋) observed over three days.87 Both of the above extracts define these abstention periods as times of proscriptions or, in the words of Durkheim, of “definite prohibitions put into practice.” Other sources refer to banning music and visitors and to removing meat, alcohol and strong-tasting vegetables from one’s diet.88 If confined to this imperial, prescriptive level, abstentions could possibly be dismissed as limited to the court or even as unheeded protocol, just as the Zhou prescriptions on the limited ancestral cult (see Part I) were regularly modified or cast aside (see Part II). Yet there also survive anecdotes of high officials taking abstentions seriously, none more so than Grand Master of Ceremonies Zhou Ze 周澤 (d. ca. 80 ce): 清絜循行,盡敬宗廟。常臥疾齋宮,其妻哀澤老病,闚問所苦。澤大 怒,以妻干犯齋禁,遂收送詔獄謝罪。當世疑其詭激。時人為之語曰 ﹕「生世不諧,作太常妻,一歲三百六十日,三百五十九日齋。」 His behavior was flawless and regulated, and he exhaustively showed his respect for the ancestral shrines. Once when he was lying in a weakened state in the abstention hall, his wife was worried that he had long become ill, and so she peeked in on him to ask him if he was alright. He became extremely angry, and because


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his wife had intentionally transgressed the abstention proscriptions, he then had her restrained and took her to the imperial prison to confess her crime. His contemporaries suspected that his behavior wasn’t proper, and so people at that time had a saying about him: “Because the world is out of synch, we have cases such as the Grand Master of Ceremonies’ wife. Of the three hundred and sixty days in one year, he spends three hundred and fifty nine of them carrying out abstentions.”89

Zhou Ze’s rather extreme case (and the commentary on it) shows at the very least that abstentions were indeed being observed and talked about beyond the imperial family in at least the highest ranks at court. Elsewhere abstentions were taken so seriously that, when they were not completed on the imperial level, it could be regarded as an ill omen portending a change in the imperial surname, and when they were not completed on lower levels, it could result in demotion and removal from office.90 The Monthly ordinances of the four classes of people represents lower officialdom and confirms that abstentions were made before every major family sacrifice, usually lasting for three days and accompanying the sweeping, washing and food preparations.91 Furthermore, Cai Yong references the “Zhai ling” 齋令 (“Ordinances concerning abstentions”) that are now lost, but wood and bamboo strips excavated from several places in northwestern China indicate they circulated widely and were likely heeded.92 Finally, a Shandong stone relief thought to be the back wall of a sacrificial shrine depicts a common homage scene of the shrine dedicatee sitting in a pavilion with people bowing before him, and the column behind the dedicatee has the words, “This is the host of the abstentions” or “This is the host for whom abstentions are made” (Ci zhai zhu ye 此齋主也).93 Together these passages and objects suggest that abstentions were indeed observed at least among the lettered populace. Having briefly considered a few features of abstentions and the breadth of their practice, we must still determine their role in terms of the relationship between mental endeavor and the ancestors. Weber described such rituals as “planned reductions of bodily functioning, such as can be achieved by continuous malnutrition, sexual abstinence, regulation of respiration, and the like.” He thus explains the goal of such reductions: “In addition, thinking and other psychological processes are trained in a systematic concentration of the soul upon whatever is alone essential in religion.”94 Part III surveyed the coverage of such concentration during abstentions in the Ritual records and other sources, which tell the living to

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think upon the ancestor’s qualities and lifestyle for several days until they can actually see that ancestor during the rites. Elsewhere, the Ritual records explicitly illustrates how thoughts are streamlined and standardized, and in terms of etymology, “abstention” (zhai 齋、齊) literally means “to even out,” “to make uniform,” or “to homogenize.” Because the self-inflicted deprivations were not inconsequential, abstentions were limited to major events that evoked a great deal of reverence, and this attempt to even out the mind before such an event meant guarding against both internal desires such as sex and external distractions such as music. The abstainer steeled his mind against careless thoughts to maintain focus on the forthcoming sacrifice’s dedicatee just as he regulated his movements through his complete conformity to ritual. He “focuses on evoking the power of quintessential brilliance” (專致其精明之德).95 The Ritual records thus concludes: 故散齊七日以定之,致齊三日以齊之。定之之謂齊,齊者,精明之至 也,然後可以交於神明也。 Therefore the seven-day reduced abstentions are to anchor [that power], and the three-day intensive abstentions are to even it out. “Anchoring it” reaches the point of being called “evened out” when the one carrying out the abstentions has reached quintessential brilliance. Then and only then can one commune with the spirits.96

Often early Chinese etymologies were used to force arbitrary associations between ideas through similar scripts or pronunciations, but in this case, the etymological argument worked rather well, as the characters for “abstention” (zhai 齋) and “to even out” (qi 齊) were extremely close in appearance and regularly interchangeable. The idea of “evening out” closely fits the goal of abstentions, and elsewhere the “Liyun” 禮運 of the same corpus argues that human desires (such as food, drink and sex) and human aversions (such as death, loss and poverty) are all variably hidden away in the mind, necessitating ritual to bring them together and sort them out.97 Xunzi similarly states that the “technique of controlling one’s qi and nourishing the mind” (治氣養心之術) comes from ritual because it can even out one’s physical and mental variables, repressing the negative here and elevating the positive there.98 Elsewhere the same text equates ritual with marking lines, balances, compasses and carpenter’s squares that give


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steadfast shape to the otherwise chaotic human psyche. This stabilization process in turn fosters mental endeavor: 禮之中焉能思索,謂之能慮;禮之中焉能勿易,謂之能固。 If one is then able to stretch out one’s thoughts while in the midst of ritual, such can be called contemplation; if one is then able to remain unchanging while in the midst of ritual, such can be called fixity.99

Uniformity, thoughtfulness and fixity are all key components to the ancestral sacrifice. Here carpenters’ measuring tools are metaphorically used to focus the mind. As seen in the “Monthly ordinances” cited above, artisans were explicitly ordered to standardize their wares in winter lest their goods “agitate the mind.” Again the uniformity demanded by abstentions is in keeping with the symbol cluster of order and constancy described above. Pre-sacrificial abstentions reflect that symbol cluster in other ways as well. Despite the fact that, according to the Analects, Confucius wore simple “bright clothes” (mingyi 明衣) when he carried out abstentions, the various records on ritual overwhelmingly emphasize wearing dark clothes.100 The Ritual records states that dark clothing was to be worn for three days to reflect one’s “thoughts of darkness and obscurity” ( yinyou si 陰幽思), after which one would become able to envision the sacrifice recipient, and the Ceremonies and rituals further details the dark hats, sashes and kneepads worn during the sacrifice itself.101 The Han records confirms that there were indeed special “abstention clothes” (zhaiyi 齋衣) worn prior to ancestral sacrifices.102 The obvious question remains, what was all this mental stabilization and thinking into the darkness meant to achieve? That is, what form did this final numinous state take? The various “Monthly ordinances” cited above simply leave the abstainer in calm stasis or studied quietude, but other ritual texts such as the White tiger hall discussion describe his goal as “thoughts and remembrances achieving a focused unity and quintessential brilliance” (意念專一精明也).103 The texts from the Ritual records cited above also end in a “quintessential brilliance” that enables the abstainer to communicate with the shenming in the sacrifice. In like fashion, Yang Xiong described the sacrifice that follows proper abstentions as a fiducial meeting with bright spirits in the darkness, and Cai Yong depicted the abstentions as resulting “in a purified quietude to communicate with the shenming” (潔靜交神明).104 As noted in Part IV, it is often unclear

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whether shenming is an enlightened state or an external agency, but here again it is probably more fruitful not to demarcate between these meanings. The Guanzi furthermore uses all of these terms in a sequential logic as it attempts to explain why “If you don’t carry out purifications, the spirit/spiritual will not take up residence” (不潔則神不處): 去欲則宣,宣則靜矣;靜則精,精則獨立矣;獨則明,明則神矣。 If you cast aside your desires, then you achieve all-inclusiveness, and if you achieve all-inclusiveness, then you achieve quietude. If you achieve quietude, then you attain quintessence, and if you attain quintessence, then you stand alone. If you are alone, then you achieve brilliance, and if you achieve brilliance, then you achieve the spiritual.105

The final state of shen is somewhat ambiguous here, but passages such as the “Treatise of the five phases” above and others from the Ritual records that make communication with the ghosts and spirits the ultimate goal are less so. If nothing else, this range of possible meanings further demonstrates the uncertainty surrounding afterlife existence and communication with it. Two footnotes should be appended to this description of abstentions. First, such an exercise of stabilizing thought could appropriately be deemed an entrance into a mentally “liminal” state, to borrow a term made famous by Victor Turner. Yet history indicates that this state was also politically liminal as well, a vulnerable moment when one’s guard was down. Sometimes it afforded subordinates a chance to gain unexpected private access to an official to make accusations directly, and other times it made an official vulnerable to acts of violence because he was separated from his entourage.106 Yet in the most famous example of this dangerous moment, the man in seclusion was himself the instigator of violence. When Ziying 子嬰 (d. 206 bce) briefly inherited the empire from his uncle, the Second Emperor of Qin, he was forced to rule as a puppet of the eunuch Zhao Gao. Zhao Gao ordered Ziying to carry out abstentions, but when after several days Ziying would not leave his fasting place, Zhao Gao went there himself. Ziying took this opportunity to stab him to death.107 Stories such as these increase the sense that abstentions were brief, uncertain and even dangerous states of separation from society. Second, the language of abstentions stretches beyond the Classicist tradition. Zhuangzi likewise highlights how abstentions should focus upon removing the abstainer’s personal distinguishing qualities. Placing


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words in the mouth of Confucius who is instructing his disciple Yan Hui, Zhuangzi states that abstentions mean more than giving up meat and wine and should be an opportunity to unify that which is fixed within the mind. An abstainer should no longer hear with the ears but with the mind and ultimately with the qi. At that stage of the “mind’s abstention” (xinzhai 心齋), the abstainer is empty and ready to receive the Dao because the Dao gathers in empty places.108 The fact that the Zhuangzi here uses Confucius and the language of abstentions to make its point highlights how diverse writers were interested in the mechanics of the mind. Zhuangzi’s other characters similarly recognize preparation periods, as when the carver of bell frames who engages in abstentions to “calm his mind” ( jingxin 靜心) forgets remuneration from others after three days, forgets all judgment from others after five days and forgets even his own person after seven days. Once focused, he selects his wood and carves his bell frame with so much skill that “those who saw it revered it as if it were [the work of] ghosts and spirits” (見者驚猶鬼神).109 At the end of the Han, Buddhists were similarly urged to focus their minds during seven-day vigils until they could see the Buddha Amitābha.110 Although we readily recognize Daoism’s and Buddhism’s interest in the mind, we rarely place that interest in its original context. Classicism shared that interest and may have even preceded its cousins in developing it. This discussion has so far been biased toward the sacrificer’s viewpoint, but many texts have imagined the sacrifice from the perspective of the ancestor. As seen in the bronze inscriptions in Part I, the spirits, ghosts or majestic ones existed “up above” (shang 上), and pre-imperial texts such as the Mozi likewise speak of the ghosts and spirits existing somewhere between heaven on high and the people down below.111 The Huainanzi located them out on the darkened periphery, serving the “genuine people.” Up above existed the “Gate of Heaven” that in the Han was frequently depicted (with a convenient identifying cartouche) on stone reliefs, mirrors and bronze badges. The transportation of choice was simply an aerial version of earthbound entourages that consisted of horses and horsedrawn carriages, and Han tombs included real carriages, model carriages and pictures of carriages carved into the stone reliefs, sometimes with wings sprouting from both horse and cart. In terms of literature, some early Western Han ancestral hymns describe how the spirit carriages “roam about in disorder” until summoned to the sacrifice itself, a trajec-

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tory that reverses the direction of an ecstatic journey. The ancestral spirits are enticed inward from the periphery to the wine sacrifice in the center, as in this imperial hymn: 華燁燁,固靈根。 神之斿,過天門, 車千乘,敦昆侖。 神之出,排玉房, 周流雜,拔蘭堂。 神之行,旌容容, 騎沓沓,般縱縱。 神之徠,泛翊翊, 甘露降,慶雲集。 神之揄,臨壇宇, 九疑賓,夔龍舞。 神安坐,翔吉時, 共翊翊,合所思。 神嘉虞,申貳觴, 福滂洋,邁延長。

[Our lineage] flowers so gloriously as it strengthens its ancestral roots.112 The spirits journey, crossing through the Gate of Heaven; Their entourage of a thousand carriages gathers at Kunlun. The spirits set forth, coming into formation at Jade Chamber; They roam about in disorder, lodging in Orchid Hall. The spirits are on the march, their pennants billowing; Their mounts are so anxious, forming an unbroken legion. The spirits are induced to come, floating and flying onward. The sweet dew descends, and the auspicious clouds gather. The spirits are drawn forth, nearing the altar hall. [Shun, who is buried at] Jiuyi, is treated as a guest, and [his ministers] Kui and Long dance.113 The spirits quietly sit or wheel about overhead in accord with the auspicious moment.114 Everything is utterly respectful and attuned to our thoughts. The spirits are well entertained, and a second cup of wine is offered. May the blessings overflow and long life be extended.115

From the spirits’ perspective, the sacrifice is fairly straightforward. They come from the periphery to the center to drink, and they leave blessings behind. It appears to be a do ut des relationship with a brief additional reference to the sacrificers’ mental investment—“Everything is utterly respectful and attuned to our thoughts.” Ultimately they came, they saw


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and they consumed, eventually to return to a periphery that does not appear nearly so threatening as in the Chu lyrics. This study has already offered several descriptions of the sacrifice itself, such as that of the Eastern Han’s Monthly ordinances of the four classes of people in which the spirits are invited down to partake in wine and the lineage members “each offer up peppered alcohol to the family head, toasting him with wishes of longevity in a joyous manner.”116 Such descriptions are echoes of much earlier portrayals, especially of the Songs canon poem entitled “Chu ci” 楚茨 (“Thorny caltrop”). It begins by describing how the harvested millet that fills the granaries is used to make food and wine for sacrifice. It then depicts the final preparations—the roasting and broiling of meats, the arranging of sacrificial stands and plates and so forth—until the fragrant offering itself takes place, an offering that leads to toasting, talk and laughter. At the center of this sacrifice, the grandchild of the most recent ancestor serves as the shi 尸 or “ancestral impersonator,” standing in for the ancestor during the ritual. Once bells and drums announce the end of the sacrifice, the shi is informed that “The spirits are all inebriated” (Shen ju zui zhi 神具醉止) and is duly led away. As the attendants and wives clean up, the men are left together to continue the banquet among themselves as musicians perform and banqueters offer wishes of longevity.117 Lothar von Falkenhausen and Martin Kern contend that much of the ancestral ritual description found in the Han canon can be traced back to this canonical set of verses, and the Huainanzi description of an ancestral sacrifice with which this book began indeed resonates with this poem.118 Also drawing from the “Thorny caltrop,” the White tiger hall discussion justifies the ancestral impersonator’s role as compensating for the intangibles and absences that characterize ancestral sacrifice: 祭所以有尸者何?鬼神聽之無聲,視之無形,升自阼階,仰視榱桷, 俯視几筳,其器存,其人亡,虛無寂寞,思慕哀傷,無可寫泄,故座 尸而食之,毀損其饌,欣然若親之飽,尸醉若神之醉矣。《詩》云﹕ 「神具醉止,皇尸載起。」 Why is there an ancestral impersonator at the sacrifice? We can listen for the ghosts and spirits but they will not speak; we can look for them but they have no form. We ascend via the eastern steps, looking up to the rafters and crossbeams and looking down to the table and mat. These things are here, but their owner is gone. In such emptiness and stillness, our longing becomes injurious with no outlet. Therefore we have the ancestral impersonator seated there and feast him, and

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we anxiously trouble ourselves over provisioning him. We are joyous as if we have satiated our [late] parents, and the ancestral impersonator’s drunkenness is on par with the spirits’ drunkenness. The Songs states, “The spirits are all inebriated; the august impersonator arises.”119

Concern is again expressed over the uncertain state of the silent and invisible ancestors, and these lines resemble the inscription to Lady Ma who had “sunk into the great darkness,” leaving only her table and mat behind. “Such things are still here,” the stele acknowledged, “but we don’t see their owner.” The Monthly ordinances of the four classes of people and “Thorny caltrop” both highlight the role of alcohol in the offering, and as noted in Section 8, an excavated late Spring and Autumn period bronze pot attests to the fact that the “ancestral impersonator sacrifice” (shiji 尸祭) was not limited to prescriptive texts. If the ritual texts reflect practice, the ancestral impersonator had to drink nine cups of wine made from fermented black millet over the course of the sacrifice. Based upon measurements taken from excavated wine cups, David E. Armstrong estimates that this person would have consumed seventy to eighty-five grams of ethanol, roughly equivalent to five or six standard drinks, leaving him in a state of moderate to extreme intoxication. Armstrong argues that “the shi was experiencing a trance induced by fasting, meditation, personal and cultural expectations” and triggered by alcohol. In that state, the grandson of the most immediate forebear spoke on behalf of the ancestors, transmitting the scripted blessings.120 Yet two caveats must be added to Armstrong’s analysis, which is mainly based on descriptions in the Ritual records and the Ceremonies and rituals. First, he assumes the impersonator does more than simply taste the alcohol. The early ritual compendia clearly indicate he only sampled the food, which was then handed over to the lineage for their collective feast. Second, while most of the sacrificial elements described in these works—elements ranging from thoughtful abstentions to ritualized uncertainties, from soul summonings to symbol clusters of darkness—find substantial support in other sources from the early imperial period, the role of the ancestral impersonator does not. It may indeed have been a regular part of Han sacrifices, but a paucity of supporting evidence leaves a question mark hanging over it.121 Even so, as all the principal participants carried out some form of abstention and then participated in the drinking, alcohol served as a mind-altering drug to varying


Part V

degrees for everyone, the ritualized setting all the time maintaining a sense of focus so that it did not devolve into a dissipated free-for-all. Thus one’s state of mind was not only important during the abstention period; it was transformed and continued to play a significant role in the sacrifice itself. It remains unclear—and may have been unclear for the participants as well—as to how the spirits themselves actually became intoxicated.122 Armstrong maintains that the spirits became drunk via proxy, namely via the ancestral impersonator. Kern suggests the sounds and fragrances penetrated through to the spirit realm, which is why inscriptions were located on bells and inside sacrificial vessels.123 In the early imperial literature, there is much evidence to support Kern’s contention. When describing the libation cup’s usage as the apex of ancestral ritual, the White tiger hall discussion credits the wine’s bouquet as affecting them: “Its fragrant aroma is pervasive, penetrating out to the spirits” (芬香條鬯, 以通神靈).124 This particular bouquet came from mixing millet wine with yujin 鬱金 (curcuma longa or turmeric), which the author describes as the most odorous of all plants, and the resulting smell penetrated the shrine’s walls and floor, “bringing down the spirits” ( jiang shen ye 降神也).125 Here wine is thus grouped with incense, another major component of sacrifice. Several pre- and early imperial sources, both laudatory and critical, explain that the living enjoyed the tastes of the sacrifice but the dead dined upon its smells or qi.126 Early references thereby tended to emphasize olfactory rather than gustatory qualities of the sacrificial meal, and in one Western Han memorial, Emperor Wu’s officials recorded that the sacrificial center of Yong in western China lacked the vessels necessary to prepare sacrifices, meaning that “the fragrant aromas cannot be offered” ( fenfang bubei 芬芳不備).127 For an Eastern Han example, a stele hymn by Cai Yong ends as follows: 四時潔祠 以承奉尊 祀事孔明 奉亡如存 馥馥芬芬 以慰顯魂

Every season we offer a purified sacrifice To continue our reverent respect. Our sacrificial duties are greatly illuminating, Treating the dead as if alive. They are so aromatic and so fragrant To console his illustrious hun-soul.128

This emphasis is perhaps due to the fact that burning incense and roasting meat are transformations from tactile visible qualities to airborne invisible

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qualities, and music, too, begins as instruments with form that then produce a thing without form. Not all early sources dismiss taste, and in at least one case, the issue of taste becomes a point of distinction. Gilles Boileau has argued that Han ritual texts earmark the dageng 大羹 or “great stew” for the oldest of ancestors because it was explicitly tasteless whereas more recent ancestors received more sophisticated dishes. People in the Han regarded their own palate as more diverse than that of antiquity, and so “the ancestors were offered what they knew when they were alive: simple dishes for the first civilized ancestors (who lived a simple life) and sophisticated dishes for the recently deceased ‘modern’ ancestors.”129 Laozi describes the division of taste into five distinct flavors as symptomatic of the decline from a primeval unity. Perhaps the increasing blandness of the food for the oldest ancestors is also a gustatory interpretation of the loss of demarcation and definition when recessing into the past. The Huainanzi would seem to support this speculation where it contends that the ancestral kings valued sacrificial food and drink that was bland because they prioritized the root over the branches.130 We might recall from Part I that in Bell’s description of ritual performance, “one is not being told or shown something so much as one is led to experience something.” In this multi-media event, ritual is here getting its point across through diverse sensory experiences, and alongside a degree of gustatory blandness, the ancestral music was likewise without the intricate melodies and lively rhythms of profane songs. The “Musical records” singles out the ancestral hymn “Immaculate shrine,” either because it in itself was the most famous of the Songs canon’s ancestral hymns (see below) or because being the first of the forty hymns in that corpus, it stood for them all. Alongside its own description of food offerings that were led by water, raw fish and unspiced, unsalted, vegetable-free stew, the “Musical records” denotes how the zither had few sounding holes in the bottom and used boiled silk strings because, according to Zheng Xuan, such an instrument produced murky sounds. As the hymn was sung, only three would harmonize, and this would eventually come to symbolize the “aesthetics of omission” that entailed a conscious restraint.131 In Kenneth DeWoskin’s translation, “One sings forth, and three others only breathe their tones. Sometimes the tones are inaudible.”132 Thus there were no crisp notes or complex orchestral compositions at such a sacrifice. As seen


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above, dark-clothed women were to play sonorous stone chimes during the winter season, and the White tiger hall discussion in turn explains that the ghosts and spirits, because they favor calmness, prefer gentle music played on chime stones rather than lively music on twanging stringed instruments.133 As dirges in the West also evoke simplicity and restraint (and hence tend to be more common at funerals than rock ‘n’ roll), perhaps we are here again encountering Ricoeur’s notion of symbolic logic, of there being something inherent in the symbol to connect it with the thing symbolized. Regardless, the dynamic of moving into the realm of nameless gray seems to be manifested in more than just visual imagery, apparently extending into its gustatory and audio counterparts. The food is bland, the sounds are dulled and the mind is calmly focused as the dark-clothed sacrificers reach back to their faded ancestors. The “shining event” of the sacrifice concluded with thoughts dimming and the world darkening, as Lady Tangshan described it. Her portrayal is echoed in the conclusions to much later Han stelae, this first one found in Henan and dedicated to Zhu Mu 祝睦 (d. 164), the grand administrator of Shanyang 山陽: 存覿榮 淪弗忘 稱彌煇 玄為常

When the living come face to face with such glory, The dead are not forgotten. When praises reach the end of their splendor, The dimness becomes persistent.134

Here “glory” (written with two fire radicals) and “splendor” (written with one) both carry implications of brightness—translators quickly run out of synonyms for “bright” when rendering descriptions about the ideally remembered ancestor—and this brightness yields to darkness once the memory moment is over. A second example from Sichuan is dedicated to a young consort of the marquis of the Guanghan Dependent State (Guanghan shuguo 廣漢屬國) and is written in a more mournful tenor: 魂魄孤兮獨煢煢 陳礿祠兮返所生 幽不見兮存厥刑 嗟日遐兮適窅窅

Her hunpo-soul is alone, isolated and so desolate. I spread out the sacrifice and mimic the activities of the living. I cannot see in the gloom but I maintain these protocols; Alas, the sun is distant, and suddenly it is dark, so dark.135

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Ritualized remembrance and brightness again go hand in hand, both terminating together. Just as individual sacrifices had to end, the sacrifices generally due an ancestor and indeed a whole lineage likewise faced a point of eventual termination, leaving the ancestors forever unfixed and in the dark as they were forgotten by the living generation. Du Ye杜業 (fl. end first cen. bce) describes the dangers of a lineage gradually breaking up, the dispersal of its members coinciding with the collapse of its ancestral hall: 跡漢功臣,亦皆割苻世爵,受山河之誓,存以著其號,亡以顯其魂, 賞亦不細矣。 百餘年間而襲封者盡,或絕失姓,或乏無主,朽骨孤於墓,苗裔流 於道,生為愍隸,死為轉屍。以往況今,甚可悲傷。 When we track down the meritorious ministers of the Han, [we find that] each of them indeed had split tallies [of office] and inherited ranks, receiving the oath sworn to the Yellow River and Mount Tai. In life they bore their titles; in death they manifested their hun-souls. Their rewards were indeed no trifling matter. But after more than a century, the hereditary fiefs disappeared—some lost their surnames while others no longer possessed their ancestral tablets. Their withered corpses were left alone in their graves as their descendants took to the road. In life, those descendants served within the employ of others; at death, they became unfixed corpses. In the past as in the present, this situation is surely grievously painful.136

This passage and others like it demonstrate the juxtaposition between a fixed, stable center enjoyed by a landed lineage that carried out proper ancestral remembrance and an unfixed, landless, dangerous existence that ensued once that center was gone.137 In this sense, the spatial planes of the living and the dead were mirror images of one another, and they intersected at the lineage shrine. How might this inevitable and permanent darkness be postponed for as long as possible? One solution was to convert the ancestor into a textual medium, a memorized hymn replete with the mnemonics that would endure for generations. Inscribing that hymn onto a stele was a late Han innovation, and the inscribers explicitly justified their preservation work by drawing upon these symbol clusters of light and dark. Mi Heng boasted that a stele he had composed would itself fend off the darkness, the merit inscribed on its stone there “to express radiant brilliance” ( yi shi zhaoming 以示昭明).138 The same stele further elaborates:

320 幽明足以測神 文藻足以辯物 然而敏學以求之 下問以諏之 虛心以受之 深思以詠之

Part V The relationship between dark and light is all that is needed to fathom the spirits; And literary talent is all that is needed to demarcate objects. And so one intensifies his studies in order to seek it, Sends down queries in order to deliberate upon it,139 Empties his mind in order to receive it, And deepens his thoughts in order to intone it.140

Here the importance of these symbol clusters is unambiguous. Amidst the interplay of light and dark, literary talent demarcates objects and prolongs the light, bringing definition to the spirits for anyone who would meditate upon this particular ancestor via Mi Heng’s hymn. The ancestor as intoned text would remain defined and bright, facilitating the deepened thoughts during the pre-sacrificial abstentions. Another stele inscription, that of a certain Jing, chancellor of Beihai (see Section 17), includes no less than four synonyms for brightness when it comes to what is generally remembered about ancestors: 上世群后,莫不流光囗於無窮,垂芬燿於書篇。身歿而行明,體亡而 名存。或著形像於列圖,或敷頌於管弦。後來詠其烈,竹帛敘其勳。 The host of rulers from high antiquity all shone their radiance [gap] into infinity; they left behind a fragrance and glow in their written documents. Their persons perished, but their conduct remains brilliant; their bodies disappeared, but their names survive. Some are manifested in images via arrays of pictures; others are revealed in hymns via pipes and strings. Posterity will intone their effulgence, and documents of bamboo and silk will detail their merits.141

Surviving in the form of a stele text, Chancellor Jing will also remain a bright lamp in the peripheral gloom. The Han stele innovation proved to be a desirable survival kit, the subsequent inscription tradition lasting almost two thousand years.

Altar Space—“Such Darkness of the Tomb” Mi Heng wrote that “the relationship between dark and light is all that is needed to fathom the spirits.” If we were simply to conclude that death is dark and life is light, then we would learn very little about early China, as such equations are universal, bordering on truisms. If we were to take that a step further to demonstrate how a fading memory that inherently accompanies death in turn becomes translated into the symbolic language of

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darkness of the spiritual realm (by following Ricoeur’s lead), then we have managed to progress much further into the realm of explanation, but our conclusion would still be a universal and early China just a case study. Yet if we take that several steps further and demonstrate a grander cultural paradigm in which the edges of time and space are metaphorically, physically and epistemologically dark and undemarcated, that the dead were destined to drift toward those edges as the living actively endeavored to slow that fading through their enlightened sacrifices, then we’ve reached a richer understanding perhaps unique to early China because of that cultural paradigm. Ultimately it would seem that the best venue for witnessing this relationship between dark and light should be the spatial dimension of the tomb and sacrificial altar because, quite simply, dark and light are visual cues manifested in space. Tombs are dark, and altars—at least proper ones—are bright, immaculate and tidy. Emperor Wu had described his own beloved Lady Li as “full of radiance” (hanguang 函光) as she descended into sunless shadows.142 Like a beacon in the night, she resisted simply disappearing into the dimness, and this theme of radiant resistance was often repeated in later depictions of the tomb. Written near the end of the Han, the following threnody by Cai Yong dedicated to the wife of the chancellor of Jibei 濟北 provides one of the most vivid contrasts between the dark environment and the illuminated ancestor who is properly remembered: 冥冥窀穸 無時有陽 燈燭既滅 馬道納光 形影不見 定省何望 嗟其哀矣 不可彌忘 日月代序 古皆有喪 由斯夫人 榮烈有章 配彼哲彥

In such darkness of the tomb, There will never be any sunshine. The lamps and candles are extinguished; The light declines on the roads where horses travel. When shapes and shadows can no longer be distinguished from one another, How can we behold her to arrange her bedding and ask how she spent the night? We sigh at this state of grief And cannot forever forget her. But the sun and moon will succeed one another in turn, And the ancients all recognized their mourning periods. As for this lady, Her brilliant effulgence had its apportionment. She served as a companion to that wise and accomplished (husband);

322 既隆且昌 顧景赫奕 饋供孔將 惟以慰褱 庶無永傷 嗚呼哀哉

Part V She was both eminent and glorious. As she turns to the shadows, her brightness is great; And she is well provisioned. (This is all done) only to offer consulate comfort So that there will be no perpetual anguish. O the sadness of it!143

Here the chancellor’s wife was apportioned only so much brightness, and she entered death’s darkness with that brightness as yet unfaded. Her survivors claim that she would stay in their memories; well provisioned, she herself would remain bright among the shadows. In the Han, those provisions frequently consisted of mingqi (“vessels of brilliance”) that were pottery models and clay substitutes for real things— as well as mingyi 明衣 (“clothing of brilliance”)—all going into a tomb sometimes self-identified as a mingtang 明堂 (“hall of brilliance”).144 Yet as is already evident, light and darkness are only the first images within these competing symbol clusters. Light/darkness closely coincided with near/far, and in dynamic terms, clear definition close at hand exemplified fixity and stasis in contrast to the whirling chaos beyond. In terms of the ancestral shrine, we have already encountered this paradigm with spirits “whirling and drifting” in the darkness and periodically returning to an orderly, ritually consistent illuminant and methodical shrine in the center. Furthermore as Du Ye’s statement above indicates, the living members of the lineage faced the same alternatives of stability in the center or an unfixed, dangerous existence beyond. Specifically with regard to the tomb itself, modern scholarship often assumes a certain degree of dynamism there rather than stasis, namely that grave goods were intended to be used by the tomb occupant in the afterlife in a manner similar to life. Food was to be eaten, weapons to defend the self, clothing to be worn, money to be spent, mirrors to be used for makeup, texts to be read and vessels to cook food or indeed to continue preparing sacrifices for prior ancestors. This modern vision of an active afterlife extends to the clay and wooden mingqi models that represented in miniature the farms, towers, livestock and attendants in active service to the occupant in his or her new environs. In this view, postmortem existence was as dynamic as premortem existence. The received literature indeed yields some anecdotal evidence to support this view of an active afterlife. The infamous Robber Zhi disparaged

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the sage rulers Yao and Shun because to him they were unfilial, unloving and at best wanton murderers. He asked to be buried with a metal mallet because those dead sage rulers deserved a good posthumous pounding.145 Similarly General Zhou Yafu, who was instrumental in suppressing the rebellion in 154 bce (see Section 11), had five hundred sets of armor purchased for his own burial mound, and he was then charged with desiring to instigate rebellion in the realm below.146 In such accounts, the grave goods were to be used. Excavated texts such as tomb deeds and inventories of grave goods are also addressed to underworld officials, suggesting some kind of active bureaucracy and even economy in the realm to come.147 Yet I would propose a second possible interpretation for these grave goods, one that coincides with a desire for stasis and definition. Instead of merely being at the ancestor’s disposal, these grave goods might also have been regarded as bringing further definition and groundedness to that ancestor. This alternative has been suggested for other cultures such as ancient Greece, as Vermeule here speculates in terms of Mycenaean graves: [T]he sword and dagger, the gemstone, the smith’s tools or the priest’s implements complete a man’s identity underground, more surely than they help him in future spiritual life. . . . One cannot understand the “meaning” of such gifts, because in a sense they are meaningless, or mean more than one thing, and are not quite in the realm of rational gesture.148

In this interpretation, the tomb as a whole becomes a freeze-frame snapshot, a “still life” focused on stasis and preservation. The tomb is not a place for doing but simply a place for being; the dead are no longer transitive but are now definitively copular. For example, the Eastern Han teacher Zhou Pan had mastered the Documents canon in his youth, and at the age of seventy-three after a lifetime of serving as an internuncio and prefect in various places, he dreamed of talking to the spirit of his former teacher and took that as a sign to prepare for his own death. Ultimately he requested a frugal burial, ending that request with the following stipulation: 編二尺四寸簡,寫《堯典》一篇,并刀筆各一,以置棺前,示不忘聖 道。 Bind together bamboo strips that are two chi four cun (ca. 54 cm) in height, write out a copy of the “Yao doctrine,” and together with one knife and one brush, place it in front of my coffin to show that the sagely Dao is not forgotten.149


Part V

The “Yao doctrine” is a chapter of the Documents canon that he had mastered in his youth, and Zhou Pan would have almost certainly had this relatively short and famous text fully committed to memory. He would have had no need for a written text. Instead it was placed there to define him, to express that “the sagely Dao is not forgotten,” just as his writing tools of knife and brush would complete his identity underground. Zhou Pan’s case may warrant further study as archeologists excavate more and more documents and confront the question why those documents were committed to the darkness of the tomb. Similarly, the clay models of fields, attendants and so forth might be an idealized definition laid out around the dead, frozen for all time and embedded in the landscape itself. So much of the rest of the tomb is focused upon preservation, endurance and stasis that this option of “completing a man’s identity underground” would seem to have merit: • The burial’s most common metaphors are winter’s storage, the Grand Granary and hibernation, all states that emphasize stasis as opposed to the movement and transformation associated with all the other seasons. • Tomb builders focused on preservation by using building materials such as charcoal liners and stone walls, and as a result the Han significantly outstrips earlier and later dynasties in the number of surviving tombs. • As noted in Section 25, the terms for grave mounds, coffins and chambers were often preceded by the character shou 壽 meaning “longevity,” and coffin vault inscriptions declare these spaces of the dead to be their “ten-thousand year residences” (wansui she 萬歲舍) or even “tenmillion year official residences” (qianwansui shushe 千萬歲署舍).150 • The mirror frequently positioned by the deceased’s head was perhaps not a mark of perpetual vanity to be used in the afterlife but rather may have been an apt symbol of stasis, its metallic medium exemplifying perpetuity “like metal and stone” (ru jinshi 如金石) which is a phrase often found inscribed on them.151 • Numerous Han inscriptions and poems vaunt the ideal static longevity of metal and stone and lament the fact that the body might instead transform from its current state. Those who buried the dead often blocked the corpse’s orifices with stone (usually jade) to maintain the qi inside the body as long as possible, the wealthiest burials bedecking the entire body in a jade suit to prevent decay.

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Thus on one hand, the evidence can be read as describing a dynamic afterlife, and on the other, it suggests preserving an unchanging ideal state. The logical question then is whether functional burial goods such as metal mallets are consistent with the formalism of static definition. The answer is, of course, they are not. All cultures present inconsistent portrayals of death and afterlife, and it should not be surprising that diverse formal and functional explanations of the non-empirical realm exist side by side within the same culture and even within the same members of that culture. Ultimately it would be wrong to attempt to define one single Han conception of the tomb’s role, and just as Part III outlined a spectrum of different notions about the dead, we should here recognize differing understandings of their environment. Perhaps one might find a similar spectrum of meaning among the grave goods—the functional objects being consistent with independent agencies engaged in exchange relationships and the formal objects being more of the nature of memory-reliant, thought-full, statically defined ancestors—but such is only speculation. For now, it is only necessary to note a consciousness of the interplay between light and dark, definition and blurriness, stasis and chaos within the burial site, of well-defined ancestors “full of radiance” surrounded by “vessels of brilliance” descending into the “utter darkness of the tomb.”

Altar Space—“O! The Solemn Immaculate Shrine” Once when Emperor Yuan desired to visit his ancestral shrines, he intended to travel in style, going down the Wei River on a barge in extravagant fashion rather than just crossing it on the existing bridge despite the fact that the state was suffering economically. A teacher of the Songs canon, his imperial counselor Xue Guangde 薛廣德 (fl. mid- to late first cen. bce) vehemently protested, and as a final plea, he said, “If your majesty doesn’t listen to me, then I’ll slit my throat and defile the wheels of your carriage with my blood so that your majesty can’t enter the shrine!” 陛下不聽臣,臣自刎,以血汙車輪,陛下不得入廟矣).152 Blood contamination defiling the ancestral shrine was regarded as enough of a threat to prevent even a ruler from being able to visit the ancestral halls, and Emperor Yuan naturally decided to take the bridge. Family heads were generally responsible for maintaining orderly, immaculate shrines, and a disorderly, unclean place of worship resulted in unsuccessful sacrifices. The Zuo commentary relates several cases of how


Part V

ill-kempt sacrificers, careless offerings and dilapidated shrines led to unhappy spirits and declining lineages.153 On the imperial level in the Han, a fire in the shrine regularly precipitated five days of mourning and a demotion for those who had been in charge of its upkeep.154 As seen in Section 15, Wang Mang would eventually let Emperor Yuan’s own shrine fall to wrack and ruin, leading the emperor’s widow to conjecture, “This man is insulting the spirits too many times; will he be able to receive their assistance for long?” Below the imperial level, the Monthly ordinances of the four classes of people prescribes several days of sweeping and cleaning prior to each major sacrifice, and the Forest of Changes warns that a poorly kept sacrificial site would in turn trouble the mind: 東門之壇 茹廬在阪 禮義不行 與我心反

The altar at the east gate— Its banks are overgrown with madder. The rituals and ceremonies are not carried out, Turning my mind upside down.155

In all these cases, the implied argument is that altars must be neat and tidy for the spirits to appreciate the efforts of their descendants. It appears that in the Han, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” At least among the lettered populace, early sacrificers had a strong canonical injunction to keep the ancestral shrine clean and orderly. The brief Songs canon hymn entitled Qingmiao 清廟 (“The immaculate shrine”) was attributed to the Duke of Zhou (who wrote it about the deceased King Wen) and is as follows: 於穆清廟 肅雝顯相 濟濟多士 秉文之德 對越在天 駿奔走在廟 不顯不承 無射於人斯

O! The solemn immaculate shrine— Its distinguished attendants are respectful and harmonized. The many dignified and orderly officials Uphold King Wen’s virtue, [Still] in full accord with he who has moved off into heaven. Anxiously, hurriedly, they rush to the shrine— Great distinction is greatly continued, And finds no rejection among the people.156

Order is here manifested by the harmonized movements of respectful attendants and methodical officials in an immaculate setting; continuity is

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evinced by later generations cherishing King Wen’s virtue and earnestly maintaining his sacrifices. How do we know that this poem was held up as a standard? Both ritual anthologies and standard histories repeatedly cite it as the ideal by which to measure current practice. For example, some early works prescribed the singing of this song in a ceremony to honor the aged, after which the ruler would discuss it with his honored guests. Others such as the “Musical records” (see above) singled it out with descriptions as to how it should be performed—by soloists with three background harmonizing singers and a zither accompaniment—ostensibly to teach the audience harmonious equilibrium and moral conduct.157 Western Han court advisors nostalgically cited it as indicative of a better era that had to be recovered. For one, it spoke of a time when people “completely devoted their satisfied minds to serving their ancestors” (盡得其驩心, 以事其先祖); for another, it was evidence that in the past “everything in the rituals involving interaction with the spirits had to be immaculate and peaceful” (交神之禮無不清靜).158 The advisors felt that neither of these ideals was currently being realized. In the Eastern Han, it was explicitly taken as the model for new ancestral hymns on behalf of both imperial forebears as well as deceased officials, those of the latter being inscribed on their grave stelae. In summary, the “Immaculate shrine” was one of the most frequently cited pieces of the Songs canon in early imperial China. Other sources demand an “immaculate and peaceful” environment for the spirits. The Huainanzi, for example, notes that the imperial sacrificial hall must be “sufficiently peaceful and immaculate to present offerings to the gods on high and to treat the ghosts and spirits with their [proper] rituals” (靜潔足以享上帝,禮鬼神).159 This demand apparently extended to where abstentions were carried out as well.160 According to one Eastern Han inscription at Mount Hua, the previous abstention hall on that site had been cramped, disorderly and vexingly noisy with no room to honor the sacrificers according to their ranks. Because “it’s surely peacefulness that the spirits enjoy” (神樂其靜), the grand administrator had a new, quieter, larger hall built so that the sacrificers’ “purified minds could engender sincerity” (絜心致誠) and duly bring down heaven-sent blessings.161 The relatively late Grand peace canon concurs, stating that spirits dwell in empty, quiet places and would never return to a vile, filthy locale, and so if sacrificers “desire to think upon and cause the spirits to return”


Part V

(欲思還神), they must do so through abstentions in a proper incense hall.162 All these injunctions to immaculate orderliness and solemn dignity take on further significance when contrasted with the perceived chaos and darkness of the unknown world beyond the altar’s bubble. Alongside these calls for the shrine’s order, there likewise existed praises for the shrine’s brightness as this site became ancestral memory’s focal point for definition. Writing at the founding of the Han, Lady Tangshan drew attention to this brightness in her hymns by describing the shrine sacrifice as a “shining event” (see Section 25). Another of her hymns reiterates this theme with regard to the setting: 我定曆數 人告其心 敕身齊戒 施教申申 乃立祖廟 敬明尊親 大矣孝熙 四極爰轃

We have secured the imperial succession, And the people have proclaimed their minds. As that honorable person engages in his abstentions His instructions are in such good order. Thus he had the ancestral shrine erected To revere and make bright his respected parentage. His filial light is ever so great, Reaching out in every direction.163

In still another hymn, she writes, “We filially offer up this heavenly ceremony, as radiant as the sun and moon” (孝奏天儀,若日月光).164 Above we have encountered the mingtang 明堂 or “Hall of Brilliance” as a name for the tomb, but in the surviving literature, it more commonly referred to the ancestral shrine, at least on the imperial level. Because of its popular nature, the Filial piety canon probably provided the locus classicus for this structure, namely that the Duke of Zhou carried out sacrifices to King Wen there as the latter played “counterpart” ( pei 配) to the Lord(s) on High.165 Indeed in almost all references to the Hall of Brilliance, the dynastic founder is positioned relative to the greater cosmological forces, and he stands as an access point or conduit to those higher, less tangible powers. Surviving records note that Emperor Wu in 106 bce sacrificed in such a hall where Gaozu took on King Wen’s role, and they further mention that, a century and a half later, Emperor Ming conducted a similar sacrifice at the Hall of Brilliance, this time with Emperor Guangwu in that principal position.166 As to the latter, Ban Gu wrote a verse in praise of the event that began, “O radiant Hall of Brilliance! The Hall of Brilliance is exceptionally bright” (於昭明堂,明堂孔陽). The same poem concludes by again

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praising it as a beacon of light: “Oh exuberant! Continuously bright! May we cherish many blessings!” (猗歟緝熙, 允懷多福).167 At the end of the Han, Cai Yong sorted through most of the existing references to the Hall of Brilliance and wrote an essay as to its function. He argued that the name “Hall of Brilliance” is really a metonym derived from this structure’s southern chamber—the chamber best exemplifying the yang position—and the hall’s primary function was indeed ancestral sacrifice. He believed that “Hall of Brilliance” and “Immaculate shrine” were interchangeable terms, and he supplied several literary references to demonstrate the overlap.168 Thus brightness, remembrance and, indirectly, the south again join the same symbol cluster. Perhaps coincidentally, the Hall of Brilliance also correlated to the constellation Xin 心 or “Mind” when it came to omen interpretation, although this association seems to have been of less import.169 So far in our list of adjectives, the ideal ancestral shrine is both orderly and bright. A third quality it might boast is “stasis.” As the foremost physical link to the past that in turn defined the present lineage, this memorial came to embody fixity or constancy. Numerous works point to the early imperial shrine as a repository of documents in metal coffers, documents such as lineage records, covenants and lists of bestowed titles. The preimperial shrine may have performed a similar archival function, as it housed inscribed bronze vessels that recorded lineage and political relationships. Here the tracks of lineage history were retained and revisited on a regular basis. The best Han symbol appropriated to highlight the shrine’s longevous stasis also derives from the Songs canon in a poem entitled “Gantang” 甘棠 (“Birchleaf pear”) that exhorts its listeners never to harm a particular pear tree because the Duke of Shao had once rested under it: 蔽芾甘棠 勿翦勿伐 召伯所茇 蔽芾甘棠 勿翦勿敗 召伯所憩 蔽芾甘棠 勿翦勿拜 召伯所說

The lush and luxuriant birchleaf pear— Do not hew it; do not fell it, For here is where the earl of Shao camped. The lush and luxuriant birchleaf pear— Do not hew it; do not topple it, For here is where the earl of Shao rested. The lush and luxuriant birchleaf pear— Do not hew it; do not bend it, For here is where the earl of Shao lodged.170


Part V

The tree became a memorial to him, and by the Warring States period it served as the symbol for physical catalysts to memory and for preserving tangible links to the past: • According to a text from among the Shanghai Museum strips now dubbed the “Kongzi Shi lun” 孔子詩論 (“Confucius’s analysis of the Songs canon”), the Master explained, “I take the ‘Birchleaf Pear’ as securing respect for the ancestral shrine and securing a sense of fixity for the people’s sentiments” (吾以「甘棠」得宗廟之敬,民性固然).171 • Du Ye, who had worried about collapsing ancestral halls and dispersing lineages (see above), lamented the passing of great ministers by saying, “The tree where [the Duke of Shao] rested is still not felled—how much the more [should we preserve] these ministers’ ancestral shrines!” (所息之樹且猶不伐;況其廟乎).172 • The Kongzi jiayu 孔子家語 (Discourses within the tradition of Confucius), a text perhaps dating to the end of the Western Han, also compares the Zhou’s respect for this tree with the remembrance of past achievements and the presentation of ancestral sacrifices.173 • When Liu Xin in the Western Han opposed a rigorous closed system that would desacralize Emperor Wu’s shrine, he used the birchleaf pear image to justify the preservation of the past (see Section 14).174 • Still later in the Eastern Han, reference to this poem frequently recurs in stele inscriptions such as that of the chancellor of Beihai, whose birchleaf pear metaphorically blossomed once his stele was erected.175 I have found such allusions to this Songs canon poem in more than two dozen distinct texts, not including multiple references in the standard histories. It was clearly a widely accepted symbol in the Ricoeurian sense—a longevous tree imbuing longevity and fixity to the memories of the people associated with it. Not surprisingly, this tree is visually depicted on scores of Eastern Han cemetery shrines and tombs, standing beside what is most likely an ancestral hall within which people are paying homage to a seated figure— presumably the ancestor. This tree spreads its intertwining branches over an unharnessed carriage, a hanging harness or a tethered horse, all symbols of the duke resting from his journey. A great deal of textual and visual evidence (not rehearsed here) demonstrates how this tree became the emblem of preservation and symbol of stasis, encouraging people to maintain their physical ties to the past.176 Thus alongside its orderliness

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Fig. 7. Eastern Han tomb relief of the birchleaf pear tree (right) and ancestral shrine (Jiaxiang, Shandong) (SOURCE: Zhongguo huaxiangshi quanji bianji weiyuanhui, Zhongguo huaxiangshi quanji 2: Shandong huaxiangshi, 96 [pl. 103]).

and brightness, the shrine served as a longevous fortress against the threat of descendants forgetting and ancestors fading. The temporal and spatial periphery of the early imperial cosmos was characterized, then, by a symbol cluster of dimness, confusion and loss of definition, and the dead were doomed to join that cluster. This symbol cluster sharply contrasts with the ideal of order at the center manifested within the ancestral sacrifice. Forebear worship was qualified by closely regulated rituals of abstention and sacrifice, and that order was also maintained by the well-tended space of the immaculate shrine where hierarchy was clearly demarcated and everything was in its place. Borrowing a structure used by A. C. Graham, we might contrast these qualities as follows:177 _________________________________________ A B Paradigm Forgetting Remembering Dim Bright Indefinite Definite Past Present Periphery Center Night Day Winter Summer Drifting/decaying Fixity/stasis North South Death Life Syntagm _________________________________________


Part V

Many of these paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships are both self-evident as well as evinced in passages already quoted. They also reflect other paradigms such as the structure of knowledge described in the Introduction. That is, knowledge in the present is highly demarcated and detailed whereas it merges into a unity the further back one travels into the dim past, just like branches at the top of a tree all merge into a single trunk down below. As time passes and the dead themselves drift further back into history, they similarly shed their detail and merge into the corporate lineage. One crucial difference between the two symbol clusters of dimness and brightness is that whereas the first is natural and an inherent part of the cosmos itself, the second is artificially enhanced—the human-constructed halls, sacrifices, stele inscriptions and so forth—in ways to stave off the first as long as possible.178 Within that confrontation between natural darkness and artificial light, it should not be surprising that a gray inbetween of uncertainty came to be recognized. What is surprising is how that gray in-between in itself became a standardized and intrinsic element of ancestral worship.

Section 31: Acknowledging the Gray In-Between Rudolf Otto in 1917 published his famous Das Heilige (The idea of the Holy) on the symbolic logic used to approach religion and ineffability, and in it he quotes the theologian F.W. Robertson as an illustration of the link between darkness and the spiritual realm from a Christian perspective. Robertson explains how “the darkness reveals God” in certain Bible stories: God is approached more nearly in that which is indefinite than in that which is definite and distinct. He is felt in awe and wonder rather than in clear conception. There is a sense in which darkness has more of God than light has. He dwells in the thick darkness. Moments of tender, vague mystery often bring distinctly the feeling of His presence. When day breaks and distinctness comes the Divine has evaporated from the soul like morning dew. In sorrow, haunted by uncertain presentiments, we feel the infinite around us. The gloom disperses, the world’s joy comes again, and it seems as if God were gone. . . .179

Here darkness, uncertainty, awe and spirituality are tightly interwoven in a setting that has nothing to do with early China, thus suggesting there is indeed a trans-cultural, Ricoeurian link between darkness and deities.

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While our early Chinese texts might not explicitly portray such awe and wonder—the “mysterium tremendum,” as Otto put it—we can at least speculate that sacrificers might have experienced somewhat similar and hard-to-describe aesthetic, emotive moments when they searched the darkness and their memories for vestiges of their ancestors. Otto categorized darkness as a quality of negation—a quality that he himself saw in later Chinese landscape art through the use of negative space—and a direct method of communicating with the numinous. Yet the power of negation is only fully realized in contrast; dark is only fully appreciated alongside light. “The darkness must be such as is enhanced and made all the more perceptible by contrast with some last vestige of brightness, which it is, as it were, on the point of extinguishing; hence the ‘mystical’ effect begins with semi-darkness.”180 By extension, we might ask ourselves if the last vestiges of ancestral brilliance helped make the dark darker and the mysterious more mysterious through contrast, but such is merely conjecture. This book has concentrated on that last vestige of brightness in the form of fading, soon-to-be-extinguished ancestors, on “that which is indefinite” in Robertson’s thick darkness. In early imperial China, such indefiniteness and uncertainty led not only to questions but also to a questioning rhetoric. Uncertainty gave over to the certitude of formulaic expressions that articulated uncertainty and was expressed in the rhetorical strategy of listing numerous unanswered questions, the best known example of which is the “Heavenly questions” of the Chu lyrics. Within this same genre, a text entitled “Fanwu liuxing” 凡物流形 (“When the forms of all things became animate”) survives on thirty bamboo strips in the Shanghai Museum cache, much of it given over to a list of queries on cosmogony, yinyang and the layout of the world. It devotes three strips to our uncertainties about the nature of the dead, asking for example why we speak of “spirit covenants” (shenmeng 神盟) after people die, their flesh and bones having dispersed and their sentience increasingly removed. How do we nourish the ghosts with food when the dead aren’t even visible, their bodies disintegrated? With nothing upon which to rely, how do we thank the spirits or beseech them with sacrifices? The list of afterlife questions concludes: “What are we to do about satisfying our thoughts?” (吾如之何思飽).181


Part V

This preserved list of questions alludes to one of the starkest oddities of ancestral worship, namely the tangibility of sacrificial food presented to intangible, indefinite eaters of that food, an oddity not lost upon the writers of the Ritual records. The Ritual records vividly sets forth the pomp and circumstance that accompanied the sacrifice as the ruler brought in the meat and his wife the silk. Assisted by the highest officers, they presented the organs and the alcohol in great reverence. The presentations were duly announced to the spirits in the sacrificial chamber, in the hall and in the courtyard, but amidst such tangible, orchestrated detail, the sacrificers called out their own questions: “Are they there? Are they here?” (於彼乎?於此乎?).182 Those same queries are repeated elsewhere in the Ritual records because “one does not know where the spirits are” (不知神之所在).183 External evidence is simply not possible because as the “The central and the universal” in the same corpus states, the spirits cannot be seen nor heard, but the living reverently fast and dress up for them anyway.184 Two other texts in the Ritual records also raise the question “How could one ever know whether the spirits partook?” (豈知神之所饗也?), in one case answering that the sacrificers simply had to be exhaustively respectful and in the other answering that they had to possess a “uniformly regulated, reverent mind” (齊敬之 心).185 That is, they answer this question of uncertainty not with external evidence but with internal mental states. Their presence was not determined by physical evidence but was predetermined by the state of mind of the sacrificers coming to the offering. Thus one of the most fascinating aspects of the early discourse on ancestral worship is how texts do not merely talk about spirits; they regularly talk about “talking about spirits,” so much so that it becomes a part of the sacrificial ritual itself. To put it another way, the meta-discourse of ritual efficacy entered into the discourse itself. Instead of simply describing a particular interaction between Sacrificer X and Spirit Y, texts described the intended interaction and then stepped back to ask whether such an interaction in fact took place at all. When Emperor Wu described the uncertain spiritual presence of his deceased favorite Lady Li with the famous words, “Was it she; was it not?” (Shi ye, fei ye 是邪,非邪), his lament was not a spontaneous outburst but part of an established discourse in which the living were expected to question the dead’s attendance at a sacrifice (see the conclusion to Part IV).

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Some of the reasons for that expectation have already begun to take shape in earlier sections of this book. First, uncertainty is inherent in death itself, and different cultures have responded to this uncertainty with diverse views about postmortem existence. As Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry write in the introduction to their Death and the regeneration of life: The uncertainty which surrounds death is also manifest in the existence of a number of beliefs which are different and even contradictory to the central ones—(for example, the belief in ghosts in Christian Europe). Such beliefs are usually less elaborated and less emphatic, but their occurrence is extremely common.186

No one can experience and then report back on death and afterlife, and so numerous interpretations within a single tradition will naturally coexist. In terms of early China, we have already seen that the living had a spectrum of notions about the afterlife from which to choose, a spectrum of lenses through which they could view their dead. Simply put, there was no single vision of ancestral existence. Wang Chong lists many different theories about ghosts and spirits, and while he counters most of them, he admits, “The ways of heaven are hard to understand, and ghosts and spirits are dark, obscure matters, and so I set forth all the theories here for the current generation to investigate” (天道難知,鬼神闇昧, 故 具載列,今世察之).187 From external agencies engaged in do ut des relationships to mental projections generated by the living, the options were varied and even included the possibility of denying afterlife existence altogether. Ordinarily a diversity of beliefs might magnify uncertainty, but here that uncertainty may have been somewhat tempered by the fact that those different visions of the afterlife were regarded as different branches of the same tree. Second and more particular to early China, relying upon the intangible medium of thought must in itself admit to a degree of uncertainty. When in the Eastern Han Emperor Zhang carried out a “sacrifice of enlightened contemplation” (明哲之祀), he worried, “Although I sacrificed to the dead as if they were present, in their absence I did not know how to judge it, uncertain as to whether they enjoyed the offerings” (雖祭亡如在,而 空虛不知所裁,庶或饗之).188 A heavy reliance upon thinking and contemplation simply lacks the concrete certainty of seeing, touching and hearing.


Part V

Third, because thoughts directed at those ancestors faded over the generations, the ancestors themselves were not static, a theme first addressed in Part I. The Guanzi offers this analogy, “Springs and headwaters dry up; ghosts and spirits have their end” (源泉有竭;鬼神有歇), and the Zuo commentary succinctly summarizes, “New ghosts are large, and old ghosts are small” (新鬼大,故鬼小).189 Later, Sima Qian in his survey of sacrificial practice bemusedly comments that the Qin regularly worshipped even “the smallest of ghosts” (最小鬼), including littleknown generals of the Zhou dynasty.190 “Structured amnesia” thus adds a third level of uncertainty because the living were worshipping dwindling energies rather than static, immortal angelic beings. They were unable to identify just when an ancestor had petered out and become bereft of power. Thus the system itself embodied much uncertainty, but human interpretation and perceived misinterpretation of that system could lead to a fourth reason for doubt. The ritual canon generally prescribes a tidy, logical sequence for structured amnesia, but the actual details of ancestral sacrifice were left to interpretation. Han Emperor Wu compared proper ancestral veneration to “fording a deep river, not yet knowing where to cross” (涉淵水,未知所濟),191 and such uncertainty is evident in the numerous prevarications on ritual throughout the Han. Shortly after the Han, one student of ancestral ritual who had painstakingly combed through early texts such as the Ritual records for clear descriptions of sacrificial practice lamented how he had to stitch together fragments from disparate sources: “Although there are sometimes a few words [on these sacrifices] found in other canons and commentaries,” he concluded, “there’s nothing we can reliably grasp when it comes to extracting proper procedure” (自餘經傳,雖時有片記,至於取正,無可依攬).192 As seen in Part II, Han scholars did much more than simply rely upon interpretive guesswork; they consciously strayed from what was known. That is, structured amnesia may have reflected ideal cosmological principles, but there followed both human interpretation of and human deviation from that system, thereby further increasing the level of uncertainty in any interactions between the living and their dead. These four reasons for uncertainty—the diversity of views about postmortem existence, the intangibility of mentation, a system of fading ancestors and changing human interpretations of that system—are by

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themselves sufficient to generate explicit uncertainties on the state of the dead during a sacrifice, and to them we can add a fifth cause for concern, namely damage to or loss of the body. That is, if body and soul or mind and matter were not starkly divided in early China as they have been in the modern West, then damage to or loss of the body might also be construed as adversely influencing any less visible elements or emanations such as “soul,” qi or spirit. As seen in Section 19, one of Emperor Huan’s late concubines had had her bones exposed and her “hun-soul’s numen” (hunling) defiled by tomb raiders, thereby disqualifying her as a candidate to be remembered alongside the emperor’s tablet. Below the imperial level, early Han subjects owed the state at least two years of potentially dangerous conscripted service, either manning the borders or suppressing internal rebellions. Near the end of the Western Han, the scholar Jia Juanzhi 賈捐之 advised Emperor Yuan to reduce this burden by withdrawing from distant, loosely controlled regions, and his elegantly worded memorial describes how fathers and sons were dying on campaign, thus leaving their elderly mothers and orphaned children to mourn in the streets and alleyways back home: “At such a distance they set up sacrifices in vain, imagining the hun-souls [of their dead] more than ten thousand li away” (遙設虛祭,想魂乎萬里之外).193 The problem of lost bodies and hence lost souls even resulted in new imperial rituals at the beginning of the Eastern Han in which the hun-soul of an absent corpse could be summoned and then interred. The efficacy of this ritual in turn became much debated until the ritual was eventually abandoned in the Period of Disunion.194 In other cases, the body might have been secured but its burial site subsequently threatened. That is, the final resting place was not so final or restful as tombs were plundered, collapsed into nearby rivers or had other tombs constructed on top of them. An excavated text among those held by the Shanghai Museum relates how, near the end of the Spring and Autumn period, King Zhao of Chu had built a palace and held a feast to celebrate its completion. At that time, a man in mourning clothing made his way into the party, complaining that the king had built the palace stairs on top of this man’s father.195 In this anecdote, the virtuous ruler then had the palace demolished, but according to subsequent historical records, the Han emperors were not quite so virtuous, wiping out whole cemeteries to construct their own mausoleums. Such oft-


Part V

recorded cases of unrecovered bodies and disturbed tombs thus further exacerbated uncertainty about the state of the dead. Given that there were so many reasons for uncertainty, it is not surprising that doubts and the nature of doubting frequently came to be discussed in the received and excavated literature as early as the pre-imperial philosophers. The Mohists address the issue more directly than most, and the received Mozi includes several dialogues in which Mozi is asked whether ghosts and spirits are indeed sentient and have the power to reward and punish. Another excavated text held by the Shanghai Museum—at first thought to be of the Mozi tradition but now regarded by some as inimical to general Mohist doctrine—both expresses doubt about the nature of the afterlife and provides yet another reason why such doubts arose: 今夫鬼神有所明有所不明,則以其賞善罰暴也。 昔者堯、舜、禹、湯,仁義聖智,天下法之。此以貴為天子,富有 天下,長年有舉,後世遂之。則鬼神之賞,此明矣。及桀、受、幽、 厲,焚聖人,殺訐者,賊百姓,亂邦家。此以桀折於鬲山,而受首於 岐社,身不沒為天下笑。則鬼〔神之罰,此明〕矣。 及伍子胥者,天下之聖人也,鴟夷而死。榮夷公者,天下之亂人也 ,長年而沒。汝以此詰之,則善者或不賞,而暴〔者或不罰,故〕吾 因嘉?鬼神不明,則必有故。其力能至焉而弗為乎?吾弗知也。意其 力故不能至焉乎?吾或弗知也。此兩者歧,吾故〔曰鬼神有〕所明有 所不明。此之謂乎? [A disciple asked] whether ghosts and spirits are perspicacious so that they reward the good and punish the cruel. [He replied,] “In antiquity, Yao, Shun, Yu and Tang were benevolent, moral, sagacious and wise, and the world used them as models. Thus they were honored as sons of heaven and possessed the wealth of the world; they enjoyed increased long years, and generations of offspring followed them. This is evidence that the ghosts and spirits reward [the good]. Coming to Jie, Zhou, You and Li, they brought destruction to the sagacious, killed their critics, plundered the common people and threw their states and households into chaos. Jie was thereupon brought down at Lishan, and Zhou [lost his] head at Qishe. They were the laughingstock of the world before they even died. This is evidence that the ghosts and spirits punish [the cruel]. “[However,] Wu Zixu was one of the world’s sagacious and he died [prematurely, his body shoved into] a leather bag [and thrown into the river]. Duke Yi of Rong was one of the world’s chaotic, and he lived a long life before passing away. If you were to investigate these cases, you would find that sometimes the good are not rewarded and the cruel not punished, so why do I accordingly

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commend [the ghosts and spirits as perspicacious]? There must be a reason why the ghosts and spirits were not perspicacious. Was it that their power was able to extend into these cases but they simply didn’t act? I don’t know. Or do we just presume their power was unable to extend into these cases? Again I don’t know. But just because of these two exceptions, would I conclude [by wondering] ‘whether ghosts and spirits are perspicacious?’”196

Hence uncertainty arose because the straightforward do ut des approach to the spirits couldn’t account for obvious historical exceptions. The received Mozi also includes an account of Mozi’s colleagues complaining that the spirits were not rewarding them despite all their good works, that it seemed to be raining upon the just and the unjust. Although perhaps not Mozi himself, the respondent here in the Shanghai strips answers uncertainty with uncertainty. He can’t account for the few exceptions, but that does not mean the general principle is unsound. According to the Garden of persuasions version of the famous Wu Zixu story, the angry king of Wu who had stuffed Wu Zixu’s corpse into a leather bag later came to regret how he had never listened to Wu Zixu’s advice. Just before the king died, he said, “If the dead are not sentient, then it’s all finished, but if the dead are sentient, then how can I ever come face to face with Wu Zixu [in the afterlife]?” (令死者無知則 已, 死者有知,吾何面目以見子胥也!).197 This standardized expression of uncertainty about the dead’s sentience is found in numerous pre- and early imperial works. In the Zuo commentary, an imperiled state was about to put one of its cities to the torch because an enemy force was occupying it, but burning it would also cremate the corpses of the state’s own subjects. One of the ruler’s advisors supported burning because “If the dead are sentient, how would they enjoy their old sacrifices if the state were about to be lost anyway?” (國亡矣,死者若有知也, 可以歆 舊祀?).198 For a later example from the Later Han documents, an Eastern Han teacher by the name of Ren Mo 任末 asked that his corpse be buried at his school instead of being returned to western China because “if the dead are sentient, then my hunling-soul will feel no shame, and if they are not sentient, then I’ll just become dirt” (使死而有知,魂靈 不慚;如其無知,得土而已).199 Just what zhi 知 or “sentience” entails in these conditional statements is difficult to ascertain, although the early texts do imply certain qualities. For example, the Guliang commentary notes that a rock has “no sentience” (wuzhi) but a fishhawk is “slightly sentient” (wei youzhi 微有知),


Part V

and so sentience was potentially viewed as a matter of degree and not merely an either/or condition.200 Xunzi argued that all animals have some sentience and humans most of all, thus making the latter miss their dead loved ones all the more.201 In most of these conditionals, if a dead person himself possessed zhi, he was at least aware of other dead and could feel shame in their presence if he had done something to wrong their memories in life. Such is one of the most commonly voiced concerns. Other statements maintain the sentient dead could also hear prayers and were even omnipotent. Still others insist that sentience meant being able to move about the world and being able to affect the living, either by haunting them or granting them favors. Yet the evidence is anecdotal and should not necessarily be viewed as all contributing to a single understanding of this notion of zhi. Usage of these conditionals culminates in a functionalist view of religion in which the actual uncertainty about the dead’s sentience is good for society. Two Han texts record that Confucius was asked whether the dead were sentient. He replied that if he were to answer in the affirmative, the living would distress themselves too much in serving their ancestors. If he were to answer in the negative, the unfilial wouldn’t even bother to bury their parents.202 Thus it was best not to be certain. Yet such explicit advocacy of uncertainty does not characterize the whole of the Classicist tradition. According to the Ritual records, one of Confucius’s disciples was told that Xia dynasty burials used mingqi—that is, the clay “vessels of brilliance” mimicking real vessels described above—to demonstrate to the people that the dead were not sentient, whereas Shang dynasty burials used real vessels to show that the dead were in fact sentient. Did that not mean the Zhou was in doubt about sentience because people in the Zhou used both types? The disciple replied that the issue at hand was not one of sentience, that mingqi were for the ghosts to use whereas real vessels were for the living.203 Here the argument is against uncertainty, but it acknowledges that such doubts indeed existed and that they directly pertained to how grave practices were to be viewed.204 Perhaps because this rhetorical uncertainty was so common, a handful of variations on this theme of “if the dead are sentient” evolved. When Duke Jing 景 of Qi (r. 547–489) ordered his invocator to pray away his disease, Yanzi contended a mere invocator would be ineffectual when the masses were cursing his misrule. “If the lords on high possess spiritual

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powers, then they can’t be deceived; if they don’t, then the invocator is of no benefit” (上帝神,則不可欺;上帝不神,祝亦無益).205 While the formula is the same, here the variables focus upon the state of the gods and not the dead and the quality of their spirit/spiritual power and not their sentience. The Wu Yue chunqiu 吳越春秋 (Spring and autumn annals of Wu and Yue) offers a closer variant that, instead of questioning the sentience of the dead, asks the same of their hunpo, a person’s combined corporeal and incorporeal components necessary for his or her body to remain animate.206 Although little can be made of this variant because such terms were used loosely, it suggests a link to a more common variation on uncertainty that arose in the Eastern Han in the form of the statement hun er youling 魂而有靈 or “if the hun-soul is numinous.” For example, one stele hopes that “if the hun-soul is numinous, may it consider this kind honor as excellent!” (魂而有靈,嘉其寵榮).207 Yang Zhen 楊震 (d. 124 ce) was an unheeded court advisor who died near the end of Emperor An’s much-maligned reign and was reburied with honors during the reign of his successor. A series of natural catastrophes were attributed to the fact that Yang Zhen had not yet received his due respect, and it was said that giant birds gathered and wept at the new grave. The new emperor concluded an edict as follows: 使太守丞以中牢具祠,魂而有靈,儻其歆享。 Let the assistants to the grand administrator prepare a sacrifice of a sheep and a pig. If his hun-soul is numinous, may he enjoy the offering.208

They then erected images of stone birds at his grave. In other cases of the hun er youling conditional, the potentially numinous dead were asked to pity the surviving descendants, to send down blessings on those descendants and to avert calamities. What is ling? The chief difference between zhi or “sentience” and ling or “numinous” seems to be that, while both can roughly cover the same range of meanings, zhi tends toward the notion of awareness and ling toward efficacy. The Later Han documents even likens an ancestor’s ling to the living’s “strength” or “power” (li 力).209 Variations also replace ling with shen or “spirit.” Like the earlier statements on sentience, hun er youling was evidently intended as a conditional, but aside from the difference between zhi and ling, there are other important distinctions between the pre-Eastern Han questions about sentience and hun er youling.210 To


Part V

my knowledge, hun er youling is never juxtaposed with an alternative such as hun er wuling 魂而無靈. Furthermore, whereas “If the dead are sentient” is usually voiced as a generalization about humanity, the phrase “If the hun-soul is numinous” tends to have the ling of a specific person in mind, as in the case of Yang Zhen above. Whereas the rhetoric of whether the dead are sentient appears in narrative literature, the rhetoric on whether the hun-soul is numinous usually appears at the end of a particular ritual text or edict such as in a grave deed or stele inscription. There are more than a dozen examples of the latter surviving. Regardless of whether it is a question of general sentience or of a particular person’s numinous power, it is vital to understand that most early Chinese rhetorical expressions of uncertainty concerning the state of the dead were not like the uncertainty of Western agnosticism in which it simply can’t be known whether supernatural agencies generally exist. That is, when an early source such as the Mohist passage above discusses uncertainty, it is an uncertainty about whether ghosts and spirits possessed “perspicacity” or “brilliance” (ming 明), not whether they themselves existed, and the same can be said for most early sources on the dead’s sentience or numinous power.211 With regard to the last, uncertainty most likely stemmed from this notion of the dead fading into the dark, undefined periphery of time and space, gradually losing their strength over the generations, and the phrase hun er youling might be better rendered “While the hun-soul is numinous. . . .”212 In the end, what is most remarkable is the frequency of expressed uncertainty, ranging from these questions on the sentient or numinous nature of the dead, to the ceremonial calling out “Are they there? Are they here?” before an offering, to the emperors subsequently worrying whether they had nourished their ancestors after their own “sacrifices of enlightened contemplation.” Yet that frequency leads to an obvious question: why routinely admit to such doubts? That is, did the regular expression of uncertainty—the regular recognition of the gray area between light and dark—in itself somehow benefit the discourse, making it more apt to survive? Perhaps expressed uncertainty heightened the experience of religion itself. If within a religion’s content, as Robertson argued from the Protestant perspective, “God is approached more nearly in that which is indefinite than in that which is definite and distinct,” then our uncertainty adds

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mystery, anxiety, immanence and even wonder to the tradition. Within the ancestral cult in particular, perhaps the uncertainty with which we approach the status of the dead in fact amplifies the content of the cult’s religious symbolism—of the periphery’s dimness and the past’s murkiness—thereby increasing the intensity of the psychodrama. Perhaps expressed uncertainty resulted in increased effort toward conducting active, thought-full and meaningful worship by way of counterbalance. That is, a constant self-consciousness of one’s uncertainty might encourage descendants to try all the harder to maintain focus during the lengthy abstentions, to be punctilious in the meticulous rituals and to preserve an orderly, immaculate shrine that in itself manifests a kind of certitude. Or perhaps the routinization of expressed uncertainty paradoxically removed the anxiety of uncertainty. That is, if it simply became habit to call out “Are they here?” before a sacrifice, the uncertainty element was summarily dealt with and the sacrificer could move on. Even if the actual causes of uncertainty remained unaddressed, the sheer routinization of expressing that uncertainty compensates by injecting it with a feeling of certitude. We cannot know how uncertainty might have benefitted ancestral remembrance; it may have been a combination of these speculations. Regardless, such frequency of expressed doubt seems to have transformed uncertainty into a ritually certain element. Even Confucius himself would inquire about everything in the Duke of Zhou’s ancestral shrine when he visited it, and when asked why he did so, he responded, “Because such is the ritual” (Shi li ye 是禮也).213 It was not only acceptable to question but proper and expected, and if this inquisitive approach extended to the nature of postmortem existence, then Han descendants regularly abided by his model.

Conclusion Imagine if you will that you are justifiably uncertain as to whether your late father’s spirit is sentient and whether “his hun-soul is numinous” because you simply cannot measure the state of the dead with any assurance. In a vague and tentative existence, your late father whirls and drifts, displaced and destitute in the far reaches of the “Long Night.”


Part V

Three days prior to the New Year’s Sacrifice, you still dutifully avoid all distracting music, sex, alcohol, meat and visitors during your ritual abstentions. You think your way into the darkness, remembering your father’s old home, his way of talking, his ideas, pleasures and desires. Crossing the Gate of Heaven, your father begins to journey inward via winter and the north, first roaming about in disorder but then gradually coming into formation with others who were “on the march . . . forming an unbroken legion” as he approaches the newly cleaned Hall of Brilliance. On the day of the sacrifice, your thoughts become realized. You envision him as you enter the hall, and when you face north, you see him in his proper place, outlined by the clothes, tables and mats that were familiar to him. Having been welcomed as a guest to the shining event, your father takes his seat to dine upon the incense fragrance and the aroma of meats and spiced wines, thoroughly entertained within this setting of rhythmic rituals and an immaculate shrine. Bowing down to the tablets as you channel your intense filial respect, you use the props of the ancestral shrine to remember his person, to imagine his form. Everything is attuned with your thoughts, and you hope they will listen to the somber, murky music being played for them. Anchored into the past like these invariant rituals and music, your father comes to embody that line from the Ritual records: “In terms of illumination, there are rituals and music; in terms of obscurity, there are ghosts and spirits.” Now inebriated as the descendant feast begins, your “clear thoughts grow dim,” once again anxiously uncertain as to whether you had in fact nourished your father in this act of ritual remembrance. Now inebriated as the ancestral feast ends, your father leaves the Hall of Brilliance to return to the peripheral darkness, his radiance rekindled for a while longer. If Collingwood is justified in summarizing that “the history of thought, and therefore all history, is the re-enactment of past thought in the historian’s own mind,” then the above is simply a more explicit version of what all history implicitly does. Mostly quotations and paraphrases interwoven from various sources, this patchwork psychodrama may be more fiction than fact, but by cobbling together the disparate evidence into a common

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narrative, we can now fruitfully ask ourselves whether the evidence in Part V supports this story and where the gaps in our knowledge remain. This reenactment also highlights the theme of Part V, namely that the symbolic dialogue between dark and light, chaos and stasis, periphery and center was not an arbitrary dialogue but was in fact naturally linked to a more basic dialogue between forgetting and remembering. If Ricoeur is correct in maintaining that true symbols retain a “trace of a natural relationship between the signifier and the signified,” then the signifiers of orderliness, brightness and stasis point to someone well remembered whereas the signifiers of chaos, darkness and fading index the anxieties of the forgetting mind. In summary, the main agenda of ancestral worship (the tension between present memory and fading past) determined its trappings (the tension between light and dark, stasis and dynamism, order and chaos, etc.). In the simple reenactment above, the descendant’s basic notions about thought and kinship naturally resonate with the spectacle of an ancestor’s journey from peripheral darkness to central light. These resonances are easy to explore because so many of these texts prescribing and describing the ancestral cult not only employ the light/dark imagery but also explicitly address the corresponding cognitive component, thereby helping us see the links. Other religions are not so forthcoming in revealing their links between religious agendas and religious trappings, between core tenet and subsequent symbol. It takes later theorists such as Ricoeur to bridge the gap between sin and stain or Eliade to connect infinity and sky. If we are to derive a larger lesson for comparative religions from this analysis of the early Chinese ancestral cult, it would be to learn how to identify a religion’s particular symbol clusters, to then speculate on the agenda that spawned those symbol clusters, and ultimately to hunt down the evidence connecting the two. If the predominant symbol cluster within a religion can indeed be traced back to a defining idea within that religion, that idea should perhaps draw our scholarly attention more so than the religion’s other ideas that may simply be adaptations to particular times and places. Fortunately for us, the connections between the ancestral cult’s agenda and its symbol clusters are not hidden, and the very fact that its metadiscourse is so well developed may in itself indicate the ancestral cult’s vigor in early China.


Death naturally entails absence in terms of both space, because the dead are no longer within sight, and time, because the point of death ever recedes into the past. But what else can be said about how this absence is manifested? For the surviving lineage, the lacuna may require restructuring family authority; for the individual descendant, it leads to forgetfulness as details about the dead gradually fade and memories blur. Furthermore this absence brought about by death is of course an undesired occurrence. The spatial and temporal absence, the disrupted lineage, the fading memory and our feelings of loss are all universal givens, not culturally specific and not even limited to humans. What has most interested us at the end of this book is how those universals were in turn translated into basic symbols, particularly in the Ricoeurian sense for which true symbols retain a natural link to the thing symbolized, in early imperial China. Spatial and temporal absence logically became envisioned as fading into the peripheral black as a person’s details became foggy and eventually disappeared. As generational distance grew, the living’s attention to the dead proportionally dimmed. The dark stillness of the north, winter and yin became symbolically allied with death; turtles and snakes (cold-blooded hibernators) became common emblems on ancestral shrines and cemeteries. Black garments, plain stews, muffled music and restrictive abstentions were all symbolic elements of sacrifice that retained their natural indices to death and absence. Conversely, death’s undesirability translated into a quest to sustain the “spiritual brilliance” (shenming) as long as possible with “brilliant vessels”

Mind the Gap


(mingqi), “brilliant halls” (mingtang) and regular rituals dubbed “the height of quintessential brilliance” (jingming zhi zhi). In defense against the blackness, they literally (but not figuratively) made light of death. Where does ritual fit into this translation process from universal given to basic symbol? Ritual sits between these two layers, digitizing what would have been a natural analogic process. Instead of the dead merely fading from memory in a random, unregulated fashion, they were remembered for a predetermined number of generations, the place and time of their regular remembrances prescribed in great detail. Instead of the living revering the dead only in their minds, they converted that reverence into tangible acts involving food and wine, incense and music. As performative thinking extended outward into the peripheral blackness—as they endeavored to mind the gap—ritual duly structured intangible mentation into an existential being, an ancestral spirit. The abstentions focused the mind, the sacrificial offering matured it and the ancestral hymns proclaimed that “our thoughts become realized,” all in a cultural context in which it was believed that the mind could indeed affect the environment beyond itself. Yet thoughts and spirits are still invisible, and uncertainty about what comes after death is also a universal given. As we have seen, that uncertainty found regular expression in questions about whether the sacrifices worked, whether the dead in general were sentient and whether the particular dead were still efficacious. The translation process that begins with the universal traits of absence does not stop with the basic symbols of darkness, winter and so forth, and there is still a third layer as the dead persisted in a more individuated form. Instead of remembrance merely being an interplay between light and dark, the dead possessed individuated agency and could maintain active exchange relationships with the living. At this third layer, the Ricoeurian notion of symbols gives way to our own need for understandable, anthropomorphized entities with whom we can interact. Spirits were in fact enjoying and responding to that food and wine, incense and music. The uncertainty inherently linked to death in turn gave way to a growing definable bureaucracy with named underworld officials overseeing delimited jurisdictions. What started off as an absence ended up as a presence. And that’s where the translation process broke down. Once memories of the dead translated into anthropomorphized agencies who took on a life of their own, it became difficult to kill them again in murderous for-



getfulness. Upset about their reduction in sacrificial attention, hungry ancestors plagued Emperor Yuan’s dreams; angry about their descendants’ cold and calculating ignorance of their needs, lineage spirits ordered Grand Administrator Shi Qi to kowtow until the blood flowed from his forehead. The natural, dispassionate logic of ritual’s structured amnesia didn’t fare well when it came time to actually turn away from a recognized ancestor. These three layers of understanding death—namely the universals of absence, the basic symbols of afterlife existence and the complex agencies of spirits and ghosts—are by no means unique to early China, and each is readily mirrored in equivalent discourses elsewhere. What is unique is the extensive meta-discourse that tied them together. Rising above simple descriptions of individual practice, people in early China often interrelated these discourses in thoughtful ways. According to the Ritual records, the sages understood the universals and duly invented ghosts and spirits as a tangible expedience. In the stele inscription authored by Mi Heng, “The relationship between dark and light is all that is needed to fathom the spirits.” And as Lady Tangshan hymned, when “our clear thoughts grow so dim” the spirits rode off into the darkness. With regard to the last, no other culture to my knowledge posits a link between the descendant’s mind and the ancestral spirit to the degree that early China did. Their very explicitness of the mind’s role in fact gives us the opportunity to explore Ricoeur’s link between symbol and symbolized, an opportunity not so readily available in any other culture. Besides these explicit links between the layers of understanding afterlife existence, people in early China openly debated whether the ensuing rituals with their predetermined artificial numbers of remembered ancestors were on one hand overly prescriptive or were, on the other hand, just a pretense for secular agendas such as maintaining the unity of lineage and state. In this meta-discourse as they stepped beyond the sacrificial event itself, they even admitted over and over to their uncertainty whether sacrifices worked at all. Spread across an extensive variety of primary sources, this vibrant meta-discourse is what makes the exploration of early Chinese ancestral memory a worthy endeavor. Their enlightened understanding of what proper remembrance entails should remain bright even if the Han ancestors themselves have long faded to black.

Reference Matter


Introduction 1. Huainan honglie jijie, 678 (“Taizu” 泰族). See also p. 482 (“Quanyan” 詮言) for a similar comparison of duties carried out by the cook, the invocator and the idle-but-revered ancestral impersonator. 2. For the excavated legal codes from the early years of the Han dynasty on training and testing clerks, diviners and invocators, see Zhangjiashan Han mu zhujian, 204 (“Shi lü” 史律). 3. For example, see Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 1535–42 (Ding 4); Jiao shi Yilin, 23 (“Xu: kun” 需:困). 4. Liji zhengyi, 1628 (“Zhongyong” 中庸). 5. Huainan honglie jijie, 665 (“Taizu” 泰族). 6. Mao Shi zhengyi, 555 (“Yi” 抑). 7. Hanshu, 22.1027–28. 8. Hou Hanshu, zhi 7.3157. Chai 豺 is tentatively translated as “wolf” here, although no one is certain as to which wild canine this term refers. “The birth of the people” probably alludes to the Songs canon poem by the same name, which also addresses the origins of ritual. 9. Liji jijie, 409, 477 (“Yueling” 月令); Lü shi chunqiu jishi, 1.1b (“Mengchun ji” 孟春紀), 9.1b (“Jiqiu ji” 季秋紀); Da Dai Liji jiegu, 45 (“Xiaxiaozheng” 夏小 正). See also Huainan honglie jijie, 308 (“Zhushu” 主術). 10. Csikszentmihalyi and Nylan, “Constructing lineages and inventing traditions,” 59. 11. Sivin, “Taoism and science,” 6. 12. Smith, “Sima Tan and the invention of Daoism, ‘Legalism,’ et cetera,” 130.


Notes to Pages 8–9

13. Smith, “Sima Tan and the invention of Daoism, ‘Legalism,’ et cetera,” 132–37. 14. Xunzi jijie, 393 (“Jiebi” 解蔽). Mark Edward Lewis has explored many examples of how expertise within delimited fields was regarded as inferior to an encompassing adaptive intelligence that sees the larger picture. See his Writing and authority in early China, 83–94, 289–97. 15. Xunzi jijie, 393 (“Jiebi” 解蔽); Lü shi chunqiu jishi, 3.17a (“Huandao” 圜道); Huainan honglie jijie, 283–84 (“Zhushu” 主術), following the emendation by Wang Niansun, et al.). The latter is also discussed in Ames, The art of rulership, 59. This metaphor of roundness grew in importance with the later introduction of Buddhism and its “round,” corner-free philosophies, and that roundness would even work its way into the titles of famous Buddhist scriptures such as the seventh-century Yuanjuejing 圓覺經 (Sutra of round enlightenment). Peter Gregory well describes the program of the Chan master Zongmi 宗密 (780–841) in geometric terms that already existed in the Han: Different teachings are not so much wrong as they are limited or partial. There is thus a gradient of truth along which all teachings can be arranged. And the way in which one supersedes the other is dialectical, each teaching overcoming in turn the particular limitation or partiality of the one that preceded it. The supreme teaching, of course, is the one that succeeds in offering the most comprehensive point of view in which all other teachings can be harmoniously sublated. The highest teaching was therefore often referred to as yüan 圓 (literally, “round,” i.e., having no sides or partiality, not leaning in any direction), the perfect teaching in which all others were consummated.

See Gregory, Inquiry into the origin of humanity, 6–7 (parenthetical insert retained). 16. Xunzi jijie, 319 (“Tian lun” 天論). 17. Sima Tan describes the discourse of “names” (ming 名) as the practice of precisely matching the words of what has been contracted with the substance of what was actually done. (For a full account of this practice, see Makeham, “The Legalist concept of hsing-ming.”) His discourse of “system” ( fa 法) denotes an absolutely impartial government model devoid of kinship and honor considerations. I translate the labels of these idea systems with great hesitation because each is today a minefield of problems in terms of how we draw a circle around it. The first translation option would be to retain the traditional renderings—still used by many—of schools devoted to Yinyang, Confucianism, Mohism, Logicians, Legalism and Daoism, but these isms at times do not easily align with Sima Tan’s somewhat selective criteria for each. On one hand, some of these isms take shape only well after Sima Tan’s era. On the other, Sima Tan himself looks at these idea

Notes to Pages 9–11


systems through the agenda-laden filter of his own Daoism. Even his description of Classicism only highlights the ritual aspects without any reference to humanity and propriety, as Smith (“Sima Tan and the invention of Daoism, ‘Legalism,’ et cetera,” 139) points out. The second option would be to leave them all transliterated as yinyang¸ Ru, Mo, Ming, Fa and Dao, an option pursued by some modern scholarship that avoids the baggage of the old labels. Yet leaving them transliterated without adequate explanations of each would only continue to imply the existence of broadly accepted isms, and of course too many transliterations would be awkward for the non-specialist. Here I have instead opted to leave Classicism, Mohism and Daoism as isms (the first to be explained below) because by Sima Tan’s era they were fairly well defined as idea systems relative to one another, each associated with particular texts and (in the case of Classicism and Mohism) master-disciple schools in the past. (For how Sima Tan’s description of Daoism closely relates to other texts, namely the Huainanzi, the Guanzi and the syncretic chapters of the Zhuangzi, see Harold Roth, “Who compiled the Chuang Tzu?”). I translate only the other three labels relative to his essay’s explanation and keep the labels lowercase. Regardless, my focus in this introduction is not on the full meaning of these labels or the content of these six idea systems but only on how diverse idea systems could be conceived as interrelated. 18. Shiji, 130.3288–89. 19. For salient discussions on jia in Sima Tan and the Han, see especially Csikszentmihalyi and Nylan, “Constructing lineages and inventing traditions”; Petersen, “Which books did the First Emperor of Ch’in burn?”; and Smith, “Sima Tan and the invention of Daoism, ‘Legalism,’ et cetera.” 20. Shiji, 130.3289. 21. Shiji, 130.3290. 22. Following the Hanshu version (62.2710), I take dan 膽 as dan 澹 or “tranquility,” better contrasting with “activity” in the previous clause. 23. Shiji, 130.3289. 24. The enigmatic term wuwei 無為 is usually rendered “inaction.” As seen in Section 29, there existed in the philosophy, religion and cosmology of early China a common paradigm in which one idea cluster of exemplary rulership, ritual, cosmic harmony and spontaneity (i.e., A and B together resonate) was pitted against a second idea cluster of command-based rulership, laws, gods and external causation (i.e., A changes B). The variable separating these idea clusters seems to be the role that external agency plays, absent in the first cluster and dominant in the second. Wuwei clearly belongs to the first cluster, and I believe it to mean this exemplary influence or resonance in which things are done through self-


Notes to Pages 11–16

transformation and not through the direct causation of external agents of laws, rulers or gods. Here and throughout I thus regard the term as “absence of cause” or “causelessness”; wei literally meaning “cause” and not just “action” as it is normally rendered. In this particular passage, transformations are indeed not caused; in the “empty absence,” everything is resonant and self-transforms. 25. Shiji, 63.2156. 26. Shiji, 63.2146. For studies on the meanings of “forms and names,” see Makeham, “The Legalist concept of hsing-ming”; Goldin, “The theme of the primacy of the situation in classical Chinese philosophy and rhetoric,” 11–13. 27. Fayan yishu, 114 (“Wendao” 問道). Yang Xiong is probably responding to statements in the Laozi such as “if one cuts short benevolence and removes propriety, the people will return to filial piety and kindness” (絕仁棄義,民復孝 慈) and “if one cuts short scholarship, there will be no trouble” (絕學無憂). See Laozi jiaoshi, 74 (chap. 19); 76 (chap. 20) respectively. 28. Fayan yishu, 222 (“Guajian” 寡見). 29. This line is slightly different in the received Analects, which begins, “I hear much, select the good and follow it” (多聞,擇其善者而從之). Also, for “fix it in my mind” (zhi 志) the received version has “retain” (shi 識). See Lunyu jishi, 490 (“Shu’er” 述而). 30. Lunyu jishi, 1335 (“Zi Zhang” 子張). 31. Lunyu jishi, 578–79 (“Zi Han” 子罕). 32. Lunyu jishi, 465 (“Shu’er” 述而). 33. Baihutong shuzheng, 128 (“Liyue” 禮樂). 34. Elsewhere in the Analects (Lunyu jishi, 1055 [“Wei Ling gong” 衛靈公]), he similarly states that he does not simply retain all learning but seeks out the one continuous thread that binds his understanding together. 35. Lunyu jishi, 579 (“Zi Han” 子罕). Most translators take the second wen 文 as “culture,” and while I take wen here as meaning the same as the prior wen, the general meaning of the passage is in fact no different no matter how you interpret the second wen. I would suggest Confucius intended the wordplay. 36. Shenjian, 561 (“Zayan” 雜言). 37. Sivin, “Taoism and science,” 57–58. 38. Inspired by Michael Puett, who in several articles and books urges us to think of early texts as arguments against something and not merely as descriptions of what is, I might suggest a more nuanced spectrum to identify idea types as follows: a. Deutero-truth. The idea is so embedded, the possessors don’t know they have it. These are only excavated via cross-cultural comparisons (spatial or temporal).

Notes to Pages 16–19


b. Description. The idea is broadly accepted but, unlike the deutero-truth, is recognized (perhaps because of the existence of exceptions that help define the rule). c. Paradigm. The idea is regularly adopted and regarded as authoritative when viable, an accepted model to utilize when circumstances permit. d. Argument/prescription. The idea is consciously being inserted to compete in the marketplace of ideas, to serve as a model. Isms are arguments. e. Ideal/dream. The idea is only an aspiration; what “ought” to be isn’t the same as what “is.” Each idea type has its own implications, measures and methods of excavation, and so whenever we encounter an idea or object in early China, we perhaps ought to ask ourselves where it falls on this kind of spectrum. 39. For a good description of these three ritual texts, see Puett, “Combining the ghosts and spirits, centering the realm.” 40. Csikszentmihalyi and Nylan, “Constructing lineages and inventing traditions,” 72. 41. Mozi jiaozhu, 705 (“Gong Meng” 公孟). For a similar statement, see the beginning of the Shenjian, 550 (“Zhengti” 政體). 42. The compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 1490 (italics retained). 43. Lloyd and Sivin, The Way and the Word, 127. In his Adversaries and authorities, Lloyd also writes (p. 13): Ideally, to win the competition, you needed not just a theory you could claim as your own, but one you could present as true, better still as certain. Of course, you could proceed—the Greeks often did proceed—by eliminating rival theories, deploying destructive arguments to undermine the claims of the opposition. The hope was that that left only your own preferred theory standing.

Like Lakoff and Johnson (see below), Lloyd argues that the competitiveness actually affected the discourse, placing intellectual progress on a particular path, although he argues less from the perspective of language and more from the perspective of how ideas were marketed. As an aside, I see this competitiveness in my own work in which I often excessively quote evidence—in most cases translated primary sources—to back up my arguments. My style of inquiry has been permanently influenced by four years of high school debate long ago. 44. Lévi-Strauss, The savage mind, 138. 45. Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors we live by, 4 (emphasis retained). Other structuring metaphors we heed are time as a commodity and language as a conduit.


Notes to Pages 20–25

46. Hanshu, 30.1746. The Changes canon citation is from an associated text known as the “Appended statements” (“Xici” 繫辭); cf. Zhouyi jijie, 633. For a discussion of this passage, see Lewis, Writing and authority in early China, 328–30. 47. Huainan honglie jijie, 427 (“Fanlun” 氾論). See also p. 539 (“Shuishan” 說 山). 48. For the “art of contextualization” in the Han, see Hall and Ames, Thinking from the Han, 39–43. 49. Hou Hanshu, 40.1330. 50. Huainan honglie jijie, 56 (“Chuzhen” 俶真). 51. Qianfulun jianjiaozheng, 16 (“Wuben” 務本). 52. Qianfulun jianjiaozheng, 23 (“Wuben” 務本). 53. Lunheng jiaoshi, 1194 (“Ziji” 自紀). See also Huainan honglie jijie, 257 (“Benjing” 本經). 54. In the Han, a zu-ancestor (when juxtaposed with a zong-ancestor) was the ultimate lineage founder, usually the forebear who had won the territory from which the descendants garnered their livelihood. In contrast, a zong-ancestor was the proximate lineage founder or a more recent exemplary forebear worthy of perpetual worship because of his great deeds that continued to influence those descendants. (The latter term can also mean “lineage” as a whole and will be explored below.) There was usually only one zu-ancestor, but there could be more than one zong-ancestor, the former outranking the latter. In terms of the Han imperial family, Gaozu (as the name denotes) was a zu-ancestor, and many of his descendants would become zong-ancestors (see Part II). Emperor Guangwu (r. 25–57), having received the zu-ancestor designation himself, is an exception, but this singular designation recognized his restoration of the Han, and so he was indeed the winner of Han’s territory. In practice, the Western and Eastern Han imperial ancestors were kept in separate temples with Gaozu leading the former and Guangwu (as Shizu 世祖) leading the latter. 55. Shiji, 47.1947. 56. Hanshu, 22.1034. 57. Hanshu, 27.1317. 58. Hanshu, 97.4002. 59. Laozi jiaoshi, 19 (chap. 4); Huainan honglie jijie, 28 (“Yuandao” 原道), 278 (“Zhushu” 主術). When emphasizing that dao is not a superordinated principle, Hall and Ames (Anticipating China, 186) write as follows: All aspects of this order—yin and yang, time and space, heaven and earth—must be historicized as a contingent vocabulary for the world order as we know it. . . . The language is pervasively genealogical: ancestor (zong 宗), mother (mu 母), as well as “thearch” (di 帝) and tian 天.

Notes to Pages 25–31


60. Shiji, 129.3259. 61. Brashier, “The Spirit Lord of Baishi Mountain,” 176–82. 62. For discussions, see Ikezawa, The philosophy of filiality in ancient China, 42–51. 63. Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 1237 (Zhao 昭 3); Yanzi chunqiu jishi, 269 (“Neipianwen” 內篇問). 64. Maurice Freedman, “Ancestor worship: Two facets of the Chinese case,” 298. 65. Hanshu, 94.3801. 66. Hanshu, 35.1904. 67. Hanshu, 62.2735. Lewis (Writing and authority in early China, 309, 479–80) has argued that jia here possibly refers to Sima Qian’s lineage that extends back to antiquity, thus implying a sense of comprehensiveness rather than specialization. He also provides a useful list for the various discussions on this passage. Arguing for the opposite reading, Petersen (“Which books did the First Emperor of Ch’in burn?”, 25–27) contends that the phrase should be rendered “the sayings of one person,” jia referring to the single individual of Sima Qian and no one else. 68. Hanshu, 88.3612. In both the Sima Qian and Yuan Gu example, jia might mean family or even individual, and the safer (and more literal) translation might thus be “household,” leaving the actual number of people unstated. 69. In terms of the river image, several early myths and theories describe how water runs under the earth, thus allowing the aboveground rivers to pursue a return journey. See Allan, The shape of the turtle, 28–30; Needham, Science and civilisation in China 3: 216–19. 70. Jiao shi Yilin, 191 (“Sun: Lü” 損﹕履). 71. Cai zhonglang ji, 3.1a (“Taiwei Yang gong bei” 太尉楊公碑). 72. Cai zhonglang ji, 5.3a (“Taiwei Runan Li gong bei” 太尉汝南李公碑). 73. Lewis, Writing and authority in early China, 129. 74. Ong, Orality & Literacy, 111. 75. Lloyd, Adversaries and authorities, 220. Similarly, Collingwood (The idea of history, 25) contends that “Greeks as a whole were skilled in the practice of the law courts” and that this skill influenced how history was recorded and perceived. 76. Lunyu jishi, 861 (“Yan Yuan” 顏淵). 77. Mengzi zhengyi, 446 (“Teng Wen gong” 滕文公). 78. Xunzi jijie, 422 (“Zhengming” 正名); 127 (“Ruxiao” 儒效). 79. Kong congzi, 331 (“Jiayan” 嘉言); 342 (“Dui Wei wang” 對魏王). 80. Loewe, A biographical dictionary, 125. 81. Shiji, 112.2950. 82. Hou Hanshu, 76.2476. 83. Laozi jiaoshi, 274–75 (chap. 68).


Notes to Pages 32–38

84. Zhuangzi jishi, 63 (“Qiwu lun” 齊物論). 85. For authorship and dating of the Xiang’er commentary, see Bokenkamp, Early Daoist Scriptures, 58–62. 86. Laozi Xiang’er zhujiaojian, 31. 87. Banzhou sanmeijing, 916 (“Wuxiang” 無想). 88. Han Feizi xinjiaozhu, 950–53 (“Wenbian” 問辯). 89. Guanzi jiaozhu, 1191–96 (“Lizheng jiubai jie” 立政九敗解). 90. Shishuo xinyu jiaojian, 127 (“Wenxue” 文學). 91. Guthrie, Faces in the clouds, 33; Horton, “A definition of religion, and its uses,” 211. Horton adds a rider that this extension must involve a dependency relationship of the microcosm on the macrocosm so as “to exclude pets from the pantheon of gods.” 92. Guthrie, Faces in the clouds, 90. Previous scholars recognizing the anthropomorphic leanings of religion range from Xenophanes and Plato in antiquity to Hegel and Schiller in more recent times. Robertson Smith, Émile Durkheim and Robert Bellah all recognize not just anthropomorphism but more specifically the system of human relationships being projected onto the non-empirical realm. 93. Bell, Ritual, 111. 94. Nor can we simply ignore concepts such as “religion,” avoiding the term completely. Every word we use in English has its own extensions and implications, and as the mind is shaped by how words divide up the world, we are still inferring X as sacred and Y as profane, whether or not we use the word “religion.” Modern English (or any language from any era) is a filter between us and our subject matter. 95. Geertz, “The impact of the concept of culture on the concept of man,” 40. 96. Mote, “Forward,” xiv–xv. 97. Taylor, The religious dimensions of Confucianism, 2–3. Taylor is in strong (albeit strange) company as Kang Youwei also described Confucianism as China’s dominant salvific religion, comparable to Christianity in the West; see Nylan, The five “Confucian” classics, 66. If forced to voice an opinion, I would favor Mote’s position because those modern scholars who dub Classicism “religious” must apply rather loose definitions to religion, definitions that could equally cover philosophy, ideology or any practice that is seen as significantly modifying one’s Weltanschauung. How loosely “religion” should be defined is an ongoing debate within comparative religions. 98. Liji jijie, 917 (“Dazhuan” 大傳). 99. Ikezawa, The philosophy of filiality in ancient China, 18; Kern, The stele inscriptions of Ch’in Shih-huang, 75.

Notes to Pages 39–40


100. Jingmen shi bowuguan, Guodian Chu mu zhujian, 157 (“Tang Yu zhi dao” 唐虞之道). 101. Hanshu, 22.1046. 102. Xiaojing yizhu, 86–87 (“Sangqin” 喪親). 103. Mengzi zhengyi, 524 (“Li Lou” 離婁). 104. Mengzi zhengyi, 532 (“Li Lou” 離婁). 105. Mengzi zhengyi, 897–99 (“Jinxin” 盡心). Because honoring the aged and having affection for one’s kin are built into one’s own person, they cannot be influenced by government as if they were a calendar, a ritual or a length of measure. See Liji jijie, 907 (“Dazhuan” 大傳). 106. The entirety of the brief Xiaojing describes how filial piety is the root of all virtue and that no behavior is greater than filial piety. It becomes a norm for the people and a means of communicating with the spirits. 107. Liji jijie, 1214 (“Jiyi” 祭義). 108. Lü shi chunqiu jishi, 14.1a–b (“Xiaoxing” 孝行). 109. Brown, The politics of mourning in early China, 2. Brown problematizes the lord-father analogy because one component of filial piety, namely the call to leave office and mourn one’s father for just over two years, in fact impeded one’s service to the ruler. Furthermore, ties to local regions rather than to the central court could also water down devotion to the ruler. While not fully dissolving the lord-father analogy, her analysis highlights some of the tensions that arose because of it. 110. Huainan honglie jijie, 315 (“Zhushu” 主術). 111. As to the last, see Hanshu, 68.2938. 112. As Tu Wei-ming describes the family metaphor rippling out into the rest of the Confucian program (Centrality and commonality, 114–15): That Confucians apply the family metaphor to the community, the country, and the universe is not that they lack non-ascriptive terms to describe large-scale social and political organizations. Rather, they prefer to address the emperor as the son of Heaven, the king as ruler-father, and the magistrate as the “father-mother official” because of the transcending vision that is implicit in this family-centered nomenclature. The self is not egoistic, for the dynamic process of embodying the humanrelatedness of the family for its own enrichment is inherent in the structure of the self. The family is not nepotistic, for the dynamic process of embodying the community, the country, and the universe as the continuum of an organismic unity is inherent in the structure of the family. When Confucius was criticized for not being directly involved in government service, he responded that taking care of family affairs is itself active participation in politics. The cultivation of the self and the regulation of the family are bases upon which the state is governed. They are not merely private affairs, for the public good is realized by them.


Notes to Pages 41–44

113. Liji jijie, 1220 (“Jiyi” 祭義). For similar statements, see Liji jijie, 1197 (“Jifa” 祭法) and Da Dai Liji jiegu, 210 (“Yongbing” 用兵). The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has recently hypothesized a Darwinian explanation for the manifestation of religions in all cultures, a hypothesis that echoes the Ritual records: But, to say the least, there will be a selective advantage to child brains that possess the rule of thumb: believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you. Obey your parents; obey the tribal elders, especially when they adopt a solemn, minatory tone. Trust your elders without question. This is a generally valuable rule for a child.

See Dawkins, The god delusion, 174. If we accept Dawkins’ argument, there may be some truth to this Ritual records’ claim that the sages invented religion to foster subservience and obedience among the masses. 114. Liji jijie, 1222 (“Jiyi” 祭義). For a discussion on the evolution of this phrase, see Ouyang Zhenren, “Cong ‘fangu fushi’ dao ‘fanshan fushi,’” 73–78. 115. Guanzi jiaozhu, 3 (“Mumin” 牧民). 116. Guanzi jiaozhu, 1412–13 (“Qingzhong jia” 輕重甲). 117. Xunzi jijie, 376 (“Lilun” 禮論). 118. Shaughnessy, I ching, 241, 340–41. Following the transcription of Ikeda Tomohisa (“Maōtei Kan bo hakusho Shūeki Yō hen no shisō,” 12, 23), Shaughnessy here substitutes hou 後 for fu 復. For a similar approach to divination, see Shiji, 127.3216–19. 119. Weber, The sociology of religion, 62; for a discussion on the term “syncretism” in later Chinese religions, see Timothy Brook, “Rethinking syncretism,” 13–44; for a discussion on how Confucianism, Daoism and so forth all draw from a common religious economy of myths, symbols and practices, thereby making religious pluralism within individuals possible, see Berling, “When they go their separate ways,” 210, as well as her A pilgrim in Chinese culture: Negotiating religious diversity. Such a religious economy would be unmarketable within Western institutional faiths, but if we regard this economy as sustained by a tree-like structure of idea systems, these diffused religions make more sense. Much ink is currently being spilled on whether Asian religions, particularly Hinduism, are religions at all. In my opinion, the debate suffers because it utilizes Western theories mostly developed from assumptions of adversariality rather than assumptions of connectivity as found within the metaphors structuring Eastern idea systems. 120. Sivin, “Taoism and science,” 48. The only problem with that cliché, he notes, is that it haphazardly conflates the many different meanings of “Daoism,” from the gentleman who might read the Zhuangzi at his leisure to the initiate devotedly joining a religious order.

Notes to Pages 44–48


Developing a case study as to how inaccuracies arise when labeling an individual with just one idea system, Paul Goldin aptly notes that “one cannot simply record Han Fei’s various recommendations to rulers and relate these (as so many textbooks do) as Han Fei’s ‘political philosophy,’ because Han Fei himself tells us in ‘The difficulties of persuasion’ that a minister’s stated opinions need not— indeed, should not—reflect his innermost beliefs.” See Goldin, “The theme of the primacy of the situation,” 5. Citing a variety of texts from the Analects and the Yijing to Zhuangzi and Sunzi, Goldin in this article argues that there is a certain “primacy of the situation” in philosophy and rhetoric that prevents blanket judgments and universal models. In terms of religion, I think his “primacy of the situation” is a useful step toward understanding why the same individual can entertain multiple seemingly inconsistent genres of discourse at the same time. Turning to the other end of the period under study, a thinker such as Cao Zhi could write essays logically dismissing the existence of immortals on one hand but also compose poetry glorifying them on the other. Some modern scholars argue without evidence that the latter texts came from near the end of his life, but such speculations are not necessary. 121. I fully realize that this general statement is not intellectually satisfying, but it is still undeniably true. Most of us live in multiple inconsistent genres of discourse whether we choose to recognize them or not. A simple example is how we approach the eating of four-legged animals. We do not walk into a diner and ask to eat pig, deer, cow or calf but pork, venison, beef or veal. By changing the words, we remove the life of the animal and safely transform it into a simple product of consumption. More sharply still, we would never consider eating our dog Meghan or our cat Snitch; we cringe at the very thought of roasting a puppy or boiling a kitten. Close household pets fit into one of our genres of discourse whereas distant farmyard animals fit into another, even though biologically they are all just animals. For grander examples of our living in multiple inconsistent genres of discourse, see the conclusion to Part III. 122. Vermeule, Aspects of death in early Greek art and poetry, 118. 123. Guanzi jiaozhu, 1487 (“Qingzhong ding” 輕重丁). For a summary of the functionalist approach to ritual, see Bell, Ritual, 23–60. 124. Laozi Xiang’er zhu jiaojian, 20.

Part I 1. Bell, Ritual, 73. 2. Liji jijie, 1418 (“Hunyi” 昏義). The final line highlights the cognate relationship between “ritual” (li 禮) and “to embody” (ti 體). 3. For early sources citing this quantity of rules, see Liji jijie, 651 (“Liqi” 禮器); Liji zhengyi, 1633 (“Zhongyong” 中庸); Da Dai Liji, 109 (“Wei jiangjun wenzi”


Notes to Pages 48–50

衛將軍文子); Hanshu, 22.1029, 30.1710; Weishu jicheng, 507 (“Liji mingzheng” 禮稽命徵), 1059 (“Xiaojing wei” 孝經緯). 4. Puett, “The offering of food and the creation of order,” 76. 5. Puett, “The offering of food and the creation of order,” 80. 6. I borrow the analogy from Erik W. Maeder, “Core chapters of the Mozi,” 27–28. He insightfully comments that this ring-binder approach results from texts being consigned to sewn-together strips of bamboo or wood and in turn affects conceptions of authorship and of linear arguments or story lines. (One wonders if such a tradition might also affect conceptions of intellectual property or of plot in later literature.) 7. Here I will generally heed Wang E’s dating in his 2007 work entitled “Liji” chengshu kao. 8. For example, see Puett, “Combining the ghosts and spirits, centering the realm,” 696. 9. One of the Ritual records’ own chapters refers to a certain Rituals that, together with the Songs, Documents, Changes, Music and Spring and autumn annals, made up the six “Canons” or “Classics” ( jing 經), and the manner in which this chapter describes the “Rituals” reflects the content of the received Yili 儀禮 (Ceremonies and rituals). See Liji jijie, 1254–58 (“Jingjie” 經解). When it was sanctioned by the Han court, it was then known as the Shili 士禮 (Officials’ rituals). 10. Hanshu, 53.2410. The Ritual records may have been a sort of commentary to other texts on ritual. Although the received Ceremonies and rituals has retained its own appended “records” ( ji 記), they are merely glosses on words and extra details, not theoretical discussions and elaborate models. 11. Hanshu 88.3614–15 describes a master-disciple line of descent beginning in Confucius’s home state of Lu 魯 at the commencement of the Han dynasty, a line that starts with the Ceremonies and rituals. Various scholars are named although little detail is given. 12. Hanshu, 88.3599, 3615. Yan Shigu glosses Crooked Tower as a structure at the Weiyang Palace in Chang’an, although the term “crooked” may be a reference to the secondary rules of ritual as well. The three thousand rules noted above are called the quli 曲禮, the “rituals for exceptional situations,” as opposed to the jingli 經禮, the “constant rules.” See Liji jijie, 651 (“Liqi” 禮器). 13. Hanshu, 75.3168. The term Ritual canon is used elsewhere in the Hanshu (e.g., 68.2965) and Hou Hanshu (e.g., 81.2671), both references dating to the very end of the Western Han, but unfortunately they are not accompanied by direct quotations or chapter titles. 14. Hanshu, 25.1254.

Notes to Pages 50–51


15. Chuxueji, 498–99 (“Jingdian” 經典). Drawing upon the Suishu, 32.925, most discussions of the Ritual records’ history argue that it was Liu Xiang’s collection of ritual records and not Hou Cang’s that was reduced to form the Ritual records. However, it is uncertain what role he in fact played. According to Hanshu, 10.310, Liu Xiang was moved to his position collating books in the imperial library in 26 ce, the same year another literary campaign was launched “to seek out lost books in the empire” (求遺書於天下). (Some secondary studies also include this second campaign as a crucial step in gathering the chapters of the Ritual records together.) Yet it should be noted that both Yi Feng and Kuang Heng’s references to the Liji, the latter including a direct quotation, predate 26 ce. (In fact, Kuang Heng would have already been dead for four or five years.) Thus I am adhering to the Chuxueji account that credits Hou Cang, the teacher of Yi Feng and Kuang Heng. Liu Xiang in his bibliographic treatise lists the Ligujing 禮古經 (Ritual canon of antiquity) as having fifty-six chapters and the Jing 經 (Canon) as having seventeen. He associates these two works with Hou Cang and the Dai family. See Hanshu, 30.1709. 16. Most sources identify Dai Sheng as Dai De’s nephew, although some insist they were cousins. 17. Zheng Xuan’s Liuyilun 六蓺論 (Analysis of the six arts), fragments of which survive in later commentaries, identifies Dai Sheng’s compilation as the surviving Ritual records. See Liji zhengyi, 1229 (preface). 18. Hanshu, 73.3126–27. 19. Hanshu, 1264–69. 20. Hou Hanshu, 3.137–38. 21. Tjan Tjoe Som, The comprehensive discussions in the White tiger hall, 184–87. The secondmost quoted source is the Documents canon. Jeffrey K. Riegel rightfully warns against accepting firm dates for the compilation of the Ritual records, and he himself believes that it may have taken final shape in the late first century ce. Here he uses the received White tiger hall discussion as evidence and writes, “It appears, in fact, that as late as the White tiger hall debates of 79 the critical editing which separated out the 49 p’ien of the present Li chi had not yet taken place, since sections from that text, from the Ta tai li chi and others not occurring now in either of these, are simply quoted by the title of their p’ien and are not identified as coming from one or the other collection.” See Riegel, “Li chi,” 294–95. I am hesitant to accept this conclusion because individual sections of the Ritual records would frequently be quoted by their separate titles without reference to their collective title long after the Han dynasty. Quoting section titles without referencing collective titles was common practice and would be like citing titles of Songs canon poems without necessarily identify-


Notes to Pages 51–54

ing the poem as coming from the Songs canon or, to use a Western example, citing “Genesis” without necessarily identifying it as coming from the Bible. Furthermore, a century prior to the White tiger hall discussion, the Ritual records were already being cited by both section title and collective title with quotations that can be found in the received Ritual records. Thus I still believe there is more evidence dating the compilation of the Ritual records as a collection to the first century bce. 22. Suishu, 32.925. Even then, it was not impossible for the ring binder to be reopened. In the Southern Song, the great neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130–1200) removed and slightly rearranged two of the chapters, namely the “Daxue” 大學 (“Great learning”) and the “Zhongyong” 中庸 (“The central and the universal”), adding them to Mencius and the Analects to form the “Four books,” the core of Confucian learning for the remainder of imperial history. 23. Xunzi jijie, 11 (“Quanxue” 勸學). 24. Hanshu, 30.1723. See also Yao Minghui’s commentary in Hanshu Yiwenzhi zhushi huibian, 96. According to Liu Xiang, the Rituals focus upon the body just as the Music focuses upon the spirit, the Songs upon words and so forth. 25. Kong congzi, 335 (“Zaxun” 雜訓). 26. Bell, Ritual, 160. 27. Bell, “Performance,” 206, 209. 28. Nylan, The five “Confucian” classics, 189. 29. Xunzi reasoned that lineage structure was defined through mourning relationships because once the person who exercised control over the lineage died, chaos potentially ensued. As a preventative measure, structured mourning relationships imposed solidity on the complex and fluid lineage relationships, redefining the hierarchy and avoiding chaos. Not surprisingly, the more control formerly exercised by the person who had died resulted in the more severe expressions of mourning. Thus lineage relationships changed, but the system did not. Because it created lineage solidarity, Xunzi described the mourning relationships as “the pattern by which people live as a group and are harmoniously united” (人所以群居和一之理). See Xunzi jijie, 372–74 (“Lilun” 禮論). 30. For a full definition of the five degrees, see T’ung-tsu Ch’ü, Han social structure, 312–17 and J. J. M. De Groot, The religious system of China 2: 474–645. For a detailed argument on defining the lineage via this system using Han sources, see Weishu, 108.2763–66. There it is argued that only people who are related to the lineage’s four most recent ancestors within the limits of the five degrees of mourning clothing may sacrifice. 31. Ebrey, “The early stages in the development of descent group organization,” 18. Ebrey states that beyond this kinship core there existed another kinship sphere of “agnates” (zuren 族人) who were defined by a common ancestor and

Notes to Pages 54–61


often a common locality. Agnates addressed each other with kinship terms and did not intermarry. The differences between the zong and zu spheres are discussed in Baihutong shuzheng, 393–400 (“Zongzu” 宗族). 32. Liji jijie, 1365 (“Jianzhuan” 間傳). For the names of the five types of mourning garments, I am following Ch’ü, Han social structure, 313. 33. In my interpretation of this line, I follow Sun Xidan, who believes it means that by observing the sacrifice, one can learn of the sacrificer’s filial piety. 34. Liji jijie, 1213–14 (“Jiyi” 祭義). For an example of Confucius’s concern with bodily deportment in other types of ritual, see Lunyu jishi, 640–45 (“Xiangdang” 鄉黨). 35. Liji jijie, 1213 (“Jiyi” 祭義). 36. Bell, Ritual, 160. 37. Taixuan jizhu, 209 (“Xuanyi” 玄掜). 38. Cai zhonglang ji, 6.6b (“Situ Yuan gong furen Ma shi beiming” 司徒袁公 夫人馬氏碑銘). For a similar sentiment, the Xunzi (Xunzi jijie, 543 [“Ai gong” 哀公]) describes how Confucius advised Duke Ai to understand grief by walking to the gate of his ancestral shrine, mounting the host’s steps to the right and observing the pillars and rafters above and the sacrificial table with its offerings below. One should ponder how the sacrificial vessels survived while their dedicatees had perished and in that way he should experience the grief of absence. 39. Using a few chance references to the timing of these sacrifices in the ritual texts and other pre-Qin works, Han scholars painstakingly pieced together a prescriptive schedule, some melding it with the calendrical system of intercalary months. Intercalary months are the months inserted into the lunar calendar to keep it synchronized with the solar calendar, somewhat like the modern practice of adding a leap day every four years. That is, twelve lunar months fall short of a 365.26-day solar year, and so an extra seven lunar months has to be added over the course of nineteen solar years to keep the two calendars roughly coordinated, lest (for example) the first lunar month no longer mark the beginning of spring as it recedes further and further into winter. In the West, it is known as the Metonic cycle. 40. Liji jijie, 178 (“Tan Gong” 檀弓). Because lian 練 refers to the first year of mourning, commentators take xiang 祥 here to be the daxiang 大祥 of the second year of mourning, which seems justified given the sequential nature of the passage. 41. Liji jijie, 178–79 (“Tan Gong” 檀弓). 42. Wu Hung, “From temple to tomb,” 83–85 (emphasis retained). The Ritual records quotation is from Liji jijie, 588 (“Liyun” 禮運). 43. Chunqiu Guliang jingzhuan buzhu, 299 (Xi 僖 15); for a similar statement, see Xunzi jijie, 351 (“Lilun” 禮論). For a parallel discussion of land and remem-


Notes to Pages 61–62

brance in Western medieval history, see Geary, Living with the dead in the Middle Ages, 80–83. 44. These terms may originate from ancient sacrifices. For example, the people of the Zhou are said to have carried out a sacrifice known as di 禘 to Ku 嚳, suburban sacrifices to the lineage progenitor Hou Ji 后稷, zu-sacrifices to King Wen and zong-sacrifices to King Wu. See Liji jijie, 1192 (“Jifa” 祭法). 45. Shangshu dazhuan, 46–47. Mencius (fourth cen. bce) similarly argued that officials should all possess a piece of land called a guitian 圭田 for sacrificial rites; see Mengzi zhengyi, 354 (“Teng Wen gong” 滕文公). Land and ancestral worship are linked elsewhere in the Shangshu dazhuan (p. 39) such as when the son of heaven makes an announcement of his travels to the ancestral shrine only when his travels take him beyond his own borders. See also Baihutong shuzheng, 202– 204 (“San jun” 三軍). 46. For the various sources on zhaomu positioning—including on how the second generation is zhao, the third mu and so forth as well as on how a person is always either a zhao or a mu (and not changing when each new generation is added to the shrine)—see Sun Yirang’s commentary to Zhouli zhengyi, 1435–37 (“Chunguan: Xiaozongbo” 春官﹕小宗伯). Yet some of these rules do not seem to be fixed or universal. For example, Hanshu 73.3120 clearly indicates that the odd-numbered generations of the Liu clan were in the zhao-positions and the even-numbered generations were in the mu-positions. In Zheng Xuan’s exegesis to the Liji, the two repository shrines (known as the ertiao 二祧) are unique to the imperial lineage. The feudal lords stored their distant tablets at the progenitor’s shrine, and so they worshipped five shrines in total instead of seven. See Liji jijie, 1198–1200 (“Jifa” 祭法); Yuhanshan fang jiyishu 2: 114–15 (“Lu li dixia zhi” 魯禮禘祫志). Loewe (Divination, mythology and monarchy in Han China, 277), when arguing that the Western Han emperors heeded zhaomu positions in the relative locations of their tombs, writes, “The term Chao-mu follows from the titles of the sixth and seventh kings of Chou.” There is a possible problem with this explanation. Most sources describing the order of the Zhou royal ancestors (including this Zheng Xuan account) label King Wen as a mu-generation and King Wu as a zhao-generation. Zheng Xuan continues by labeling King Cheng (King Wen’s grandson and “Wen+2” on the chart) as a mu-generation and King Kang (King Wu’s grandson and “Wu+2” on the chart) as a zhao-generation. Next in order, King Zhao is King Kang’s son (“Wen+4”) and thus he himself is a mu-generation, not a zhao-generation. Finally, King Mu is King Zhao’s son (“Wu+4”) and thus he himself is a zhao-generation, not a mu-generation. Therefore, the names of King Zhao and King Mu would not reflect their respective zhaomu shrine positions. See Shiji, 4.131–35 for the relevant Zhou royal chronology. Yet as noted

Notes to Pages 62–64


immediately above, there was some ambiguity as to which generations were zhao and which were mu. James Legge (The Li Ki, 224) also provides a chart of the Zhou ancestral hall’s organization, but instead of “penultimate mu-tablet” and “ultimate mu-tablet,” he uses the terms “great grandfather” and “father” respectively. For “penultimate zhao-tablet” and “ultimate zhao-tablet,” he uses the terms “great-great grandfather” and “grandfather” respectively. However, that layout is somewhat misleading and would seem to indicate that as new generations were added to the shrine, the tablets moved back and forth across the hall, zhao tablets becoming mu tablets and vice versa. Instead when the most recent tablet shifts from being father of the eldest living descendant to being grandfather of the eldest living descendant, his tablet does not switch sides. One is born either a zhao- or a mu-generation (i.e., an even- or odd-numbered generation counting the lineage progenitor as first generation) and will forever remain as such, staying on the same side of the hall. 47. For the most detailed account on this structure, see Liji jijie, 1197–1201 (“Jifa” 祭法). For other discussions in the Liji, see pp. 523–24 (“Zengzi wen” 曾 子問); 572, 575 (“Wen wang shizi” 文王世子); 630 (“Liqi” 禮器). 48. There may be a certain historical logic to privileging higher social classes with longer lineage memory. Knowledge of earlier ancestors beyond living memory necessitated either oral lore or textual records, the latter preserved on bronze vessels, on wooden tablets, on stone stelae or perhaps in family histories kept within an established lineage. That is, sacrificing to spirits beyond the parents may assume more and more reliance upon literacy and textual possession, assumptions not necessarily warranted for the population at large. Even today there probably remains a direct proportional relationship between class and ancestral knowledge. 49. Zheng Xuan glosses the “urbanized official” as one who lives close to government influence. See Yili zhushu, 1106 (“Sangfu” 喪服). 50. Yili zhushu, 1106 (“Sangfu” 喪服). 51. Yili zhushu, 1106 (“Sangfu” 喪服). 52. For Hou Ji’s birth, see Mao Shi zhengyi, 528 (“Shengmin” 生民); for Xie’s birth, see Mao Shi zhengyi, 622 (“Xuanniao” 玄鳥). For an analysis of the former poem, see Yu, Ways with words, 11–40 (especially p. 31 on its role in ritual). The second and third biographies of the Lienüzhuan 列女傳 also recount these two birth stories. The role of lineage progenitors as nodes between humans and heaven will be discussed in Section 10 of my forthcoming Public memory in early China. 53. In this chart, the three references from the Ritual records are from Liji jijie, 343 (“Wangzhi” 王制), 630 (“Liqi” 禮器) and 1197–1201 (“Jifa” 祭法), respectively. With regard to the first, Liu Xin (Hanshu, 73.3126–27) cites this passage


Notes to Page 64

but allocates two shrines to the officials, not one. With regard to the last, the “Jifa” presents a more complex system than these other passages, specifying that (for example) the most recent five royal ancestors of the king’s seven shrines receive monthly sacrifices while the next two only receive seasonal sacrifices. It then lists further stages of diminished reverence for even earlier ancestors who had no shrines. Here the most significant difference seems to be that the “Jifa” does not include the permanent progenitor shrine among its seven for the kings, its five for the feudal lords and so forth, instead handling that particular shrine earlier in the text where it is called a zu 祖 or “first ancestor” sacrifice. Commentators offer numerous conflicting interpretations and rationalizations. The passage from the Ritual records of Dai the Elder is found at Da Dai Liji jiegu, 18 (“Lisanben” 禮三本); like the Xunzi, the Da Dai Liji uses size of territory rather than title. As for the Xunzi itself (Xunzi jijie, 351 [“Lilun” 禮論]), the present text allocates ten shrines to the one who possesses all under heaven, but commentators agree that it should be seven, citing other texts listed on this chart. “Ten” or shi 十 is probably a scribal error for “seven” or qi 七. The Guliang commentary, Historical records and Discourses within the tradition of Confucius are found at Chunqiu Guliang jingzhuan buzhu, 297–98 (Xi 15); Shiji, 6.266; and Kongzi jiayu, 87 (“Miaozhi” 廟制), respectively. The Guangya (Guangya shuzheng, 7a.18b [“Shigong” 釋宮]) limits the number to five, but this was not necessarily a contradiction with the other sources. Wang Niansun’s commentary cites Wei Xuancheng (Hanshu, 73.3118) who also limited the mandate recipient to four ascendant shrines and one progenitor. Wei Xuancheng refers to the Zhou dynasty’s seven shrines, but he explains that the Zhou worshipped the fief recipient (Hou Ji) and the mandate recipients (Kings Wen and Wu). Because Han Gaozu had no fief nor shared credit with any other ruler when receiving the mandate, he presumably was the sole progenitor. Thus the Han lineage ideally worshipped five shrines. Indeed, Pei Songzhi (Sanguozhi, 3.96–97) argued that the Wei dynasty began with this system but later adopted seven shrines. Even so, this explanation does not elucidate why the Guangya assigned four shrines to the feudal lords. The Tianzi jianzhou is found at Shanghai bowuguan cang Zhanguo Chu zhushu 6:311–12, 333 (“Tianzi jianzhou” 天子建州). Instead of “feudal lords,” these texts refer to “nobles of the cities” (bangjun 邦君), but the rest are the same. The biggest discrepancy in this chart is whether officials had one shrine or two. As if conscious of this point of divergence within the ritual texts, apocryphal ritual works specified that the son of heaven’s officials as well as the feudal lords’ highest officials merited two shrines whereas lower officials were only allotted one. See Weishu jicheng, 515 (“Liji mingzheng” 禮稽命徵).

Notes to Pages 64–68


54. I do not include the many apocryphal texts that reiterate this ideal shrine distribution but would here note only one such source, namely the “Xiaojing yuanshenqi” 孝經援神契 (Weishu jicheng, 972), that justifies why each rank merited the number of shrines assigned to it. On one end of the scale, the son of heaven’s virtue covered the world and trickled down to the myriad things, and so he earned the right to sacrifice to the most ancestors. On the other end of the scale, commoners only labored in their fields and nourished just their own parents while they were alive and no more. 55. The Zhou system of decommissioning the shrine of an ancestor that had become too remote is described in the Guliang commentary as being carried out at midday after the burial of the newest ancestor. At that time, the oldest of the temporary shrines had its eaves altered and walls replastered. See Chunqiu Guliang jingzhuan buzhu, 362–64 (Wen 2) and Zhouli zhengyi, 1682 (“Chunguan: Shoutiao” 春官 : 守祧 ). The Da Dai Liji (Da Dai Liji jiegu, 198–202 [“Zhuhou qianmiao” 諸侯遷廟]) details this ritual’s preceding abstentions, the style of clothing worn, the sacrifices, the number of directional bows and the words of the supplicant. The shrine-less tablets ideally enjoyed one honor denied to the immediate ascendants; they traveled with the emperor either on his military expeditions (cf. Liji jijie, 523–24 [“Zengzi wen” 曾子問]) or on his tours of inspection (cf. Baihutong shuzheng, 294–95 [“Xunshou” 巡狩]). The immediate ancestors could not accompany the emperor because the shrines had to remain occupied. For a discussion on the treatment of tablets while on campaign, see Kong congzi, 348 (“Wenjunli” 問軍禮). 56. This structuring of ancestral estrangement also reflects broader notions of history that distinguished diminishing degrees of intimacy, from the near history of “what was seen” (suojian 所見), to the middle history of “what was heard” (suowen 所聞) and then to the distant history of “what was transmitted” (suozhuanwen 所傳聞). Commentaries to the Spring and autumn annals contend that Confucius himself recognized this three-staged approach to history as detail faded with distance, and they likewise note a close parallel with reduced remembrance rituals owed to more distant forebears. See Chunqiu Gongyangzhuan zhushu, 2200 (Yin 1). 57. Rappaport, Ritual and religion in the making of humanity, 87. 58. Bell, Ritual, 160. 59. Tu Wei-ming, Centrality and commonality, 48. 60. Some commentators take this passage to mean the son of heaven still subordinated himself to his father and elder brothers, but others take them as metaphorical, the fathers and elder brothers being like the elders in the community known as sanlao 三老 and wugeng 五更. I follow the latter interpretation


Notes to Pages 68–70

because in the normal idealized conception of imperial inheritance, the son of heaven is already the eldest son and thus without elder brothers. 61. Xiaojing yizhu 孝經譯注, 77–81 (“Yinggan” 應感), 86–94 (“Sangqin” 喪 親). 62. Mao Shi zhengyi, 526–27 (“Wen wang yousheng” 文王有聲). 63. Bell, Ritual, 161. 64. Liji jijie, 588 (“Liyun” 禮運). 65. Commentators suspect a minor corruption here. For consistency and logic, either “morning” (dan 旦) should read as “day” (ri 日) or vice versa. See Simin yueling jiaozhu, 1 (“Zhengyue” 正月). 66. Unless the phrase “grandfather and father” is here synecdochical, the sacrifice is that of an official (shi 士) if the Ritual records ranking system outlined above is being heeded, and that designation would be consistent with what is known of the text. 67. Gujiang 故將 need not have been a military position in the Eastern Han; see Simin yueling jiaozhu, 5 (“Zhengyue” 正月). 68. Simin yueling jiaozhu, 1 (“Zhengyue” 正月). For the usage of pepper or spices in sacrifices, see Schafer, The golden peaches of Samarkand, 149–52; for the special utensils used to serve family elders, see Huainan honglie jijie, 697 (“Taizu” 泰族). 69. Liji zhengyi, 1629 (“Zhongyong” 中庸). For another statement on ancestral sacrifice as an occasion to strengthen ties with kin and neighbors, see Mozi jiaozhu, 343 (“Mingguixia” 明鬼下). This functionalist role of ritual is of course akin to Durkheim’s theories. 70. Weber, The religion of China, 86–88. 71. Liji jijie, 1245 (“Jitong” 祭統). 72. Despite the ritual prescriptions that would have thirty-year-old men marrying women ten years their junior, we lack the data to establish a firm understanding of actual age differences in early China. However, thousands of early third century ce tax records were recently excavated at Changsha, records that give the age of the commoners in each transaction. I have found just over a hundred in which husband and wife are recorded on the same strip, husbands on average being about eight years older than their wives. The median age difference was closer to five or six years. Of these hundred strips, only five men and nine women were under twenty-five, suggesting a relatively late marriage age, although future studies will no doubt comb through all the Changsha tax records in a more thorough manner. See the third volumes in both the first and second series of Changsha Zoumalou Sanguo Wu jian. 73. Parkin, “The ancient Greek and Roman worlds,” 47.

Notes to Pages 71–76


74. Technically this phrase should be awkwardly rendered “descendants who honor the one who serves as their progenitor ancestor,” and there may be subtle reasons for maintaining “one who serves as” because it wasn’t always the case of direct descent. As seen below in Section 12 and Section 16, adoption from a collateral branch often figures into these family trees, giving rise to the common phrase “serving as a successor means serving as a son.” Rendering zong 宗 as “revere” plays on the two meanings of zong, which the White tiger hall discussion explains in the passage prior to this one. 75. Liji jijie, 868 (“Sangfu xiaoji” 喪服小記). There are several ways to interpret this statement. For example, when a father becomes a grandfather (i.e., is “promoted”) through the addition of the next generation, the lineage below changes its constitution as the father’s brothers then become relegated to collateral lineages, each starting a new line of descent subordinate to the trunk lineage. 76. Baihutong shuzheng, 394–95 (“Zongzu” 宗祖). 77. For the Ritual records’ main discussion on lineage structure, see Liji jijie, 902–18 (“Dazhuan” 大傳). 78. Weishu, 108.2763–66. 79. My thanks to Lothar von Falkenhausen for helping me with these Zhou lineage designations. 80. Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 94 (Huan 2). 81. For four examples from the Zuo commentary, see Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 71–72 (Yin 11), 99 (Huan 3), 206–208 (Zhuang 18), 523–25 (Wen 2); Lewis, Writing and authority in early China, 135. 82. Liji jijie, 234 (“Tan Gong” 檀弓). 83. Liji jijie, 153 (“Quli” 曲禮). 84. Lunheng jiaoshi, 668 (“Mingyu” 明雩). While they use different terms to designate the non-heir son, both the Liji and the Lunheng make use of the branch imagery discussed in the Introduction. For two more examples, see Hanshu, 81.3355, 68.2965. 85. Fehl, Rites and propriety in literature and life, 107. 86. Nylan, The Five “Confucian” classics, 302. Nylan adds that we may have the advantage over the Han nostalgic officialdom because we have much archeological evidence that they did not. 87. Hsu, “The spring and autumn period,” 566–70. 88. If more data were available, each of these four questions would be further subdivided by specific era and region, and perhaps some day our archeological evidence will be sufficient to address this rubric of questions more fully. 89. For a summary on dating the Ritual records in relationship to this archeological find, see Peng Lin, “Guodian jian yu ‘Liji’ de niandai.” “Ziyi” 緇衣 is a list of statements attributed to Confucius on how the ruler should behave knowing


Notes to Pages 76–81

that his actions serve as a model for the people, and while Peng Lin regards the Guodian documents as mostly Classicist, Western scholarship has mainly focused on the exception to that generalization, namely a partial, differently organized version of the Laozi. See for example The Guodian Laozi. The fact that the Laozi was found together with Classicist texts that claim Confucius as their inspiration is further evidence that these scholarly traditions or families should not be regarded as rival schools. For a summary of the differences between the Guodian “Black garments” and the received text, see Chen Jinsheng, “Guodian Chu jian ‘Ziyi’ jiaodu zhaji.” (For example, three sections of the received version are not found in the Guodian version, and the arrangement of sections differs between the two.) For a comparison of the Guodian and Shanghai Museum versions of “Black garments,” see Shanghai bowuguan cang Zhanguo Chu zhushu 1: 201–13; for a thorough analysis that compares these two texts and explores their relationship to the later-compiled Ritual records version, see Shaughnessy, Rewriting early Chinese texts, 63–130. 90. Shaughnessy, Rewriting early Chinese texts, 92. 91. For Chen Peifen’s side-by-side comparison between the received and excavated versions, see Shanghai bowuguan cang Zhanguo Chu zhushu 7: 166–68. Each version includes a few sections not found in the other. 92. Zhongguo jiandu jicheng 4: 47–195. 93. This phrase alludes to Confucius’s statement (Lunyu jishi, 94 [“Weizheng” 為政]) that “By reviewing the old and understanding the new, one can become a teacher” (溫故而知新,可以為師矣). 94. Shang Commandery is located in northern Shaanxi. 95. Hanbei jishi, 284 (“Xianyu Huang bei” 鮮于璜碑). The post of this general, which has nothing to do with the Liao River, became permanent in 65 ce and controlled a garrison situated in the Ordos region of northwest China, the purpose of which was to prevent reunification of the Xiongnu. See Bielenstein, The bureaucracy of Han times, 120. 96. Guo Moruo, Jinwen congkao, 12–21. 97. Huang Xiaofen, Hanmu de kaoguxue yanjiu, 259–62. 98. Falkenhausen, Chinese society in the age of Confucius, 66. 99. Okamura, “Sen-Shin jidai no kyōgi,” 2. (This article was later expanded to his book-length Chugoku kodai ōken to saishi.) 100. Li Qing, Qin Han Wei Jin Nanbei chao shiqi jiazu, zongzu guanxi yanjiu, 125. 101. Nylan, “Constructing citang in Han,” 201. 102. Cai zhonglang waiji, 4.20a (“Duduan” 獨斷). 103. Huang Xiaofen, Hanmu de kaoguxue yanjiu, 255–57.

Notes to Pages 82–86


104. Normally associated with the Shang dynasty, inscribed oracle bones rarely survive from the Zhou, and these inscriptions (known as the Zhouyuan oracle bones) comprise most of our knowledge of these later divinations. They differ from their predecessors in format and writing style, and there is some debate whether they predominantly represent the Shang or Zhou jurisdictions during this transitional period. For a forum discussion offering several perspectives, see Shaughnessy, “Zhouyuan oracle-bone inscriptions,” 146–81. 105. Shaanxi Zhouyuan kaogu dui, “Shaanxi Qishan Fengchu cun Xi Zhou jianzhu jizhi fajue jianbao,” 33–34; Yili zhushu, 946 (“Shi guanli” 士冠禮). 106. Han Wei, “Majiazhuang Qin zongmiao jianzhu zhidu yanjiu,” 32. 107. Han Wei, “Fengxiang Majiazhuang yihao jianzhujun yizhi fajue jianbao,” 29. For a similar conclusion on the veracity of the prescriptive texts but using a different site, see Xu Lianggao and Wang Wei, “Shaanxi Fufeng Yuntang Xi Zhou jianzhu jizhi de chubu renshi,” 35. 108. Throughout this book, I hope it is evident that, although I cite from a large number of sources, I am not attempting to assemble a single picture using different components from different sources but am simply endeavoring to demonstrate how the same component is present in a number of different contemporaneous sources. 109. Han Wei, “Majiazhuang Qin zongmiao jianzhu zhidu yanjiu,” 30–31. Han Wei’s assignment of three shrines to the feudal lords is not only at odds with the prescriptive texts in general (as seen in the above chart), but also ignores how the texts within the Ritual records actually distribute the ancestors across the shrines. The description of the two “repository shrines” (tiao 祧) originates from the “Systems of sacrifice,” which explicitly states that although the feudal lords lacked the son of heaven’s repository shrines, they still possessed five shrines for their five most recent ancestors just as the king possessed his seven that included the two repository shrines. Unique to “The systems of sacrifice,” this system had the ancestors sequentially transitioning through all seven, five, three or two shrines (depending upon the descendant’s rank) over the generations, unlike most other descriptions in which the numbers seven, five, three and two constitute the immediate ancestral shrines plus the permanent progenitor shrine. (In the “Systems of sacrifice,” none of the shrines was the permanent abode of any particular ancestor, and the lineage progenitors there instead received their own separate sacrifices known as di 禘 or jiao 郊.) Thus by drawing from different texts within the Ritual records, he inadvertently mixes the systems. 110. Han Wei, “Qin gong chaoqin zuantan tu kaoshi,” 53–54; Liji jijie, 846–47 (“Mingtangwei” 明堂位). 111. Cai zhonglang ji, 9.8a (“Zongmiao diehui yi” 宗廟迭毀議).


Notes to Pages 87–93

112. Loewe, “The imperial tombs of the Former Han dynasty and their shrines,” 274–79. Problems with this theory include the following: 1.) the individual tomb directional orientations do not reflect a single collective zhaomu pattern; 2.) the sequence of emperors within each zhao and mu line are incorrect; 3.) the actual identification of various imperial tumuli remains uncertain; and 4.) there are no previous or subsequent historical examples of employing zhaomu positions in tomb location. For a list of six specific criticisms, see Huang Zhanyue, “Xi Han lingmu yanjiu zhong de liang ge wenti,” 70–72. 113. Jiao Nanfeng and Ma Yongying, “Xi Han zongmiao chuyi,” 57. 114. For a full description of this site, see Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan kaogu yanjiusuo, Xi Han lizhi jianzhu yizhi. This study also draws upon the Liji and other ritual texts, particularly for naming parts of the shrines. 115. Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan kaogu yanjiusuo, Xi Han lizhi jianzhu yizhi, 219–22. 116. The occupant of Tomb No. 3, where the silk diagram originates, is thought to be the son of Li Cang 利蒼 (the marquis of Dai 軑 in Tomb No. 2) and his wife Xinzhui 辛追 (Tomb No. 1). An autopsy revealed that he was about thirty when he died. See Fu Juyou, Mawangdui Hanmu wenwu zongshu, 14. 117. Fu Juyou, Mawangdui Hanmu wenwu zongshu, 36; Lewis, The construction of space in early China, 100–101. The text restructures the expressions of mourning in the manner of the Yili; see Yili yizhu, 471–543 (“Sangfu” 喪服). There also exist numerous fragmentary texts written between the Han and Tang that similarly reorganize the structure of the five degrees of mourning clothing to fit particular circumstances. See Yuhanshan fang jiyishu 3: 312–56. 118. Yan shi jiaxun jijie, 61–74 (“Fengcao” 風操). 119. Yan shi jiaxun jijie, 109–10 (“Fengcao” 風操). 120. Whitehouse, Arguments and icons, 54–80. 121. For examples, see Mengzi zhengyi, 373 (“Teng Wen gong” 滕文公); Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 968 (Xiang 9); Qianfulun jianjiaozheng, 329 (“Shinan” 釋難). 122. Xunzi jijie, 351 (“Lilun” 禮論); Da Dai Liji jiegu, 18 (“Lisanben” 禮三本). 123. For example, see Liji jijie, 343 (“Wangzhi” 王制). 124. Liji zhengyi, 1628 (“Zhongyong” 中庸). 125. Harrell, “The concept of soul in Chinese folk religion,” 522. 126. The prescriptive texts discuss hun and po but not as a yinyang dualism. See Brashier, “Han thanatology and the divisions of ‘souls,’” 127–30. 127. For several examples of Han inscriptions imploring shrine visitors to avoid damaging the shrine, see Zheng Yan, “Concerning the viewers of Han mortuary art,” 94–96. 128. Wu Hung, The Wu Liang shrine, 282–85; Helinge’er Hanmu bihua “Xiaozi zhuan” tu jilu, 6; Li Zhengguang, Han dai qiqi tu’an ji, 217.

Notes to Pages 94–101


129. Li Zhenhong, Juyan Han jian yu Han dai shehui, 12–18. 130. Fan Zhijun, “Cong chutu Han jian kan shubian lizu ji fuyaoyizhe de sangli,” 96–98. 131. For examples, see Hou Hanji, 6.111, 7.121, 14.286; Wenxuan 58.2506. 132. Jilin sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo and Yunyang xian wenwu guanlisuo, “Chongqing Yunyang Jiuxianping taiji jianzhu fajue jianbao,” 30. 133. Huainan honglie jijie, 459 (“Fanlun” 氾論). 134. Liji jijie, 1220 (“Jiyi” 祭義). 135. Chuxueji, 19.465 (“Nubi” 奴婢). This extract is from “Qiao ‘Qingyifu’” 誚《青衣賦》 or “In criticism of [Cai Yong’s] ‘Poetic exposition on the blue jacket,’” and for a full translation, see Asselin, “‘A significant season,’” 498–512. 136. Hubei sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo, Suizhou Kongjiapo Han mu jiandu, 178. For a similar excavated document listing when sacrifices and prayers can and cannot be carried out, see Yinqueshan Hanmu zhujian zhengli xiaozu, Yinqueshan Hanmu zhujian 2: 211–23. 137. Hubei sheng Jingzhou shi Zhou Liang yu qiao yizhi bowuguan, Guanju Qin Han mu jiandu, 132. The transcribers here gloss taifu 泰父 as dafu 大父, both meaning “grandfather.” From the perspective of the “daughter” (nüzi 女子), grandfather would of course be the father of the household head, and it is interesting that the daughter is explicitly given this task, perhaps preventing the household head from personally slighting his father. Alternatively, grandfather may be synecdochical for forefathers. 138. Cook, “The ideology of the Chu ruling class,” 76. 139. Falkenhausen, “Mortuary behavior in pre-imperial Qin,” 156. This higher level of popular orthodoxy on the periphery relative to the center is not uncommon as religions spread. For a modern example, the Catholic church in southeast Asia is healthier and more thoroughly integrated into society than it is in its European origins. 140. Collingwood, The idea of history, 215. 141. This patrilineal visualization in turn emphasizes how excluded a girl growing up in the same lineage would be, a girl for whom this gradual indoctrination in lineage continuity must have been less meaningful as she would eventually join a different lineage at marriage and only experience advancement vicariously through her husband. 142. Perhaps alluding to this gradual journey to the progenitor, mirror inscriptions sometimes conclude with the wish, “May you maintain a long life and a longevity of ten thousand years, turning to go back to the origin [or “the progenitor”] and being perpetuated by your sons and grandsons” (保長命兮壽萬年, 周復始兮傳子孫). See Kong Xiangxing, Zhongguo tongjing tudian, 359 and, for similar inscriptions, p. 293 as well as Karlgren, “Early Chinese mirror


Notes to Pages 101–5

inscriptions,” no. 97. (Presumably the phrase zhou fushi also alludes to the fact that the inscription itself on the round mirror’s circumference literally returns to its beginning.) 143. Bourdieu, Outline of a theory of practice, 89.

Part II 1. For a summary of Rappaport’s hierarchy, see Rappaport, Ritual and religion in the making of humanity, 263–76. 2. Rappaport, Ritual and religion in the making of humanity, 281. 3. Just as beauty can only be defined relative to ugliness (according to the second chapter of the Daode jing), denoting “Dao” would necessitate a “not-Dao,” which is impossible if the Dao is truly all-encompassing, and so the Dao that can be regarded as “Dao” can never be the true Dao (according to the first chapter of the Daode jing). 4. Even that idea of diversification in itself is a cosmological axiom. As quoted above in the Introduction, the Huainanzi states that “in every case the spreading twigs of the myriad material things and the shooting stalks of all activity originate from a common root, only then to branch out into the millions.” Such a diversifying pattern is inherent in trees, rivers, mountain ranges, roads, idea systems and lineages. As to the last (and obviously most relevant in terms of the ancestral cult), the whole of civilized humanity originated from a handful of a few original ancestors such as Hou Ji and Xie, ancestors who were themselves the “complement” or “counterpart” ( pei 配) of unitary heaven and who were “born after a resonance with the spiritual numens.” 5. The above-mentioned cosmological axiom of diversification was also translated into rules and rituals, especially during the ancestral offerings with the lineage sitting “in ranked order” before the tablets of their forebears arranged in their zhao and mu positions leading back to the lineage progenitor. 6. For the text and discussion, see Kern, The stele inscriptions of Ch’in Shihhuang, 12–13, particularly his note on the variant of miao 廟 (“shrine”) for hao 號 (“title”). The First Emperor made other rhetorical gestures toward the ancestral cult, such as claiming that he had brought stability to the world “by relying upon his ancestral shrines” (lai zongmiao 賴宗廟). See Shiji, 6.239. 7. This practice of labeling the dynastic founder’s father with the prefix tai 太 was thought to predate the Qin. King Wen of the Zhou honored his grandfather as taiwang 太王 and father as wang 王. See for example Shiji, 4.119. As for his own posthumous title, the First Emperor had eliminated the tradition of granting posthumous names—that is, honorary names selected to embody a particular characteristic exemplified by that individual—on the grounds that 1.) the tradition only dated from the last dynasty and 2.) the name was selected by

Notes to Page 105


the children or the subjects (i.e., the inferiors) of the deceased. See Shiji, 6.236. Thus he placed his father at the top of a series of mechanically titled emperors; the successors of the First Emperor would not have individualistic names that embodied their own identities but only titles of “Second generation,” “Third generation” and so forth down to “Ten-thousandth generation.” Hence his son is called Ershi huangdi 二世皇帝, the “Second Emperor of Qin” or, more literally, “Second generation august thearch.” The net result of the First Emperor’s streamlining the imperial titles and removing posthumous names that expressed individual identity was a dynastic succession unified in its systematic naming that solely used himself as a point of reference. This context is significant because the tension between a mechanical, comprehensive system on one hand and the individuated expressions of identity on the other is at the heart of the debates on structured amnesia that took place over the course of the Han. 8. One could also speculate that he was realistic about his chances of success with immortality and so acquiesced to the ancestral cult as well. (“Immortals” or “transcendants” in early China were not necessarily regarded as living forever but instead as living an extraordinarily long time, and even though death might have been greatly postponed, it still may have been inevitable.) 9. The First Emperor carried out this book-burning or bibliocaust in his effort to proscribe debate on systems of government other than his own. The actual effects of the bans are now in dispute, and the ban did not extend to the imperial collection, although that collection probably suffered irreparable harm from the destruction of the capital a few years later at the end of his dynasty. Regardless of the actual effect, Han scholars such as Ban Biao (who also happened to be Ban Gu’s father) perceived the book burnings as greatly influencing the debates on structured amnesia in the Han because they fragmented the scholarly traditions and caused a variety of different “families” ( jia 家) with their own divergent opinions to arise. See Hanshu, 73.3130–31. Furthermore, scholarship was handed down through history not only via written texts; scholarship also survived via lineages of master-disciple relationships through which those texts were studied and expounded. The Qin proscriptions disrupted these lineages, too. For example, the Han founder’s half-brother Liu Jiao 劉交 (d. 179 bce) had studied together with some eminent scholars of the time, but “at the advent of Qin’s burning of the books, they each went their separate ways” (及秦焚書,各別去). See Hanshu, 36.1921. Modern scholarship solely focuses upon the Qin bibliocaust’s effects on written materials without considering its impact on these less tangible but potentially more important lines of knowledge transmission. Thus the rise and fall of Qin power fostered both a perceived and a real break with the past that may have affected the systems of ancestral remembrance.


Notes to Pages 106–8

10. Guanzi jiaozhu, 1340 (“Shanzhishu” 山至數). For a particular case in which the degree of estrangement between descendants is discussed in terms of the ancestral cult, an estrangement that indeed led to war, see Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 309–10 (Xi 5). Likewise according to a document excavated at Yinqueshan (Yinqueshan Hanmu zhujian zhengli xiaozu, Yinqueshan Hanmu zhujian, 241–42), “God” (di 帝) directed his “minister of virtue” (side 司德) to look down and observe how in times of war the states were changing hands, their ghostly altars wiped out and their sacrifices terminated, because when their common ancestors were cast aside, kinsmen raised up arms against one another. 11. Liji jijie, 909 (“Dazhuan” 大傳). 12. Shiji, 6.239. 13. Kern, The stele inscriptions of Ch’in Shih-huang, 155. Qin as a traditionalist state is one of the principal themes of Kern’s book. 14. To cite just one example, during the Spring and Autumn period the politicians and literati would establish the veracity of their positions by reciting verses from the Songs canon that served as a type of Zhou cultural anchor. Dated by the Zuo commentary to 637 bce, the first major example of such an exchange in fact took place between a Qin ruler and the future ruler of a neighboring state. See Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 410–11 (Xi 23). For a discussion of this exchange, see Lewis, Writing and authority in early China, 156–57. 15. Shiji, 6.266. 16. Shiji, 5.178–79. Duke Xiang was also not an eldest son, and so in terms of the traditional ancestral structure, he could have been regarded a lineage progenitor rather than one who continued an existing lineage. Yet one cannot assume the strictures of the ancestral structure were being heeded. 17. Duke Xiang had established sacrifices to the territorial deities of the west, and just before Qin’s first foray east of the Yellow River, his son had also established sacrifices to the eastern region deities. For a discussion on the directional lords and how sacrifice to them diminished in tandem with the decline of landbased ancestral worship, see Brashier, “Breaking the ties between land and religion in the Western Han (202 bce–9 ce).” 18. Yili zhushu, 1115 (“Sangfuzhuan” 喪服傳). 19. Shiji, 6.285–89. 20. Shiji, 6.282. 21. The alternative was Songxue 宋學 or the moralistic commentarial style of the Song dynasty’s Cheng brothers (et al.) based on the “ancient text” versions of the Eastern Han rather than the Hanxue’s “new text” versions of the Western Han. I thank this manuscript’s reviewers for their clarification. 22. If one were to better punctuate the course of history, one might look a century later to the Han Emperor Wu and the peak of imperial unification instead

Notes to Pages 108–111


of the transfer of power from the Qin’s ruling lineage (surnamed Ying 嬴) to the Han’s ruling lineage (surnamed Liu 劉). Even so, the importance given to the “changing of surnames” (yixing 易姓) demonstrates how lineage is responsible for skewing our sense of history’s shape. 23. Shiji, 99. 2720–21, 2725; 130.3316. For more on Shusun Tong, see Kern, The stele inscriptions of Ch’in Shih-huang, 184–87. 24. Shiji, 8.391, 28.1380; Hanshu, 18.677. 25. Shiji, 53.2014. 26. Hanshu, 1.67–68. Besides fostering imperial unity, Liu Bang’s memorial act also demonstrates that he did not reject but embraced Qin ancestral structures. Second, since the Han kings were his immediate family, this spreading of the Liu lineage helped establish their own tangible network. As will be seen below, the shrines to Liu Bang’s father were only the first step. 27. Shiji, 8.391. 28. Shiji, 97.2698. The Five Emperors are the legendary cultural heroes of antiquity who both ruled China and developed its civilization. The Three Kings are the founders of the Three Dynasties. A li is approximately 0.5 km. 29. Shiji, 9.400; 17.801. 30 Shiji, 9.395–412. 31. Shiji, 10.429; Hanshu, 4.126. 32. Hanshu, 4.117, 125. For discussions of this ceremony, see Dubs, History of the Former Han dynasty 1: 281–83; Bodde, Festivals in classical China, 223–41; Hsu Cho-yun, Han agriculture, 158–60, 167–69. 33. For details on who built the Western Han imperial shrines and how they were managed, see Jiao Nanfeng and Ma Yongying, “Xi Han zongmiao chuyi,” 50–58 and their “Xi Han zongmiao zaiyi,” 50–55. 34. Shiji, 10.433–34. For discussions on whether Emperor Wen’s testament significantly affected Han mourning periods, see de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling 2: 278–80; Brown, The politics of mourning in early China, 26, 39. Describing a later parallel which may be applicable here, Bokenkamp (Ancestors and anxiety, 55) outlines how descendants might wish to ignore calls for frugality in these final testaments because of their greater desire to manifest filial service toward the dead and, as a result, to preserve an ancestor who might bring future blessings to the lineage. 35. In 2006, archeologists in Henan’s Mangdang mountains—within the boundaries of the Liang Kingdom during the Han dynasty—excavated a 1055square-meter rammed-earth platform surrounded with stone walls that they identified as possibly one of these regional sacrificial shrines to Emperor Wen. The archeological report quotes this passage. See Henan sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo, “Henan Yongcheng shi Mangdang shan Han dai lizhi jianzhu jizhi.”


Notes to Pages 111–15

36. Shiji, 10.436. See also Hanshu, 5.137. The Yuejueshu briefly describes the location and layout of the Wu kingdom shrines to Gaozu’s father, Gaozu and Emperor Wen; see Yuejueshu quanyi, 68 (“Waizhuanji Wu dizhuan” 外傳記吳地 傳). In recent years, archeologists have excavated bronze vessels such as double boilers and incense burners that include inscriptions labeling them as belonging to Emperor Wen shrines. See Zong Ming’an, Han dai wenzi kaoshi yu xinshang, 168–70; and Li Jianguang, “Jiangsu sheng Hanjiang xian wenguan hui shouzang de yi jian jinian tong xunlu,” 69, respectively. 37. Hanshu, 73.3118. 38. What that final number should be was in itself a matter of dispute, with the famous exegetes taking opposing sides. Zheng Xuan argued for five shrines and Wang Su for seven. See Wechsler, Offerings of jade and silk, 129. 39. Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 1305 (Zhao 8). 40. Liji jijie, 1204–5 (“Jifa” 祭法). 41. Liji jijie, 1192 (“Jifa” 祭法). 42. Weishu jicheng, 532 (“Liwei” 禮緯). 43. Such sanctity inflation—more examples of which will follow—still exists around the world today such as in the case of Catholic saints. In the past, it could take centuries for a pope to reach sainthood as reputations developed, cults evolved, investigations were made with regard to divine favors and devil’s advocates were brought in. Vatican II speeded up the process to give more local power and make more contemporary saints; John Paul II’s ascent began only weeks after his death. 44. Guanzi jiaozhu, 1340 (“Shanzhishu” 山至數). 45. Hanshu, 4.120, 5.143, 19.753. There may have been some form of earlier Liu registers because the post of “Director of the imperial lineage” [Zongzheng 宗正], one of the highest nine ministers, had been filled since at least 186 bce. For a description of this post, see Bielenstein, Bureaucracy of Han times, 41–43. 46. Hanshu, 5.145; Shiji, 107.2843. 47. Shiji, 28.1397. Sima Qian records the stories of at least five spiritualists who separately entranced the emperor with their discussions of immortals and alchemy. The feng-sacrifices at Mount Tai were a kind of enfeoffment ceremony of cosmic proportions (see Brashier, “The Spirit Lord of Baishi Mountain,” 205–6), and the Classicists had originally been charged with researching the sacrifice. They duly sifted the canons for direction, but others persuaded the emperor that this sacrifice was actually focused on meeting with the spirits and becoming immortal. Throughout the Han dynasty, Classicists were often stereotyped as squabbling pedants more concerned with their rules and robes rather than with practical affairs, and in the end the Classicists’ diverse opinions frustrated Emperor Wu until he dismissed them.

Notes to Pages 115–20


48. Shiji, 28.1389. 49. Shiji, 17.803. In the biographies of the Han documents alone, there are more than ten cases of rulers establishing fiefs expressly to tend the grave, preserve the ancestral halls and maintain the sacrifices to the fief’s first ancestor. See Hanshu, 39.2012, 53.2433, 59.2651, 66.2889, 67.2925, 68.2948, 74.3150, 95.3861, 97.3970 and 97.3983. (There are also numerous references to sacrificial fiefs in the Hanshu charts.) At times they were even called “fiefs for offering sacrifices” ( fengsi feng 奉祀封). See Hanshu, 18.712–13. 50. Hanshu, 94.3760. 51. The charts are not the work of Ban Gu but of his sister Ban Zhao 班昭 (48?–116?) and of Ma Xu 馬續 (fl. 141 ce). 52. Hanshu, 14.393. 53. Hanshu, 14.395. See also Shiji, 17.802; 21.1071. 54. For Jia Yi’s discussions, see Hanshu, 48.2237. 55. Shiji, 58.2088–89. 56. For discussions of the rebellion, including the roles of Jia Yi and Chao Cuo, see Loewe, “Former Han dynasty,” 139–49; Lewis, Writing and authority in early China, 342–51. 57. Hanshu, 14.395. See also Shiji, 17.802; 21.1071. For Zhufu Yan’s argument, see Shiji, 112.2961. “From this time onward” refers to the efforts of Emperors Wen, Jing and Wu together, not just Emperor Wu. 58. Hanshu, 15.427. 59. Shiji, 17.802. 60. Hanshu, 16.528. See also Shiji, 18.878. 61. According to Hanshu, 12.349, in the Western Han’s final years Emperor Ping allowed nephews and grandsons to continue fiefs, but once Wang Mang usurped the imperial position, most fiefs were terminated anyway. 62. Hanshu, 6.187. 63. Liji jijie, 721–23 (“Jiaotesheng” 郊特牲); Simin yueling jiaozhu, 16 (“Zhengyue” 正月), 53 (“Liuyue” 六月), 67 (“Shiyue” 十月). Fengsu tongyi jiaoshi (p. 416) preserves a fragment that indicates the wine sacrifice could be offered to an elder teacher as well as to one’s ancestors, and as already seen in Section 7, the Simin yueling describes how the entire family toasted the household head with spiced wine. 64. Hanshu, 5.138 (commentary). 65. Hanshu, 88.3600 describes a procession to the eight-month wine sacrifice during Emperor Xuan’s reign, but the procession was interrupted by one of the swords from atop the leading banner falling off and sinking into the mud. This omen sent the emperor home, a fortunate outcome because a darkly dressed assassin had been hiding in the shadows of the ancestral hall waiting for him.


Notes to Pages 120–24

66. Shiji, 30.1439. 67. Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 290 (Xi 4). See also Han Feizi xinjiaozhu, 686 (“Waichushuo zuoshang” 外儲說左上). 68. Hanshu, 95.3851. 69. Hanshu, 68.2956. 70. Hanshu, 87.3558. 71. Hanshu, 48.2257. 72. Shiji, 9.410–11, 52.2002–3. Another case of ignoring genealogical protocol and passing over an heir occurred after the early death of Emperor Wu’s successor, Emperor Zhao. Some argued that Emperor Zhao’s only surviving brother, the king of Guangling 廣陵, should have become emperor, but because of the king’s earlier unprincipled behavior, the regent Huo Guang judged him unfit to continue the sacrifices at the Liu ancestral shrines, giving Zhou precedents for passing over the king. See Hanshu, 68.2937. 73. Shiji, 57.2073–74. The fief was briefly terminated when Zhou Yafu, charged of a crime, died in prison. Another son was appointed to inherit the fief, but he lost it in the wine-tribute scandal of 112 bce. 74. Dubs, History of the Former Han dynasty 2: 128. 75. Hanshu, 63.2753. 76. Hanshu, 63.2769–70, 68.2944. The role of “heaven” has thus far been absent in this discussion of the ancestral cult, but here and elsewhere, it is simply the sum of all circumstances beyond one’s control. Its “will” is known via the interpretation of those circumstances. 77. Hanshu, 8.243, 75.3156. He was given the permanent position because of his territorial expansion, his adjustment of the calendar, his feng-sacrifice at Mount Tai and his preservation of the Zhou lineage remnants. Emperor Wu’s elevation to perpetual worship raises three points of interest. First in the strictest interpretation of the ancestral remembrance system, the Han should only have recognized its progenitor—Gaozu alone—as worthy of perpetual worship. Yet as seen in Section 10, this tidy system was later modified to add perpetual worship to Emperor Wen so that the Han would have a complementary pairing of a zu-ancestor (Gaozu, whose perpetual title was Taizu) and a zongancestor (Emperor Wen, whose perpetual title was Taizong). Now that second systematic perspective was also in jeopardy as Emperor Wu became another zongancestor with this perpetual title of Shizong. Although no discussion of precedence survives, it is possible that the Zhou could still have been interpreted as supporting a third perpetual position simply because it was said to have also recognized three permanent ancestors, namely Hou Ji and kings Wen and Wu. (It may be no coincidence that for both the Zhou and the Han, the two perpetually remembered rulers below the progenitor share the names Wen and Wu. Such

Notes to Pages 124–25


raises the question of when the posthumous names for emperors Wen and Wu were chosen and whether they were in fact chosen to ensure perpetual sacrifice.) Second, a rare voice of opposition was raised against granting Emperor Wu’s perpetual ancestral position, although not on the grounds that it opposed any interpretation of the Zhou ideal. When Emperor Xuan sent down the imperial request for discussion, a court academician by the name of Xiahou Sheng 夏侯勝 (fl. 70 bce) denounced the heavy costs of Emperor Wu’s expansion campaigns in lives and wealth, plunging China into starvation. He was imprisoned for his opposition. See Hanshu, 75.3156–57. Xiahou Sheng was not alone in criticizing the court’s pursuit of territorial expansion. See for example Yantielun jiaozhu, 208–9 (“Diguang” 地廣). Finally, just as the king of Yan had earlier requested, shrines for Emperor Wu were eventually erected across the empire, but they were to be built in the fortynine kingdoms and commanderies that Emperor Wu had personally visited on his many imperial progresses. The purpose of this last stipulation is unclear, although the link between actual presence in the territory and subsequent worship is suggestive. It may also highlight the fact that his expansion efforts brought many new commanderies into China. Auspicious omens are said to have accompanied the first sacrifices in these shrines, including the gathering of auspicious birds, the emanations of spiritual radiance and the tolling of unseen bells. (The gathering of auspicious birds was an omen particularly common in Emperor Xuan’s reign.) See Hanshu 25.1248. 78. Hanshu, 8.246. 79. Hanshu, 68.2950–56. This is the same lineage that wanted to use ritual infractions as a pretense to depose of the chancellor in Section 11 above. The lineage of Xiao He 蕭何 (d. 193 bce), Gaozu’s most important nonmilitary assistant, was another family privileged to be incorporated within the Liu family register. His lineage had been disrupted no less than six times due to lack of heirs or to criminal convictions, but it was always reinstated. His complicated lineage extends over four pages in the current Zhonghua editions of the Hanshu charts. See Hanshu, 16.529, 541–44. 80. Hanshu, 24.1137. 81. Yantielun jiaozhu, 191 (“Weitong” 未通). 82. In this period, a landowner with some money could afford the ox-drawn iron plough, a tool that became much more useful during the reign of Emperor Wu because of new farming techniques (i.e., the alternate-field system). While the landowner increased his yield and profit, poor farmers still relying on wooden tools lagged behind. A drought or flood exacerbated the situation by forcing poor farmers to borrow money to pay for their own needs as well as the various poll and land taxes. The resulting debt spiral eventually forced poor farmers to sell


Notes to Pages 125–29

their fields to the local land magnates and, if they were fortunate, to become their tenants. 83. Cho-yun Hsu writes of the last years of the Western Han, “It is not coincidence that people in the reigns of Emperors Ai and P’ing began to diagnose the agricultural problem as a symptom of uneven distribution of land that was correlated to the polarization of the rich and the poor. The demand for restriction of landholdings gradually became commonplace.” See Hsu, Han agriculture, 22. 84. Yantielun jiaozhu, 171–72 (“Yuanchi” 園池). Ideally, these lands were intended to provide the poor with extra income; see Baihutong shuzheng, 140–41 (“Fenggonghou” 封公侯). 85. Hanshu, 8.254 dates the edict commanding the restoration to the first year of the Yuankang reign period (65 bce), which commentators note is either an error or an indication of the time it took between the initial edict and the resulting restoration. 86. Hanshu, 16.528. 87. Hanshu, 8.259. 88. Ebrey, “The economic and social history of Later Han,” 612–13. The Eastern Han government would also curtail its land grants to the poor. See Hsu, Han agriculture, 33. 89. Moving powerful families to the imperial graves not only divested them of close contact with their lands and networks of friends and relatives, but it may also have been a case of “keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.” Furthermore, in early China the repetitive rules of subservience carried out in the shadow of the tomb mound was seen as indoctrinating the sacrificers with ritual obedience. According to the Kong congzi (332 [“Lun Shu” 論書], 345 [“Zhijie” 執 節]), when the new Shang ruler Taijia 太甲 wished to take charge of government, Yi Yin 伊尹 sent Taijia to live three years at the grave of Tang, the Shang founder, to learn ritual and filial obedience. 90. Hanshu, 70.3024. 91. Ch’ü, Han social structure, 199. 92. Hanshu, 8.236–37. 93. Hanshu, 68.2940. Although this phrase is frequently repeated in pre-Han and Han sources, the Yili and Liji do not include precisely this wording; however, there are many similar statements particularly in the former. 94. Hanshu, 68.2944. The set of animals or tailao (“grand pen”) sacrifice was the highest form of offering and consisted of a cow, a sheep and a pig. 95. Hanshu, 63.2748. See also Hanshu, 8.254. 96. Hanshu, 97.4000, 67.2927. 97. Hanshu, 97.4001. See also Hanshu, 80.3327.

Notes to Pages 130–131


98. Hanshu, 73.3115–16. I am following Yan Shigu’s explanation here. Judging from descriptions and from pictures in stone reliefs, an ancestral hall seems to have been a main hall with a courtyard in front and back, all surrounded by interconnected halls, resembling a figure eight and similar to halls that survive from later times. Daily sacrifices were confined to the rear courtyard, monthly sacrifices carried out at the central hall and seasonal sacrifices extended to all the side halls as well. Ancestral halls and rituals were long regarded as a major tax burden, a fact that Mencius once noted when he explained why the peripheral peoples paid fewer taxes due to their lack of such institutions. See Mengzi zhengyi, 856 (“Gaozi” 告子). With regard to the monthly tour of the robes and caps, there are several early references to these tours that escorted the clothes between the imperial shrine and the grave park. A Chang’an construction blunder during Emperor Hui’s reign would have resulted in Gaozu’s robes and caps passing below an elevated walkway, meaning that Gaozu’s descendants would have been walking over him. The problem was reportedly solved with the construction of a second imperial shrine north of the Wei River to which the robes and caps were escorted. See Shiji, 99.2725. Like the building of shrines only in the kingdoms and commanderies personally visited by Emperor Wu (or later like the tax breaks given to the kingdoms and commanderies personally visited by Emperor An upon his own death), there seems to be something like an invisible but permanent sanctification of the travel routes traced out by an ancestor in his lifetime. 99. Hanshu, 73.3125. 100. Classicism would only become an effective doctrine bearing influence upon court policy in the reign of Emperor Yuan. Sima Qian described the beginning of the Han, namely the reigns of Gaozu, Empress Lü and Emperor Hui, as a time of chaos devoted to militarism in which Classicist concerns of education and ritual could not take root. See for example Shiji, 121.3117. Furthermore, the Classicists themselves simply couldn’t get their act together and were frequently stereotyped as squabbling bookworms espousing a multitude of divergent rules and regulations. Perhaps it is no coincidence that amidst the squabbling, a doctrine of quietude and simplicity known as Huang-Lao 黃老 took partial root. There are no satisfactory accounts—primary or secondary—as to what a HuangLao style of government actually was, but there are indications as to what it was not. It apparently was not given over to a multitude of rules or kept in check via numerous authoritative texts. Those who were identified as Huang-Lao supporters, such as Gaozu’s famous general and later chancellor of state Cao Shen 曹參 (d. 190 bce) as well as Empress Dowager Dou Yifang 竇猗房 (d. 135 bce), were explicitly opposed to the Classicists and their many discordant opinions. The confusion of disagreements fostered by the Classicists’ textual traditions may


Notes to Pages 131–34

have proved Huang-Lao’s point that only a laissez faire government, a selfrighting approach and a dogma-free attitude were viable, especially after the rigors of a war-torn era. Only in Emperor Wu’s reign did the Classicists actually begin to find their footing through the creation of the court academicians as well as the solidification of particular commentarial traditions. Yet Classicism remained more a presence at the court and less an influence over the court during the next two reigns, and Ban Gu (the Classicist) repeatedly paints Emperor Xuan as a ruler more interested in exercising the law than in embracing a state based on rituals, history and exemplariness. 101. It is evident from the Hanshu that Ban Gu was more interested in ancestry, wondering if the regent Huo Guang was descended from Huo Shu 霍叔 in the Zhou state of Jin or puzzling over why Sima Qian missed ancestral connections between certain historical personages. See Hanshu, 68.2967, 59.2657. The third history addressing the Han, the Later Han documents by Sima Biao and Fan Ye compiled in the third and fifth centuries respectively, was written after the Han had fallen, and some of its ritual discussions depart from historical description and become systematic prescription. See Mansvelt Beck, The treatises of Later Han, 88. 102. Hanshu, 75.3175, 3178. 103. Hanshu, 73.3116. 104. Hanshu, 73.3116–17; Lunyu jishi, 175 (“Bayi” 八佾). 105. Hanshu, 73.3118. 106. Hanshu, 73.3121. Elsewhere in the Hanshu (27.1347), a major flood in four commanderies is also attributed to the termination of the shrines, but this attribution is most likely the result of Ban Gu connecting the two events only later. 107. Hanshu, 73.3121. It should be noted that Kuang Heng makes previous officials, not emperors, responsible for carrying out such pretenses. “Majestic” or yan 嚴 is a common adjective applied to deceased fathers. 108. Hanshu, 73.3121–22. 109. In several ways, Kuang Heng is playing the role of a Duke of Zhou by communicating with three imperial ancestors on behalf of an ill ruler, explaining the current circumstances to them and then offering to receive any misfortune personally. 110. Yan Shigu here glosses the “five types of relationships” as those defined by the five degrees of mourning clothing. 111. Yan Shigu takes lie 烈 to mean “undertaking” or ye 業, although lie meaning “radiant” or “eminent” is a common modifier for ancestors. 112. Hanshu, 73.3122. 113. Xiaojing yizhu, 86 (“Sangqin” 喪親). See also Da Dai Liji, 253 (“Benming” 本命).

Notes to Pages 134–39


114. Hanshu, 73.3123. 115. Hanshu, 73.3124–25. 116. Hanshu, 25.1264. 117. See Hanshu, 9.279, 10.303, 11.334, 12.349, 12.358. In the first years of Emperors Yuan, Cheng and Ai, an edict was issued offering horses, oxen or wine to those people officially recognized as virtuous such as the sanlao 三老 (“the thrice venerable”) and the xiaozhe 孝者 (“the filial”) alongside these registered Lius. In the first year of Emperor Ai’s successor, namely the child Emperor Ping who was the last Western Han emperor and who ruled through his regent Wang Mang, any Liu with a criminal conviction was again restored to the registers. 118. Hanshu, 12.357; 99.4078. Only Emperor Ai seems to have been skipped in these honors, but it had been Emperor Ai who once dismissed Wang Mang from government. 119. Hanshu, 93.3738. 120. Hanshu, 73.3125. 121. Hanshu, 73.3126. 122. Like Liu Xin’s defense, the original bestowal of Emperor Wu’s designation as a permanent ancestor (i.e., when he is declared Shizong 世宗 in 72 bce) was heavily influenced by territorial integrity; see Hanshu, 75.3156. Territorial integrity was less prominent in the original bestowal of Emperor Wen’s title of Taizong 太宗 in 156 bce, but it became prominent in Liu Xin’s defense of his title as well; see Hanshu, 73.3126. 123. Hanshu, 73.3126. 124. Taijia was grandson and heir to the Shang founder. After a questionable youth, he was made to live near the tomb mound of the founder until he understood serious commitment. Afterward he is said to have become a wise ruler. The ninth emperor of the Shang, Dawu (or Taiwu 太武), restored the glory of the Shang after encountering an omen of a mulberry tree growing at court. Wuding is described in many sources for his legendary three-year silence, his successful military campaigns and his own restoration of Shang glory. See Shiji, 3.99, 100, 102–4; for a discussion of the posthumous titles with possible modification from the oracle bones, see Wu, The Chinese heritage, 182–83. 125. “Be without idleness” is a book in the Documents canon (Shangshu zhengyi, 221), and although Zhongzong and Gaozong appear in it, the third Shang ruler there is called Taizu 太祖 and not Taizong. Some commentaries believe Taizu is in fact Taizong, but there is also evidence indicating that Taizu was the son of Gaozong. In their second reference below, Liu Xin and Wang Shun in fact only refer to Zhongzong and Gaozong. 126. Liji jijie, 1204 (“Jifa” 祭法). The memorial’s citation is an abridgement of the received version.


Notes to Pages 139–43

127. Mao Shi zhengyi, 287 (“Gantang” 甘棠). 128. Hanshu, 73.3126–27. Parts of their argumentation are devoted to preserving Emperor Wen’s ancestral tenure as well, but it is clear that Emperor Wu is the principal target. 129. Hanshu, 87.3563. Note that taizong 太宗 is evidently not being used as Emperor Wen’s temple name here because Emperor Wen is named alongside Emperor Wu in the very next line. The prior structure of the poem makes it clear that the “grand ancestor” is of course Gaozu. 130. Hanshu, 98.4034. 131. Hanshu, 99.4108, 4119. 132. Hanshu, 99.4166. 133. Hanshu, 99.4169. 134. Hanshu, 25.1257–58. The ruins of what is thought to be one of his principal all-encompassing sacrificial sites—namely his mingtang 明堂 (“Hall of Brilliance”)—have been excavated in the southern suburbs of Chang’an. Extremely symmetrical in layout, the enclosure contained a gate marking the middle of each wall inside it, and in the enclosure’s center, a pounded-earth platform supported a twenty-sided bilevel structure. 135. Hanshu, 25.1270. There were so many that the sacrificers substituted chickens for geese and dogs for deer. 136. Hanshu, 99.4106, 99.4120. Wang Mang still continued the tax-exempt status for the current generation of registered Lius, perhaps placating any immediate discontentment. With regard to his lineage group of five surnames, he composed an elaborate history in which these families were all related but bore different surnames reflecting the different regions in which they lived. 137. He is so little known that his dates are variously given as 350–270 and 305– 240. Only nine small fragments of his work survive, and Han scholars seem to know nothing more of him than what is revealed in those fragments. 138. For discussions on the five phases in English, see Graham, Disputers of the Tao, 330–56; Graham, Yin-yang and the nature of correlative thinking; Sivin, “The myth of the naturalists”; and Harper, “Warring States natural philosophy and occult thought,” 860–66. Most modern scholarship maintains that this conquering cycle was developed first and the production cycle came only later, long after Zou Yan’s era. I am hesitant to accept this belief because of a Zou Yan fragment preserved in Zheng Xuan’s commentary to the Zhouli. The fragment discusses how fire drills should be used in different types of wood depending upon the season, and it lists wood for each of the five seasons, the fifth season being jixia 季夏 between summer and autumn. (Joseph Needham was one of the first Western scholars to study the five phases in depth and offers a useful collection of five-phase materials in Sci-

Notes to Pages 143–44


ence and civilisation in China 2: 232–68, including translations of all nine Zou Yan fragments, but where he translates this seemingly innocuous passage [p. 236], he unfortunately misses the seven characters describing the wood for jixia’s fire. Sivin, in his persuasive corrective of Needham’s work entitled “The myth of the naturalists,” includes the missing line, but like Needham and others, he still contends that Zou Yan only utilized the conquering cycle.) If the Zou Yan passage is authentic (and all of them are questionable to some degree), a five-season year strongly suggests an application of the five phases to the seasons even in Zou Yan’s time. To my admittedly limited knowledge, there is no other system dividing the year into five seasons (and jixia is indeed the fifth season in the five-phase annual cycle), and there is no seasonal distribution of the five phases other than the production cycle (spring’s wood producing summer’s fire and so forth). Thus I speculate (and only speculate) that both cycles were conceived together and that it was a matter of choice in terms of which cycle applied to which subject matter. It is hoped that future archeological work will resolve this issue one way or another. 139. Lü shi chunqiu jishi, 13.7a (“Yingtong” 應同). 140. Shiji, 6.237, 15.757, 26.1259, 28.1366; Sivin, “The myth of the naturalists,” 17. 141. Loewe, The men who governed Han China, 496–521. Loewe (p. 517) contends that the Han adoption of fire, linked to the Liu family’s claim to be descended from the sage king Yao, took place with Emperor Guangwu’s restoration of the Han and “would form a highly suitable reaction to Wang Mang’s claim to descent from Shun.” Such is possible, but Li Hansan (Xian Qin Liang Han zhi yinyang wuxing xueshuo, 54 [citing Hanshu, 75.3153]) notes the earliest reference to the Han descending from Yao dates to a memorial by Sui Hong 眭弘 (d. 78 bce) in Emperor Zhao’s reign. Li therefore believes that already by this era, the Han was transitioning to applying the production cycle to history and to ruling under the fire phase. More recently, Gopal Sukhu has argued that those who later recognized Liu descent from Yao were limited to particular groups of scholars such as specialists in apocryphal texts within the academy and supporters of the Zuo commentary (over the Gongyang commentary) beyond the academy. See Sukhu, “Yao, Shun and prefiguration,” 143–46. Why the shift to the production cycle? One might speculate that the production cycle actually gave the reigning emperor more cosmological defensive power. If the production cycle was the law of the universe, the reigning emperor couldn’t be taken down by force. He himself would determine when enough was enough, when the next phase was due to begin, and consequently when to abdicate. This rationalizing cosmology arose just when the Han emperors probably saw themselves as weaker than their recent forebears such as Emperor Wu. In summary,


Notes to Pages 144–48

this cosmological rationalization may have been comforting for first-century emperors who were less secure in their positions, but here I am simply speculating. 142. Gu Mingjian, Qin Han de fangshi yu rusheng, 96–103. It should be noted that these lineages of cultural heroes were not accepted by everyone in the Han. For one example, see Loewe, The men who governed Han China, 518. 143. Gu Mingjian, Qin Han de fangshi yu rusheng, 96–103. 144. Hanshu, 99.4108. 145. Hanshu, 14.396. 146. Hanshu, 99.4161. In a similar manner, when Chang’an’s first elaborate palaces were built, Gaozu complained that the empire had not yet been settled and so such projects were not justified. However, his advisors told him that it was precisely because the empire was not yet settled that he needed to make a statement of grandeur and permanence through his building projects. 147. Hanshu, 99.4161–62. 148. Taiping yulan, 2410 (“Liyi” 禮儀), citing Huan Tan’s Xin lun. 149. Hanshu, 99.4162. The Hanshu explicitly names Wang Mang’s father, grandfather, great grandfather and great great grandfather as occupying the four temporary shrines, and Hanshu, 98.4013–14 provides more details on this immediate lineage. For a discussion of this lineage history, see Loewe, “Wang Mang and his forbears.” 150. Hanshu, 98.4013–14. 151. Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan kaogu yanjiu suo, Xi Han lizhi jianzhu yizhi, 219–22. I am partial to the last explanation, put forward by Gu Jiegang, because 1.) it echoes the threefold beginning of the Zhou ancestral cult (i.e., Hou Ji, Wen and Wu); 2.) it also echoes the threefold focus of Western Han sacrifice (i.e., Gaozu, Wen and Wu); and 3.) immediately after the Han, the Wei would establish a threefold shrine for the dynastic founder plus the first two heirs (i.e., Wu, Wen and Ming). In the last case, the shrines had been established even before the future shrine occupants had died, as is the case here with Wang Mang. 152. Hanshu, 99.4174. 153. Hanshu, 99.4190. 154. Hou Hanshu, 29.1019; Kong congzi, 351 (“Xushi” 敘世). 155. Hou Hanshu, 1.31, 61–62, 76. He also reinstated Emperor Wu’s policy of partible inheritance for the kingdoms. 156. Hou Hanshu, 1.32, 1.70, 35.1193–94, zhi 9.3193–94. 157. Hanshu, 10.328 (for the Western Han enfeoffment), 67.2924–25 (for an earlier discussion advocating enfeoffment); Hou Hanshu, 1.38, 63 (for the Eastern Han enfeoffments), 40 (for Guangwu’s ordering a sacrifice to Confucius).

Notes to Pages 149–51


158. They chose the color red perhaps because they saw themselves as champions of the lost Han. Bielenstein, “Wang Mang, the restoration of the Han Dynasty, and Later Han,” 243–44. 159. Hou Hanshu, 7.3166. 160. Hanshu, 22.1035. Ban Gu was by no means alone in his exuberant portrayal of Restoration Han. For special praise that puts Guangwu above all rulers of the past because he was the first to resurrect a dead dynasty, see Wang Chong’s evaluation in Lunheng jiaoshi, 831 (“Huiguo” 恢國). The Hou Hanji descriptions of Emperor Ming’s reign similarly highlight Ming’s using the prescriptive ritual texts, overseeing the rituals at the schools, conducting the vernal plowing sacrifice and so forth. 161. Weishu, 108.2748. 162. According to Derk Bodde (Festivals in Classical China, 10): In both the Historical Records and the Han History, there are, among the “treatises,” chapters discussing the evolution of the state religion during the Former Han; these accounts make it abundantly evident that during this age the official sacrifices and other ceremonies were in a remarkable state of flux. Only during the Later Han did the scholar ritualists succeed in formulating a relatively stabilized state cult consistent with what they believed had been the religious practices of the Chou and earlier dynasties.

See also Lewis (The early Chinese empires: Qin and Han, 100), who groups the ritual program with the new capital at Luoyang, the legal code, standard measures and weights, graphic forms and court costumes all as elements that went into the institutional establishment of a dynasty. 163. Dull (A historical introduction to the apocryphal (ch’an-wei) texts of the Han Dynasty, 270–75) discusses two aborted attempts in 87 and 101 ce to systematize ritual. 164. Throughout the Period of Disunion, the Zhou system of religious practices was repetitiously debated, and Han exegesis became treated as a primary source, given a status almost equal to the Classics. Wechsler (Offerings of Jade and Silk, 131) even suggests that disputation on ritual details eventually became part of the ritual itself. 165. Hou Hanshu, 2.70, zhi 9.3194. 166. Hanshu, 15.483. 167. For examples, see Hou Hanshu, zhi 9.3157, 3181 (twice), 3184, and 3194. Mansvelt Beck (The treatises of Later Han, 105) summarized that “the influence of Wang Mang on Later Han sacrifices is so deep that it would seem better to group him with the latter dynasty, instead of regarding his reign as the last phase of Earlier Han.”


Notes to Pages 151–57

168. It is evident that he saw Guangwu as a lineage progenitor because not only does he say Guangwu “received the mandate” (shouming 受命), but he also admits that he himself may not have been able to fulfill the role of a King Cheng. King Cheng was the first heir to the Zhou progenitors Kings Wen and Wu. See Hou Hanshu, 2.100. 169. Hou Hanshu, 16.604. 170. Hou Hanshu, 1.70, 35.1193–94, zhi 9.3193–94. 171. Hou Hanshu, zhi 9. 3196–97. Hou Hanshu, 3.131 specifies that the changing room was in fact that of Guangwu’s empress. 172. See Weishu, 108.2771–72 where it not only becomes a precedent, but the dimensions of the shrine are briefly discussed. 173. Lunyu jishi, 172 (“Bayi” 八佾). 174. The limited passages with which Han scholars had to work are summarized in Weishu, 108.2759. As for the extrapolated sacrificial schedule, Zheng Xuan used six dates of di- and xia-sacrifices in the Chunqiu commentaries, from which he extrapolated a further ten dates. See Yuhanshan fang jiyishu, 2: 115–16 (“Luli dixia zhi” 魯禮禘祫志). 175. Hou Hanshu, 35.1195. 176. Yuhanshan fang jiyi shu 2: 116 (“Luli dixiazhi” 魯禮禘祫志). See also Baihutong shuzheng, 567 (“Quewen” 闕文). Zheng Xuan argued that the di- and xia-sacrifices were held in different years. The di-sacrifice was originally a generic term for several of the greater royal sacrifices of antiquity, such as the round mound sacrifice to heaven, until it was restricted to an ancestral sacrifice in the state of Lu. The scholar Wang Su 王肅 (195–256) disagreed with Zheng Xuan’s belief that they were separate sacrifices, instead contending they were different aspects of the same sacrifice. See Weishu, 108.2741–43 for a summary. 177. Hou Hanshu, zhi 9. 3194. 178. His descent from a distant collateral branch had other implications on lineage structure not detailed here. For example, the stipulation that lineage was defined via the third-cousin relationship net and no further meant that several of the Liu kings were no longer related to the emperor. In 37 ce, Guangwu therefore demoted them to marquises. See Hou Hanshu, 1.61. 179. Hou Hanshu, 4.193, 6.252, 6.260. 180. Hou Hanshu, 1.76. 181. Hou Hanshu, 2.124. 182. One might speculate that the ancestral cult’s staying power directly results from the fact that it ties together the two most fundamental cosmologies of existence, namely the temporal and the spatial.

Notes to Pages 157–59


183. Day-by-day events were reckoned on a sixty-day cycle known as the “heavenly stems and earthly branches” (tiangan dizhi 天干地支). The cycle begins with the ten stems being paired off with the first ten of the twelve branches. The ten branches then start over with the last two branches and continue in this manner until the two lists are finally realigned at sixty-one. In later history, years would also be enumerated in this fashion. 184. The term zongsi 宗祀 usually refers to a sacrifice at which a major ancestor, most often a progenitor, is coupled with heaven or the five directional emperors. 185. Hou Hanshu, zhi 8.3183–84. 186. While Wang Mang justified his descent through outlining a fictional lineage, the Liu lineage mainly relied upon revelation, particularly one revelation recorded in the Shiji. There Gaozu killed a snake and a mysterious woman later claimed that this incident was in fact the son of the Red Lord executing the son of the White Lord. See Shiji, 8.347. 187. Hou Hanshu, zhi 8.3183–84. 188. Hou Hanshu, 3.149. 189. Hou Hanshu, 5.238. 190. King Gong of Donghai was Liu Qiang 劉彊, a son of Guangwu who had once been heir to the empire as well. He had been enfeoffed in this region with Lu as his capital. See Hou Hanshu, 42.1423. 191. Hou Hanshu, 2.118. 192. These ministers included Xiao He and Cao Shen, both serving as Gaozu’s principal aids in the foundation of the empire, as well as Huo Guang, despite the fact that his descendants were considered highly dangerous villains to that empire. 193. Zong 宗 can simply mean “to honor,” but as with the term zongsi 宗祀 in the above passage detailing Emperor Zhang’s itinerary, zong is used in relationship to the Hall of Brilliance with reference to a major ancestor playing the role of “counterpart.” A more precise translation may be that he “considers as ancestors the lords on high” because he is establishing a link to them via Guangwu and demonstrating how the imperial family is in fact descended from cosmic principles. 194. The twenty-four annual nodes mark the progress of the year by highlighting changes in weather, foliage and animals. In the manner of a farmer’s almanac, each period is roughly two weeks in length and is identified by a quality associated with that time of year, such as great heat, excited insects, filling grain or descending hoarfrost. 195. Li Shan 李善 (d. 690), principal commentator to the Wenxuan, explains this couplet as a filial son being moved by the new produce of each season that


Notes to Pages 159–61

turns his thoughts back to his ancestors. My translation highlights that mental aspect. 196. According to the commentary, the board is attached to its horns to prevent it from goring people. 197. Mao Shi zhengyi, 621 (“Liezu” 烈祖). 198. Variant of Mao Shi zhengyi, 620 (“Na” 那). 199. Mao Shi zhengyi, 589 (“Zhijing” 執競). 200. Mao Shi zhengyi, 469 (“Chuci” 楚茨). 201. Mao Shi zhengyi, 589 (“Zhijing” 執競). Zhang Heng’s description is part of his “Dongjingfu” 東京賦 (“Poetic exposition on the eastern capital”); see Wenxuan, 115–16 (“Jingdu” 京都). 202. Shangshu zhengyi, 127 (“Shun dian” 舜典). 203. Hou Hanshu, 4.167. His name was derived from the song “Qingmiao” 清 廟; see Mao Shi zhengyi, 583. 204. Hou Hanshu, 2.99; Lü shi chunqiu jishi, 21.2a-b (“Kaichun” 開春); Lunheng jiaoshi, 899–900 (“Siwei” 死偽). 205. Hou Hanshu, 2.99, z