The Academic Corner of Sanguo

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Re: The Academic Corner of Sanguo

Unread postby waywardauthor » Sat Nov 18, 2017 9:02 am

[The following is the entirety of an article partially transcribed from the 1958 edition of Monumenta Serica]


Written by Paul Michaud




Late in the Eastern Han period, in 184, China experienced a great revolt that has since been known, from an emblem of its adherents, as the Yellow Turban rebellion. The Yellow Turbans were not bandits; they were the members of a religious movement that, seemingly, had developed a new social and political order of its own which it aimed to establish over the empire. A study of this rebellion is important for several reasons. It was a factor in the downfall of the Han dynasty, when the Chinese first extended their area of political control to include most of what would henceforth constitute China, and create the early forms of most of their political institutions. Furthermore, it offers an insight into the general phenomenon of dynastic decline. Finally, as a rebellion with religious overtones, characterized by fanaticism, violence, and opposition to the established bureaucratic pattern, it is an example of a type of rebellion, repeated more or less in later rebellions, that has some analogies even with that of the present-day Communists.

At first one is strongly tempted to explain this rebellion of the Yellow Turbans in the traditional manner: as caused by discontented peasants, unbearable economic conditions, and superstitious beliefs exploited for political advantages. The facts could be construed to fit this preconceived theory; however, an objective analysis of these same facts does not necessarily lead one to such conclusion. First of all, we do not know that Zhang Jue, the founder of the Yellow Turbans, recruited the greatest part of his followers from discontented peasants. We do not know the exact role of economic conditions in bringing about the rebellion. Conditions were undoubtedly very difficult for many. Our sources are meagre. However, they offer no evidence of a sharp worsening of the economic conditions during the sixty odd years preceding the rebellion, nor do they offer conclusive proof of a radical change for the worse in the years immediately preceding the out- break. Superstitious beliefs apparently were used by the Yellow Turbans to gain political advantages; however, we have only vague suggestions of the methods and extent of these tactics. From all the evidence at hand, the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans appears to have been caused by the chance appearance of a new religious movement at a time when political conditions were such as to offer it an unusual opportunity. Some sixteen years before the rebellion, in 168, the eunuchs had seized power, and this action seems to have brought in its wake a serious breakdown in the morale of Han officialdom. Although we cannot determine with complete accuracy to what extent the eunuchs wrecked the bureaucratic regime, it is clear that their own incompetence, their favor to many incapable officials, and their ban on the Confucian party had disturbed the political order of the empire. It is quite possible that Zhang Jue, perhaps until then entirely religious in his objectives, saw in the political confusion an opportunity to gain for himself great political power. It is also possible that the lack of leadership on the part of the government enabled Zhang Jue to command more complete loyalty on the part of his followers.

The political significance of the rebellion of the Yellow Tur- bans appears to have been somewhat different from what is often believed. They had a definite responsibility in the ultimate down- fall of the House of Han; however, they did not destroy the Han directly. The religion of the Yellow Turbans presents an intricate problem which, with the evidence at hand, cannot be solved as wholly as would be desired. We can say, however, that Zhang Jue, the founder of the Yellow Turbans, was an independent master whose sect apparently had elements of Hsien Taoism and of Buddhism.


Sometime after the year 170 of our era, some century and half after the restoration of the dynasty following Wang Mang's usurpation, a certain Zhang Jue founded a movement which he called the Way of Great Peace. Its members later became known as the Yellow Turbans. In the second month of 184, 3 the members of the movement rose in a rebellion which continued through most of that year and was to be followed shortly by a number of more or less related revolts during the years following. The central government was caught by surprise and it was a full month be- fore resistance was organized. The pei chung lang chiang Lu Zhi was sent against Zhang Jue. The tso chung lang chiang Huangfu Song and the yu chung lang chiang Zhu Jun were both sent to pacify the province of Yu. In the fourth month, Zhu Jun met with the Yellow Turbans of the commandery of Runan. They were under the command of a leader named Bo Cai. The imperial forces were beaten. Upon hearing of the defeat of his colleague, Huangfu Song withdrew into the city of Changshe, where the victorious Bo Cai went to besiege him. By use of trickery Huangfu Song managed to fight his way out of the city and by uniting his forces with those of Zhu Jun and those of Cao Cao he inflicted a great defeat on the rebels. These events took place during the fifth month. During the sixth month Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun routed and destroyed the Yellow Turbans of the commanderies of Runan and Chenguo. They pacified these two commanderies and also the commandery of Yingchuan and destroyed the Yellow Turbans there.

In the meanwhile, Lu Zhi had marched against Zhang Jue. He finally met him in battle in the sixth month and defeated him. The leader of the Yellow Turbans took refuge in the city of Guangzong. Lu Zhi undertook to besiege him. At that time a eunuch sent by imperial order came to the camp of Lu Zhi to look the situation over and to make a report. However, it seems that the eunuch was willing to write a favorable report only if he was given a reward. Lu Zhi refused to pay the bribe and this caused him to be called back to the capital and exiled. Dong Zhuo was sent to replace him. While this was taking place Huangfu Song was achieving victory after victory. Finally, in the eighth month, he was sent to replace Dong Zhuo at the siege of Guangzong. Huangfu Song carefully planned his attack during two months; during the tenth month he finally attacked the city. He defeated and killed Zhang Liang who had taken the place of his brother Jue, the latter having died from natural causes shortly after the siege had begun. After this victory, Huangfu Song went in pursuit of Zhang Bao, the other brother of Zhang Jue. He overtook him in the eleventh month, defeated his army and killed him.

At the beginning of the seventh month Zhu Jun had been sent against the Yellow Turbans of the province of Jing. The rebels had entrenched themselves in the city of Wancheng. The siege lasted more than four months and it was only during the eleventh month that Zhu Jun succeeded in storming the city. This was the end of the rebellion; also during the eleventh month there were some mopping up expeditions of rather small importance. Then a general amnesty was declared throughout the empire

Meanwhile, in the seventh month of 184, the members of yet another religious movement called the Five Bushels of Rice broke out in rebellion. Our sources merely record that the incident took place; they do not tell us the outcome. Then, during the years following the Yellow Turban rebellion, bandits arose in numerous parts of the empire. In 189 the emperor died. In a move aimed at frightening the powerful eunuchs, the regent called the generals of the empire to the capital. Several generals answered the call, among them Dong Zhuo who, however, had plans of his own. Shortly after his arrival at the capital he replaced the boy emperor by another youth and set himself up as the virtual ruler. His example was soon followed by other ambitious men and the empire was divided between several factions. Dong Zhuo was murdered in 193, but by that time the emperor had become a mere pawn, and until the official end of the dynasty, in 220, five different groups vied for supreme power.



The exact causes of the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans are not readily available in our sources. Starting from the assumption that great rebellions do not usually break out without rea- sons we shall try in this chapter to discover what brought about this particular rebellion. In this effort we are handicapped, first of all, by the fact that the Yellow Turbans themselves have left nothing of their story. We possess no authentic fragment either of their political or administrative documents or of any body of religious literature from their hands. It is indeed difficult to say how much of such writings ever existed. For the most trust- worthy information on the movement and its causes we must rely on reports by their Buddhist adversaries and on general records of the period preserved by Confucian historians. This fact forces us to seek an explanation solely through the evidence of the actions of the Yellow Turbans and the testimony of outside observers. Was the rebellion inherent in the religious character of Zhang Jue's movement, or were the causes for the rebellion primarily in the economic or political conditions of the time? In this chapter we shall consider the possible effects of the economic and political conditions.

Was the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans a violent answer to intolerable economic conditions? Our sources do not provide a ready answer as to what exactly were the economic conditions of the Latter Han dynasty. At most they strongly imply that the empire was not highly prosperous and that the conditions were possibly bad. The long decline of the ruling house of Liu had started already in A. D. 89 with the coming to the throne of Emperor He. The responsibilities of governing the empire proved too heavy for weak emperors; power was slipping from their feeble hands and different factions arose that fought for power. At first the struggle was largely between the affinal relatives of the emperors. However, the very power of these relatives-in-law helped create the eunuch faction which was to gain complete control in 168, some sixteen years before the outbreak of the rebellion. While the capital was thus converted into a battle- ground for political warfare the frontier provinces were submitted to the pressures of the different barbarian tribes. The population meanwhile underwent a great growth, and the empire was frequently visited by natural catastrophes. These different factors very possibly caused a deterioration in the economic picture of the empire, as is perhaps evidenced by the rise of numerous bandits in different parts of the empire after 132. However, the weakness of the house of Liu, the barbarian invasions, the growth of population and the natural catastrophes appear to have been somewhat constant factors. Although they possibly prepared the ground for the rebellion it is almost impossible to say that they caused it. It is indeed impossible, with the materials at hand, to ascertain whether these factors did actually create conditions so unbearable as to cause a rebellion. We find no evidence of a sharp worsening of the economic conditions in the years preceding the rebellion. On the contrary, oar sources strongly suggest that the conditions were more critical during the reign of Emperor An (107-125).

Could the Yellow Turbans have been forced to rebel because of an intensive religious persecution? This possibility cannot be excluded; however, as we shall see in a later chapter, there is no evidence that this was the case. What then caused the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans? We have no definite answer to this question. In the light of our evidence, I believe that the responsibility for the uprising officialdom, started during the struggle for power between the affinal relatives of the emperors and completed when the eunuchs seized power in 168. This demoralization of the Han officialdom did not necessarily create unbearable economic conditions; but it did undermine the administrative machine, shake the people's loyalty to the emperor, close avenues to peaceful reforms, and very possibly fire the hopes of ambitious opportunists.


In considering the possible economic or political causes for the rebellion, it is appropriate to consider first of all the character of the ruling house of Liu. Their decline appears to have started in A.D. 89 with the coming to the throne of Prince Zhao, the future Emperor He. Beginning with this emperor who himself came to the throne at ten, all the emperors of the Latter Han dynasty began their rule at a tender age. The youth of the new ruler necessitated that a regency be established. The Empress Dowager assumed the functions of regent and, as a rule, relied on her family for help and support. By the time the emperor became of age he was faced with a powerful faction. It appears that He and the following emperors were afflicted with rather weak personalities. They also seem to have been bitterly resentful of their relatives' power. Their weakness and their desire to do away with their affinal relatives helped create the eunuch faction. It would be beyond the scope of this work to make a detailed analysis of all the intrigues that took place during the Latter Han dynasty. However, it must be pointed out that these palace intrigues did not necessarily upset the economic conditions of the empire. The struggle between the different factions was confined within the walls of the palace; it did not precipitate any civil war. There was only one armed clash which occurred when the eunuchs seized power, and which involved at most a few hundred persons. It is very likely that this struggle carried many abuses in its wake, although it is impossible to determine what they were, and it is also very possible that such a struggle had an evil influence on the morale of Han officialdom. However, there is no evidence that it noticeably worsened the economic conditions of the empire.


The Latter Han, like most Chinese dynasties, suffered at times from economic dislocations caused by foreign wars and raids of border tribes. To what extent did such economic dislocations encourage the Yellow Turban Rebellion? At the time of our concern China was surrounded by a diversity of barbarian tribes. Along the northern border, toward the east, were the Wuhuan and the Xian Bei; toward the center and west the Xiongnu. On the western border were the Qiang. In the south there were several tribes usually known under the general appellation of Man. The relations of China with these barbarians were not always peaceful and her frontier provinces frequently witnessed the destructive impact of barbarian incursions. I shall sketch briefly the history of China's relations with her neighbors and then analyze its affect upon the economy of the empire.

During the Latter Han dynasty, the Man barbarians did not confront China with any massive rebellion, but only with numerous small-scale outbreaks, the brunt of which fell on the two southern provinces of Jing and Jiao. None of these outbreaks appear to have united more than a fraction of the Man barbarians. Only a few outbreaks occurred during the early years of the dynasty; the bulk of them took place between the years 76 and 181.

At the eastern end of the northern frontier, there are a few raids by the Wuhuan barbarians recorded in our sources. But the Xianbei, who were relatively unimportant during the early years of the dynasty, later assumed a position of great force, plagued the two northern provinces of You and Bing with repeated raids, and became especially hard to cope with when their tribes united under the able Tan Shihuai. In 177 a huge expedition was organized against them; but even this great force was overwhelmingly defeated and only a fragment of the original army was able to make its way back to China. After Tan Shihuai's death about 180 the power of the Xianbei declined for a while, but revived again and continued to grow until it reached its peak during the Jin dynasty.

Further to the west the border was relatively free from Xiongnu incursions during the Latter Han. This was undoubtedly due in great part to the transformation of the Xiongnu empire that took place during the early years of the dynasty. This transformation in fact started around the year 46 of our era, shortly after the death of the Supreme Chieftain Yv. At that time there was a princeling by the name of Bi whose ambition was to rule over the Xiongnu. His ambition was thwarted, however, when Pu Nu, the son of Yv, became shanyü. Filled with bitter resentment Bi thought of rebellion. The year 46 had been a disastrous year for the Xiongnu; a terrible drought and swarms of locusts had laid waste several thousand li of their land and people were dying from starvation. Bi, undoubtedly thinking that these evil times would favor his plans, went to the Chinese with maps of the Xiongnu empire. But his plans to rebel became known to the shanyü who, in his turn plotted Bi's destruction. Men were sent to kill the would-be rebel; but Bi had been forewarned and the plan failed. Then, in 47, the shan-yü dispatched troops to arrest and punish Bi; but Bi had power and influence in the southern parts of the Xiongnu empire and raised an army of between forty and fifty thousand men, a force that proved sufficient to inspire fear in the army sent by Pu Nu, which went back without accomplishing its objective. Then, in 48, eight chieftains of the southern sections recognized Bi as their ruler and he assumed the title of shan-yü. Bi then sought the recognition and approval of China and his request was granted. Shortly thereafter he requested his admission as China's vassal and ally and this request was also granted. This rebellion of Bi brought about the division of the Xiongnu into Northern and Southern Xiongnu, a division that was to prove permanent. The relations of China with the Southern Xiongnu appear to have been relatively good from their inception until 140, save perhaps for a short rebellion in 109-110 and a flare-up in 124. After 140 they worsened and the Southern Xiongnu took to raiding the northern frontiers. However, after 159 the Southern Xiongnu state disintegrated. The transformation of the Xiongnu empire had proved very advantageous to the Chinese. The division of the Xiongnu relieved China from the possible threat of a unified and powerful neighbor; besides, its new vassal provided a buffer against encroachment of the Chinese soil. As for the Northern Xiongnu, they staged very few raids on China. While they competed with the Chinese for spheres of influence in the western regions, leading the Chinese to stage some campaigns against them, these wars were not fought on Chinese territory.

The Qiang on the western frontier were probably China's most troublesome neighbors during the Latter Han dynasty. These barbarians lived for the most part in what is now Tibet. Some of their tribes also resided within the borders of the Chinese empire, in the province of Liang. This fact is evidenced as early as 33 of our era and remained true throughout the dynasty. During the early years of the Latter Han the relations of the Qiang with China were rather peaceful. Until the year 86 there were only two short-lived outbreaks: one in 57-58, and the other in 77-78. However, from 86 to 169 there was a state of recurrent warfare between the Qiang and the Chinese. This, to be sure, was not one continuous war; in fact, the period 86- 169 may be divided into four distinct phases. The first phase, which lasted from 86 until 102, may perhaps be properly named the rebellion of the Qiang Leader Mi Tang. This rebellion was apparently precipitated by an overzealous Chinese high official. However, it was not a united effort of all the Qiang tribes against China nor for that matter was it a continuous battle. It was a series of raids staged by Mi Tang and his allies of the province of Liang, and a series of punitive expeditions against the rebel leader. Neither side was uniformly victorious or uniformly defeated; however, it appears that the tide of victory rode with the Chinese forces. Mi Tang appears to have had a special hatred for the Chinese and neither gifts nor kindness could win him over to the Chinese side. His rebellion lasted until his death in 102; shortly thereafter his son and the remnants of his people came and surrendered to the Chinese.

The second phase of the Qiang-Chinese conflict covers the years 107-118, and was the most violent Qiang outbreak during the Latter Han dynasty. This rebellion was ignited by the Qiang living within the confines of China who objected to being conscripted for the wars against the western countries. It soon spread to all the Qiang who became united in a common cause. Their initial success emboldened their leader, a man by the name of Tian Ling, and in 108 he proclaimed himself the Emperor in the northern lands. Until his death in 112 Tien-ling maintained his successes and inflicted several crushing defeats on the Chinese armies sent against him. But after his death the tide turned. His son Ling Chang was young in years and in experience. A man by the name of Lang Me became his strategist and the Chinese renegade Du Jigong was made general. The war continued with alternative successes and defeats for both sides. Then, starting in 117 with the murder of Du Jigong, the Chinese hired murderers to do away with all the Qiang leaders. Ling Chang also was stabbed to death in 117 and in 118 it was the turn of Lang Me. The rebellion was then crushed; it had lasted more than ten years. It had cost more than 24,000,000 cash to the treasury and had caused incalculable loss in life and property in the two provinces of Bing and Liang.

During the next eight years, 119-126, there were a few short- lived outbreaks but no large scale rebellion. The province of Liang was again plundered several times. Still the Chinese general Ma Xian was able to crush these rebellions and to bring peace to the empire. The third phase of the Qiang-Chinese conflict began in 134 and lasted until 145. It can perhaps be best called the rebellion of the Western Qiang. This rebellion was by no means as violent an outbreak as the one of 107; but once again the province of Liang experienced the horrors of wars as the Qiang several times invaded and plundered the different commanderies. Curiously enough this rebellion's final defeat did not come during a great battle; the Chinese official Liang Bing by means of kindness and favors enticed the Qiang to surrender in 145. This outbreak had lasted some ten years and had necessitated expenses well over 8,000,000 cash.

The empire and the Qiang remained at peace until 159. Then the final phase of the Qiang-Chinese conflict began and lasted until 169. Perhaps one of the most striking features of this conflict was the alliance between the Xianbei and the Eastern Qiang, in 166, which presented a special danger to the three provinces of You, Bing and Liang. But in 167 a great victory by the general Dong Zhuo eliminated that threat. This last rebellion could have ended in 167. But the general Duan Gong who had taken an active part in the struggle convinced the emperor of the wisdom of a fight to the finish against the Eastern Qiang, the only Qiang that had not been brought to terms. His argument won the day; he was assigned to lead the forces against the Eastern Qiang and he carried his mission successfully. During that campaign Duan Gong fought altogether 180 battles, beheaded more than 38,000 Qiang, and captured in excess of 427,000 head of cattle, horses, sheep, asses, mules, and camels. His total expenditures had amounted to 4,400,000 cash and he had lost more than 400 officers and men. This was the end of the Qiang; they submitted to the Chinese and thereafter there was peace between them and China.

Our sources do little more than record the different wars between the Chinese and the barbarians. From them we learn that beginning with Emperor He there were numerous barbarian raids and that at least several of them must have been of some importance involving as they did many thousand warriors. We also learn that the most violent barbarian uprising took place in the early years of the second century. The most important information for our purpose is however lacking. We cannot assess at all satisfactorily the impact that these numerous raids had on the people living in the afflicted areas. We do not find any statistical evidence telling us just how much destruction these raids caused, how many Chinese they either killed or displaced. But while we do not know their effects in detail, there are still certain conclusions that seem obvious. One is that the drain on the national treasury was severe. Another is that the destruction brought about by these wars very likely upset the economies of the stricken provinces. We do not know whether the rest of the empire was in any way dependent on the frontier provinces. However, we read that for the census of 140 the four provinces of You, Bing, Jing and Liang had a combined population exceeding ten million, almost one fourth the total population of the empire. If the economic conditions of one fourth of the population were under stress, they could easily affect the whole empire in that tax collection in the affected areas possibly decreased and a greater part of the burden had to be carried by other parts of the empire. There is little doubt that the barbarian wars affected the economic picture of the empire. However, it is doubtful that they could have caused the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans. It must be pointed out that the worst barbarian raids took place during the reign of Emperor An, some sixty years before the rebellion. Furthermore, our sources imply that not only was there no sharp increase in barbarian raids in the years preceding the rebellion, but that the intensity of these raids in fact decreased during these same years.


Another factor in the economic picture of the empire during the Latter Han is the population of the empire and its relation to the problem of subsistence. It is unfortunate that our sources are inadequate in their treatment of natural catastrophes, recording only the date and the area affected. They do not tell how many people were affected nor how they were affected; whether they lost their crops or lost their lives. Besides, since the Chinese believed that natural catastrophes were due to the misbehavior of the emperor, it is possible that for political reasons many of them were not even recorded, while some that were recorded may have been insignificant or even invented. According to the statistics presented between 107 and 184, the year of the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans, only the years 126, 134, 136, 141-143, 150, 160, 163, 170 were entirely free of either drought, earthquake, excessive rain, flood, hail, locusts or pestilence.30 This, of course, does not mean that during all the other years the empire was visited by severe catastrophes, nor that each one was equally burdensome. The earthquakes for instance may very often have been mere tremors, since the sources record more than 600 earthquakes between the years 107-184. No doubt some of these events caused great misery; but there is nothing to show that misery was particularly widespread in the years immediately preceding the rebellion. Natural calamities appear to have been a fairly constant factor through the years. If they decreased the food productivity of the empire, they no doubt decreased the population also, and their apparent regularity suggests that they caused no radical change in food productivity. But what was the relation of this productivity to the size of the population? In the year 2 A. D. the recorded population of China was 59,594,978 individuals. This is the highest figure preserved for the two Han dynasties. Soon afterward Wang Mang usurped the throne and established his own dynasty, the Xin, which ended in 25 in a general revolt. The Red Eyebrows carried violence and destruction through the country. Guangwu, the first emperor of the Latter Han, spent the greatest part of his reign waging wars. In the year 57, two years before his death, the population is reported to have shrunk to 21,007,820 individuals. We cannot attach too much importance to this figure; it is in fact very possible that in an empire barely out of the throes of a long civil war many people would have successfully avoided a census taken for the purpose of tax collection. Nonetheless it is possible that the population did undergo a great decrease during the troubles that preceded the establishment of the Latter Han and that lasted almost throughout the entire reign of its first emperor. Guangwu, however, had unified and pacified the empire and during the next fifty odd years the population climbed steadily. In 105 it is reported to have stood at 53,256,229 individuals. Then followed several years of hardship during which the empire was visited by an unusual number of disasters, floods, droughts, plagues of locusts. There were also several barbarian uprisings. The population declined and in 140, which is also the year of the census recorded in our sources, the inhabitants of the empire numbered 49,150,220. The population went up again during the next few years and in 156 it reportedly reached 56,486,856, the highest known point of the Latter Han dynasty and also the last recorded figure for the dynasty. We do not know how the growth of population affected the economic conditions of the empire. It might have reduced somewhat the amount of land available to each farmer or again it could have created some shortage of foodstuffs or other necessities. A rather intensive migration southward during the Latter Han dynasty possibly suggests some population pressure. The Chinese population, which had centered in the northeast, and to some extent in the northwest, started to shift from these regions and to move southward. But of course, this migration might have been caused by other factors: the migration from the northwest by incursions of the barbarians, and from the northeast by the catastrophe of A. D. 11 when the dykes built under Emperor Wu (140-87 B. C.) broke down and the Yellow River changed its course, which must have caused terrible destruction and hardship. Another factor might have been the wars against the Red Eyebrows whose long rebellion must have caused untold destruction.

The numerous outlaw uprisings that occurred between 132 and 184 reflect unrest and insecurity. It is possible but improbable that great numbers of outlaws would arise in times of peace and prosperity. Up until 132 there had been relatively few such uprisings and they had all occurred during the reign of Emperor An. In 109-110 there had been the uprising of the bandits Zhang Bairu and others in the province of Qing. In 111-112 two men from the province of Liang, Wang Xin and Du Qi rebelled against the government and became outlaws. But after 132 bandit uprisings became increasingly numerous; we count more than 20 of them during the fifty odd years that preceded the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans. This figure, when compared with the small number of bandits active during the earlier part of the dynasty, suggests a worsening of conditions, but we do not know whether the conditions were prevalent throughout the empire. Such uprisings might have been due to the greed of officials in particular localities. They may indicate deterioration in officialdom, but not necessarily imply that the overall economic picture of the empire was much worse.


We do not know when the eunuchs began to act as a cohesive political group. There is no real evidence that they did so before the year 168. However, the question is perhaps academic; whether or not there was a definite eunuch clique we know for certain that there were many powerful and influential eunuchs. The eunuchs' rise to power began under the reign of Emperor
He (89-105), the first emperor of the Latter Han dynasty to trust the eunuchs and seek their advice. Their cause was undoubtedly helped when in 126 nineteen eunuchs led by a certain
Sun Cheng championed the cause of Prince Bao against the Yan family. When he was finally enthroned, Prince Bao, the future Emperor Shun (126-144), richly rewarded those to whom he owed his throne, and in 135 even allowed the eunuchs to adopt children to whom they could pass on their wealth and titles. During the reign of Emperor Huan (147-167) the eunuchs appear to have been a power to be reckoned with. Their great influence and the favor that they enjoyed is clearly shown by the emperor's indifference toward memorials attacking the eunuchs and urging the ruler to stop relying on their incompetent advice, and instead to trust well trained and competent officials.

One incident that indicates the eunuchs' ascendency over the emperor occurred in 153. During that year the Yellow River had flooded causing untold miseries to hundreds of thousands of families. These desperate people had taken to the roads and were filling the highways. Bandits arose in different parts of the province of Ji. At that time Zhu Mu was made Zishi and sent to the stricken province. Upon his arrival in Ji he brought to trial the men who were responsible for maladministration. Many of them committed suicide; many others died in jail. Now, that same year the eunuch Zhao Zhong, who was mourning his father, had gone to bury him in Anping, a commandery in the province of Ji. To give his father the burial that he deserved, Chao Chung had built a very expensive mausoleum. When Zhu Mu heard of this extravagance at a time when people were dying from starvation and deprivation of all kinds, he ordered the mausoleum opened and the coffin taken out. The emperor however was furious with Zhu Mu and had him dragged before the judges. At this point several thousand men led by Liu Tao signed a letter lauding Zhu Mu and sent it up to the emperor. The emperor read it and ordered Zhu Mu's release. There is no suggestion that Zhao Zhong was as much as blamed for his extravagance.

In 159 the eunuchs increased their power and influence still more when they helped the Emperor Huan destroy the very powerful Liang family. The five eunuchs that took part in the conspiracy received huge rewards. Their leader Shan Chao was made marquis and received the income of 20,000 families. Xu Huang and Zhu Yuan were also made marquis and given the income of 15,000 families; besides each was allotted 15,000,000 cash. Zuo Guan and Tang Heng were made marquis and given the income of 13,000 families. They were also granted 13,000,000 cash. A short time later eight more eunuchs, among whom we note Zhao Zhong, were in their turn made marquis.

In 167 the emperor Huan died without an heir. His empress, a lady from the Dou family, became the dowager and the regent. With the help of Dou Wu, her father, she chose a distant relative of the dead emperor, Jie, marquis of Duting as the next emperor. Dou Wu was appointed to the position of Da Jiangjun and his friend Chen Fan became the Taifu. These men were both Confucian scholars and were reputedly devoted to the ideal of a better government for the empire. One of their first actions was to appoint good men to key positions. These new appointees were from among the Confucian scholars who had been kept away from official positions by the powerful affines and by the eunuchs as well. Fully conscious that they would find the eunuchs in their way they plotted their destruction. Dou Wu felt that he had to obtain the permission of his daughter the empress before taking any definite action. She was hesitant; perhaps she had sympathies for the eunuchs. As a woman of the harem she must have had contacts with at least the most important among them. Or again it is possible that because she had always relied on the eunuchs for multiple services she could not have conceived of a harem without them. It is also possible that she did not believe all the accusations of her
father. Because of the empress' hesitations and because of Dou Wu's unwillingness to act without her consent, the efforts of Chen Fan and Dou Wu against the eunuchs failed miserably and the two men lost their lives. There was a short and bloody palace revolution during which the eunuchs led by Cao Jie and Wang Fu accused Dou Wu and Chen Fan of plotting the overthrow of the emperor. They convinced Zhang Huan that Dou Wu was really a conspirator and they enlisted his help against him. The eunuchs were completely victorious. Both Dou Wu and Chen Fan were killed; their families and friends were destroyed. The empress was relegated to a remote palace. The party of Dou Wu and Chen Fan, the Confucian party, became the Proscribed Party. Its members were relentlessly pursued throughout the empire by the eunuchs. Even when there was a general amnesty in the empire, it sometimes did not apply to the members of the Proscribed Party.

The eunuchs had gained complete power; they were to be supreme throughout the reign of the gullible Emperor Ling, who was in fact completely subject to them. Once, referring to the two eunuchs Zhang Rang and Zhao Zhong, he said: "The eunuch Zhang is my father; the eunuch Zhao is my mother. " Again, at one time the emperor wanted to ascend a tower near his palace. The eunuchs, fearing that while gazing around the emperor might see their palatial homes, delegated one of their group to go tell the ruler that the Son of Heaven should not climb high, for by doing so he would cause the people to go away and scatter. And the emperor dared not ascend the tower. During the thick of the battle against the Yellow Turbans, a devoted official named Zhang Jun sent a memorial to the throne putting the blame for the rebellion squarely on the shoulders of the ten most important eunuchs. He also urged the emperor to execute these ten eunuchs and to hang their heads in the southern suburbs as an apology to the people. The gullible emperor showed this memorial to the eunuchs. They read the letter and went into a shameful show of grief and sorrow. They took off their hats, prostrated themselves in front of the emperor and offered their wealth and the wealth of their families to help defray the expenses of the army. The emperor was deeply touched by this scene. He ordered the eunuchs to resume their positions, and was furious at Zhang Jun. "This man is wild", he said, "there certainly is at least one good man among ten eunuchs." This outburst proved enough ammunition for the eunuchs. They accused the unfortunate Zhang Jun of collaboration with the Yellow Turbans; he was thrown in jail where he died.

It seems that once they were in complete control the eunuchs endeavoured to make their clique a permanent institution. We read in the annals of the Emperor Ling that in the year 178 the institution of students at the door of the palace Hongdu was established. The idea of that school appears to have been to prepare eunuchs' friends and protégés for officialdom. Emperor Ling was very fond of the students of that school and he forced the high officials of the empire to hire them once they had graduated Needless to say such a school who had not yet been intimidated by the eunuchs. Yang Si violently attacked the school and its products. Yang Qiu wrote a memorial in which he urged that the school be closed. But their protestations appear to have been of little avail; the eunuchs remained in control.

How did the eunuchs' seizure of power affect the empire? There is little doubt that their exactions increased the economic difficulties. Their enormous wealth, for instance, came directly or indirectly from the people. It is very possible that the people could not carry this extra burden without suffering severe deprivation. We do not know just how rich the eunuchs were, but the sources imply that their wealth was immense. We read for instance that the cash reward granted to the five eunuchs that took part in the conspiracy against the Liang clan totaled 56,000,000 cash, a sum that more than equals the total expenditures of the wars against the Qiang barbarians. And this was probably only a fraction of the eunuchs' wealth. However, there is no certain evidence that the eunuchs' exactions brought about economic conditions so unbearable as to cause a rebellion. Their greatest responsibility appears to lie in the fact that they wrecked the administration of the empire.

The strength of this assumption lies, in part, in certain aspects of the eunuchs' position. Most important was their complete dependence on the goodwill of the emperor. There is no evidence that the eunuchs of the Latter Han dynasty had any independent power; they commanded no army, they ruled over no province. This meant that the security of their position was coterminous with the reign of the emperor who favored them unless they could sway the new ruler in their favor, a possibility that they could not predict with complete accuracy. The eunuchs were in a position of power but such a position, they were well aware, was temporary at best. For that reason they could not very well develop a farsighted view of politics, nor an interest in the empire as a permanent institution. The empire was something to be exploited today, for tomorrow there might not be another chance. One could scarcely expect them to be statesmen. They lacked not only the necessary impulses but training in the affairs of the state as well. The position of eunuch was not a high office; they were servants in the imperial palace.

They were the attendants waiting upon the emperor and upon other members of his family inside the palace. Their service was menial, but they could follow the emperor to places from which ordinary attendants were barred.

Such a position did not require intense training in the affairs of state, and while it is possible that some eunuchs were very learned, they must have been the minority. There is nothing to show that the eunuchs of the Latter Han dynasty were in any way ready to face the heavy responsibilities that the confidence and trust of the emperors brought upon them.

Thus, beginning in 168, there were in positions of supreme power men that lacked both the necessary impulses and the proper training to guide the destinies of the empire. Worse still the eunuchs proceeded to eliminate from official positions the men who were undoubtedly the most competent government servants: the Confucian scholars. The best qualified officials became hunted throughout the empire like common criminals. Then, in 178, the Hung-tu school was inaugurated, and regardless of its low standards its graduates received assignments to important positions. We have no evidence that these new officials were all evil; however, our sources imply that they did not have the competence to fill important positions. It seems reasonable to assume that their lack of qualifications could do the empire no good. Now, it is obvious that the government of a country as big as the China of the Latter Han dynasty was no easy task. Lacking the abilities of competent men the bureaucratic machine would soon decrease in efficiency and eventually come to a standstill - fertile ground for either ambitious opportunists or sincere reformers.

Our sources are meagre and do not permit a detailed analysis of the breakdown of Han officialdom. Instances of the frustrations of good administrators by eunuchs have been mentioned. Some evidence suggests a decline in relief activities. The government care of the people commonly assumed the form of distributions of food from the public granaries, grants of public lands to needy people, or remittances of taxes in difficult times. These activities, which had occurred quite frequently during the previous reigns, appear to have ceased during the reign of Emperor Ling. From 168 until 184, the year of the rebellion, we find only one instance of remission of field tax. While it is possible that the different kindnesses of the government have not been recorded for the reign of Emperor Ling, there is no obvious explanation for such an oversight on the part of the historian.

At the beginning of this chapter we asked the question: what caused the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans? Our study of the sources has produced no convincing evidence that the rebellion broke out because of unbearable economic conditions. The decline of the house of Liu, the barbarian raids, the growth of population and the natural catastrophes very likely affected the economy of the empire; however, these factors appear to have been constant and to have created no particularly acute economic problems in the years immediately preceding the rebellion. On the other hand our sources do suggest that the rebellion broke out because of unbearable political conditions. The lack of leadership after the eunuchs' seizure of power was to hinder the government seriously in its efforts to cope with the rebellion. It may also have carried in its wake significant decrease in the loyalty of the people toward the emperor, and a consequent increase in the loyalty of disciples to a leader like Zhang Jue.



We have seen that the records do not supply any adequate explanation of the Yellow Turban rebellion on secular grounds. What explanation can we find in the religion itself and its organization? The first problem is to establish the identity of the Yellow Turbans and their relationship to similar contemporary movements.

The followers of Zhang Jue revolted in the second month of 184. During the seventh month of the same year the members of another religious movement rebelled in western China. They were under the leadership of one Zhang Xiu and are known to us as the Five Bushels of Rice Rebels. We have very few authentic historical accounts of these events and later historians have, as a rule, assumed these two movements to be identical. The scarcity of materials plus the later assumptions have shrouded this period of history in the utmost confusion. In this chapter we shall attempt to determine whether or not these two movements were identical. Then we shall try to decide what the religion of the Yellow Turbans was.


First of all, let us turn to the sources themselves. We read in the Hou Han Shu that:

Zhang Jue of Julu started at that time to call himself the Greatly Virtuous and Excellent Master. He served the way of Huang-Lao. He taught his disciples to kneel down, make obeisance and confess their faults. He used charmed water and magical incantations to cure the sick. Many of those that were sick were cured. The people put their confidence in him and turned to him. Zhang Jue thereupon sent eight [of his] disciples to the four regions in order to instruct and convert all the empire by means of the good Tao. [The people] therefore went around lying to and misleading each other. In some ten years the followers [of Zhang Jue] numbered several hundreds of thousands throughout successive commanderies and fiefs. Of the men of the provinces of Qing, Xu, You, Ji, Jing, Yang, Yan, and Yu there was none that did not entirely respond. Then he [Zhang Jue] established thirty-six fang. Fang was a title similar to that of imperial general. A dafang (great fang) [had] more than ten thousand men; a xiaofang (small fang) [had] six or seven thousand. Each [fang in his turn] appointed a great leader. [He spread the] false rumor that the Blue Heaven was already dead and that the Yellow Heaven should be established. In the year Jiazi [the first year of the new cycle] there would be great prosperity in the empire. Using chalk [the disciples of Zhang Jue] wrote the characters Jiazi on the walls and office gates at the capital and [on the walls of the] official buildings in the provinces and the commanderies. In the first year of Zhongping (184) the Dafang Ma Yuanyi and others went ahead and enlisted several ten thousands [of men] from the province of Jing and Yang. They intended to Yuanyi made several trips to and from eunuchs Feng Xu and Xu Fang and others as a fifth column. An agreement [was made that] on the fifth day of the third month inside [the capital] and outside they would all arise. Before the rebellion broke out, [however,] a disciple
of Zhang Jue, Tang Zhou of Jinan wrote a letter to the emperor [in which he] revealed the plot. Thereupon Ma Yuanyi was torn to pieces by chariots in Luoyang. Emperor Ling sent down the letter of [Tang] Zhou to the three dukes. Gou Dun, the Sili Shi, ordered Zhou Bin with the help of the officers of the three departments to search for followers of [Zhang] Jue in the palace, among the guards and among the people, and execute any such. More than one thousand persons were killed. The investigation was extended to the province of Ji, in an effort to seize [Zhang] Jue and the others.

[Zhang] Jue and the others, [however,] knew that the affair had already leaked out. A rapid messenger [running] night and day was sent to all the fang [with order that they] all rise at once. They all wore yellow turbans as a distinguishing sign and the contemporary men called them Yellow Turbans. [They were] also [known by the] name [Numerous as] Ant Rebels. Having killed a man to propitiate Heaven [Zhang] Jue called himself the Lord of Heaven General. [Zhang] Jue's brother [Zhang] Bao was called the Lord of Earth General and [Zhang] Bao's brother [Zhang] Liang was called the Lord of Humanity General. Everywhere they burnt and plundered the official buildings. They plundered the villages and the towns. [The officials of the] provinces and [of the] commanderies lost their grasp. A large part of the upper officials fled. In a period of ten days this echoed throughout the land.

In the commentary of the Sanguo Zhi we are told that:

In the period Guanghe [178-183] in the east there was Zhang Jue and in Hanzhong there was Zhang Xiu. [Zhang] Jue's system [was called] the Way of the Great Peace; [that of Zhang] Xiu [was called] the Way of the Five Bushels of Rice. The masters of the Way of the Great Peace carried staves with nine knots, made charms and spells, and taught the sick men to bow their heads and reflect upon their faults. Thereafter they gave them charmed water to drink. When, after having drunk [the potion] the sick were cured in a short time, [they were said to be] believers in the Tao. If, [however,] they were not cured, then [they were said to be] unbelievers in the Tao. The system of Zhang Xiu was roughly like that of [Zhang] Jue. In addition [he built] peaceful cells in which those that were sick were left to ponder over their faults. He also used men as officers-against-evil, and wine-sacrificers. The wine-sacrificers saw that the five thousand characters of Lao Tzu were used and practiced everywhere. The officers-against-evil and the officers-against-spectres offered prayers for those who were sick. The method of offering prayers [was as follows]: the surname and the name of the sick man were written with a declaration of his faults. Three copies were made; one was sent up to Heaven from a hill; one was buried in the ground and the other was thrown in the water. These were called the letters to the Three Rulers. They regularly had the family of the sick man pay five bushels of rice and because of that they were called the Five Bushels of Rice masters...

Finally the Hou Han Shu tells us that:

In the seventh month [of 184] Zhang Xiu the Magician revolted in the commandery of Ba. He plundered the commanderies and the prefectures.

Apparently on the strength of the passage that says that “The system of [Zhang] Xiu was roughly like that of [Zhang] Jue” Maspero built up the theory that these movements were essentially the same - that the Yellow Turbans and Five Bushels of Rice were two different names for the same movement. This view is certainly mistaken. First we must say that the passage itself is somewhat ambiguous. The character lüeh may mean " stratagem ", " system ", or " in general ". We could conceivably take the two characters fa lüeh as a compound and translate the sentence as " The system of Zhang Xiu was similar to that of Zhang Jue". If, on the other hand, as is more probable, lüeh modifies t'ung ful the meaning will be that the two movements were roughly similar. Whichever way we choose to translate it, it would take a great stretch of imagination to translate it as " The movement of Zhang Xiu was identical to that of Zhang Jue ". Besides, the same document not only offers proof that the two movements were different but also hints strongly that they were independent one from the other. Reading further in the text to which Maspero refers one finds that the character Jia, "in addition", qualifies all that follows and clearly restricts to the movement of Zhang Xiu enough in matter of organization, doctrine and ritual to warrant the theory that there was at least some difference between the two movements. This text does imply that the two movements had certain beliefs and practices in common. We do not know how many they shared; but it is clear that officers-against-evil, wine-sacrificers, and officers-against-spectres belonged exclusively to the movement of Zhang Xiu. Also the practice of using the five thousand characters of Lao Tzu and of sending letters to the Three Rulers belonged to the movement of Zhang Xiu. All this certainly suggests that the two movements were different.

If, as Maspero believed, the Yellow Turbans had been divided into eastern and western communities, it would have been normal for both communities to have entered into the rebellious plans of Zhang Jue. We read, however, that the followers of Zhang Xiu rebelled five months after Zhang Jue. It is highly improbable that the plans of Zhang Jue called for the "western community" to revolt at a later date. Surprise, swiftness, and numbers are, as a rule, important elements in a rebellion, and our texts make clear that the Yellow Turbans were aware of that. Men were readied, a fifth column was organized within the palace, and an agreement was made that " on the fifth day of the third month they would all arise ". It is almost impossible to conceive of the western community being ordered to wait until the seventh month. The distance between the two communities hardly explains the timing either. Zhang Jue had made plans to rebel in the third month and he acted sooner because one of his disciples betrayed him to the emperor. Now if Zhang Jue’s messages had not reached the western community in time to inform them about the change they would have rebelled in the third month as planned. One can hardly argue that Zhang Xiu waited for the turn of events before taking any action. If this had been the case it is doubtful that he would have rebelled at a time when the Yellow Turbans were meeting defeat after defeat. Besides, the texts nowhere show any contacts between the two movements, but on the contrary, suggest that Zhang Jue had nothing to do with the Five Bushels of Rice. The commanderies of Ba and Hanzhong were in the province of Yi. Our text tells us that Zhang Jue sent missionaries everywhere and gives us the names of eight provinces in which the Yellow Turbans were numerous. The province of Yi is not on the list. With all the evidence at hand it seems that it is by accident and not plan that the Yellow Turbans and the Five Bushels of Rice rebelled in the same year.

The two movements of 184 then must be studied separately, and the method extensively used by Maspero, of complementing the texts of the one by the texts of the other has to be rejected. Paul Pelliot's theory also has to be rejected. He believed that there were two Taoist movements in China during the second century of our era, one in the east under Yu Ji and Zhang Jue, the other in the west under Zhang Daoling, and that the two fused at the time of the Yellow Turban rebellion. But there is no evidence in support of his theory of any fusion between the Yellow Turbans and the Five Bushels of Rice.


Perhaps the greatest stumbling block that we encounter in trying to determine what was the religion of the Yellow Turbans is the tradition that assimilates them to Xian Taoism. It must be pointed out that this is merely a tradition, not a theory based on solid evidence. And indeed the tradition is called in question by the fact that Zhang Jue is at no time claimed by the Xian Taoists as one of their great masters.

Three statements show some possible Taoist influence upon the Yellow Turbans. One in the biography of Huangfu Song in the Hou Han Shu, that Zhang Jue served the way of Huanglao. The expression "HuangLao" appears to have meant Taoism already in the Shi Ji and the Qian Han Shu, and there seems to be little doubt that the text actually calls Zhang Jue a servant of Taoism.

Another is in the biography of Xiang Kai also in the Hou Han Shu, that during the reign of Emperor Shun (126-144) a certain Kong Cheng of Langya went to the palace and offered to the emperor the 170 chapters of a sacred book which his master Yu Ji had received at Quyang. The name of this book was Taiping Qingling Shu, The Correct Guide to Great Peace. The emperor was advised that it was not a classic and consequently it was put aside. Later on, however, Chang Chüeh had this book, and several questions are raised. Who is this Yu Ji? What is this book? Is it still extant today?

Yu Ji is a Taoist sage who is supposed to have been put to death around 200 A.D. by the brother of the founder of the Wu dynasty of the Three Kingdoms.

I have been unable to determine what the Taiping Qingling Shu was and whether it is still extant. The title Taiping Qingling Shu occurs only in the Hou Han Shu. The work is given a different title in the Zhilin written by Yu Xi during the Chin dynasty (265-419 A.D.). We read there that during the reign of Emperor Shun of the Latter Han dynasty, Kong Cheng went to the palace and gave to the emperor a sacred book which he had received from his master Yu Ji, which had over one hundred chapters, and which was called the Taiping Qing Lvdao. This title I have found nowhere else. Still another title is given to the book by Li Xian, the Tang commentator of the Hou Han Shu who wrote around 676. He tells us that the Taiping Qingling Shu ". . . is the modern Taoist book Taiping Qing - This classic is divided according to the ten celestial stems into ten sections, each section being divided in its turn into seventeen chapters for a total of 170 chapters"

We do not know to what extent we can rely on the statement of Li Xian. Perhaps he had access to materials that have long since been lost, but we have no way of knowing since he does not tell us the source of his information. I have found three texts that mention a Taiping Qing; two of them are earlier than Li Xian while the third one was written probably around the same time as Li Xian wrote the commentary of the Hou Han Shu. However, it is impossible to determine whether these listed Taiping Qing were related to the Taiping Qingling Shu. It is also impossible to ascertain their relation to the Taiping Qingling mentioned by Li Xian.

One Taiping Qing in fifty chapters is listed alongside a Jia Yi Jing 170 chapters in the Baopuzi Neipian which was written in the early part of the fourth century. About this listing Paul Pelliot says: "It is impossible at present to explain this duplication; because it is indeed evident that this Jia Yi Jing in 170 chapters is the Taiping Qing whose 170 chapters are also divided into ten sections according to the ten celestial stems". But to say that two books have an identical number of chapters and possibly a similar division is slim proof that the books are identical. Pelliot offers no evidence that the Jia Yi Jing is divided into ten sections according to the ten celestial stems nor that the content of the Jia Yi Jing is identical to that of the Taiping Qing. Furthermore, even if we accepted the proposition that the Jia Yi Jing is the Taiping Qing we could not say that the Jia Yi Jing is also the Taiping Qingling Shu unless we assumed that the Tang commentator, Li Hsien, is not mistaken. And in any case, we do not know whether this Taiping Qing fifty chapters is the Taiping Qing of the Tang commentator.

A second Taiping Qing is listed in the BianZheng Lun, the Buddhist work written by the monk Fa Lin between 624 and 640. We read there that "during the reign of King Nan of the Zhou dynasty, 314-256 B.C.] Qian Shi received from Lao Tzu the 180 precepts altogether with the Taiping Qing in 170 chapters.

The third listing of a Taiping Qing is in the ZhenZheng Lun written in the second part of the seventh century by Xuan Ni. It is said there that " there was a book called the Taiping Qing in 180 chapters which had been compiled by Yu Ji of Shu.

This is all the evidence that I could find in my effort to relate the Taiping Qing of Li Xian to the Taiping Qingling Shu. It is altogether very poor. Only once is Yu Ji called the author of the Taiping Qing, and in this work of the seventh century in which the title of his book is given as Taiping Qing, the number of chapters as 180, and his birthplace given wrongly so that he will not be confused with Zhang Daoling, the traditional founder of Taoism. There seems to have been considerable confusion in the seventh century about the Taiping Qing. We cannot be certain that the Tang commentator was mistaken, but at the same time we have only his own statement to prove that he was not.

There is a Taiping Qing in the modern Taoist canon. The Tao Tsang Mu Lu Hsiang Chu, which was compiled by Bai Yunji and completed by 1626,86 lists this work. A note tells us that during the Eastern Han dynasty Yu Ji once met the Taishang Laojun who gave him the Taiping Qing. This classic was divided into ten sections according to the ten celestial stems, each section being divided in its turn into 17 chapters. The purpose of the book was to regulate the body so as to give long life and to regulate the State so as to bring about Great Peace. Fu Qinjia in his History of Chinese Taoism tells us that this modern book had originally 119 chapters but that 59 of them are lost. The same scholar also states that "There is no doubt that the Taiping Qing of the Tang is the same as Zhang Huai's Taiping Qingling Shu and is also the Taiping Qing found in the modern Taoist canon." But Fu is mistaken in saying that Zhang Huai said "this sacred book was the Taiping Qingling Shu". This title is in the text of the Hou Han Shu itself, not in the commentator's note. Li Xian calls the book the Taiping Qing. Furthermore, Fu has no more evidence than has been cited in this chapter to support his position. He is also quite uncritical of his sources. For instance, he accepts what Fa Lin says about the Taoists without considering that Fa Lin was a Buddhist monk intent on proving that the Taoists were mistaken.

The third statement which shows a possible influence of Taoism on the Yellow Turbans is in the Sanguo Zhi, Wu section:

At that time [200 A. D.] a certain Taoist Yu Ji of Langya [who] had previously resided in the eastern regions departed and came to Wu-hui. He established a place for pure meditation (jingshe) where incense was burnt and Taoist books studied. He prepared charm water [which he used] to cure the sick. Many men of Wu-hui served him.

The Yu Ji of this passage is, as Pelliot shows, the author of the sacred book which we have already discussed. It is likely that his use of charm water to cure the sick was a Hsien Taoist practice. He could indeed have borrowed the idea from Zhang Jue; however, it is more probable that he did not. When Zhang Jue started his movement around 170 A.D. Yu Ji had already been a master for many years; as a matter of fact, he is called the Master of Kong Cheng already in the time of Emperor Shun (126-144). In the year 200 Yu Ji must have been over 80 years old. It is unlikely that after all his years of experience as a Taoist master he would have been willing to borrow new ideas from a new and younger master.

These three statements are slim evidence in support of the theory that the Yellow Turbans were Taoists. Zhang Jue is called a Taoist in a work of the fifth century. But in the Wei Lve which was written much earlier the Yellow Turbans are mentioned with not so much as a hint that they were Taoists. Furthermore, if Zhang Jue had really been a Taoist master why did the Taoists not claim him as one? He gained some reputation as a religious leader; yet his name does not even appear in the Dao Cang. One may perhaps argue, as Maspero does, that later Taoists rejected the Yellow Turbans because of their rebellion. But Zhang Lu and his followers were rebels and Zhang Lu is called a great Taoist teacher, and according to Taoist tradition the rebel Five Bushels of Rice movement was the original Taoist Church. Perhaps Zhang Jue was disowned because he died a rebel while Zhang Lu came back into favor before his death. He submitted to Cao Cao who ennobled him and his family. Still, if the Taoists had felt very close bonds with Zhang Jue they could have made him a Taoist saint and martyr instead of an unsuccessful rebel. Perhaps Zhang Jue represented too great a challenge to the tradition that the supreme authority in Taoist matters had been kept in the family of Zhang Daoling. But enough in Tang time to compel Besides, Yu Ji who would to this same authority, is claimed by the Taoists. We must say that Zhang Xiu also does not appear in Taoist books. This cannot be too well explained; but it is possible that later Taoists identified him with Zhang Hong, the father of Zhang Lu. Perhaps there are other explanations for the absence of Zhang Jue; but the best one seems to me that the Taoists did not feel any common bond with him.

It is said that Zhang Jue made use of a Taoist book, but the statement "Hou Zhang Jue po you qi shu yan” in which the character "po" may mean at the same time either "much" or "little," is so ambiguous as to be of little value.

To say that Zhang Jue followed the Xian Taoist practice of using charm water to cure the sick is of equally little value. If he were a Taoist, what then were his relations to Yu Ji who was a practicing master in the same area, at the same time? Each could indeed have headed his own group but then why would Yu Ji be claimed by the Taoists as one of their masters while Zhang Jue was not?

Because of the weakness of the evidence we cannot properly call the Yellow Turbans Taoists. At most we can say that they had some Xian Taoist elements. But they also had some Buddhist elements such as confession of faults and belief that only those that were cured believed in the Tao.

Buddhism had been in China for some time before Zhang Jue founded his movement. Now in early Buddhism we know of a ceremony during which the Brothers and sisters confessed to the Assembly the faults that they had committed. At this ceremony the Pãtimokkha was read to the Bhikshus. This Pâtimokkha (sanskritized as Prãtimoksha) was a collection of 227 rules on food, dress, clothing, medicine, and etiquette, to be observed by the members of the Buddhist order. As the rules were read the mendicants would confess whenever they had broken one. This Buddhist ritual is very ancient. Rhys Davids says that even if the Pâtimokkha is not included in the Buddhist canon "This is not because it is later, but because it is older than the canon. And every word of it, though not as a continuous book, is contained in the canon in the book entitled Sutta Vibhanga." The Sutta Vibhanga is one of the seven treatises of the Abhidammapitaka which, Law tells us, were well known and very carefully read already in the first century of our era. It would then be safe to assume that the Buddhist ritual of confession based on the Pãtimmokkha was already practiced India before the first century A. D. Bose tells us that the Pãtimmokkha was translated into Chinese around 250 A. D. by Dharmakãla. Pelliot examined new evidence, pointed out by Levi and Chavannes, which claimed that it had been translated at an earlier date, but satisfactorily concluded that the first translation of the Pãtimokkha was that of Dharmakãla. This does not mean, however, that the ritual of confession for monks was not known in China before 250. There were Buddhist monks in China one hundred years earlier, and it is quite possible that their monastic rules were a little known. We do not say that Chang Chüeh made use of the Pãtimokkha; but he may have borrowed parts of the ritual from this set of rules.

About Zhang Jue's healing practices we are told that the sick were given charm water and those that were cured were called believers in the Tao while those that were not cured were called unbelievers. This reflects something of faith-healing; and though I do not know to what extent faith-healing came from Buddhism, there are some cases of it in early Buddhist scriptures. One day the Buddha had gone to see a sick man. In the course of a lengthy conversation he enlightened the sick person on his doctrine. "Thus spoke the Exalted One and the venerable Kassapa the Great was delighted . . . and he rose from that sickness. There and then the sickness of the venerable Kassapa the Great was abandoned."

It seems impossible to determine what the religion of the Yellow Turbans was. It is possible that Zhang Jue was an independent master who borrowed from both Taoists and Buddhists but had his own doctrine and was not attached to any definite sect. This theory is all the more possible since Zhang Jue is not claimed by the Taoists and since his movement apparently disappeared a few years after his death.

The movement of the Five Bushels of Rice appears to have been more Taoist. It made use of the Tao Te Ching and had special officers whose duty was to see that its five thousand characters were kept and respected everywhere, and it had the ritual involving the Three Rulers, a ceremony that was to become very popular during the third and fourth centuries. It is very doubtful, however, that the Five Bushels of Rice movement is the early Taoist Church as tradition maintains. In Taoist tradition the church was founded by a Zhang Daoling (Zhang Ling) whose family has held supreme authority ever since. It does seem possible that Zhang Daoling was a historical person who founded the movement of the Five Bushels of Rice. But his relationship to Zhang Lu is doubtful; and consequently, the continuity of the supreme authority in the Zhang family is doubtful; and besides, there is no evidence to show any definite link between the Five Bushels of Rice movement and the later Taoist church.

We meet with this Zhang Daoling in the biography of his presumed grandson Zhang Lu.

Zhang Lu was a man from Feng. His grandfather Ling had lived in the country of Shu and had studied Taoism in the Guming mountains. There he wrote books on Taoism which he used to mislead the people. Those who received his doctrine had to pay five bushels of rice and therefore the contemporary men called them the rice rebels. When [Zhang Dao]ling it died his son Zhang Hong practiced his way. When [Zhang] Hong and [Zhang] Lu again practiced it.

Zhang Xiu was the leader of the Five Bushels of Rice movement in 184 ; but we are not told at any time that he was its founder, and we have no information to disprove the statement of the passage above that the real founder was Zhang Daoling. It is, however, doubtful that Zhang Daoling - or whoever was the founder of the Five Bushels of Rice - was the grandfather of Zhang Lu. Consider the following:

In the period Guanghe [178-183] . . . there was Zhang Xiu in Hanzhong. . . Zhang Xiu's movement was called the Five Bushels of Rice.

Liu Yan, the governor of the province of Yi, made Zhang Lu a Duyi Sima and charged him to go with the Biebu Sima Zhang Xiu to attack the governor of the commandery of Hanzhong. . . Subsequently [Zhang] Lu surprised [Zhang] Xiu, killed him, and snatched his group.

Zhang Lu's mother first used demonistic practices and also owing to her charms [?] she enjoyed access to the house of Liu Yan. Because of this [Liu] Yan appointed [Zhang] Lu Duyi Sima stationed in Hanzhong. After [Chang] Lu had been in Hanzhong he barred the valleys and the passes [?] and killed the envoys of the Han dynasty. [Liu] Yan wrote to the emperor and told him that the Rice rebels had closed the passes and made it impossible for him to keep up intercourse.

[Zhang] Lu, in Hanzhong, seeing that the people [of that region] had put confidence in the work of [Zhang] Xiu and practiced it, himself developed and improved it.

These texts tell us that Zhang Lu killed Zhang Xiu, the leader of the Five Bushels of Rice, took over his movement, broke with the dynasty and established himself in Hanzhong. There seems to be no doubt that the Zhang Xiu whom Zhang Lu killed was the leader of the Five Bushels of Rice rebels. Liu Yan called Zhang Lu's forces also the Rice rebels. Since he, “seeing that the people had confidence in the work of Zhang Xiu, himself developed and improved it", perhaps Zhang Lu needed to justify his murder of Zhang Xiu, and invented his relationship to Zhang Daoling for that reason. He could then have claimed that Zhang Xiu was a usurper and that he, Zhang Lu, was the only legitimate leader of the movement. Of course, Zhang Xiu might indeed have been a usurper. We have no evidence one way or the other.


Our historical sources throw little light on the cult and the ritual of the Yellow Turbans. The group underwent a rapid growth probably due more to intense missionary activity than to collective ceremonies as Maspero believes. We are told that Zhang Jue sent disciples in all directions to go preach the good doctrine; we are not told about any collective feasts. We do not know what the missionaries did. Zhang Jue made use of confessions; whether these confessions were public or private we do not know. Charm water was given to the sick to drink but we do not know the procedure by which this was done. Zhang Jue is said to have killed a man to propitiate Heaven just before he rose in revolt. We do not know whether this passage is aimed at showing the inhuman barbarity of the Yellow Turbans or whether the sacrifice actually took place.

There are Buddhist sources that tell us about sexual practices which they believed originated at the time, and probably under the influence of the Three Zhang. The former Taoist Chen Luan has left us a description of such ritual:

When I was twenty years old I loved the Taoist practices and I used to go to the phalanstery to study them. First of all, I was taught the process of the mixture of the breaths and of the union of boys and girls [prescribed by] the Yellow Writing. One joins the four eyes, the four nostrils, the two mouths, the two tongues, and the four hands so as to confront exactly the Yin and the Yang. They take as an example the number of twenty-four breaths [of the year]. Those who devote themselves to this practice carry out the True Formula in the Cinnabar Field; however, they are careful of the secret taboo and do not emit in the process. They must not be jealous one of the other. All evils, and all dangers are eliminated for those who devote themselves to this practice; they are called Real Men; they are saved and they have their years much increased. Husbands are taught to exchange their wives; luxury is placed above anything else. These are the devilish methods of the Three Zhang.

These Buddhist assumptions do not prove much since "Buddhist polemists had a tendency to attribute to the Three Zhang all the ceremonies the origin of which they did not know". Perhaps in so doing they had a great share in creating the tradition that associates the Yellow Turbans with Hsien Taoism. It may have been a Buddhist way of deprecating Taoism.


Since no writings by the members of the sect are extant we have very little knowledge of the organization of the Yellow Turbans. We do not know the exact position of Zhang in the sect prior to 184. At the outbreak of the rebellion he assumed the title of Lord of Heaven General and made his two brothers Lord of Earth General and Lord of Humanity but we are not told what these titles entailed. Earlier Zhang Jue had established thirty six dafang and xiaofang. The term "fang" is difficult to translate. The Chinese sources say only that "it was the equivalent of a general in the imperial hierarchy” Maspero translates the word either by "magician" or by "regional leader". The only thing we know for certain is that the word fang was a title in the hierarchy of the Yellow Turbans. I base this on the fact that Ma Yuanyi is referred to as a dafang. My belief is that we should keep the Chinese term fang, since the lack of information concerning the duties and responsibilities of these leaders makes translation hazardous. Under the fang were the Zhushuai (great leaders) whose exact functions are similarly not known. There are different types of secret societies. One type is a society with secret rites but known membership. Another type is a society with both secret rites and secret membership. The existence of either may be of public knowledge, but while in the former case the members may be prominent and respected citizens who make no effort to hide their association with such a society but even take pride in it, the membership of the latter is a closely kept secret. We do not know whether the Yellow Turban movement can be properly called a secret society in either of these senses. Their rites may have been secret but we have no evidence that this was the case. The plan to rebel must have been a closely guarded secret but this fact would hardly enable us to call Zhang Jue's sect at any time secret. The existence of the sect and of its leader, and perhaps the identity of many adherents, was public knowledge before the rebellion, as is clearly shown from a passage in the biography of Yang Si:

[Zhang Jue] took the wrong way [which implies criminal conduct] and was called a great worthy, whereby he misleadingly dazzled the people. The whole empire gave allegiance to him, carrying [their children] on their backs. At that time [Yang] Si became Situ. He called the official Liu Tao and told [him]: "If [Zhang Jue] is met with an amnesty he will not repent, and [his movement] will keep on gradually increasing and spreading. Now, if [the officials of the] provinces and commanderies are ordered to have him arrested, I fear that this would cause further stir and quickly bring disaster. I wish to order urgently and the Erqianshi to classify and divide the wandering people and escort each to his native commandery in order to weaken the party and to isolate it. Afterward it will be easy to punish the leaders and [to establish] tranquility."

(It should be noted that while Liu Tao approved of this plan and Yang Si sent a memorial to the throne nothing came of his action.) Unfortunately, the passage does not explain in detail what Zhang Jue had done to deserve punishment before the revolt. It merely suggests that the growth of Zhang Jue's following through his success as a religious leader had become a problem of public order, and perhaps posed a threat of serious trouble because of the large displaced population that resulted. The absence of any reference to secrecy is rather striking.




Was the movement of the Yellow Turbans politically motivated long before the rebellion? In what way and to what extent did it represent a challenge to the imperial authority? Was the decision to rebel prompted by official persecution?

The original plans of Zhang Jue may not have included a rebellion, but it is certain that the plans for the revolt were prepared some time before the rebellion broke out. Apparently during the year 183 Liu Tao, Yue Song, and Yuan Kong sent a memorial under a joint signature in which they revealed to the emperor the dangers of the movement of Zhang Jue.

From the four regions reports come that Zhang Jue and his disciples enter furtively into the capital. They spy upon and observe the imperial government. . . . [The officials of the] provinces and commanderies avoid and shun this subject; they do not want to hear about it. They merely talk to each other about it but there is no one willing to write a report about it.

We have already seen that:

[Zhang Jue spread] the false rumor that the Blue Heaven was already dead and that the Yellow Heaven should be established. In the year Jiazi there would be great prosperity in the empire. Using chalk [the disciples of Zhang Jue] wrote the characters Jiazi on the walls and office gates at the capital and [on the walls of the] official buildings in the provinces and the commanderies. In the first year of Zhongping [184] the dafang Ma Yuanyi and others went ahead and enlisted several ten thousands [of men] from the provinces of Jing and Yang. They intended to assemble at Ye. [Ma] Yuanyi made several trips to and from the capital, [with the] eunuchs Peng Xu and Xu Bang and others as a fifth column. An agreement [was made that] on the fifth day of the third month inside [the capital] and outside they would all arise.

There is no sign of government persecution here. We know of no clashes between the civil officials and the Yellow Turbans before the rebellion of 184; the emperor paid no attention to the memorial of Liu Tao, nor to the advice of Yang Si; the officials of the commanderies and the prefectures did not care to hear about the movement, and were unwilling to write a memorial about it. Persecution, religious or otherwise, does not appear to have been prevalent. De Groot thinks otherwise:

It seems absurd to admit that those religious associates had organized themselves into communities and into a formal church with deliberate intent to reverse the legal authority. We cannot find in the annals of that period a single word to confirm such an idea. It seems more rational to look at it in another way. We can fully understand that the government considered the organization of these Taoists as a kind of state within the state and that the religious movement, having affected almost the whole empire, had raised its jealousy, suspicions, and fears to the highest pitch. . .. The year 184, opening as it did a new cycle, was to the credulous devotees peculiarly hopeful for their young and flourishing church. . . But the perfidious backslider did his fatal work. His letter to the emperor may have been mere falsehood and slander, yet for a suspicious government it was sufficient reason to pounce upon the adherents of the faith. By dint of torture the members of the religion were forced to betray each other. ... As the bloody terrorism swept over the provinces . . . the followers could not possibly refrain from seizing arms in self-defense, and this, of course, the government interpreted as rebellion.

This is highly imaginative. To begin with, de Groot assumes much more than the sources justify when he says that the Yellow Turbans had organized themselves into communities and into a formal church. Secondly, if by "annals" he means the complete history of the Latter Han, he is mistaken to say that they contain no mention of the Yellow Turbans' intent to revolt. If, as is more likely, he means the annals of Emperor Ling, his statement is right. But it is hardly significant since the annals usually report merely the facts as they occurred with no concern for the conditions that brought them about.

There is no evidence that the Yellow Turbans formed a state within a state nor that they rejected civil authority prior to 184. Individual officials were disquieted by the growth of Zhang Jue’s following, but their reluctance to do anything about it is hardly the attitude of a "suspicious" government ready to "pounce on the adherents of the faith."

To say that the Yellow Turbans had affected almost the whole empire creates a definitely wrong impression: the followers of Zhang Jue were not as numerous as is usually believed. "Perfidious backslider" is a strong expression for a man whose motive was perhaps simply loyalty to his dynasty. The "bloody terrorism" which followed the betrayal in the capital of course forced Zhang Jue to start his rebellion sooner than he had planned. In this sense, and in this sense only, was he forced to revolt.

We have found then no evidence that the intention to revolt lay at the core of the movement in its religious aspects. We have no evidence that the desire to revolt was provoked by the government. On the other hand, it appears very possible that the desire to rebel was aroused in Zhang Jue's mind by circumstances. We know that his movement included missionary activities, and such activities apparently came at an early date and met with success. We also know that the next step was the organization of the adherents. At that point, if any thought of rebelling crossed Zhang Jue's mind he had the numbers and the organization. His position of power may have aroused his ambition and he may have been stimulated by the opportunity offered by the demoralization of the officialdom. He may also have been stimulated by fear of an eventual government suppression. At whatever point in his career Zhang Jue conceived his plans, he seems to have made his preparations systematically, and so successfully that for a moment the dynasty was seriously shaken.


“Of the men of You, Ji, Yan, Xu, Jing, Qing, Yang, and Yu," says the text, "there were none that did not entirely respond " to Zhang Jue. Maspero believed this meant that two thirds of the empire responded to the appeal of Zhang and became Yellow Turbans. But let us get down to actual numbers.

Zhang Jue established thirty-six fang over his disciples. A xiaofang commanded up to six or seven thousand and a dafang headed ten thousand or more members of the sect. Now, assuming that "ten thousand or more" meant generally less than twenty thousand we may estimate that the average number of disciples under a fang was roughly ten thousand. This would give us an approximate 360,000, which could be either individuals or families.

Let us now look at the population of the empire. I will use the statistics found in the Hou Han Shu, which are believed to be reliable. The Hou Han Shu devotes five chapters, from Chapter 29 through Chapter 33, to the political divisions of the empire. The organization of these chapters is simple: under each province are listed the commanderies which belong to it and under each commandery the cities which belonged to it. The statistics are never given for the province as a whole but are given for each commandery. Adding these numbers up, we find:

a) Province of Yu 6,179,139 individuals or 1,142,783 households
b) Province of Ji 5,931,919 individuals or 988,005 households
c) Province of Yan 4,052,111 individuals or 727,302 households
d) Province of Xu 2,791,683 individuals or 476,054 households
e) Province of Qing 3,709,803 individuals or 635,885 households
f) Province of Jing 6,265,952 individuals or 1,449,394 households
g) Province of Yang 4,338,538 individuals or 1,021,096 households
h) Province of You 2,054,572 individuals or 396,263 households
i) Province of Sili 3,116,161 individuals or 616,355 households
j) Province of Yi 7,241,028 individuals or 1,525,256 households
k) Province of Bing 696,765 individuals or 115,001 households
1) Province of Jiao 1,114,444 individuals or 270,769 households
m) Province of Liang 419,267 individuals or 101,862 households

This gives us a total of about 47,903,088 individuals and of 9,466,035 households. These figures are from the census of 140 A. D., taken under the Emperor Shun. But the population continued to increase and by the year 156 it had reached roughly 57,000,000 individuals or 10,677,960 households. If we compare the first statistics from the Hou Han Shu, without the increase, with our estimate based on the number of fang units, we find that if the Yellow Turbans numbered 360,000 individuals, they made some 0.7 percent of the population of individuals. If they numbered 360,000 households they were a little more than three percent. If we use the other statistics which show an increase in population, we find that the Yellow Turbans formed only 0.6 percent of the individual population or 2.8 percent of the number of households. Either way we look at it the number of Yellow Turbans hardly represents what we would call a universal response to Zhang Jue.

Perhaps 360,000 is an overly modest estimate. But Fan Ye, the author of the Hou Han Shu, had no reason to belittle the movement, particularly after saying that the response to Chang Chüeh was overwhelming in eight provinces. Besides if we estimate the number of Yellow Turbans from the numbers reported killed, 360,000 again seems roughly right. It appears that the government forces took no prisoners. Zhu Jun when asked to make a compromise with the rebels whom he was besieging said to his officers, "formerly, at the time of the Qin, people had no established ruler and it was therefore proper to reward in order to exhort the people to come; however, to-day all within the four seas is within one rule and the Yellow Turbans are the only ones making a rebellion… Punishing them is quite sufficient to warn the evil-doers". It is not certain that Huangfu Song, Lu Zhi and other leaders adopted the same policy but considering the great numbers of the rebels killed it is safe to assume that they did. The following are numbers of rebels reported killed:

a) At the discovery of the plot about one thousand persons were killed at the capital.
b) After Huangfu Song joined with Zhu Jun and Cao Cao, the three officers fought a battle in which "several tens of thousands of rebels were killed." The exact number is not given, but it must have been large. Since there were rebels to be fought elsewhere it would be odd for these three officers to join forces to fight only a small group.
c) When Huangfu Song attacked and defeated Zhang Liang at Guangzong he killed 30,000 Yellow Turbans and 50,000 more were drowned or met death trying to escape.
d) When Huangfu Song conquered Zhang Bao he beheaded over 100,000 persons.
e) Zhu Jun in his final battle against Han Zhong and Sun Xia killed approximately 30,000 rebels.

Assuming that several ten thousand means at least 30,000, the minimum number of rebels killed is 241,000. We are by no means certain, of course, that all killed were reported. And on the other side of the ledger it is possible that the numbers were exaggerated for effect, or merely to indicate a large number. Also, we do not know that all the Yellow Turbans were killed; but considering Zhu Jun’s attitude it is probable that most of them were, and we know at any rate that the rebellion was thoroughly crushed.

This discussion is not intended to minimize the importance of the Yellow Turban rebellion, but to set the record straight about a little known movement whose proportions have often been exaggerated. It does not dismiss the force of the rebels as insignificant, nor overlook the enormous destruction for which they were responsible. One cannot deny that a force of 360,000 represents an enormous power. If the Yellow Turbans had not been held in check they might have destroyed the house of Han. However, their rebellion was crushed in a relatively short time, and their movement, was less extensive than it has been made to appear.


China at the time of the Latter Han dynasty was divided into twelve provinces; the area that included the capital formed a separate unit. The provinces were divided into commanderies of which there were 99, and the commanderies were subdivided into prefectures of which there were 1,181. It is reported that Zhang Jue recruited followers from the provinces of Yu, Ji, Xu, Jing, Qing, Yang, Yan, and You in other words the Yellow Turbans were active mainly in the northeastern part of the empire. The fighting however was in the four provinces of Ji, Yu, Jing, and Xu and centered in eleven commanderies.

Yingchuan 1,436,513 individuals 17 Prefectures
Runan 2,100,788 individuals 37 Prefectures
Chenguo 1,547,572 individuals 9 Prefectures

Weijun 695,606 individuals 15 Prefectures
Julu 602,096 individuals 15 Prefectures
Anping 655,118 individuals 13 Prefectures
Qinghe 760,418 individuals 7 Prefectures
Zhaoguo 188,381 individuals 5 Prefectures

Xiapi 611,083 individuals 17 Prefectures

Nanyang 2,439,618 individuals 37 Prefectures
Changsha 1,059,372 individuals 13 Prefectures

By computing and comparing the statistics in the Hou Han Shu, I have reached the conclusion that the Yellow Turbans had their main strength in areas where the population was very dense. It is probable that the greatest bulk of the Yellow Turbans would be found in the commanderies in which there was actual fighting. Now the eleven commanderies listed above formed 11.1% of the total number of commanderies and they have 25.2% of the total population. Their total number of prefectures is 195, or 16.5% of the total number of prefectures in the empire. Furthermore, their average population per prefecture is 62,085 as against an average of 36,305 for the rest of the empire. Finally the total population of these four provinces was 21,168,693 individuals or 44.3% of the total population of the empire. The fact that the Yellow Turbans were active in the most populous areas of the empire may perhaps explain why they left such a deep mark on the late history of the Latter Han dynasty. Destruction was probably greater because they fought where there was more to destroy. Because the population was dense more people were affected. These facts in turn may have helped surround the reputation of the Yellow Turbans with an exaggerated impression of strength and magnitude. These facts must also be considered in evaluating the effect of the rebellion on the ultimate fate of the dynasty.



The rebellion of the Yellow Turbans broke out in 184, and some thirty six years later, in 220, the Latter Han dynasty came to an end. The question that comes to mind is whether there was any arguable relation between these two events. What part, if any, did the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans play in the down fall of the dynasty? May we believe with C. P. Fitzgerald that it was "the direct cause of the fall of the dynasty"? Or was it only the beginning of a chain of events that eventually led to the downfall of the Latter Han? Or again was it an event which affected economic conditions of the empire but was rather a sign of Han decline than a cause of its ruin?

It is almost impossible, to give a definite answer. We know that the rebellion lasted only one year, so that the Yellow Turbans did not themselves destroy the Han. We may safely assume that the rebellion caused untold miseries. It was possibly a remote cause of the numerous bandit uprisings that took place in the years immediately following it, and the initial success of the Yellow Turbans may have encouraged the Five Bushel rebellion. Bandits do not necessarily destroy dynasties. The first emperor of the Latter Han, for instance, spent the greatest part of his reign waging wars against bandits and yet he established his dynasty. The contrast with the end of the second century suggests that the government of 184 and after was unable to cope with bandits and conditions that bred them. If this was the case, and our sources suggest that it was, then, although the bandits played a part in the eventual fall of the dynasty, they were more a sign of its decline than a cause of its ruin.

The final cause of the fall of the Han is the revolt of Dong Zhuo, and a study of the events that took place following the death of Emperor Ling in 189 will show that Dong Zhuo's success was made possible by the breakdown of Han officialdom.

The Emperor Ling died at thirty-four years of age, leaving two young sons: Prince Bia and Prince Xie. Bian, the son of Empress He, had been chosen as heir apparent, but the emperor, feeling that the young prince did not have the abilities to become a capable ruler, had come to regret his original choice. Fearful of the power of He Jin, the brother of Empress He, he had not dared take any action, but had taken the eunuch Jian Shuo into his confidence and had told him of his wishes. Xie, the son of the concubine Wang, was being reared by the dowager Dong, the mother of the emperor. After Emperor Ling's death Jian Shuo, carrying out his master's secret wish, made plans to enthrone Prince Xie. To that purpose he plotted the murder of He Jin. However, when this project fell through, Prince Bian was enthroned and the Empress He became the regent. This attempt on his life had embittered He Jin against the eunuchs and had made him willing to listen to their enemies who were very numerous by that time. With the scholar Yuan Shao he made plans to rid the empire of the eunuchs' rule. However, this project was strongly hampered by the hesitancy of the empress, without whose consent He Jin did not want to take any definite action. Finally Yuan Shao suggested that the gallant generals be called to the capital so as to inspire fear in the eunuchs. Permission was granted and couriers were dispatched to the generals. The eunuchs sensed that their positions were just about lost, and tried their best to regain some of the lost ground. Strong pressure was put upon He Jin to recede from his position and to cancel the orders. His own brother, He Miao, whose sympathies were with the eunuchs, reminded him that the eunuchs had made the fortune of the He family, had taken them, the descendants of a butcher, and made them the most powerful men in the empire. However, He Jin, with the strong moral support of Yuan Shao, remained firm in his position. The news that the generals and their soldiers were approaching the capital frightened the empress, who, in order to avoid bloodshed, dismissed the eunuchs and sent them back to their native villages. The eunuchs pretended to take the order in good grace, but in reality, intended to make a last effort. The eunuch Zhang Rang sent a message to the empress begging her to let his colleagues and herself see her august person one last time. Afterwards they could go perish in the ditches and they would die without regret. The empress, deeply touched by such devotion, agreed to the demand. The cunning Zhang Rang had his own plan; he took advantage of this permission to enter the palace to hide ten of his men with orders to murder He Jin when he came to visit his sister. The plan was successful; shortly thereafter He Jin came for a routine visit and was killed. The eunuchs' plan appears to have been a desperate effort to gain time to have the order to the generals rescinded. However, He Jin had come to the palace with a small body of troops headed by a certain Wu Kuang. This officer, upon hearing of the murder of his master, was not filled with fear as the eunuchs apparently expected. On the contrary he set fire to the doors of the palace, intent on revenging his master's death. Meanwhile the news of the murder of He Jin had spread outside the palace and both Yuan Shao and his brother Yuan Shu came with troops to the help of Wu Kuang. A bloody butchery ensued; in their blind fury the soldiers did not bother to make any close examination; they murdered everyone that happened to be beardless. That day more than two thousand eunuchs were killed.

During the massacre a few eunuchs had managed to seize the young emperor and his brother and to hide with them in an obscure corner of the palace. At nightfall they fled from their hideout, taking the two boys with them. A search for the emperor was organized soon after his disappearance was noticed, and a few hours later Lu Zhi found the fleeing party. The eunuchs committed suicide; the emperor and his brother were given horses and the party started back to the capital. On its way the small group was met by Dong Zhuo who had come too late to take part in the extermination of the eunuchs but who had taken an active part in the search for the emperor. The young emperor, very likely exhausted after his adventure and possibly frightened at the sight of Dong Zhuo and his soldiers, began to weep and could not answer the questions put to him by the general. Annoyed at this behavior Dong Zhuo turned to Prince Xie and repeated his questions. This time he was answered. It is said that from that time on Dong Zhuo preferred Prince Xie and decided that he should become the emperor. The history also implies that Tung's decision was influenced by the fact that he claimed to be related to the dowager Dong who had reared the prince.

This Dong Zhuo had been very prompt to answer the call of He Jin and Yuan Shao. He appears to have been a man of great ambitions and it is likely that he saw in this call to the capital an opportunity to further his own plans. He had brought three thousand troops to the capital. Probably thinking that this small number of soldiers was not sufficient to back up his ambitions, he decided on an ingenious stratagem to fool his opponents. One night he made his troops go out of the capital in great secrecy; later the same troops came back in broad daylight thus creating the impression that they were reinforcements. This scheme worked; the soldiers of He Jin, thinking Dong Zhuo to be the strongest man at the capital, joined the ranks of his troops. The soldiers of He Miao, who had killed their general because they held him responsible for the death of his brother, joined Dong Zhuo's forces for the same reason. Dong Zhuo also bribed Lu Bu the trusted lieutenant of Ding Yuan, to kill his master and to come over to his side with Ding's troops. Confident in his strength Dong Zhuo decided then to replace the emperor by his brother the Prince Xie. Only one man, Lu Zhi, dared oppose this plan; but his opposition was of little avail and the plan of Dong Zhuo was adopted. In order to gain support for his action Dong Zhuo replaced the eunuchs by civil service officials, and made sacrifices to Dou Wu, Chen Ban and the various members of the Proscribed Party who had lost their lives in the struggle against the eunuchs. Dong Zhuo was the actual ruler and the emperor a mere puppet. The new dictator's power is perhaps best shown in that he was able to move the capital from Luoyang to Changan because the latter was easier to defend. Dong Zhuo was finally murdered by Lu Bu, whom he had trusted enough to adopt him as a son. His murder occurred in 193, but by that time the House of Han was actually powerless. Until the official end of the dynasty five groups fought one against the other for supremacy, and the emperor had become a mere pawn.

An analysis of these events leads to the conclusion that, for all practical purposes, the Latter Han ended in 189, the year that saw the coming to power of Dong Zhuo. The success of the new dictator undoubtedly fired the hopes of other ambitious adventurers. What then permitted his success? His coming to the capital certainly helped but we cannot know for certain that lacking that occasion he would not have found other means to reach the same goal. It appears to me that the reason for his success lies in the lack of support for the constituted authority. It is doubtful that Dong Zhuo could have commanded the loyalty of responsible officials who were devoted to the emperor. But when he decided to replace the emperor there was little loyalty left among officials. If there had been more there would probably have been a punitive expedition against the dictator; but we have no evidence of any such expedition. Thus, deprived of devoted servants the dynasty collapsed.

The rebellion of the Yellow Turbans was then a danger signal which could have saved the dynasty, but as it was it became the first of a series of actions that brought the dynasty to its end.
Alone I lean under the wispy shade of an aged tree,
Scornfully I raise to parted lips a cup of warm wine,
Longingly I cast an empty vessel aside those exposed roots,
And leave behind forgotten memories and forsaken dreams.
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Re: The Academic Corner of Sanguo

Unread postby waywardauthor » Wed Dec 13, 2017 10:52 am

[The entirety of the article was previously published in Oriens]


by Howard S. Levy

Tokyo, Japan

In honor of Leonardo Olschki

During the waning years of the Later Han Dynasty, Heaven seemed to be withdrawing the mandate to rule which it had bestowed upon Emperor Ling (see Hou Han-shu, Po-na edition [hereafter abbreviated as HHS], 8 for biographical details). Hens developed male characteristics (see HHS zhi, 13. iob-iib; also 8. Ioa-b.), a reminder that the monarch was allowing eunuchs to meddle in the affairs of state. On July I, 178, a wreath of black vapor in the form of a dragon entered the imperial audience chamber (HHS, 8. iob; also consult ibid. zhi, 17. 4b, IIb-I2a). Away from the capital an earthquake occurred, creating a fissure in the earth (HHS zhi, 16. Ioa-b).

These supernatural omens, as well as others recorded in HHS zhi, 17. 5a-b, 7b-8a, 18.I7b, were accompanied by a recurrence of agrarian distress. Great epidemics occurred in 171, 173, 179, 182, 185 (HHS zhi, 17. IIa.), which gave rise to a vigorous religious movement. This movement eventually led to resistance against the throne. The waves of rebellion which finally engulfed the Han Empire, including rebellions initiated in the west by the Yuezhi, were directed primarily by Neo- Taoist adepts skilled in alchemy, herbalism, and faith-healing. These adepts promised their followers that the azure heaven of Han would perish, and be replaced by a yellow one, and the eastern Yellow Turban leader Zhang Jue even called himself Yellow Heaven in 184, as reported in HHS, 8. 14b, and ibid. zhi. 17. 7a: 8a-b. The Taoists declared that 184, the first year of a new cycle, would also usher in a new era. The characters chia-tzu, designating the first year of the new cycle, were written with white clay in anticipation of the coming overthrow of the dynasty. They were to be seen on official residences in the prefectures and on temple walls in the capital of Lo-yang (HHS, 61. Ia-4b).

The clamor for a new dynasty to accompany the change in cycle received its impetus in eastern China among neo-Daoists, who were led by the three Zhang brothers, Zhang Jue, Liang, and Bao. A chronological account of the activities of the three brothers before and during their rebellion, is given in Huangfu Song's biography in HHS, 61 1a-4b. They and their supporters became known in history as the Yellow Turbans, because they wore yellow turbans in battle as a means of identification. HHS, 61-2a-b also states that Yellow Turbans were known as "the ant bandits."

The Daoist church, as described by Henri Maspero in le Taoisme, pp.150-156, was well organized at the end of the Han. It was divided into two groups. The eastern communities obeyed leader Zhang Xiu, who may have coordinated his uprisings with those of the eastern Yellow Turbans. His doctrines were similar to those of Zhang Jue and Zhang Lu. The biography of Zhang Jue is in the Sanguo Zhi and the biography of Zhang Lu, enhanced by fragments of commentaries called Tianlue, and Weilue is in San Guozhi 8 22b-26a. Zhang Lu was the grandson of Zhang Ling, whose biographies are found in Shenxianquan and Shenxiandongqian. W. Eichhorn has discussed the question of Zhang Ling's origin in his "Description of the Rebellion of Sun En and earlier Taoist rebellions" in Mitteilungen de Instituts fur Orientforschung, Berlin, II, 327. Zhang Ling was the spiritual forefather of the Daoist religion. He also claimed descent from the early Han political adviser and Daoist Zhang Liang, whose biography is in the Shiqi, 55. The two communities, although geographically remote, were similar in organization.

Zhang Jue, the chief of the eastern Yellow Turbans, controlled the allegiance of the people of the eight provinces; according to one historian, "there were none who did not finally join from the eight provinces of Qing, Xu, Yu, Qi, Jing, Yang, Yan, and You." He divided the eight provinces into thirty-six districts and placed an adept in charge of each district. Grand adepts controlled over 10,000 adherents; lesser adepts commanded from six to eight thousand men. Zhang Jue assumed the tital of General and Lord of Heaven, his younger brother Zhang Liang was called General and Lord of Earth, while his youngest brother Zhang Bao was entitled General and Lord of Man. In this way the Zhang brothers presented themselves as symbolic embodiments of heaven, earth, and man, the all-embracing triad. Zhang Xiu the leader of the Yellow Turbans of the West, and Zhang Lu who succeeded him, had an organization similar to that of the East and adopted many of the hierarchical categories first established by Zhang Ling.

The eastern leader Zhang Jue trained his disciples and dispatched the services of an estimated 360,000 followers. The Xu Hanshu speaks of more than that number, but this figure remains unverifiable. Eichorn, "Description", p.327, does not cite a reference to support his statement that "in somewhat more than ten years, he [Jue] gathered round several tens of thousands adherents." HHS, 61 1b, however, speaks of several hundred thousand followers joining in a ten year period. One reason for the rapid growth of this movement may have been the series of economic misfortunes suffered by the peasantry. A Chinese historian implies that the uprisings were caused by the collaboration of the eunuchs with the Yellow Turbans, but economic factors may also explain why people blocked the roads in their rush to support Zhang Jue. The floods of 185 were followed by droughts in 176, 177, 182, 183, while epidemics occurred in 173, 179, and 182, the critical years before the Daoist uprising. For the reports of these, see HHS Zhi, 15. 7a-b; Zhi, 16. 6a-b; 12a; Zhu 17. 11a; 47. 5a. The alternation of flood, famine, and epidemic led to a displaced peasantry, ready to join anyone who offered alleviation of its misery. Ten thousand people failed to reach the Yellow Turbans because they died of illness along the way, asserts Zizhi Tongjian 58. 5a. The Zhang brothers, versed in faith-healing, may also have known of herbal and medical remedies to cure or mitigate the sufferings of their innumerable patients.

Two officials warned the emperor about the plot of Zhang Jue to usurp the throne in memorials which are preserved in HHS, 44. 26b-27a; 447. 11b-12a. But the emperor remained inattentive and took no overt action to apprehend the Daoist leader. Rumors concerning a coming uprising spread throughout the prefectures. The eastern Yellow Turbans set the fifth day of the third month (April 4, 184) as the date on which they would strike coordinately both from within and without the palace (61. 2a). However, plans for the revolt were prematurely disclosed that by spring by a former disciple of Zhang Jue called Tang Zhou.

After the confession of Tang Zhou, imperial forces led by Huangfu Song, Zhu Jun, and Lu Zhi, whose biographies are in HHS 61.1a-11a; 61.11a-21a, and 54.14b-22a, set out to quell the betrayed Daoist revolutionaries. Zhu Jun was defeated at Yingchuan by the Yellow Turban leader Bo Cai. Huangfu Song was later surrounded by Bo Cai while trying to defend Zhangshe, but then managed to escape. For an account of these battles see HHS, 61. 3a-b. Cao Cao, who first gained renown fighting the Yellow Turbans, and who later ruled Wei Kingdom, joined forces with Huangfu Song and defeated the Yellow Turbans in the summer of 184.

Huangfu Song destroyed the three Zhang brothers and brought temporary peace to the empire. The relieved peasants composed this ballad, preserved in HHS, 61 4b-5a:

Great chaos in the empire,
The markets were desolate.
Mothers could not protect children,
Wives lost their husbands,
Depending on Huangfu,
Again we live in peace.

The emperor also granted Huangfu Song's request that taxes for the distressed peasantry of Qi province get remitted.

After the death of Zhang Jue, effective Daoist leadership was represented by Zhang Lu, leader of the Yellow Turbans. Zhang Lu became active in the events which preceded the Three Kingdoms period. His teachings were in general accord with those of the eastern Yellow Turbans. Zhang Lu took the title of "Lord of the Teachers." He escaped annihilation, and administered a state within the Chinese state for about thirty years.

Zhang Lu maintained the popularity of his Daoist doctrine by having his Libation Offerers erect public houses comparable to the rest-houses which existed in the fourth century along the roads, stocked with provisions of rice and meat. Passers-by could freely enter and take enough food to satisfy their hunger, but it was proclaimed that anyone who took more food than he actually needed would be possessed by demons. This food distribution policy increased the number of converts, rice-Daoists though they might have been.

The objectives of Zhang Lu and his colleagues were twofold. On a political plane, they wished to replace imperial authorities with their disciples. Their religious aim was to initiate the Daoist novice into increasingly complex rites, for which see chapter 8 in the Hongmingqi. Titles and grades were based on relative advancement; they have been described by H. Maspero. Beginners were called Sons of the Dao, or daughters of the Dao. Higher grades were those of the Male Bonnet and Female Bonnet, and Father or Mother of the Dao. The attitude towards woman was in advance of the rest of second century Chinese society, for these titles were accessible to both men and women.

The Han dynasty, at this stage of its decline, could not oppose these innovations in the southwest. Since the court could not subjugate Zhang Lu, it resorted to the expedient of entitling him. Zhang Lu in return agreed to send yearly tribute to the court as a token of nominal submission. His position became so secure that he considered becoming an independent King of Hanning, but decided against it. The speech which dissuaded Zhang Lu from declaring himself an independent king is preserved in HHS, 65. 7a-b; SGZ Wei, 8. 24a. Cao Cao invaded the Hanzhong area in 215. Zhang Lu's younger brother Zhang Wei resisted the invasion, but was routed. Zhang Lu did not oppose Cao Cao. Pending his arrival, he refused to allow his subordinates to destroy, pillage, or plunder. Different versions of Cao Cao's invasion are cited in SGZ Wei 8. 24a, SGZ Wei 1. 40a-41a, and in Bianhuolun, as given in Cahpter 13 of the Fayuan Zhulin. In any case Cao Cao treated Zhang Lu more as a compatriot than as an enemy.

The Daoist uprisings in the east and west thus encountered varying fortunes. The eastern movement was annihilated. In the west, the Daoists enjoyed a relative independence and were able to institute religious and political innovations. Some of these initiated changes survived at least until the fifth century. Thus W. Eichhorn, "Description" gives a description of the rebellion of Sun En at the start of the fifth century, a rebellion which contained many features of the late Han Yellow Turban uprisings.
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Re: The Academic Corner of Sanguo

Unread postby waywardauthor » Fri Dec 15, 2017 4:56 am

[The following was published in Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente for the European Conference of Chinese Studies Proceedings. There weren't characters, and it has a unique formatting style, so this will look a little rough.]


Written by Chi-yun Chen


In A.D. 184, the Later Han empire (A.D. 25-220) was dealt a fatal blow in the insurrection of the Yellow Turbans (Huang-chin). Although the main forces of the insurrection were crushed in a few months, the Han dynasty never recovered from this setback. In the ensuing decades, widespread uprisings continued to creep up and the power of the Later Han court fell into the hands of those who styled themselves as the « Han loyalists » and helped the court subdue the rebels. The power struggle among these « loyalists » then plunged China into a long period of disunity some- times called China's medieval age. In a macroscopic view, the Yellow Turbans uprising is not only an even that triggered the fall of the Later Han but more importantly the marking of a great divide between ancient and medieval China with profound differences in their political, social, economic, ideological and spiritual underpinning. And the Yellow Turbans uprising must be studied in the web of many complex socio-political, intellectual, and spiritual developments which pushed China over the great divide.


A standard interpretation of the Yellow Turbans is that:
a) it came from a popular Taoist religious movement;
b) the movement developed in a time when the ruling class had been so much caught up in the power struggle between the Han autocrats (the imperial family and the eunuchs) and the Confucian gentry (bureaucrats, literati, and big landlords) that they lost much of their control over the vast countryside, into which the Taoist movement spread;
c) the movement culminated in a violent « peasant revolution » - « the peasants... made their way to the towns and flooded over the country like some natural catastrophe... extermination by fire and sword everything that might be even remotely connected with authority and powers that be. »

This standard interpretation is based on our modernistic assumptions of:
a) the existence of two sharply divided and fundamentally antagonistic classes, politically the ruling and the ruled, or economically the landlords and the peasants;
b) a parallel division and antagonism between Confucianism as the conservative, elitist ideology of the upper classes, and Taoism as the revolutionary, popular thinking of the lower classes;
c) the peasantry as a unitary « revolutionary » entity. These assumptions can no longer be sustained in the light of recent research on the social structure of Han dynasty China, on the decline and fall of the Later Han regime and the rise of the medieval Chinese aristocracy, and on the intertwined currents and subcurrents of Confucianism and Tao- ism and their mixed following.


My revisionist view of the Yellow Turbans differs from the standard interpretation in that:
a) instead of focusing on the Taoist connection, it calls attention to the overall trend of centrifugal developments in Later Han political, socioeconomic, and cultural life; the Taiping Tao and the Yellow Turbans uprising were part and parcel of these developments;
b) instead of interpreting the fall of the Later Han in terms of class struggles (either between the ruling and the ruled or between the landlords and the peasants), it sees a fundamental tension in Han dynasty China between a nebulous society and a structured imperium which imposed its proto-bureaucratic regime on that society, the velocity of one force (centrifugal or centripetal) equaling the other over time;
c) instead of postulating a complete political and social breakdown or a total loss of the ruling class in the fall of the Later Han as a result of the destruction wrought by the Yellow Turbans, it considers the fall of the Later Han as instrumental for the rise of the aristocratic gentry of medieval China, the result of accelerating centrifugal developments which strengthened local solidity and the regional bases of rising gentry power; from this perspective, the Taiping Tao movement (in spite of its Taoist label) and the Yellow Turbans (in spite of its popular following and its violent outbreak) turned out to be pawns in the power play of the Later Han gentry.


From this perspective, the major historical development in Later Han may be reconstructed as follows:
a) The Later Han imperium was rising and expanding when it succeeded in drawing the elite (scholar-officials and gentry) centripetally from the society and the culture in support of the central state power. The imperium floundered when it failed to do so and when the social and cultural elite succumbed to the centrifugal pull of the nebulous society and culture.
b) This was what happened when power struggles at the Later Han court aroused the vigorous protest known as ch'ing-i (purist criticism) from the cultural elite against the Han emperor and the eunuchs and when the court inflicted the persecution known as tang-ku (persecution of the partisans) on the protesting elite and drove them back to the provinces.
c) Driven back to their native provinces, the former high officials and literati merged with the local gentry and lesser elite (formerly known as the local magnates), generating considerable popular support and strong local power bases (including a great many peasants under the control of the big clans and the large estates). This became the prototype of the great gentry of medieval China that dominated the socio-economic, the cultural, and to a lesser extend the political scene for the next five hundred years.
d) Under the tang-ku persecution for some eighteen years, from A.D. 166 to 184, the persecuted partisans fostered an anti-eunuch, anti-Han ideological scheme, mingling Confucianism and Taoism; they also developed an « underground » network, the Later Han prototype of a « united front », bringing together not only the scholar-officials (nominally the Confucians) and the local magnates but also reaching out to the local multitude (the latter two were often considered to be Taoist supporters). When their time came, leaders of this partisan « united front » styled themselves as the Han « loyalists », who pacified the Yellow Turbans, trampled the Han ruling house, and triumphed over the frontier soldiers, to become the rulers of the post-Han China. The inner circle of the successor regimes of Cao-Wei and the Western Jin, including their founders Cao Cao and Sima Yi, came directly or indirectly from this leadership.


I have long suspected that the ching-i (pure criticism) protest movement (nominally Confucian) and the Taiping Tao movement that gave rise to the Yellow Turbans insurrection (nominally Taoist) were closely connected - they were two sides of the same movement. Over the years, I have found nothing to contradict this view. Both the ch'ing-i and the Taiping Tao/Yellow Turbans movements were symptomatic of the centrifugal development that became momentous in late Han time - the fall of the Former Han and the failure of Wang Mang's reform, the discredit of Han Confucian orthodoxy (the Modern Text School reformist) and the rise of conservatism at the Later Han court, the increasing popularity of the unofficial Ancient Text School of Confucianism and the resurgency of non-Confucian (Taoist, Legalist) inclinations among the active cultural elite, and the revival of regionalism and local traditions supported by the rising gentry. Both the ch'ing-i and the Taiping Tao movements became « popular » or « populistic » in roughly the same time (A.D. 164-184) and in roughly the same core geographical areas (the Runan Yingchuan, the Shandong, and the Hanzhong regions, judging from the major « Han loyalist » campaigns against the Yellow Turbans and the sole surviving base of the Taoist theocracy). Both movements became secretive or went « underground » under persecution or the threat of persecution by the court.

The exact connection between the ch'ing-i leaders and the Taiping Tao/Yellow Turbans leadership is difficult to ascertain. It requires the meticulous reexamination of various kinds of records, including many bits and pieces of circumstantial evidence. Some selected examples are given as follows:

1. The Distinction between «Agrarian Revolt» and Peasant Uprising

It may be a safe conclusion that any popular movement in traditional (and even modern) China must involve the agrarian masses. And it is a reasonable conjecture that the main body of the Yellow Turbans consisted of many poverty-stricken and desperate peasants. But, concerning the socio- political milieu out of which the masses became motivated as well as the leadership hierarchy that provided the movement with sophisticated organization and ideological strength, much remains to be studied.

Questions about the Yellow Turban leadership raised considerable controversy in the 1950' s among the Marxist Chinese historians in their effort to study the history of peasant uprisings as prevalent mode of class struggle in China's agrarian « feudal society ». Although these historians were eager to affirm the heroic role of the peasant rebels and the progressive « historical function » of peasant wars in early China, they had a rather dim view of the peasant's organizational and ideological efficiency prior to the coming of the modern proletariat. These historians were ready to affirm simple peasant initiative in the uprisings of limited time and geographical scope, but they also acknowledged the complex leadership in the more important insurrections such as the Yellow Turbans. Some of these historians postulated an ephemeral and transitory peasant initiative in such major uprising which was soon usurped by the landowning elite who rein- forced the movements with their organizational and ideological expertise and turned these into epoch-making events. These major uprisings can be seen as peasant movements only by radical redefinition of the term to include a gentry leadership « that performed a progressive historical function » and catered for the needs of the suffering masses in their struggles against the dynastic rulers. According to this redefinition, not only the Yellow Turbans but even their pacifiers, such as the « Han loyalist » Cao Cao (155-220), founder of the defacto Kingdom of Wei (220-265), could be included in the peasant camp. The Chinese Marxist theory of peasant uprising thus implies that these were but « agrarian revolts » in which the masses were led by a rebellious elite. This point has not been pressed to its damaging implications for the Marxian concept of historical class struggles. For here would be an elite whose value criteria outweighed class-structured economic and political interests and whose transcendent sense of justice was capable of reconciling class conflicts.

2. Gentry « Bandits » and Wealthy « Desperados »

Elsewhere, I have argued that one should not take the derogatory terms, « bandits », « robbers », « fugitives », or « desperados », in Chinese Standard Histories, as referring to the lowly and the poor. Such labels were regularly applied to the losers in the contention for the throne, as the Nationalists called the Communists and the Communists called the Nationalists in the 1940's and 1950's. The labels only represented the courts attitude toward those who were in defiance or engaging in armed resistance against the state, be they gentry, landlords, or peasants

About the Yellow Turbans, it was recorded that: « [their leader Zhang Jue] had so misleadingly dazzled the people that [the people of] the whole empire gave allegiance to him, carrying {Qiangfu, their money? children?) on their backs. »

Michaud translated Qiangfu as « carrying [their children] on their backs. » Thus the followers of Zhang Jue would be predominantly poor peasants. However, qiang also has the meaning of « money » (or lit. the string which fastens together the coins).15 Based on the above and other sources, the Tzu-chih t'ung-chien presents the following statement on the Yellow Turbans:

« [Zhang] Jue sent his disciples to travel all the four directions... for ten and more years. [He] gathered several hundred thousand disciples and followers. Peoples from the eight provinces of Qing, Xu, You, Jing, Yang, Yan, and Yu all responded to him. Some even deserted or sold their treasures and properties, fleeing, moving and running to him. ...Officials of the commanderies and districts did not understand their intention and, on the contrary, said that [Zhang] Jue taught [the people] and converted them to a good Way, therefore the people went to him. »

Thus at least some comparatively well-to-do people were also attracted to the movement. According to the Taoist Ko Hung (284-363),

« Zhang Jue... recruited and gathered the seductive partisans... and through them acquired wealth and profit, accumulating coins and fine cloths piling up like mountains and becoming wealthier than the kings and marquises... with assassins and desperados in his employment, his power overwhelmed the state rulers and his influence overawe the government officials. Fugitives, desperados, and outlaws thus took shelter under him. »

The description fits a defiant local magnate leading and controlling the restless masses.

Furthermore, the Hou Han-chi states that, when Zhang Jue raised the standard of revolt,

« tens and hundred groups of people [were responding to him] and were gathering in their strongholds (t'un-chu). The major groups each had more than 10,000 men; the minor ones each had six to seven thousand men. »

The term « stronghold », t'un-chu, which means the concentration of man- power and supplies in a local base, is noteworthy. Tun was a technical term for the garrison stations set up by the imperial government in China and early Han times. With the decline of the imperial authority in middle and later Han times, we find the term t'un-chu came to be used more often in the historical records with reference to the armed self-defense based of the local leaders either in defiance of government authorities or in time of civil turmoils. The use of the term t'un-chu in the above-quoted passage in the Hou Han-chi indicates that the support for Zhang Jue' s uprising in A.D. 184 might be far more complex than that which has been generally recognized. It makes little historical sense in the postulation of a peasant multitude totally separated from its agrarian milieu - the kinship and com- munity networks controlled by the rising gentry of Later Han times.

3. The Tacit Support of Provincial Officials and Gentry

It makes even less sense to postulate that a popular movement like Zhang Jue's Taiping Tao could have gotten under way for more than ten years in the greater part of the Han Empire without the knowledge and the acquiescence of the local officials and gentry in control of the provincial areas. The fact is that the Yellow Turban insurrection did not come as a surprise to the local elite and the government officials. The movement leading to such an outbreak had been quite well-known to them.

Sometime before A.D. 166 (about eighteen years before the insurrection and at a time when the Zhang Jue was about to start the Taiping Tao movement), Xiang Kai, a sympathizer of the ch'ing-i movement and a severe critic of the Han palace and eunuch establishment, had possessed a copy of the Taoist tract T'ai-p'ing ching and submitted it to Emperor Huan (reigned: A.D. 147-167).20 In about A.D. 176, Yang Tz'u, the Lord Chancellor {Ssu-t'u) at the Later Han court, had discussed with his staff the dangerous movement led by Zhang Jue and others. Liu Tao, who had formerly served in Yang Tz'u's staff, again warned the imperial court of the danger of this popular movement in 183 (only a year before the actual outbreak of the insurrection). In both cases, it is mentioned that:

«Zhang Jue and others took the wrong way but were called a great worthy. » And that: « [Though the movement was quite well-known to the local officials, these officials of] the provinces and commanderies avoided and shunned this subject; they did not want to hear about it. They merely talked to each other about it but did not make any official report on it. »

It seems quite evident that many local officials had sympathized with leaders of this movement. Even after the outbreak of the insurrection in A.D. 184, some members of the officialdom and the gentry were openly sympathetic to the Yellow Turbans at the same time as they were supportive of the ch'ing-i protest in opposition to the eunuch establishment. In his memorial to the throne, a Gentleman-in-attendance (Lang-chung) Zhang Jun wrote:

« I humbly considered: the reason that Zhang Jue could stage an armed rebellion and that tens of thousands of people were inclined to follow him lies in the fact that the Ten Attendants (the ten eunuchs most hated by the ch'ing-i protesters) had appointed many of their own parents, brothers, nephews, marital relatives, and guest clients in charge of the provincial and commandery governments, where they illegally monopolized the revenues and other profits and aggressively exploited the people. The people had no place to present their complaints. They therefore plotted revolt and gathered themselves to become bandits. « [The Emperor] now should execute these Ten Attendants and hang their heads at the southern gate to console the people. And send out messengers to proclaim this to the whole realm. Then no military expedition is needed and the formidable rebellion will disappear by itself. »

According to Tzu-chih t'ung-chien's reconstructed version, Chang Chun's memorial was preceded by that of Xiang Xu. Xiang Xu was a Court Attendant (Shih-chung) and an elite eccentric, who « often read the Lao-tzu and behaved like a Taoist. » In his memorial, he also criticized the eunuch attendants and sympathized with the Yellow Turbans. All these appear to be typical of the memorials submitted to the throne by the gentry scholar-officials. Their argument often went: in order to rid the outside evil of the rebellion, the court must get rid of the inside evil of the eunuchs; and to prevent the ch'ing-i partisans from cooperating with the rebels, the court must lift its persecution of ch'ing-i partisans. The danger of the « Confucian » ch'ing-i leaders consorting with the « Taoist » leaders of the Yellow Turbans was well known at the time. In fact, both Chang Chün and Hsiang Hsü were accused by the eunuch for being sup- porters of the Yellow Turbans, and subsequently executed.

4. Hyperbole about Yellow Turbans Destructiveness and their Ruthless Sup- pression by the Han « Loyalists »

Given the possible gentry/scholar-official « connection » in the Taiping Tao/Yellow Turbans movement, it is hard to imagine the Yellow Turbans as « peasants flooding over the country like some natural catastrophe, exterminating by fire and sword everything remotely connected with authority and powers that might be. » Since most of the reports on the Yellow Turbans were sent to the court by the provincial officials and the local gen- try, exaggeration of the strength and the destructive nature of the insurrection may be expected. It served as the scare tactics by the ch'ing-i partisans to exert pressure on the Han emperor and the eunuchs. One must be cautious with statements such as:

« [The Yellow Turbans] burned down the government mansions and plundered the villages and towns in various localities; the provincial and commandery officials lost their control and many chief officials took flight; within a few days, the whole empire responded [to the rebels], and the imperial capital was shaken. »

Probably, more reliable information is to be found not in such generalizations but in those fragmentary accounts in the Hou-Han shu. From these fragments, it seems that the Yellow Turbans were more hostile to those branches of the Han ruling house established in the provincial principalities. At least five such principalities were destroyed by the insurrectionists: Liu Yun, Prince of Chi-an (in present Shantung Province), was killed; Liu Hsu, Prince of An-p'ing (in present Hopei province), and Liu Chung, Prince of Kan-ling (also in Shantung), were captured, and Liu Chung's heir-designated was killed; Liu I, Prince of Hsia-p'i (in present Kiangsu province), and Liu Hao, Prince of Ch'ang-shan (in Hopei) fled from their territories.26 On the other hand, it is recorded that some members of the gentry were well-treated by the Yellow Turbans, though this may also come from the gentry scholar-official's self-propagandism and should be taken with caution.

One must also be cautious with statements about the ruthless manner in which the Yellow Turbans were suppressed by the « Han loyalists » (many of these came from the ch'ing-i partisans after their amnesty by the court). One statement mentioned that the « Han loyalists » accepted no surrender and took no prisoner from the rebels. This is contradicted by the more specific record which reads:

« Wang Yun... in 184 when the Yellow Turbans revolted, was specially selected to be Imperial Commissioner of the Yu province (Yü-chou tzu-shih). He recruited Xun Shuang (a prominent ch'ing-i leader)... to his staff and petitioned [the throne] to with- draw the tang-ku persecution. He attacked a branch of the Yellow Turbans and greatly defeated them. Together with the Commandant of the Left Guards, Huangfu Song and the Command of the Right Guards, Chu Chün and others, he received the surrender of hundreds of thousands [of rebels]. »

This explains how and why the formidable Yellow Turbans came to be pacified in a few months, as Zhang Jun and Xiang Xu had predicted.


All these point to the possibility that the Later Han gentry and their ch'ing-i partisans had been the instigator, supported, or co-conspirator of the Yellow Turban insurrection. Once they changed their mind and withdrew their support, the insurrection came to an end.

Scholars studying Han Taoism have long been troubled by questions about the connection between classical Taoism and Han religious Taoism, as well as the connection between Han religious Taoism and the Taiping ching (Scriptures of Ultimate Equilibrium) in the present Taoist Repository (Tao-tsang). The questions are:

a) How could the teaching of nonaction in classical Taoism lead the populist activism of the Taiping Tao and the violence outbreak of the Yellow Turbans insurrection?
b) How can one explain the conservative ideology in the Taiping ching, if it was indeed the product of the revolutionary Taiping Tao/Yellow Turbans movement?

An answer to these questions may lie in uncovering the non-Taoist or extra-Taoist connections and the non-revolutionary or less violent aspects of the Taiping Tao/Yellow Turbans movement in Han times
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Re: The Academic Corner of Sanguo

Unread postby waywardauthor » Sun Dec 24, 2017 4:47 am

[The following is the entirety of an article published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society in 2001. The entirety falls under our purview]

What's in a Name? On the appellative "Shu" in Early Medieval Chinese historiography

Written by J. Michael Farmer of the University of Wisconsin

Drawing on contemporary sources such as edicts, memorials, and epistles quoted by Chen Shou (233-97) in his Sanguo zhi, this paper examines the various names applied to Liu Bei's (161-223) state-known in later history as "Shu" or "Shu Han"-by the state itself, its contemporaries, and later historians of the early medieval period (ca. 220-618). Additionally, a brief explanation is offered of the rhetoric behind these appellatives, a rhetoric closely linked to the debate over legitimacy (zheng- tong) in early medieval China. Finally, we see how a misnomer came to be accepted as historical record, and how later historians have perpetuated this view, even when they own ideological positions might have demanded otherwise.

A STUDY OF EARLY TEXTUAL EVIDENCE relating to the Three States Period (220-65) is not without some risk. In what follows, although I have based my research on primary documents cited in Chen Shou's Sanguo zhi (Records of the Three States),' the reliability of these documents may be questioned. We have no way of ensuring that a debate held in a particular court was transcribed accurately by scribes or later archivists. Nor can we be sure that Chen Shou himself did not revise the documents included in his history. As we shall see be- low, Chen cites a number of primary documents relating to the name of Shu Han l X from each of the three rival states. The variety of names used in these documents suggests a light editorial touch by Chen. While the genuineness of the documents quoted cannot be fully deter- mined, the possibility of occasional inaccuracies does not vitiate their value for this and other studies.


Shortly after being named King of Hanzhong by a group of supporters in the twenty-fourth year of the Jian'an 4-c period (220), Liu Bei sent a to Emperor Xian of Han (r. 189-220) pledging loyalty to the dynasty. The following year, Cao (187-226) accepted the ritual abdication of Xian and proclaimed himself emperor of Wei Liu Bei, at his base in Chengdu, heard a rumor the emperor had been killed, he went into mourning bestowed the posthumous title of Emperor Min (Xiao Min huangdi) upon the deposed Han ruler. Then, on 6 April 221, based on his descent from King Jing of Zhongshan - a son of Emperor Jing (r. 156-140 B.c.)-and a purported series of favorable omens and portents, Liu Bei proclaimed himself emperor.

Upon claiming the throne, Liu Bei went about the business of organizing affairs of state. He named Zhuge Liang (181-234) as chancellor and Xu Jing (150-222) as minister over the masses, filled the various governmental offices, and established an ancestral temple (zongmiao). None of this is especially striking, except that the temple set up by Liu Bei was not dedicated to his own ancestral lineage, but to the former emperors of the Han dynasty. Chen Shou notes that the temple was for making sacrificial offerings to the Han founder "Emperor Gao [r. 206-194 B.c.] and his successors." Chang Qu's (ca. 219-ca. 361) Huayang guozhi clarifies Chen Shou's statement. Chang Qu notes, "[Liu Beil] established an ancestral temple and made offerings to Emperor Gao, and the Epochal Founder, Emperor Guangwu (r. 25-58)." Pei Songzhi (372-451) further comments on this matter, saying, "Though the Former Sovereign [Liu Bei] claimed descent from Emperor Jing the Filial, this relationship was quite distant.... It is not known to which emperor he established a family temple (qinmiao). Liu Bei's establishment of a temple to the progenitors of the Han was a manifestation of his position that he was not beginning a new dynastic reign but continuing the rule of Han. This can also be seen in the fact that upon taking the imperial title, Liu Bei did not pro- claim a new dynasty, but merely changed the year title from Jian'an to Zhangwu.

Liu Bei's maneuvering was not without precedent. In fact, he was keenly aware of the parallels between his own situation and that of Liu Xiu, the future Emperor Guangwu, some two centuries earlier. In both cases, a so-called usurper held control over the Han empire, peasant rebellions erupted in response to economic conditions, and a host of contenders vied for power in specific geographic areas. Just as Liu Xiu had emerged from the discord of the age and reunited the subcelestial realm, Liu Bei harbored similar aspirations. Clearly, Liu Bei saw himself as the third epoch-founding emperor of the Han dynasty. To have declared a new dynastic name would have undermined Liu Bei's claims to legitimacy.

There is textual evidence that Liu Bei's state referred to itself as "Han." Prior to his accession, numerous officials under Liu Bei's command in Yi province presented him with encouragements to mount the throne. Two documents in particular show that these officials viewed Liu Bei as a member of the Han imperial clan and considered his claim of continuing Han rule to be legitimate. The first memorial was submitted jointly by twelve officials. In it, they cite a variety of prophecies and portents common to both the founding of the Han by Liu Bang and the contemporary situation of Liu Bei. Among the justifications cited for Liu Bei to take the imperial title was the correlation of astronomical phenomena between the two-time periods. The memorial explains:

This year, Venus, Mars, and Saturn have followed Jupiter. About the time when Han first arose, the five planets "consulted with" Jupiter. Jupiter governs justice, and the position of Han is in the west, the position of supreme justice. Therefore, the Han method normally predicted the ruler according to [the movements of] Jupiter. There will be a sagacious ruler arising from this province, leading to the resurgence [of the Han].

A second memorial, submitted by six additional officers of Liu Bei, relayed additional reports of auspicious signs, and urged Liu Bei to take the throne as the emperor of Han. According to the document, over eight hundred omens and prophecies had been submitted to the officials by supporters in the province, including sightings of a yellow dragon in a tributary of the Han river. The six officials interpreted the dragon as a symbol of the ruler, and noted that just as the dragon flies in the heavens, a great king should mount the throne as emperor. However, the officials emphasized the fact that Liu Bei would not be starting a new dynasty, but continuing the Han. The memorial states:

Han originally was the name of the state whence the Exalted Ancestor [Liu Bang] rose up and pacified the subcelestial realm. Our great king [Liu Bei] has inherited the path of the former emperor [of Han] and has also risen up in Hanzhong [commandery].... We humbly think our great king is a scion of King Jing of Zhongshan, [a son of] Emperor Jing the Filial-from root to branch, a hundred generations.

Liu Bei's intent to continue the Han dynastic lineage is clearly manifest in the document recited at his accession ceremony. The document reads:

In the twenty-sixth year of the Jian'an period, on the bingwu day of the fourth month (6 April 221), the emperor [Liu] Bei makes bold to use a black bullock and announce to the heavenly thearch and the earthly spirits that Han possesses the subcelestial realm, its days without limit. Previously, Wang Mang usurped and stole [the throne], but Emperor Guangwu shook with rage and executed [Wang Mang], and the altars of soil and grain were restored. Now Cao Cao (155-220) relied on his military power and was content to be ruthless. He murdered the empress, [his crimes] inundating heaven and flooding the nation, not caring about the manifestations of Heaven. [Cao] Cao's son, Pi has continued his [father's] vicious rebellion and occupied the imperial throne. All of our ministers, generals, and scholars consider the altars of soil and grain to have fallen, and that [Liu] Bei should repair them, inheriting [the role] of the two Martial Ancestors, and respectfully carrying out heaven's punishments. [Liu] Bei considers himself without virtue, and fears disgracing the imperial office. We have asked the people and the leaders of the Man and Yi [tribes] beyond, and they have all replied, "You cannot ignore the mandate of heaven. The work of the ancestors cannot long be allowed to decline. The land within the four seas cannot be without a sovereign. What the people hope for is in the person of [Liu] Bei." I, [Liu] Bei am in awe of heaven's bright mandate, and fear the Han throne will sink into the earth, so I have carefully chosen an auspicious day to ascend the altar with a hundred officers and accept the imperial seal and ribbons. I have prepared the burnt and buried offerings, and the gaolei offering for the spirits of Heaven. May the spirits bless the House of Han, and eternally pacify the land within the four seas.

From the document urging Liu Bei to take the throne, to the pronouncement at his accession, to his actions after becoming emperor, it is clear that Liu Bei considered himself to be continuing the rule of Han.

This position was maintained in Chengdu even after his death. In the forty-second fascicle of the Sanguo zhi, Chen Shou cites a memorial presented to Liu Bei's son and successor, Liu Shan (207-71) by an official of Shu Han, Qiao Zhou. In this memorial, Qiao Zhou chastises Liu Shan for his preoccupation with frivolous excursions in a time of crisis and urges Liu Shan to be a good ruler. He argues, "Now the Han has met with a dire fate. The subcelestial realm is divided into three parts. This is the time for heroic and wise men to reflect and look to [a sage emperor]." Here, Qiao Zhou uses "Han" to refer to his own time and his own state.

This is not an isolated usage. Other officials serving Liu Bei and Liu Shan also used the name "Han" as a reference to their state. For example, in his "Shiji" ("Rejecting Slander")-an expression of frustration over lack of recognition in service to Liu Shan written between 258 and 263-the Shu Han scholar Xi Zheng (d. 278) writes, "Since our Great Han (Da Han) responded to Heaven and accorded itself with the people...." That Xi is referring to Shu Han is made perfectly clear several lines later, when he states, "Now, the ropes of Heaven have been knotted and our virtue has been planted in the western borderlands...." With- out question, Xi Zheng's "Great Han" located in the west is his own state. Curiously enough, a few years after writing "Rejecting Slander," Xi was called upon to draft the document of surrender as Liu Shan prepared to submit to the approaching Wei army. In this document, Xi writes, "Cut off and isolated by the Jiang and Han, we are far off and have relied on the land of Shu"-a more general reference to the region.

A final variation on the usage of the name "Han" can be found in the work of the Shu Han scholar Yang Xi ta H (d. 261), who completed a collection of encomia for officials of Shu Han in 242. Yang titled his collection Ji Han fuchen zan (Encomia for Ministers of Third Han). In the title of this text, the term ji is used as an ordinal number, denoting the third incarnation of the Han. The combined term "Ji Han" should be read as a proper name in this case. Fang Beichen notes, "Ji Han refers to Shu Han. Anciently, meng zhong, and ji represented the ordinal numbers first, second, and third, respectively. Moreover, Shu Han followed the Western and Eastern Han, and was therefore called Third Han." A similar ordinal system was also used in ranking brothers from eldest to youngest, with ji referring to the youngest. Therefore, "Ji Han" is sometimes translated as "Younger Brother Han." It is also interesting to note that three later histories of the period, each taking Shu Han as the legitimate successor to the Han, included "Ji Han" in their titles.

However, not all references to "Ji Han" point to Shu Han. For example, an edict from the final emperor of Wei, Cao Huan (246-302) notes, "In former times, the Younger Han splintered and collapsed, the nine provinces [i.e., the empire] were subverted, and Liu Bei and the ruler of Wu, Sun Quan (182-252), took advantage [of the opportunity] and acted wrongfully." In this particular instance, the term "ji Han" refers to the Eastern Han, and obviously not Shu Han.

A final, and somewhat ambiguous example is found in an edict from Liu Shan honoring Zhuge Liang, which notes, "[Zhuge Liang] established his special accomplishments at/in 'Ji Han'...." Here, there is some question as to the meaning of the term "ji Han." Both Miao Yue and Fang Beichen have glossed this passage as "a period of decline for the dynasty." Several other translations of the passage into modern Chinese, most likely following the Zhonghua shuju redaction of the Sanguo zhi, which marks the characters with a side-bar indicating a proper noun, treat "Ji Han" as a reference to Shu Han. Despite the multiple interpretations of "ji" in these cases, the use of the appellative "Han" to denote the Lius' state is consistent.

Evidence from Liu Bei's actions and contemporary documents, as preserved in the Sanguo zhi, all indicate that the rulers of Shu Han called themselves Han, and believed they were the third incarnation of the Han dynasty. However, this view was not universally accepted at the time, as we shall see below.


References in documents from the state of Wu show the use of several different appellatives for Shu Han. Taken in context, they reflect the complex relations between the two states. In a recent study, Zhao Guohua divides the relations between the two states into three periods. The first period begins just prior to the battle of Red Cliffs (Chibi) in 208 and ends with the death of the Shu Han general Guan Yu in 219. During this time, Liu Bei and Sun Quan cooperated to resist Cao Cao's invasion. Documents from this period merely refer to Liu Bei himself, since Liu Bei had yet to take the title of King of Hanzhong, much less proclaim himself emperor. The second phase of Wu-Shu relations, from 220 to 222, was one of open hostility. Liu Bei attacked Wu over the death of Guan Yu and the loss of several commanderies in Jing province previously under Liu's control. Likewise, Wu sought to establish an alliance with Wei in order to avoid conflict on two fronts. The period ends with Wu's defeat of Shu Han at the battle of Xiaoting. Again, records from this period refer to the political actors only by their personal names. However, the final period of relations between the two states offers a wealth of material related to the name of Liu Bei's state. The period between 222 and 263 was characterized by a renewal of relations between Wu and Shu Han. Overtures of peace were sent by Sun Quan prior to Liu Bei's death in 223, resulting in a new military alliance against Wei. In 229, Sun Quan finally acquiesced to his ministers' encouragement and pro- claimed himself emperor of Wu. Shortly thereafter, he established a formal oath of alliance between his state and Liu Shan's Han.

This oath is an important document in understanding the rhetoric behind the name of the Lius' state. A key passage reads:

From today onwards, after this establishment of the oath be- tween Han and Wu, we will combine our strength, become single in mind, and together punish the Wei bandits; save each other from danger and give relief from perils; share both disasters and celebrations; partake together of good and ill; and not be recreant. If someone harms Han, then Wu will attack them. If someone harms Wu, then Han will attack them. Each will secure its own territory and not encroach on the other.

In the document, the parties of the oath are designated "Han" and "Wu." On the surface, it might appear as if Wu accepted the Lius' position as continuing the Han dynasty. However, at the time of the oath, Sun Quan had already declared himself to be an emperor as well. The reality of a divided realm was not lost on Sun Quan, and the use of the appellative "Han" to refer to Liu Shan's state was most likely a matter of diplomacy. In an oath of alliance with Liu Shan, referring to the state as "Han" could only please Liu Shan and enhance Wu's position in the relationship.

The language of the oath aside, documents from Wu evince a preference for "Shu" in referring to Shu Han. This preference can be seen in documents that pre- and post-date the oath of alliance. Pei Songzhi quotes from a work entitled Jiangbiao zhuan by Yu Pu (fl. late third century), which says:

Sun Quan said, "I have recently received an epistle from Xuande [Liu Bei]. He has profoundly acknowledged the error of his ways and seeks to restore [our relationship] to its former good state. Previously, the reason the name 'Shu' was used to refer to the west was because the Han empire still existed. Now that the Han has collapsed, he [Liu Bei] should call himself King of Hanzhong."

In this case, Sun Quan implicitly rejects Liu Bei's claims to the imperial throne by referring to him not as an emperor, but as the King of Hanzhong. Additionally, his use of Liu Bei's appellative, Xuande, is a clear sign of disrespect through feigned intimacy. Sun Quan's explanation of the name "Shu" is also interesting. He appears to reject the use of this term, preferring instead the name "Hanzhong"-a reference to the original kingship taken by Liu Bang and Liu Bei.

Further evidence for Wu's preference of the name "Shu" can be seen in a document dating from the seventh year of the Chiwu period (244). At that time, several ministers of Wu submitted a memorial to Sun Quan expressing concern over rumors that Liu Shan was planning to break off relations with Wu, ally himself with Wei, and attack Wu. The memorial reads:

Those returning from Shu all say that, desiring to break the alliance and establish relations with Wei, it is building many boats and repairing its city fortifications. Moreover, Jiang Wan (d. 246) held Hanzhong, but on hearing that Sima Yi (179-251) had headed southward, he did not send out troops to take advantage of the vacated territory and attack him in a pincer movement, but on the contrary, left Hanzhong and returned to near Chengdu. This matter is al- ready very clear, and there is no longer any doubt. We should begin preparations.

In this memorial, the Wu ministers Bu Zhi (d. 247), Zhu Ran (182-249), and others use the term "Shu" in reference to Shu Han, and not Shu commandery. This is made clear by Sun Quan's response to the memorial. It reads:

I have not treated Shu with disrespect. We have exchanged missions and sworn an oath of alliance and not failed in our obligations to it. How can it have come to this? Moreover, Sima Yi previously entered Shu and retreated after several days. Shu is ten thousand li away. How could he have known our situation was dangerous and send troops? Previously, Wei was about to enter the Han river [valley]. Here we had just begun to mobilize and had not yet raised and launched our troops, when we heard that Wei had retreated and desisted. Could Shu remember this and have suspicions about us? Moreover, when a person governs his state, why should he not tend to boats and fortifications? Now we are training troops. Is this in preparation to attack Shu? These rumors cannot be trusted, gentlemen, I'll stake my family's lives on it.

Clearly, Sun Quan's references to Shu are to the state led by Liu Shan, and not to the region.

A final example of Wu's preference for the name "Shu" can be found in an anecdote from 252, found in the Huayang guozhi. Here, Sun Quan expresses a desire to the Shu Han envoy, Deng Zhi (d. 251), saying, "I sincerely wish to [establish] a marriage alliance with Shu." However, Sun confesses some doubts about the viability of such a proposal. Deng Zhi reassures him, saying:

The two states of Wu and Shu possess the territory of four provinces. Wu possesses a strategic position afforded by three rivers; Shu possesses a secure territory of defile after defile. The great king [Liu Shan] commands the heroes of the age, and Zhuge [Liang] is an outstanding man of his time. Combining our two strengths, we are [as close] as lips and teeth. Advancing, we can possess the subcelestial realm. Retreating, we can establish a kingdom and stand tall.

Convinced of the benefit of this plan, Sun Quan authorized Deng Zhi to proceed, and within the year, the marriage alliance was set.

Sun Quan's use of the appellative "Shu" is consistent with Wu usage. However, it is interesting that Deng Zhi uses the name "Shu" in his reply. I have some doubts about the reliability of the dialogue quoted in the Huayang guozhi. The Sanguo zhi account does not quote the conversation between Sun Quan and Deng Zhi, and Chang Qu does not mention his source for the dialogue. It seems highly unlikely that an official envoy of Shu Han would refer to his state at the Wu court as anything but "Han." Rafe de Crespigny has suggested that as this conversation was recorded by scribes at Wu, Deng Zhi's use of the appellative "Han" was altered to "Shu," in accord with the Wu perspective.

From this look at references to Shu Han in surviving Wu documents, we can see that while relations between the two states changed dramatically over time, Wu's preference for the name "Shu" remained fairly constant. The only major exception to this usage can be found in the oath of alliance between Wu and Shu Han. In this document, Shu Han is referred to simply as "Han," without objection from Wu. However, as noted above, this in- stance is likely a matter of diplomatic necessity, and not an indication of widespread usage of the name Han for the Lius' state.


References to Shu Han found in documents from Wei are considerably less complicated than those from Wu. From Cao Pi's accession to the throne in 220 to Shu Han's surrender to Wei in 263, the two states were always rivals, neither recognizing the other's claims of legitimacy. As such, the names used by Wei to refer to Shu Han are generally pejorative in tone.

The most commonly used appellative for Shu Han found in Wei documents is "Shu." Generally, the name "Shu" is either preceded or followed by a derogatory term. For example, in an edict issued by the Wei emperor Cao Mao (r. 254-60) in 254, he notes "the Shu bandits running rampant in the border lands"-a clear reference to Liu Shan and his troops. Cao Mao's usage was not without precedent. Earlier, at the end of the Jian'an reign, the Wei official Wang Lang (d. 228) warned against the dangers of Sun Quan's troops combining with the Shu bandits. The unflattering label of "bandit" was not reserved for Shu Han alone. Several references to "Wu bandits" can also be found in documents quoted in the Sanguo zhi, in addition to a mention of "Wu and Shu bandits." In these cases, the term "bandit" is applied to deny legitimacy to a political rival.

A somewhat less pejorative variation of this rhetorical device can be found in other Wei documents. Shortly after taking the throne in 220, Cao Pi queried Jia Xu (fl. early third century) on whom to attack first, "Wu or Shu?" Jia's reply was that Wu and Shu were both "petty states" (zuier xianoguo) but argued for an initial campaign against Liu Bei in Shu. Later, in 263, a similar pronouncement against Shu Han was made in an edict issued by Cao Huan. The emperor declared, "Shu is a petty state. Its land is narrow and its people few." That Wei could refer to Shu Han as a state without a depreciatory adjective attached can be seen in the following example. In the first year of the Huangchu period (220), a group of Wei officials, including Liu Ye noted, "Shu is but a small state (Shu, xiaoguo er), and her only notable general was [Guan] Yu. [Guan] Yu is dead and his army broken. Those in the state are sorrowful and afraid. They have no reason to come out [on military campaigns]." In the three texts noted above, the rulers and officials of Wei referred to Shu Han by the name "Shu." These examples clearly refer to the state of Shu Han, but use terminology drawn from the former Han administrative unit of Shu commandery where the Lius' capital was situated. The use of the term guo by Wei would seem to indicate the view of Shu Han as a local administrative unit and not an independent political entity.

Though several other references use the names of local administrative units to indicate the Shu Han state, they are in accord with the historical context, either pre- or post-dating the Lius' state. Only in one instance can we find Wei documents using local terminology to refer to the state of Shu Han. In the twenty-eighth fascicle of the Sanguo zhi, the Wei general Zhong Hui (225-64) calls Liu Bei "the Former Sovereign of Yi Province" (Yizhou xianzhu), implying he was but the ruler of a province and not a state.

From the surviving documents of Wei contained in the Sanguo zhi, several things become clear regarding Wei's relationship with Shu Han. First, Wei did not recognize the two Lius' claims to legitimacy, and refused to call their state by the name "Han." Instead, rulers and officers of Wei used the appellative "Shu" to refer to the Lius' state. However, this name was often used in conjunction with the term "state," showing that while Wei rejected Shu Han's claims to be a continuation of the Han, it did acknowledge Shu Han as a local administrative unit headed by a member of the extended Han imperial family. On several occasions, the term "Shu bandits" is found in Wei sources referencing Shu Han. Finally, even though local administrative terminology is sometimes found in Wei documents, it is rarely used to indicate the Lius' state. In nearly all of these instances, the local administrative names are used in their proper historical context. Clearly, Wei rejected Shu Han's claims to be the legitimate successor to the Eastern Han.


That the appellative "Shu" has come to be generally accepted as the name of Liu Bei's state is a direct result of Chen Shou's Sanguo zhi. His history of the period consists of three separate histories-one for each of the three states. Each bears the title "History/Documents of..." followed by the name of the state. Thus, we have a "History/Documents of Wei" (Wei shu), "History/Documents of Wu" (Wu shu), and a "History/Documents of Shu" (Shu shu). From both the title of the work and Chen Shou's usage within the text, it is clear that he consistently employed the name "Shu" for the Liu family's state.

The relatively few instances where he appears to deviate from this standard can be explained as specific references to local administrative units. For example, in his biography of Xun You (157-214). Chen Shou writes, "[Xun] You considered 'Shu Han' to be hard to reach and secure, and the people prosperous, so he asked to be made grand administrator of Shu, but the route was blocked and he could not get there. So he halted at Jingzhou." Here, Chen Shou's use of the term "Shu Han" is clearly in reference to Shu and Hanzhong commanderies. Additional references of this sort are scattered throughout the Sanguo zhi.

Shu nomenclature is at the heart of an historiographical and ideological debate that continued for nearly two millennia after the demise of the three states. Chen Shou's choice-and that of nearly all subsequent historians-is inextricably tied to the question of legitimacy. Here I will not attempt to present a comprehensive account of the legitimacy debate, but will briefly show how its rhetoric affected Chen Shou's historiography regarding the name of the Lius' state.

At the heart of this debate was the question: Who was the legitimate successor to the Mandate of Heaven previously held by the Eastern Han? Han political thought held that Heaven bestowed its favor, or Mandate, upon the founder of a dynasty on the basis of the founder's personal virtue, and that when the dynastic family was no longer fit to rule, Heaven removed its Mandate and presented it to a worthy challenger. Mere political control was not sufficient. A ruler needed legitimacy bestowed by Heaven. Hans Bielenstein notes that this issue was one of supreme importance to the early Chinese historian, who was compelled to "quote, suppress, twist, and even falsify evidence to show why the dynastic founder had been worthy of Heaven's blessing," and "wrote biased biographies for the most important rebels and pretenders, who by their actions had placed themselves outside of ordered society." The historian's ability to record the possession or lack thereof of the Mandate of Heaven by a dynastic house placed him in a precarious position, especially in times of political turmoil and change. Chen Shou, indeed, found himself in just such a position.

Chen Shou was a native of Baxi commandery, in the state of Shu Han. As a youth, he studied the classics un- der Qiao Zhou, and was said to have been especially interested in Sima Qian's Shiji and Ban Gu's Hanshu. Under Shu Han, Chen Shou served in a variety of posts, many of which appear to have been concerned with the compilation of state history. After the fall of Shu Han, he avoided taking office for a time, but finally, based on the admiration and recommendation of the minister of works Zhang Hua (232-300), he accepted a post under the Jin. Later, Zhang Hua sought to secure a post for Chen as gentleman palace writer, and place him in charge of compiling the history of the Jin. However, due to a dispute between Zhang Hua and Xun Xu, Chen Shou was denied the post, and demoted. Following a personal scandal in which he followed his dying mother's request to be buried in a place other than her native home, Chen Shou remained out of office, and died in 297 at the age of sixty-five.

It is widely believed that Chen Shou's work on the Sanguo zhi began prior to the fall of Shu Han in 264, and was completed sometime after the defeat of Wu by Jin in 280. Miao Yue has noted that Chen Shou likely had access to a variety of historical materials related to both the states of Wei and Wu, as both states had functional historical offices, and official histories of Wei and Wu had been in progress for some time." Writing under Jin, Chen Shou most assuredly faced considerable pressures to portray the ruling Sima family and their new dynasty in a favor- able light. This would have included taking care to present the Mandate of Heaven as having been passed to them through Wei, whose abdication they accepted in 265. Scholars of the period have long noted this. The Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao entry for the Sanguo zhi states, "Chen Shou himself was an official serving Emperor Wu of Jin. Emperor Wu of Jin succeeded Wei. To take Wei [as illegitimate] was to take Jin as illegitimate. How could this be done at that time?"

Additionally, many scholars have pointed out numerous methods that Chen Shou used to convey legitimacy to Wei, and by extension, to Jin. In separate articles, Zhou Yiliang and Miao Yue each note several such editorial strategies. First, the rulers of Wei were allowed the title of emperor (di r), while those of Wu and Shu Han were referred to as sovereigns (zhu 1). Second, the biographies of the Wei rulers were placed at the begin- ning of Chen's history, and called annals (ji). The biographies of the Wu and Shu Han rulers were placed later in the work, and called biographies or traditions (zhuan ft). Third, both Zhou and Miao claim the dates of Liu Bei's and Sun Quan's assumptions of the title of emperor in the "History of Wu" and "History of Shu" were given in the reign-date years of Wei, even though both states maintained their own separate calendar systems.

However, there is a problem with this third argument. While a reference to Liu Bei claiming the throne in Shu, as recorded in the "History of Wu," gives the date as Huangchu 2-a Wei year title-at least seven other accounts of Liu Bei's or Sun Quan's assumptions of the imperial title are given in the year titles of either Han, Shu Han, or Wu. In the "History of Shu," we find five notices of persons taking the throne. Liu Bei's accession is mentioned twice, each using a Han year title. Sun Quan's assumption of the imperial title is also mentioned twice, each time designated by a Shu Han year title. Cao Pi's claim to the throne is noted once, using a Han year title. In the "History of Wu," Sun Quan's accession is noted twice, each given in Wu year titles. Liu Bei's claiming of the throne is mentioned only once, using a Wei year title. Thus, Zhou Yiliang's and Miao Yue's statements on the regular use of Wei year titles to mark the claims to the throne by Liu Bei and Sun Quan are wrong. Finally, Miao Yue noted another strategy: in the "History of Wei," no mention is made of either Liu Bei or Sun Quan proclaiming themselves emperor. Most of these points are valid regarding the organization and narrative strategies employed by Chen Shou in the compilation of the Sanguo zhi; however, they do not address the issue of the proper name for the Lius' state.

Rao Zongyi quotes a number of traditional scholars and texts on precisely this issue. Significant among these is Zhao Bingwen's (1159-1232) essay "Shu Han zhengming lun" ["On the Correct Name of Shu Han"]. In this essay, Zhao argues, "In the west, Shu was a fallen state. The Former Sovereign [Liu Bei] and the Martial Marquis [Zhuge Liang] possessed a mind to bring together the subcelestial realm, and therefore appropriately called [their state] 'Han.' 'Han' is the term for the unified subcelestial realm." Rao Zongyi's commentary on this essay provides additional insights on the relationship between the name of the state and the legitimacy debate. Rao cites Liu Xianxin who argues, "Since Wei was taken as legitimate, then [Chen Shou] could not call the two parties [i.e., Wu and Shu Han] by their state names, but instead used geographic terms. While this certainly seems to be the case for Shu Han, there is no evidence that Sun Quan called his state anything other than Wu-though this too was a geographic reference to the Zhou dynasty state in the Jiangnan area.

Another hypothesis is raised by Gao Sisun, (jinshi ca. 1174-90) in his Shilue. Gao argues, "Liu Bei and his son were in Shu for over forty years, and from start to finish, they called themselves Han. How could they use the name Shu? Calling [the state] Shu was nothing but a common expression of the time. [Chen] Shou then removed the correct name and followed the popular custom." Again, this popular custom was certainly based on the name of the former Han commandery where the Lius' made their capital.

Perhaps the most interesting idea regarding Chen Shou's choice of the appellative "Shu" in his Sanguo zhi comes from Rao Zongyi. In his commentary on Zhao Bingwen's essay, Rao states, "[Chen] Chengzuo (Shou), as a subject of Jin, could not help but follow the opinions of the times in taking Wei as legitimate, and follow Zuo Si's (ca. 250-ca. 305) example in calling [the state] Shu. He did not dare call [the state] Han...." Here, Rao is referring to Zuo Si's great fu, "Sandu fu" , a trilogy of rhapsodies on the capitals of each of the three states of Wei, Wu, and Shu Han. In this trilogy, Zuo Si titles his rhapsody on the Shu Han capital "Shu du fu" or "Rhapsody on the Shu Capital."

While it is obvious that Chen Shou and Zuo Si were contemporaries, the exact chronology of the composition of their two masterworks is open to some debate. As noted by Cutter and Crowell, Chen Shou appears to have begun his Sanguo zhi sometime prior to 264, completing the history after 280. As for Zuo Si's "Sandu fu," scholars have been unable to pinpoint its date of composition. Several dates or date ranges have been proposed. In a chapter devoted to this fu in his history of the early medieval rhapsody, Cheng Zhangcan surveys the scholarship on the dating of the piece. Cheng cites Wang Mengou's, claim that the fu was written between 272 and 279, Li Changzhi's argument that it was completed around 280-82, and Wang Hesheng's assertion that the piece was written after Jin's conquest of Wu in 280. Cheng concludes that the exact dating of the fu is indeterminate. However, most scholars place its composition after the fall of Shu Han to Wei and the fall of Wu to Jin. If we follow these scholars' estimates, then we can assume that Zuo Si's fu was written in the same general period as Chen Shou's Sanguo zhi.

Writing under Jin rule, the same political considerations regarding the question of legitimacy in place for Chen Shou and his history were assuredly also present for Zuo Si in his poetic treatment of the capitals of the three states. Like Chen Shou, Zuo Si had to be cautious in his praise for certain persons and historical events and ensure that the legitimate conferral of the Mandate of Heaven was made apparent in his work. In the persona of the interlocutor from Shu Han, Zuo Si praises Chengdu, along with the physical environs of the Shu region. Most of the praise, however, seems directed towards Han-era Shu commandery, not the Lius' state. Only once does he offer veiled praise for Zhuge Liang and Jiang Wei. Nevertheless, the overall structure of the three rhapsodies is such that by the time the Wei interlocutor has spoken, the Shu Han and Wu characters are shamed by the recitation of the glories and virtue of the Wei capital. No explicit mention of legitimacy is made, but the message is clear.

This fu rested in relative obscurity until several prominent literary and political figures saw and promoted it. Zuo Si's Jin shu biography is largely devoted to the circumstances surrounding the composition and reception of the fu. Apparently, Zuo Si showed the piece to palace cadet of the heir-apparent Huangfu Mi (215-82), who was sufficiently impressed to write a preface for it. Additionally, the work was praised by minister of works Zhang Hua, and commentaries were written by gentle- man palace writer Liu Kui (fl. ca. 295), editorial director of the palace writers Zhang Zai (d. ca. 304), and Wei Quan (fl. ca. 289). Garnering the support of such noted figures, the reputation of the fu and its author rose. Supposedly, the wealthy and powerful figures of Luoyang made so many copies of the piece that the price of paper in the capital increased because of the overwhelming demand. It was also said that the noted poet Lu Ji (261-303) himself had planned to compose a fu on the three capitals, but upon seeing Zuo Si's composition abandoned the idea.

From this account, it appears that Zuo Si's fu did not cause him any political problems. In fact, as a result of the rhapsody, his reputation increased somewhat, as he was then taken in by Jia Mi. After Jia Mi's execution, Zuo Si left Luoyang to live in reclusion, but again, there is no record of the fu or its treatment of the issue of legitimacy causing him any political trouble.

With this background on Zuo Si's "Sandu fu," let us briefly return to Rao Zongyi's suggestion. Based on the speculations on the dates of composition of Zuo Si's rhapsody and Chen Shou's history, it appears that the "Sandu fu" was probably completed first. Just how long it remained in obscurity before being promoted by Huangfu Mi, Zhang Hua, and others remains unclear. However, its eventual popularity at Luoyang is undisputed. Again, it is unclear to what extent the piece circulated outside the capital. However, it seems plausible that it would have been known in intellectual and literary circles in the larger cities of the empire. While it is possible, and even likely, that Zuo Si's rhapsody would have been known to Chen, there is no positive evidence to decide the mat- ter. Nor is there any evidence that links the two pieces. It is conceivable, however, as Rao Zongyi suggests, that Chen Shou, writing under similar political considerations, followed Zuo Si's example in referring to his former state as "Shu." Additionally, it may also be the case that both Chen Shou and Zuo Si were simply following common usage.

It is worth emphasizing here that Chen Shou's history would likely have come under more intense political scrutiny than Zuo Si's fu. Chen Shou was a former subject of Shu Han, and his treatment of Shu Han and of Wei would have been carefully considered by the Jin rulers. The slightest breach of propriety or hint of subversion of Jin's claim of legitimacy through Wei could have brought a death sentence. Zuo Si, on the other hand, was from former Wei territory and had a family member at court. While his treatment of recent history in his fu would also be scrutinized, it is unlikely that his work faced as critical an eye as Chen Shou's. Rao Zongyi's comment is interesting, but not entirely convincing, as there is little evidence to confirm such a hypothesis. Regardless of whether or not Chen Shou was following Zuo Si's exam- ple in referring to Shu Han as "Shu," his Sanguo zhi set the pattern for subsequent early medieval historians, even those whose position on the issue of legitimacy might have demanded otherwise.

While the question of who had received the Mandate of Heaven from the Eastern Han was seemingly resolved in the early years of the Western Jin, as the dynasty crumbled among internecine conflict and outside military pressures in the early fourth century and subsequently re- established itself south of the Yangzi a new theory of legitimacy was raised. This theory, expounded by the historian Xi Zuochi (ca. 318-ca. 395), rejected the prevailing theory of legitimacy through ritual abdication in favor of legitimacy based on unification of the entire Chinese cultural sphere (i.e., the subcelestial realm) and moral leadership. Thus, Xi Zuochi claimed that the Cao family were usurpers of the Han mandate-their failure to unify the subcelestial realm was an indication of their immoral rule-and that the legitimate government of Han continued in the hands of Liu Bei. After Liu Shan's surrender to Wei, the mandate was in limbo, until Sima Yan (236-90) claimed it upon Wei's abdication to the Sima's Jin. There is no evidence to illustrate how Xi Zuochi's radical theory was received at the time; however, it was later adopted by Zhu Xi (1130-1200) during the Southern Song dynasty and was subsequently championed as the orthodox idea of legitimacy. Andrew Chittick has argued, however, that Xi Zuochi's idea was considered heterodox from the Eastern Jin through the Southern Song. Chittick notes the "weaker" standard of legitimacy, based on ritual abdication, was easier to attain, and the "strong" standard of unification contained implied criticism of the Eastern Jin and their "loss" of the north. Let us now briefly examine two histories written during the Eastern Jin and note their treatments of the name of Shu Han.

Chang Qu's Huayang guozhi was begun in the 330s while he was an official under the Cheng state in the Sichuan area. The text consists of short histories of the southwest divided along administrative units, histories of the various independent states from the area-including the administrations of Liu Yan (d. 194) and Liu Zhang (d. 219), Liu Bei and Liu Shan's Shu Han, and his own former state, the Cheng-as well as biographies of area worthies. The Huayang guozhi is the earliest extant comprehensive work of regional history. Little is known of Chang Qu's life, other than fragments of information gleaned from the Jin shu and his own writings. However, it is clear that the Huayang guozhi was begun under the Li family administration in Chengdu, and completed at the Jin capital after the defeat of the Cheng state by Jin in 347.

A look at relevant sections of the Huayang guozhi reveals signs of some ambiguity regarding the appellative of Shu Han. For example, in chapters six and seven- the biographies of Liu Bei and Liu Shan-Chang Qu follows the Sanguo zhi in his designation of the Shu Han rulers as the "Former Sovereign" and "Later Sovereign." However, in these biographies, Chang makes no mention of the name of their state. Additionally, and perhaps significantly, no mention is made of "Shu" as a state name. All usage of the name "Shu" is consistent with Han-period local administrative geography, though it is often unclear whether the reference in these cases is to Shu commandery or Shu Han.

Similar ambiguous references can be found in the biographies of some Shu Han officials. In the Huayang guozhi biography of Wen Li (d. ca. 279), Chang Qu notes, "Shu was absorbed by Wei, and Liang province was established." Here, judging from the parallelism between Shu and Wei, Chang Qu is likely referring to the state of Shu Han. However, the referent could also be Shu commandery. Similarly, in the biography of Du Zhen (fl. late third century), Chang Qu establishes the temporal and spacial setting by saying "Deng Ai had just defeated Shu..."' Again, the mention of Shu could refer to either the commandery or the state.

Two additional biographies in the Huayang guozhi support the idea that Chang Qu was deliberate in his avoidance of overt mentions of Shu Han by any name. In his biography of Chen Shou, Chang Qu lists the offices held by Chen Shou as a subject of Shu Han, but makes no mention of the name of the state. Instead, Chang Qu notes, "Previously, he accepted appointments by the province." Identical treatment can be found in the biography of Li Mi (224-87). Here, Chang Qu states, "The province appointed him as attendant, gentleman of the masters of writing, master of records for the general-in-chief, and forerunner of the heir-apparent.” Since the offices of masters of writing and forerunner of the heir-apparent were attached to the Shu Han imperial court, it seems likely that Chang Qu's use of the term "province" actually refers to the state. Again, he avoids direct mention of the state of Shu Han, instead substituting a neutral local administrative term in its place. Finally, in this same biography, Chang Qu records a dialogue between Li Mi, serving as an envoy of Shu Han to Wu, and Sun Quan. Setting the scene, Chang writes, "The Wu Sovereign asked about the quantity of horses in Shu." No mention of either Shu Han (in any form) or Wu is made in the quoted dialogue that follows this introduction.

From the passages cited above, it appears that Chang Qu employed a conscious strategy of ambiguity in his presentation of material related to Shu Han. Neutral local administrative terms were used, resulting in texts that could be interpreted several ways. This narrative strategy likely assured that his history would not come under attack for political reasons by those at the Jin court.

The second Eastern Jin history under our examination is Xi Zuochi's Han Jin chunqiu, a chronological history, in fifty-four fascicles, from the time of Emperor Guangwu of the Eastern Han (ca. 25 A.D.) to the end of the Western Jin (317 A.D.). This history was compiled most likely between the years 367 and 373 while Xi Zuochi served as administrator of Xingyang commandery. According to his biography in the Jin shu, he compiled this history as a criticism of the ambitions towards the throne held by his former patron Huan Wen, his intent being to show that the mandate of Heaven could not be obtained by manipulations of the throne but only by moral rule and unification of the subcelestial realm.

As noted above, Xi Zuochi claimed that the legitimacy of the Han was continued by Liu Bei, passing to the Sima clan upon Liu Shan's surrender to the Wei forces led by Sima Zhao. However, his Han Jin chunqiu does not seem to reflect this position in its treatment of the name of Shu Han. Xi Zuochi appears to be following the tradition of referring to the state as "Shu." In the biography of Zhuge Liang, mention is made of the Shu capital (Shu du). Xi's biography of Sima Zhao contains several references to "Shu": "pacified Shu Han" (pingding Shu Han); attacking Shu; and the injuring of the "people of Shu" (Shu min). In the first instance, it is unclear whether "Shu Han" refers to Shu and Hanzhong commanderies or to the state of Shu Han, but the final two references to Shu appear to point to the state as opposed to the local administrative units. A final example can be found in Xi Zuochi's biography of the Shu Han official Luo Xian (d. 270). Here Xi writes, "Previously, when the Wei army entered Shu, Liu Shan sent two thousand men to stay with Luo Xian and secure the border with Wu. After Shu was defeated…” That Xi Zuochi is referring to the state and not the commandery can be seen by comparing the account of Deng Ai's invasion of Shu Han in the Sanguo zhi. According to the biography of Liu Shan in Sanguo zhi, fascicle thirty-three, Deng's troops had reached Mianzhu in Guanghan commandery-north of Chengdu and Shu commandery-before Liu Shan took any action. Under these circumstances, Xi's reference to the Wei army entering Shu most likely points to the state.

While one might have expected Xi Zuochi to bolster his ideological position of Shu Han as legitimate by referring to the state by its own given name-"Han"-references to the state in the extant text show a preference for the appellative "Shu." Given Xi's boldness in presenting his theory of legitimacy and dynastic succession to the Eastern Jin court, concerns for his own safety were not likely issues in his choice of appellatives for Shu Han in his history. Though it is impossible to make a definitive claim, Xi's use of the name "Shu," despite his having reason to do otherwise, lends additional credence to Gao Sisun's claim that referring to Shu Han by the appellative Shu was simply a popular custom of the period.

Additionally, Xi Zuochi's reluctance to use the appellative Han also bolsters Chittick's argument that Xi was ambivalent about the case of Shu Han and that his bestowal of legitimacy upon Shu Han was a secondary concern. Chittick argues that Xi Zuochi sought to parallel the circumstances of Liu Xiu, Liu Bei, and Sima Rui, (276-322) as rulers continuing a dynastic line, essentially urging the Eastern Jin court to pursue a more aggressive policy of reunification of the empire." As such, Xi's granting of legitimacy to Shu Han was clearly more of a rhetorical strategy in a contemporary debate than a display of passionate feelings toward Liu Bei, Liu Shan, and their state.

Let us conclude this discussion of the name question in early medieval historiography with a brief look at Pei Songzhi's commentary to the Sanguo zhi. As noted above, Pei's commentary makes use of extensive quotations of early medieval historical sources to supplement Chen Shou's base text. In addition to these quotations, Pei often interjects his own thoughts, clearly identified as such by the phrase, "Your subject, Songzhi..." (chen Songzhi). First, let us look at some of the texts cited by Pei Songzhi and their treatment of the state name of Shu Han.

A survey of citations in Pei's commentary reveals striking similarity in treatment of the name of the Lius' state. For example, citations from Sun Zi biezhuan and the Wei lue both make reference to "Shu bandits," a narrative strategy we have already seen in documents cited by the Sanguo zhi. Additionally, Fu Xuan's (217-78) discussion of the strategic benefits enjoyed by the geography of Wu and Shu Han are cited by Pei Songzhi. Fu quotes Liu Ye, saying, "Wu and Shu each hold a single province, and are cut off by mountains and lie along rivers. At critical times, they may help each other. Such are the advantages of a small state. The description of Shu and Wu as small states is also reminiscent of treatments examined above. Lu Ji's "Bian wang lun" ("Essay Explaining the Fall [of Wu]") notes, "Some said that Wu and Shu were states [as close as] lips and teeth. If Shu were destroyed, then Wu would perish." Both Fu Xuan's and Lu Ji's use of "Shu" clearly refer to the state of Shu Han.

However, other sources cited in Pei's commentary may indicate a continuation of the ambiguous use of local administrative geographic nomenclature. Citing the Shishuo xinyu, Pei Songzhi's commentary quotes Zhang Xiao (tj) (fl. late third century), who said that "Shu [and] Han are isolated and distant." This statement follows a discussion of local administration in the Yi province area and is most certainly not a reference to the Shu Han state. Additionally, a passage from Yuanzi discusses the chancellors Zhuge Liang and Sima Zhao doing battle at Shu Han.' Again, this is a reference to the specific areas of conflict-Shu and Hanzhong commanderies.

Though Pei Songzhi often speaks his own opinion in his commentary, there are only two instances in these editorial comments where he mentions Shu Han by name. Commenting on the biography of Zhou Yu, Pei notes, "Your servant, Songzhi, reckons that [Zhou] Yu desired to take Shu." While this might be taken as ambiguous, Zhou Yu's ambitions were to overthrow Liu Bei and his state, headquartered in Shu commandery. The final example from Pei is more explicit. In the fourth fascicle of the Sanguo zhi, Pei notes, "Your servant, Songzhi, considers.... As for Wei's [relationship] with Shu, though it took [Shu Han] as an enemy state...." Here, the clear description of Shu and Wei as independent states illustrates that Pei Songzhi recognized the fragmented political situation, but was likely under little political pressure to refer to Shu Han by any name other than what was common practice by that time.

Finally, it should be noted that the practice of referring to the Liu state as "Shu Han" has its origins in the twelfth century. The Song historian Han Yuanji (1118- 83), in an essay entitled "Sanguo zhi lun" claims,

As for Shu, this (viz. Shu) was the name by which it was known at the time. When Emperor Zhaolie named his state, he also called it Han. That today no one uses [the name] Han to refer to it is because they are afraid of its intruding on Wei. Therefore, the name it used for its state-Han-no longer exists. So why not call it "Shu Han?"... I have added the name 'Shu' to 'Han."

Of course, as a Southern Song historian, there were contemporary ideological concerns regarding his proposal; however, these are well beyond the scope or considerations of this study. Rao Zongyi seems to agree with Han's claim to having coined this appellative, and notes that many later historians have followed Han Yuanji's example in this regard.


From the examination of primary documents preserved in Chen Shou's Sanguo zhi, we have seen how the states of Shu Han, Wu, and Wei referred to Liu Bei's Chengdu based state. Liu Bei, claiming he was founding the third epoch of the Han dynasty, called his state "Han." However, neither his allies nor enemies followed his Preference, instead showing a tendency to use the appellative "Shu," based on the Han administrative unit where Liu was based. Granted, while many of the references to Shu in the Sanguo zhi point to the local administrative geography, a sufficient number refer back to the state the point clear: during the Three States period, Shu-Han was nearly always referred to as "Shu."

Significant exceptions to this practice can be found in the oath of alliance between Wu and Shu Han. In the oath, parties are referred to as "Wu" and "Han." However, this is the only recorded instance of Wu officials using the appellative "Han" to refer to Shu Han. Clearly, the use of the name "Han" in the oath was a matter of diplomacy.

In addition to exposing the contemporary appellatives used for Shu Han, the names also reflect the relations between the states. Many references to Shu Han by Wei include pejorative adjectives such as "bandit" along with the name "Shu." Most significantly, the naming issue is a manifestation of the tensions dependent on the question of legitimacy. By their refusal to call Shu Han “Han” both Wei and Wu demonstrated their rejection of Liu Bei's and Liu Shan's claims to legitimacy.

The historiographical question of how to treat the period with regard to legitimacy influenced both contemporary and later historians. While historians such as Chen Shou and Chang Qu faced considerable pressure in their treatment of the recent past in their writings, subsequent early medieval historians likely followed the precedent set by Chen Shou. Whether Chen himself followed the example of Zuo Si's "Sandu fu" is unclear but is a plausible idea. Additionally, that an historian pushing a radical historiographical agenda, like Xi Zuochi, would ignore an opportunity to emphasize his argument of legitimacy for Shu Han by calling the state "Han" shows that the practice of using the name "Shu" was firmly entrenched and suggests that Xi's intent may have been significantly different than previously believed. The question of legitimacy and names was to appear again and again, each time under new and different contemporary ideological considerations.

Our level of involvement in this legitimacy debate can be minimal. As Zhou Yiliang has noted, "The question of legitimacy is one in which feudal rulers called historical records into service to make clear the legality of their own regimes. It has little to do with the narration or evaluation of concrete historical facts and is simply a construct of historians' words...” Miao Yue agrees, saying, "This type of 'was/was-not [legitimate]' argument, from our perspective, is rather meaningless."' However futile it might be to debate the so-called legitimacy of one particular state over another, the historiographical issues raised by the legitimacy question are both interesting and important to our understanding of the early medieval milieu. And the use of naming as a rhetorical tool in the historiography of legitimacy is an overlooked issue. I hope that discussion of the appellative "Shu" in early medieval historiography may add to our under-standing of this larger question.
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Re: The Academic Corner of Sanguo

Unread postby waywardauthor » Tue Dec 26, 2017 3:17 pm

[Probably the first translated piece we have, and it provides a decent chunk of Japanese scholarship as well. The article appeared in the 1994 edition of the Early Medieval China Journal. Here it is in the article's entirety]

The Scholar-Official and His Community: The Character of the Aristocracy in Medieval China

Helwig Schmidt·Glintzer Wolfenbiittel Munich, translated by Thomas Jansen Munich

Religious movements that started at the end of the Han dynasty are often described as the reflection of a religious and moral vacuum, which is believed to have accompanied the decline of Confucianism until its revival under the Tang dynasty. This view is, in a large measure, based on a Confucian assumption put forward first by Han Yu (768-824) that the Confucian tradition had been interrupted with the passing of Mencius (372-289 B.c.). As a result, many scholars consider the long period from the end of the Han to the Tang dynasty (618-906) as the age of Buddhism and Daoism. On the other hand, evidence has been found for the continued existence of the Confucian tradition, and especially its social ethics (Yu Yingshi 1959). In spite of recent scholarship on followers of the Confucian tradition, their group identity and status, a definitive study has yet to appear. More attention should be given to the educational elite and members of the upper class. What constituted the upper class in this period remains to be clearly defined.

Medieval society in China is often believed to have been dominated by a noble or aristocratic class. David Johnson calls it "oligarchy" (Johnson 1977). This assertion seems to be seriously flawed (Dien 1990:4-5). The complexity of the issue prompts Robert Somers to remark: "Our understanding of Chinese civilization is profoundly affected by the way in which we assess this matter... " (Somers 1978: 133). Johnson assumes that during the period of the second to the ninth centuries, there existed a well-defined group of several hundred clans (Johnson 1977: 121), who maintained their social status through a unique system. This system was responsible for recommending local candidates for government office, subject to approval by higher administrations. It is the jiupin zhongzheng (nine ranks and impartial judges) system. In Tang times, in place of birth, official positions became the basis for social status and privileges. However, the approval process, in which the emperor or court had the final say, continued. The link between status and office resulted in a division of society into classes: the elite and the people, and the office-holders or office-candidates and the ordinary masses (Johnson 1977:127). Few scholars accept David Johnson's division of Chinese society into two opposite classes (Somers 1978:134 ff.; Dien 1990:5; Pearce 1992:37). However, his thesis that the recruitment system went through a tremendous change during the Tang dynasty remains unchallenged. Still, his argument that this change precipitated the decline of a centuries-old aristocracy (Johnson 1977a) is highly debatable. In addition, the question remains unanswered concerning the rising interest under the Tang in establishing and maintaining long genealogies, and the continuation of such practices thereafter

Patricia Ebrey also believes in the lasting nature of these noble traditions (Ebrey 1978). Apart from the standard histories and other traditional sources, she avails herself of 74 memorial stele inscriptions of Tang origin. Still the material she gathers is not sufficient to support her overall thesis (Somers 1978: 139 ff.). Denis Twitchett offers a more differentiating view on the upper class of the early Tang (Twitchett 1973:50 ff.). In the "Bibliographical Note" of his paper, Twitchett lists a number of important secondary studies of the topic with an emphasis on the Sui and Tang dynasties (Twitchett 1973:83-5).

The concept of gentry society

A discussion of the nature of China's medieval society will be affected by a variety of factors:
• one's ideological viewpoints and understanding of the relevant terminology (this problem will be further explored below in a discussion on the term "gentry" and the ky6d6tai hypothesis);
• re-interpretation of history in Tang historiography;
• claims made by Tang clans to a long-standing aristocratic tradition;
• the tendency among modern scholars to generalize in spite of great regional differences.

Wolfram Eberhard (1952) put forward his unique thesis that medieval China was a gentry society. Over the years, this thesis has received both widespread support and strong criticism among students of Chinese history. I, for one, accepted it in 1972 (Schmidt-Glintzer 1972:269) without paying enough attention to objections raised by Edwin Pulleyblank (1953) and Franz Michael (Chang Chung-li 1955:xvii-viii). Admittedly, some of the conflicting views on the character of the so-called gentry society in medieval China are, upon close examination, somewhat excessive. Yet it can be said with certainty that Eberhard's argument about the existence of a gentry society, which from the Former Han continued in its various forms until the recent present (Eberhard 1956a:70), is not tenable. Here, Eberhard follows a commonly held yet seriously flawed view that during the period of imperial China, advancement into the highest echelons of society was, at least in principle, possible for everyone. He refers to the "leading stratum" of society as gentry, which "consisted of families as the basic units; members of these families normally were at the same time big landowners or landlords in the country and officials and literati in the large cities. They showed an astonishing continuity and social stability ... " (Eberhard 1956a:70) However, the contradiction between this stability and his characterization of China's gentry society as an open society since the 11th century (Eberhard 1956b:209) remains unresolved. His thesis of the stability of Chinese society is in keeping with his observation of its "closed" character, which he considers to have lasted from the Han until the founding of the Song: "Thus, in practice, this society up to Sung (Song- Ed.) times can be said to be a closed society. If we try to isolate the politically and culturally leading families of medieval China, we come up with a list of around a hundred families of highest importance in the circles of the capital." (Eberhard 1956b:209) This view seems to contradict his second thesis of the absence of an aristocracy or nobility in China's medieval society (Eberhard 1965:42). Even if one could dismiss the notion of the existence of a large number of centuries-old medieval families, the question still remains as to how to define the medieval elite.

Eberhard was not the first to suggest the closed character of the recommendation system, established as early as 134. Other scholars pointed out that scarcely any of the individuals recommended had been of humble background. The Qing scholar Zhao Yi (1727-1824) in his Nian 'ershi zhaji believes that high positions in medieval China were hereditary. Zhao also notices that under the Southern Dynasties important posts were sometimes filled with people of humble birth (NESZJ 8:146-8, 154-5). This phenomenon is explained by the fact that these individuals were more dependent, thus more loyal to their patrons. Everything considered, however, the heritability of high status was of greater importance (Ho Ping-ti 1971:12).

Eberhard differentiates between a "closed" and an "open" society. By the same token, we believe some terminological distinctions are in order, particularly in characterizing a society as fluid as that of medieval China. In spite of the above-mentioned objections, we believe it is appropriate to use the term "aristocratic society" in reference to medieval China. However, this designation does not provide an answer to every question about this period. For example, what accounts for the continuity of the aristocratic families?

The continuity of the noble families in Medieval China: a myth of Naito Konan?

In his review article, Somers directs his criticism at the theory of the continued existence of noble clans in medieval China (Somers 1978). Grafflin (1981) lends support to Somers' criticism, and traces the theory to the founder of the Kyoto school of Japanese Sinology, Naito Konan (1866-1934). Grafflin directs his criticisms at many of Naito's followers, including Miyakawa Hisayuki (1956:342, n.l), who holds that the noble clans received neither land nor people from the emperor; instead, they developed into and continued to be a regional elite (Grafflin 1981:65 ff.). Other critics of Naito's theory include Kawakatsu Yoshio, who focuses on the state of Wu, and Tanigawa Michio, who deals with the northern empires. In spite of these criticisms, the idea of Southern aristocratic rule has not been rejected.

Above all, Grafflin maintains that the aristocracy as described by Naito Konan did not exist and refutes the conclusions drawn by Johnson, whose research is based on a study by Mao Hanguang (1966). Grafflin claims that the continuity of the class of great families from the Jin to the Tang as emphasized by Johnson was fictitious. He accepts Johnson's research as meaningful only in regard to social conceptions under the Northern and Southern Dynasties, as well as under the Tang. He believes that the medieval elite cannot be clearly identified except for a few leading families, including the Wangs of Langye, the Wangs of Taiyuan, the Yus of Yingchuan the Huans of Qiaoguo and the Xies of Chenguo. Grafflin's research is based on an appendix to the Shishuo xinyu of a 13th century edition in the Maeda 0083 collection (now part of the Kanezawa Bunko. It draws on sources other than the Xin Tang shu genealogies (Grafflin 1980). Grafflin comes to the conclusion that only the Wang clan of Taiyuan, which survived into the Tang, can be traced back to Han times. Moriya Mitsuo (1951) does an extensive study of this clan. Other scholars who attempt to reconstruct the medieval clans or trace their genealogies include Wang Yitong (1943) and Yano Chikara (1960). After the formative years of the Eastern Jin, the death of Xie An leader of the Xie family, in 385, apparently marked the end of the aristocracy in the South, which had dominated the court through one or more powerful families (Grafflin 1981:73). From the rise of Sima Daozi to the Sui conquest of the South in 589, the Nine Rank system drastically decreased in importance, and eventually ceased to play a significant role (Yang Yunru 1930; Miyazaki Ichisada 1956; Johnson 1977:22-6; Holzman 1957). Power was exercised by various court or army factions with members from the lower strata of society. The decline of aristocratic influence from the end of the fourth century has been studied by a number of scholars (Ochi Shigeaki 1965; Tang Changru 1958, 1959a, 1959b). The thesis of the disappearance of aristocratic dominance in Tang times is not without its critics (for the thesis, see Nunome 1948, 1968; for its criticism, see Yano Chikara 1954). It seems that, as is pointed out by Chen Yinke (1944a, 1944b) and Pulleyblank (1955; also see Twitchett 1973:83-4), the Tang was still characterized by a struggle between aristocracy and bureaucracy. The focus on this aristocracy-bureaucracy conflict seems to have distracted attention away from the nature of the aristocracy (Twitchett 1973:84; for information on post-Tang aristocracy, see Sun Guodong 1959).

According to Grafflin, no important families had emerged under the Southern Dynasties: "Famous names of the Jin dynasty were in circulation during the Tang, not because their bearers had dominated the intervening centuries, but because the Sino-foreign hybrid aristocracy, developing out of the Northern Wei, had to look back to the Jin in order to claim Chinese ancestry for an upper-class society significantly alien in derivation." (Grafflin 1981:74). This statement implies that at least part of the early Tang elite had its origin in the aristocracy of the northern steppe peoples, and modem scholarship seems to support this view. It was not uncommon for these families to make unwarranted claims to Han noble heritage, as was indicated by the widespread practice of surname bestowal and renaming (Dien 1977).

Even if Grafflin's argument eventually stands up well, the question remains as to how to describe the leading stratum of medieval China. There are many reasons to support the use of the term "aristocracy" in its original sense. It can refer to intellectual heritage, and peer and popular recognition, as much as social status and birth. The definition of aristocracy also raises the issue of "feudalism" in early medieval China. Eberhard argues that the feudal system had disappeared before the Han, and had given way to a gentry society, which dominated China for 2000 years to come (Eberhard 1952, 1965:41). Derk Bodde, however, characterizes this early medieval period as one of "refeudalization." (Bodde 1956). In this case, feudalism has to be understood in a very loose sense. The term no longer denotes lord vassal bonds, but rather refers to other related phenomena: large land ownership, displacement of smaller independent peasants, etc. Kawakatsu Yoshio identifies an aristocracy and feudal society at the beginning of the Six Dynasties period (Kawakatsu Yoshio 1981). But, like Kato Shigeshi before him, Kawakatsu emphasizes the fact that this aristocracy was not a military aristocracy, and it consisted of descendants of prominent families as well as cultured individuals. He admits that there existed elements of a military aristocracy, hence the possibility of a full-fledged development of feudalism in early medieval China (Kawakatsu Yoshio 1981:107 ff.).

Before we tum our attention to the reasons behind the continuity of the literati class and its ideal, let us review briefly discussions of China's feudalism in Japan.

The problem of the end of antiquity and the feudal age

Most Japanese historians hold that, whereas feudalism was well developed in Japan over a long period of time, it had already come to an end in China by the end of the Zhou dynasty, and was superseded by a state bureaucracy (Kato Shigeshi 1939). Kato observes that, although private armies did exist during the Six Dynasties period and the late Tang, hereditary lord-vassal relations never developed, and the military hierarchy never evolved into a system based on lord-vassal bonds. On the issue of village organization, Ishimoda Sho. argues that no differentiation of the village community occurred. Instead, the cohesion of the village community was based on family bonds that had always been stronger than status based on economic power or rank, or both (Tanigawa Michio 1985:6 ff.). Unlike Naito, who regards the Tang as the end of the medieval period, and the Song as the beginning of the modern age, Ishimoda and his supporters place the Tang together with the Japanese Heian period in the range of antiquity. It is obvious that this as well as other divergent and contrasting opinions are strongly influenced by the political issues of the day (for an overview of debates on periodization in China, see Lin Ganquan 1982; also see Dirlik 1974 and 1978 on the origin of Marxist historiography in China).
The "Tang antiquity" thesis as advocated by Kato Shigeshi, Sudo Yoshiyuki, and Ishimoda Sho was reconfirmed by the "Historical Research Association" (Rekishigaku kenkyiikai in the early 1950s. Under the influence of Niida Noboru (1951), the Song dynasty came to be regarded as the beginning of the medieval age. The nature of feudalism came under discussion, and the possibility of feudalism under a centralized bureaucratic state was explored. Ishimoda argues that centralization of power did not change the feudal nature of the Chinese empire, as centralization was only necessary to protect the ruling classes against recurrent peasant rebellions on a massive scale. In view of this, feudal relations of production may have existed in medieval China (Tanigawa Michio 1985:13). Proponents of the "Tang antiquity" and "Song feudalism" thesis such as Nishijima Sadao and Hori Toshikazu may differ on a number of points, yet they are almost unanimous in their view of the Sui and Tang as the renaissance of the defunct Han state, which had collapsed due to inner contradictions (Tanigawa Michio 1985: 12-29). This argument reinforces the idea of the continuity of the great families (haozu), which Kawakatsu refers to as "great landowners" or "Junker" (hobereaux) (Kawakatsu Yoshio 1981:108). They also realize that slavery, as we know it in classical antiquity in the West, has to be understood quite differently in the case of China. As is pointed out by Geza Alfoldy, slavery occurred neither during the Six Dynasties period nor later (Tanigawa Michio 1985:20 ff.).

Tanigawa Michio objects to the views held by Nishijima Sadao and Hori Tashikazu on the ground that they rely too much on the Western European paradigm and its terminology. Tanigawa believes that both scholars completely overlook the unique character of village community structures in China. Both Nishijima and Hori seem to have abandoned their views on China's feudalism first formulated in the 1950s. According to Tanigawa, the fundamental difference between Chinese society and its Western counterpart lies in the enduring existence of communal organizations in China among small landholders, which transcends ownership, rent relations, and serfdom.

A particular form of Chinese feudalism or communal solidarity?

Among advocates of the theory of "Tang antiquity and Song feudalism," Niida Noboru deserves special attention. On the system of land ownership, he relies primarily on research conducted by Sudo Yoshiyuki (1950, 1950a). The results are severely criticized by Miyazaki Ichisada (1952). On the other hand, Niida investigates the tenancy system which he dubs "feudal," in light of legal history. For Niida, who stresses the differences between China and the West, the only criterion for feudalism was the existence of serfdom. He concludes that the tenancy system of the Song-Yuan period almost disappeared in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Under Ming-Qing laws, landowner and tenant were no longer differentiated. The presence of serfdom points to the existence of feudalism. Of course in China, it is impossible to speak of feudalism in the Western sense (Tanigawa Michio 1985:27).

The communal organization, which Ishimoda believes to have hampered a full-blown development of slavery and feudalism, went through significant changes during the 10th and 11th centuries (Niida 1962:683-740). In the process of this, trade guilds emerged and clan groupings were reorganized. Dunhuang documents concerning lay organizations lend support to these observations (Naba 1938, 1939). In addition, information on community covenants (xiangyue) and clan registers (zongpu) suggests a longer tradition of communal solidarity at the local level. In spite of these discoveries, Niida still stands by his serfdom theory.

Rejection of the term "feudalism" by a growing number of scholars in studying China's past suggests the abandonment of Eurocentric modes of conception, and reveals a sense of self-awakening on the part of non-European peoples (Tanigawa Michio 1985:60). It seems that "feudalism" is inappropriate for any part of China's history after the Warring States period.

Compromise between local self-government and imperial dominance

In early medieval China, a sovereign was not able to stay in power for long without the support of local community leaders. He was in turn expected to act as a guarantor for the well-being of the community (Moriya Mitsuo 1955; Tanigawa Michio 1985:84). A perfect example was the Former Han dynasty. Under Han Wudi, a recruitment system was set up for recommending candidates of exemplary conduct and moral integrity for government office. Thanks to Dong Zhongshu (179-104 B.C.) and other followers of the Confucian ideals, this system reconciled the autonomous tendency of local governments and the need of the imperial court to exercise central control. Dong and his supporters were interested in, under new social and political conditions, restoring the moral principles of antiquity which had evolved under the consanguineous rulers hip of the Western Zhou dynasty (Tanigawa Michio 1985:86 ff.; Xu Zhuoyun 1981, 1986). This compromise between local autonomy and heteronomy served as the basis for the continuation of the Han dynasty. It worked as a common denominator for the co-existence of numerous ethnic groups under the Han empire. The concept of a single united empire persisted even during the Six Dynasties when China was fragmented by a variety of states under different ethnic groups. However, in addition to the expansion of the empire itself, it was this compromise that sowed the seeds of decline, as was evidenced by the emancipatory trends of the frontier peoples, and the centrifugal dynamics set off on the local level, which would pick up momentum in response to outside threats, whether they be natural disasters, maladministration, or any other forms of danger to local autonomy. It consequently resulted in a readiness to accept new promises of salvation. But, according to our present knowledge, this never led to the development of a new paradigm of compromise, or, to put it differently, a better way to keep a balance between lost power and increased security.

The end of antiquity and the preservation of the ideal

The development of large land ownership in the Later Han sped up the process of class formation, and eventually led to the breakdown of the dynasty. The ideal of conciliation was not abandoned. But who upheld this ideal is open to question. We have good reason to agree with Kawakatsu Yoshio in his argument against Yang Lien-sheng who regards the struggle between the "Pure Stream" (qingliu) and the "Turbid Stream" (zhuoliu) movements as merely a discord between two groups of the great clans. Instead, Kawakatsu points to public opinion as the crucial platform for this struggle (Kawakatsu Yoshio 1950). The suggestion, that the aristocracy of the Six Dynasties, which, according to Kawakatsu, was not exclusively composed of the powerful great families of the time, traced their heritage to the Pure Stream movement, is disputed by Masubuchi Tatsuo (1960; Tanigawa Michio 1985:91 ff.). Despite divergent views on these movements and other relevant issues, there is a great deal of implicit agreement on the definition of the medieval aristocracy, which, generally characterized by its sense of morality and righteousness, is viewed as one of moral conviction. Outside Japan, scholars like Yu Yingshi (Yti Ying-shih) (1959) and Chen Qiyun (1977, 1981) share the same view in their studies of post-Han intellectuals. Masubuchi gives his support to the same idea when he argues that the Pure Stream was a movement in the capital led by self-righteous men. They criticized the eunuchs for the purpose of their own career advancement, a point made clear by the fact that honor was often associated with persecution or suppression. He views the Pure Stream people as a group of overambitious careerists, who with their plots and intrigues were no better than their opponents, the eunuchs. Only those who had withdrawn from or shunned public life deserve to be called the morally upright.

Kawakatsu opposes this view on the ground that the Pure Stream's political criticism of eunuch power and the eremitic movement of the literati was the result of moral indignation, which eventually served as the breeding ground for the Yellow Turban rebellion. To prove his point, Kawakatsu refers to many cases of close friendship between these two kinds of men (Kawakatsu Yoshio 1981: 112-21 and passim; Tanigawa Michio 1985:95). The divergence between active criticism at the capital and withdrawal from public office, according to Kawakatsu, had another social factor: the collapse of "communitarian" structures, and their subsequent transformation into an arena of conflict among the great clans. Like the Pure Stream movement, eremitic attitudes among a great number of the literati were also a reaction to these changes. Eventually, the Pure Stream movement failed whereas the eremitic movement and the politico-religious poplar movements formed a new association that came to represent the ideal of the Confucian paradigm. Kawakatsu cites an article by Rolf Stein (1963). In the same vein, Anna Seidel regards "the organization of the priesthood of Taoism (Daoism- Ed.) as a recreation, on a spiritual level, of the most cosmic unity of Han." (Seidel 1983:291) She also points out that in Daoism certain forms of the old feudal traditions, for instance, bonds confirmed by oath, survived (Seidel 1982:293). It is thus possible to assume that in this way a tradition of autonomy was preserved, on the basis of which Confucian values were handed down, and efforts were made to realize the ideal of the sages (Tanigawa Michio 1985:96).

From the Pure Stream movement to reclusion: a change of paradigms

Tanigawa believes that the Pure Stream scholars were advocates of the old order. The recluses recognized the hopelessness of the situation, and expected to fulfill the ancient ideal of order in a new form. A fundamental conflict arose from the fact that in Han times, especially under the influence of the local recommendation system, moral integrity came to be equated with political success. The literati's claim to power, rooted in local recommendation and "communitarian" autonomy, lost its legitimacy when the political system deviated from the state of balance based on reconciliation. This development was either contrary to the intention of the recommended candidates or hardly noticed by them. Those who were aware of this loss of legitimacy and were in a position to react disassociated themselves from worldly affairs. The attitude of these hermits and the Yellow Turban rebels was, according to Tanigawa, one of searching for a new "communitarian" world (Tanigawa Michio 1985:99), which can be viewed as an obvious reaction to the failure of reconciliation. With the dissolution of the ancient clan society of close blood relations, the old system had evolved into a state of integration between local autonomy and political heteronomy, and had remained so for a period of time. What eventually survived was an ideal of responsibility, which caused those striving for moral perfection to keep in mind not their own wellbeing, but the welfare of the community. It seems to me that at this point in history a basic social structure was taking shape, which would serve as the background for the tension between individual and heteronomy (Trauzettel 1977). Moreover, the distinction between "modernism" and "reformism," as adopted by Michael Loewe in describing the contrasting tendencies in the Former Han (Loewe 1974:11 and passim; 1986:104 ff.), is best explained in terms of the tension between the idea of a centralized state and the official recruitment system, and the focus on personal and clear-cut relations.

The birth of a new aristocracy

As the Han dynasty progressed, traditional "communitarian" structures collapsed and power sharing with local authorities vanished. Power came to be regarded as a private possession. Meanwhile, people gave up collective forms of worship in favor of more individual approaches in their search for salvation. Opposite trends also developed as was indicated by the rise of so-called religious Daoism and its derivative movements (Stein 1963; Seidel 1983). Newly established social organizations as represented by the Yellow Turbans and the Five Pecks of Rice (Wudou mi dao) group were no longer founded on kinship but on ideas and common interest. The politically unstable conditions of the third and fourth centuries were a reflection of these disintegrating tendencies, which continued until the Tuoba-Wei dynasty. It was this dynasty that united and pacified the North during the second half of the fourth century. The question is: How did tradition survive under these circumstances?

Uncertain political conditions forced people to set up new forms of self-help social organizations (Tanigawa Michio 1985: 102 ff.; Heyde 1976). In the countryside, cun, a social organization that corresponded to fang in the city of the Tang dynasty, appeared on the scene. After the disturbances at the end of the Later Han dynasty, the expression xincun (new settlements) came into use, in reference to rural settlements set up as a means of protection against the wartime situation at that time (Miyazaki 1957). Following Miyakawa Hisayuki, Miyazaki Ichisada regards these cun settlements as medieval villages that rose in reaction to the breakdown of the ancient system of city-states. Inside the village, new forms of community life and religious ideas were to take shape (Miyazaki Ichisada 1957; Kawakatsu Yoshio 1981:109-12). Alongside the cun, a kind of fortified village known as wu or cunwu occurred. Originally developed in the first century A.D., the wu at first functioned primarily as a defense structure against foreign enemies in the North. But they also served the purpose of self-protection in times of civil war (Tanigawa Michio 1985:104; Jin Fagen 1964). Such fortified settlements had their own leaders and internal structure. Due to their protective function, each one of them constituted a self-contained unit. At times of mass migratory movements, especially at the beginning of the fourth century, migrant groups would build wusettlements to accommodate themselves. The leaders of such groups were known as xingzhu, as is pointed out by Naba Toshisada (1943). Their often remote location invites comparison with the utopian system in Tao Yuanming's "Peach Blossom Spring." (Chen Yinke 1936) Scholars such as Tanigawa seem to support this interpretation, while Tang Changru casts doubt (Tanigawa 1985: 106 ff.). Stephen Bokenkamp points to the Daoist origin of such images of paradise (Bokenkamp 1986). These communities were apparently characterized by bonds of solidarity among their members, and the ties between them were thus reinforced (Tanigawa Michio 1985:106 ff.). From this, a social system and a set of values evolved that would become the basis for the social norms of Neo-Confucianism. Another question is: To what extent the tribal organization of their nomadic or semi-nomadic neighbors influenced the Chinese in community-building (Dien 1978:144)

An example of conciliation between eremitism and civil service was provided by the Daoist master Kou Qianzhi (d.448), who confided to Cui Hao (381-450), a scholar in the service of the Northern Wei sovereign Taiwudi (Tuoba Tao r. 423- 451):

I had been practicing the Way in retirement and had never involved myself in worldly responsibilities, when suddenly I received these secret bequests (jue) from the gods, stating that I should simultaneously cultivate the moral teachings of the Confucians (Rujiao)and come to the aid of the Perfect Ruler of Great Peace (Taipingzhenjun) in carrying on the thousand-year rule that has been interrupted. But in my studies I have never delved into antiquity, and in the presence of worldly affairs I am dull and benighted. Would you compile for me the cannons of rule for all the ancient kings, and add to them a discussion of their general essentials? (WS 35:814; for its English translation, see Mather 1979:114)

Both Kou Qianzhi and Cui Hao dreamed of a purified society, which might have been a reincarnation of Zhou feudal society with a hierarchical system of nobles and commoners.

The conciliation of eremitism and civil service contradicts the social expectation of their complete separation. Attempts to switch from a hermit's life to one of civil service were sometimes condemned. This point was made clear by Kong Zhigui (447-501), a Southern scholar, in his "Announcement from the Northern Mountain" ("Beishan yiwen"). Still, in spite of the presence of much stronger feudal elements (Kawakatsu Yoshio 1981:157-60) there, in the South, a compromise between reclusion and office was never far away in the late fifth century. Evidence of it can also be found in the words of Yan Zhitui (531-591), a Southern Confucian scholar, who served the Liang of the Southern Dynasties, the Northern Qi, the Northern Zhou and the Sui dynasties. He justified reclusion and civil service in Confucian terms (YSJX 5.16:360; Dien 1962:56).

The kyodotai hypothesis

In response to Ferdinand Tonnies' concept of "community and society," the Japanese Weberians coined the neologism kyodotai. Tanigawa, in his studies of medieval China, borrows the notion of kyodotai to refer to a special type of medieval communities. Translator Fogel coins the term "communitarian" as its adjective (Tanigawa Michio 1985:xx-xxiii, Fogel's introduction). The essence of the kyodotai-communities was a particular ethic of responsibility, of both mutual care and self-restraint, which, not large land holdings or their associated profits and privileges, came to serve as the basis for the aristocracy (Tanigawa Michio 1985:111). Not surprisingly, leaders of local solidarity groups were often of aristocratic origin (Tanigawa Michio 1985: 110 ff.). Thanks to this ethic, the "communitarian" aristocracy achieved its internal cohesiveness and external acceptance. It owed its stability and functionality to the Nine Ranks recruitment system. Above all, its main support came from the Confucian teachings, which de-emphasize fame and personal benefit, and promote the idea of social well-being and self-cultivation. Some Chinese scholars come to similar conclusions (Chen Qiyun 1975, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1986; Yu Yingshi 1959; Xu Zhuoyun 1981, 1986).

In general, learning, cultivation with a focus on philosophical debates and poetry, calligraphy, and later on, art, served as the essential criteria for the self-definition of the nobility. Members of the aristocracy would educate their offspring in terms of these values. They wrote down family instructions to improve, or at least to preserve, the standing of their own family in the eyes of others. The spread of Buddhism among the educated elite should be viewed against the background of these efforts to attain to inner perfection. The learning of the literati not only comprised a literary education in the narrow sense of the expression, it also included a diverse array of practical knowledge: agriculture, architecture, administration, and law, as is shown by Tanigawa in his studies on the aristocracy of the North.

The concept of aristocracy went through a significant change in early medieval China. Heritability became less important as more focus was placed on social and moral standards. It was due to the combined interests of the literati, dynastic founders and other leaders who had often risen on the strength of their military achievements, that an official examination system was established and institutionalized under the Tang. Parallel developments in the Buddhist sangha may shed more light on this phenomenon. From A.D. 400, training requirement and proper examinations were used to control admissions to the clergy and continuation of its membership. It would appear that this trend anticipated the civil service examination system. On the other hand, the election of an abbot or patriarch was often not subject to any rules. From the sixth century onward, the tradition of lineal succession from generation to generation within a single school was established in the highest echelon. This development was comparable to the contemporary tendency in the lay world to compile genealogies, which may have arisen as a result of the need for legitimacy on the part of the nomadic tribal aristocracy.

After political takeover by non-Han ethnic groups in the North, members of the Han aristocracy could still accept government posts without jeopardizing their relations with their local communities. This seems to lend support to the assumption that in this period aristocratic status was awarded with the apparent support of the local community. Moreover, seizure of power by semi-nomadic tribal leaders had been made much easier with the support of the Han aristocracy. As a result of the blending of different aristocratic traditions, reunification became a reality in sixth century China.

Recent Japanese scholarship on China's nobility

Precisely because the kyokotai theory has found support in so many arguments, efforts to apply this theory to studies of Chinese medieval nobility may be of great interest. One such effort is a volume published by Kyoto University (Kawakatsu Yoshio and Tonami Mamom 1987). Edited by the late Kawakatsu Yoshio, a Liuchao scholar, and Tonami Mamoru, a Tang historian, this volume covers the span of time from the Han dynasty to the Five Dynasties, and devotes a significant portion of its content to the question of the aristocracy.

The volume starts with an article on the aristocracy of the Six Dynasties by Kawakatsu Yoshio (pp. 3-51; Kawakatsu Yoshio 1981) originally published in French. Tanigawa Michio's contribution discusses the relationship between aristocracy and feudalism (pp. 53- 69). Nakamura Keiji deals with the practice of personnel inspection and the Nine Rank system in general (pp. 73-115). Yoshimori Kensuke (pp. 117-150) focuses on personnel selection in the early Western Jin dynasty. He bases his study primarily on fragments of the Shangong qishi, written in a style similar to that of the Shishuo xinyu. The subject of Otagi Hajime's study is one of the great Shandong families of Tang times, the Lus of Fanyang, and their marriage alliances (pp. 151-241). It is remarkable that Otagi makes extensive use of late Tang romances (chuanqi), particularly Shen Jiji's "Zhenzhong ji" (The world inside a pillow), and unofficial histories. Inaba Ichiro studies the development of the great clans and local magnates (pp. 243-74). Ito Hiroaki examines governors, both civil and military, of Jiangxi under the late Tang and Five Dynasties (pp. 275-318). Yoshikawa Tadao studies Later Han Confucian learning and school tradition with a focus on Zheng Xuan (A.D. 127-200) (pp. 321-359). Kano Naosada looks into the biography of Wang Jian (A.D. 452-89), a minister under the Southern Qi dynasty, and a member of the Wangs of Langye. He explores cultural as well as ritual problems in the South at the end of the fifth century (pp. 361-402). Watanabe Shin'ichiro investigates the relationship between statecraft theories of the Classic of Filial Piety (Xiao jing) and the Han dynasty (pp. 403-45). Yafuchi Takayoshi discusses the authorship of the Shishuo xinyu (pp. 447-73). Fujiyoshi Masumi (pp. 475-506) deals with the relationship between Buddhist monasticism and the aristocracy.

The central theme of the last part is law and administration. Ueda Sanae deals with the problem of liability in the Qin Code (Qin iii), which was to serve as the model for later codes (pp. 509-41). Tomiya Itam studies different types of punishment and amnesties of the Western Jin, drawing on archaeological material, including sites of execution and graves of the executed (pp. 543-83). Obi Takeo works on provincial military governors under the Liu Song dynasty (pp. 585-607). Yasuda Jiro researches immigration policies in the South at the beginning of the fourth century (for example, white and yellow registers), and land distribution policies (pp. 609-61). Kegasawa Yasunori examines the fubing (militia) system with the help of Tang documents from Dunhuang (pp.663-7l6). Tonami Mamoru tili1rBl.lii (pp. 717-55) wraps up the volume with an article on stone inscriptions in the Shaolin monastery.

Some concluding remarks

With our present knowledge, it is still impossible to identify a well-defined aristocracy with a strong sense of self-awareness. Undoubtedly, there was a culturally self-assured, identifiable upper class in the period the Kyoto school calls medieval China. This upper class was different from the fully developed nobility in Europe. So long as we lack sufficient information on land holding, we cannot determine, either in the South or in the North, the size and power of this upper class, nor the scale of its land ownership. Still, it is possible to distinguish between a class of big land-owners and an aristocracy as documented in history. Such distinction, however, is unlikely to detract from the merit of the kyodotai theory with its emphasis on the "communitarian" aristocracy in medieval China. In a way, this theory is relevant to the post-medieval period as well. Although the scholar official (shidaifu) class went through a transformation, it can still be regarded as the elitist, moral and intellectual successors to the upper class of the medieval age (Tanigawa Michio 1983; Fogel 1984). Franz Michael, in his introduction to Chang Chung-Ii's study on the "Chinese gentry," holds a similar view. The gentry were "the guardians, the promoters, and representatives of an ethical system based on the tenets of Confucianism which provided the rules of society and of man's relation to man. Educated in this system, they derived from it their knowledge of management of human affairs which was the main qualification for their leading role in Chinese society" (Chang Chung-li 1955:xiii). Opinions differ, however, on the moral, intellectual standard. While some scholars argue that it was taken rather seriously in later times (Metzger 1977), others disagree (Ebrey 1984).
Alone I lean under the wispy shade of an aged tree,
Scornfully I raise to parted lips a cup of warm wine,
Longingly I cast an empty vessel aside those exposed roots,
And leave behind forgotten memories and forsaken dreams.
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Re: The Academic Corner of Sanguo

Unread postby waywardauthor » Wed Dec 27, 2017 12:04 pm

[This article on Wang Dao comes at the very end of our purview, far more a figure of the Jin than the close of the Three Kingdoms Era that he was born into, the Western Jin is important to our survey because it shows the immediate aftermath of what the Later Han to Three Kingdoms have wrought. The article was published in 2015, in the Early Medieval China Journal]


Written by Matthew v. Wells of the University of Kentucky

This paper revisits traditional notions about the relationship between the Jin shu and earlier sources for the Eastern Jin period (317–420), notably the Shishuo xinyu, through an analysis of the Jin shu biography of Wang Dao (276–339), the era’s most powerful minister. Although scholars have long deemed the Jin shu a derivative work that uncritically drew upon the Shishuo xinyu and other texts of the period, I demonstrate how the authors of the Jin shu judiciously selected features from earlier sources to produce a portrait of their subject that was grounded in the terms and concerns of early Tang historiography. The careful curation of this material by Tang historians underlines the narrow criteria for selecting material to include in accounts of the period and demonstrates how biographies in the Jin shu were conceived and organized according to the emerging didactic and political functions of state-sanctioned historiography in the early Tang.


On April 24, 646 CE, Li Shimin 李世民 (599–649), who reigned as Emperor Taizong 太宗 (r. 626–649) of the Tang dynasty, called for the compilation of a new history of the Jin dynasty (265–420) in an imperial edict, “Xiu Jin shu zhao” 修晉書詔. The project was a monumental undertaking, involving a core staff of twenty-one scholars working at great haste for approximately two to four years under imperial command. The resulting work altogether totaled 130 juan and included official documents; excerpts from works of prose, poetry, and historical writing; and other literature from the Jin dynasty. Due to the high rate of attrition of these earlier sources, particularly early histories of the period, the Jin shu stands as one of the richest collections of literary and historical material from the era. This article seeks to revisit traditional notions about the relationship between the Jin shu and extant earlier sources for the period, notably material found in the Shishuo xinyu 世說新語 by Liu Yiqing 劉義慶 (403–444) and its commentaries, through a close examination of Wang Dao’s 王導 (276–339) official biography (liezhuan 列傳) in Jin shu 65. At just over 6000 characters, the Jin shu biography is the most substantial existing account of the period’s most powerful minister, whose public career spanned three emperors and who was a key figure in establishing the Eastern Jin court at Jiankang 建康. Wang Dao is also featured in approximately 84 tiao 條 of the Shishuo xinyu and its commentaries, enough material to form a rough sketch of the kinds of narratives about him that may have circulated among his contemporaries and during the late fourth and early fifth century. As heavily curated texts, the Shishuo xinyu and the Jin shu help us to understand the way in which biographical narratives of the same individual were used to address different sets of questions and assumptions in two different periods: during the fourth century, in which a weak refugee court struggled to establish itself south of the Yangzi River, and during the early seventh century, in which a powerful Emperor returning from a disastrous foreign campaign attempted to leave an indelible stamp on the history of an earlier era.

Wang Dao’s biography not only provides an account of a powerful political and social elite, it also traces the evolution of historiography between two eras. Unlike most Master’s Literature 子書 from the Warring States period onward, the principles discussed by early Chinese historians were not typically abstracted into discourse but embodied by historical figures who became paragons of specific qualities or virtues. In the two accounts of Wang Dao, the multifaceted cluster of traits with which he was associated in the Shishuo xinyu narrowed dramatically in the Jin shu biography, which was largely concerned with collating the idioms for wielding ministerial power. In the later biography, the subject was defined by the ideals of the diligent and loyal minister, conveying an image that may have been useful for an increasingly centralized state, but was sometimes at odds with earlier material. In this way the Jin shu biography of Wang Dao illustrates how the “didactic preoccupation” of Chinese historiography and the rigid rhetorical expectations for content and structure shaped the biographies of powerful figures from the early medieval period as written in the early Tang, and helps us to understand what it meant to Taizong and early Tang historians to construct an account of the past.


The ideological and didactic functions of biography were well established prior to the early Tang period, although these naturally varied according to the period and the author. Dynastic histories from the Han dynasty were largely private endeavors, only receiving official sanction later in their development, but the contours of their narratives were often intimately bound up with the ideological concerns of the central court. In the earliest iteration of the liezhuan form in the Shi ji 史記, Sima Qian 司馬遷 (d. 86 BCE) appended a zan 讚 or judgment to the end of each biography or section of biographies, which more often than not cast the subject’s life in didactic, moral terms. Biography in this context was chiefly concerned with describing the character and qualities of the subject and the encounter between these qualities and historical events. Registering the effects of time and change as a central mode of individual experience, showing life as an integrated whole, conveying personality, or providing a close likeness to the historical subject were useful rhetorical strategies for the historian, or idiosyncratic byproducts of the narrative, but were not priorities of themselves.

This was in no small part due to the structure of dynastic histories, inaugurated by Sima Qian and further developed by Ban Gu 班固 (32–92), in which individual biographies were a “corpus of exemplary lives from a given period,” and thus meant to be read together rather than understood as records of discrete individuals. Moreover, early historians often used liezhuan to flesh out details provided in other parts of the text, relating information he or she could not accommodate elsewhere, such as in the Annals of emperors or records of prestigious houses. Therefore the historian might include the liezhuan of an individual because of his or her tangential importance to a more important figure or event. In this regard liezhuan was less focused on the individual per se, as the presentation of the subject’s life was dominated by that individual’s performance of a specific function or didactic role in the larger narrative, or their importance to an episode or series of events recounted elsewhere in the larger historical narrative.

A significant structural and thematic shift occurred in biographical writing during the late Han and early medieval periods, which witnessed the development of a rich variety of genres that were independent of the liezhuan form. These “miscellaneous biographies” (zazhuan 雜傳) took many forms, including family biographies (jiazhuan 家傳) and independent biographies (biezhuan 別傳). Such changes in the genre were accompanied by a proliferation of biographical writing in the Eastern Han that accelerated through the fourth century. The Sui shu 隋書 “Bibliographic Treatise” (jingji zhi 經籍志) chapter on historical writing (Sui shu 33) lists 1053 total juan, of which zazhuan occupy a little more than a quarter of all the historical writing listed therein. As the majority of this material is now unfortunately lost, most of the analysis of these genres relies on surviving fragments preserved in commentaries to existing texts, such as Chen Shou’s 陳壽 (233–297) Sanguo zhi 三國志, the Shishuo xinyu, and Xiao Tong’s 蕭統 (501– 530) Wen xuan 文選.

The miscellaneous biographies of the period reflect the changes to political and social life that began at the end of the Han period, as increasing numbers of scholarly elites opted out of the volatile politics of the central court in favor of remaining within their local communities. The new subgenres of biography that developed during this period were less concerned with government service than they were interested in addressing the question of the appropriate role for a member of the scholarly and social elite who was not serving at court. Some are written from a geographical perspective, recording outstanding or influential people from a specific local region; some are written according to age group, categories of behavior, or gender, emphasizing the members of a single family; some record only individuals of a particular time period; some record exemplary archetypes such as filial sons (孝子) or recluses (逸民).

The diversity of miscellaneous biographies did not preclude their use for political ends by elite families. When the Cao-Wei instituted the Nine Ranks (jiu pin 九品) system, it was largely conceived as an instrument to check the power of large clans, however, it gradually came to be used as a system for maintaining their social and political privileges. As Lu Yaodong has argued, by the fourth century, biezhuan and other forms of miscellaneous biography had come to play an important role in this process. By helping powerful clans establish or maintain lofty reputations, beizhuan and jiazhuan helped to ensure their prominence within a recommendation system that was based on specific character traits and elite values. Material related to the talents, accomplishments, wise words, and personal character of important family members was painstakingly recorded for inclusion in biographies, often with predictably excessive praise. In this way many of the biographies that were ostensibly unconcerned with official activities nevertheless served to meet the ideological demands of the complex process by which individuals came to attract the patronage of powerful local elites or court officials.

Although the Shishuo xinyu was never categorized in bibliographies as a historical text, its importance to this discussion lies in its longstanding reputation as a major source of historical material for the Jin shu, an assertion that will be further examined below. Moreover, the Shishuo xinyu does share many features with biographical writing from the period, being composed entirely of biographical vignettes of attested historical figures, which lends an air of historicity to a seemingly eclectic collection of anecdotes. Liu Jun’s 劉峻 (462–521) commentary, which drew heavily from biezhuan of the period, contextualizes or otherwise explains many of these anecdotes with parallel narratives, perhaps suggesting that the authors of the Shishuo xinyu drew from similar sources. Like the biographies of the period, many of the anecdotes of the Shishuo xinyu reflect life at the salons and residences of elite families, beyond the confines of the central court. Also like the biographies of the period, the Shishuo xinyu uses anecdotal details as a tool to demonstrate the way in which an individual may embody specific character archetypes or ideological schemes.

The Shishuo xinyu reflects the expanded palette of character traits available to the biographer during this period, one that had abandoned many of the more familiar tropes of Ru 儒 orthodoxy under the Han. The first four chapters, “Virtuous Conduct 德行,” “Speech and Conversation 語言,” “Government Affairs 政事,” and “Literary Study 文學,” reflect earlier Ru archetypes, drawing their titles from Confucius’s categorization of his disciplies in Lun yu 11.3 (Xian jin pian 先進篇): “For virtuous conduct: Yan Yuan, Min Ziqian, Ran Boniu; for speech and conversation, Zai Wo, Zigong; for government affairs: Ran You, Li Lu; for literary study, Ziyou, Zixia” 德行: 顏淵, 閔子騫, 冉伯牛, 仲弓. 言語: 宰我, 子貢. 政事: 冉有, 季路. 文學: 子游, 子夏. The rest of the chapters move beyond the Han Ru paradigm and, like the miscellaneous biographies of the period, they reveal a much broader basis for assessing and narrating individual character. Within the complex characterological scheme of the Shishuo xinyu, one individual could be made to embody a range of qualities, as biographical anecdotes of a single person were spread out over multiple chapters addressing different character traits. Characteristics such as magnanimity 雅量 and physical bearing 容 止 were of little practical use to centralized authority, but they were of increasing importance after the Han period for establishing one’s reputation.


With the establishment of the Tang dynasty, historical writing was once again institutionalized and imprinted with the concerns of the Emperor and the court to an unprecedented degree. The role of the court diarist, for example, was associated with remonstration and other offices related to historical writing, while the Bureau of Historiography 史官 was comprised of members of the scholarly elite and established literati who had close ties to Emperor Taizong. Taizong’s edict of 646, “Xiu Jin shu zhao,” was not without precedent in the early Tang period. In 623, Taizong’s father and predecessor, Li Yuan 李淵 (566–635), who reigned as Emperor Gaozu 高祖 (r. 618–626), had issued an edict calling for the creation of six histories of early medieval dynasties by seventeen officials. The project was never completed under Gaozu but resumed by Taizong, resulting in the completion of five histories in 636, a decade before he issued the Jin shu edict. Taizong thus oversaw the creation of several dynastic histories, but he seems to have taken a particular interest in the Jin shu, to which he contributed four imperial pronouncements (zhi yue 制曰) appended to the Annals 紀 of Emperors Xuan 宣 (Sima Yi 司馬懿, 159–271) and Wu 武 (Sima Yan 司馬炎, 236–290) and the Biographies 傳 of Lu Ji 陸機 (261–303) and Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303–361), juans 卷 1, 3, 54, and 80, respectively. Among the twenty-four standard histories, it is the only example of an Emperor directly participating in the writing process and contributing content to the final product.

Taizong’s involvement in the writing of the Jin shu suggests that his interest in the text surpassed his attention to the historiography of other periods, but how or why the history of the Jin dynasty conjured more interest from him remains unclear. Generally speaking, the text has been regarded by commentators and scholars as pro-dynastic and pro-imperial, a work that utilized historiography for dynastic consolidation. Based on both Taizong’s edict and his imperial pronouncement at the close of Lu Ji’s biography, the Jin shu project may have in part owed its origin to Taizong’s unambiguous admiration for Jin literature and a desire to recast the political failings of the period as a cultural triumph. At least a few of the chapters of the text may have been meant by the compilers as a form of remonstration against the military exploits of Taizong, who had recently returned from a disastrous campaign against the state of Koguryu, in an attempt to illustrate to the emperor the dangers posed to dynastic legitimacy by military expansionism. On the other hand, the Jin shu’s notable emphasis on the virtues of loyalty 忠 and filial piety 孝 suggests that portions of the text may have been intended for Taizong’s officials in an effort to strengthen his control over the court. As Taizong writes in his pronouncement for Emperor Wu, “Moreover the one who truly knows his son is a worthy father, and the one who truly knows his minister is a sagacious lord; if the son does not imitate [his father] then the family will die out, and if the minister is not loyal [to the lord] then the state will be in chaos” 且知子者賢父,知臣者明 君;子不肖則家亡,臣不忠則國亂. Each of these possibilities epitomizes the way in which historical writing during the early Tang period was intimately related to the political and ethical concerns of the court and defined by interactions with imperial power, as official histories were “as much a political as a scholarly activity,” involving members of the scholarly elite and established literati.

The effort to provide a fresh editorial perspective on the era, one that was friendly to the concerns of a powerful central court, required the consolidation and editing of numerous existing histories of the period. In his edict of 646, Taizong discusses the existing records of the Jin era written prior to the Tang period and finds all of them to be woefully inadequate. “Although there are eighteen historians whose accounts [of the period] are still preserved, their talents were not those of a fine historian, and their works fall short of a veritable record” 但十有八家, 雖存記注, 而才非良 史, 書虧實錄. Among the sins of these earlier accounts were being “diligent but possessing few essentials” 煩而寡要, “laboring but accomplishing little” 勞而少功, and empty investigations with a “flavor similar to a drawn cake” 滋味同於画饼. Other accounts he regarded as simply incomplete and leaving out essential details regarding the founding of the Jin or its emperors.

In addition to surviving histories, the editors of the Jin shu drew upon a variety of extant sources, but this approach was criticized by later scholars. Liu Zhiji’s 劉知幾 (661–721) assessment of the Jin shu in his Shi tong 史通 suggests that the editors relied upon or otherwise incorporated texts such as the Yu lin 語林 of Pei Qi 裴啟 (fourth century), the Soushen ji 搜神記 of Gan Bao 干寳 (d. 336), and the Shishuo xinyu by Liu Yiqing, among others. His generally dim appraisal of the Jin shu not only evinces Liu’s more orthodox notion of what constitutes reliable sources for historiography, but also reflects a common misconception that the compilers of the Jin shu uncritically incorporated the material from these earlier texts. Such criticism would be elaborated over the centuries by many scholars, most of whom have generally agreed that Shishuo xinyu served as a substantial source for the Jin shu even as they have disagreed about the quality of the latter work as a historical text. As late as the eighteenth century, Ji Yun 紀昀 (1724–1805) in his Synopsis to the Siku Quanshu 四庫全書總目提要 suggested that the Jin shu’s wholesale absorption of the Shishuo xinyu meant the text more closely resembled gossip or fiction as history. Even Richard Mather, in his introduction to his translation of Shishuo xinyu, repeats this conventional wisdom, stating that the Jin shu biographies reveal “considerable dependence” on Shishuo xinyu as a source.

There are several issues to consider in terms of this view of the relationship between the Jin shu and earlier sources. As we have seen, what constitutes “good history” is freighted with the historiographical concerns of authors and commentators within their historical and cultural context, and no standard may be evenly applied to all texts and time periods. Later historians or critics who emphasized the use of so-called orthodox sources in the composition of history might disapprove of Jin shu’s use of early medieval texts regarded as gossip, or with its incorporation of sources dealing with rarified events that did not demonstrate broad principles, but such criticism does not speak to the reliability of the Jin shu as a source for the period. Moreover, this view does little to illuminate the ingenuity and creativity required by the Jin shu editors to adapt earlier material by re-contextualizing quotations, integrating discrete anecdotes into larger historical narratives, or determining the relevance of a specific quote or anecdote to an individual’s biography.

More fundamentally, assumptions about the extent to which the Jin shu drew upon the Shishuo xinyu as a source seem to be based on anecdotal rather than empirical evidence. In her source analysis of the Jin shu, Gao Shuqing 高淑清 argues that of the 1130 entries in the received version of Shishuo xinyu, only 312, or approximately 28 percent, are used in Jin shu. Furthermore, these entries are not apportioned according to any strict methodology throughout the 133 records of individuals found in Jin shu (counting liezhuan and imperial annals 帝紀 together). Altogether, fewer than 20 percent of the total entries for liezhuan and diji in the Jin shu employ any material from Shishuo xinyu at all. Put simply, the majority of the biographies in the Jin shu do not borrow any material from the Shishuo xinyu. Because anecdotes in the Shishuo xinyu often consist of only a few lines of text or a few dozen characters, even when present such material may constitute a very small portion of the biographical narrative. Jin shu biographies such as those of Wang Rong 王戎 (234–305) (Jin shu 43), Gu Kaizhi 顧愷之 (c. 344–406) (Jin shu 92), and Xie An 謝安 (320–385) (Jin shu 79), which all borrow more liberally from the Shishuo xinyu, are the exception rather than the norm. In the case of Xie An’s biography, despite its meager length for so important a figure, at a mere 3,000 characters it contains ten anecdotes borrowed from Shishuo xinyu and another five anecdotes drawn from its commentary or from common sources. This number, however, represents only a modest fraction of the 108 entries concerning Xie An found throughout the Shishuo xinyu and its commentary. Claims that the Jin shu drew “heavily” on the earlier text as a source or, as Ji Yun believed, incorporated almost the entire text, do not seem to be grounded in a comprehensive analysis of the entire work.


Wang Dao’s biography exemplifies the process whereby the Jin shu authors borrowed or rejected material from Shishuo xinyu according to the rhetorical aims of the biography and, in the process, departed from the broader, character-based narratives of earlier sources. The approximately 84 references to Wang throughout the Shishuo xinyu and the commentary hardly constitute a coherent biography but are arranged according to the Shishuo’s characterological scheme, using actions or words one might find in the miscellaneous biographies of the period to exemplify specific traits or behaviors. Anecdotes about Wang Dao are found scattered throughout the majority of chapters, with the most numerous citations found in chapter eight, Appreciation and Praise 賞譽 (ten anecdotes); chapter nine, Grading Excellence 品 藻 (nine anecdotes); chapter twenty-five, Taunting and Teasing 排調 (eight anecdotes); chapter five, Square and Proper 方正 (eight anecdotes); and six anecdotes each in chapter two, Speech and Conversation, and chapter six, Cultivated Tolerance 雅量. Almost forty more anecdotes are distributed through the rest of the work. Taken together the anecdotes highlight a broad and complex range of attributes, not all of which are entirely positive. Although the majority of the anecdotes are used to demonstrate characteristics such as capable administration, adherence to principle, and sound judgment of character, more than a few entries reveal a bureaucrat who grew increasingly disinterested in state affairs late in his career, and the head of a powerful family who seemed confounded by the actions of concubines and his wife.

These unflattering anecdotes, however, are not the only pieces of information omitted from Wang’s official biography. Almost every narrative that does not allude to Wang Dao’s instrumental role in state affairs is excluded. For example, chapter four, “Letters and Scholarship,” elaborates on Wang’s intellectual leanings, providing two anecdotes describing his command of the work and rhetorical style of Cao-Wei era qing tan 清談 scholars. Entry 4.21 states that when Wang Dao crossed the Yangzi River, he conversed on only three topics, music being without sentiment 聲無哀樂, nourishing life 養生, and words fully expressing meaning 言盡意, all of which are suggestive of Xi Kang’s (嵇康, 223–262) essays by the same names. In the next anecdote, 4.22, Wang Dao holds a gathering in honor of Yin Hao 殷浩 (306–356), who had recently acquired a position on Yu Liang’s 庾亮 (289–340) staff. Yin and Wang engage in pure conversation until well past midnight, at which point Wang Dao praises the exchange, likening it to the “voices of the Zhengshi era” 正始之音. The exchange is also praised by a young Huan Wen 桓溫 (312–373), who carefully judges the acumen of the rest of the audience based on their level of engagement.

Even narratives that ostensibly relate to Wang Dao’s conduct in his official positions were excluded from the biography when their emphasis lay in elucidating characteristics outside his dominant ministerial archetype. Shishuo xinyu chapter three, “Government Affairs,” recounts:

When Prime Minister Wang was appointed to [be governor of] Yangzhou, several hundred guests were all received with great hospitality [by him], and everyone bore a happy countenance. Only one guest from Linhai surnamed Ren and several Hu [from Central Asia] seemed unsettled, and so Wang Dao approached and passed by Ren’s side, saying, “When you came out [to the capital], Linhai was surely bereft of people.” Ren was greatly pleased by this remark. Then Wang approached the people from Hu and flicking his fingers said, “Lan she! Lan she!” All the Hu laughed together, and everyone in attendance was delighted (3.12).

In this brief series of exchanges, we can see the way in which Wang Dao’s interpersonal and diplomatic skills formed part of his repertoire of good governance. For those seeking insights into Wang as a historical figure, the story provides an added dimension to his performance of his official functions in the cosmopolitan Eastern Jin court. In the didactic scheme of the Jin shu, however, the myriad characteristics that constituted Wang’s personal administrative style were irrelevant to an impersonal, archetypal biography of a minister. In contrast to the Shishuo xinyu and the miscellaneous biographies of the early medieval period, life narratives in the liezhuan of the Jin shu reflected smaller and more coherent clusters of virtues, ideas, or behaviors. Although the early Tang biographers may have drawn upon a broad range of sources, their careful curation of this material is evident in the narrow selection criteria they applied to Wang Dao’s official biography. In the context of the more limited agenda of the Jin shu, there is little evidence that Wang Dao’s biographers were interested in the idiosyncratic, enigmatic, or critical material found in the Shishuo xinyu.

Consequently, only nine anecdotes from the Shishuo xinyu find their way into Wang’s Jin shu biography, several of which we will discuss below.

Anecdote Content
2.31 Wang chastises his companions for weeping at the loss of the north rather than courageously supporting the court at Jiankang
2.36 A refugee from the north compares Wang to the archetypal minister, Guan Zhong 管仲 (Guan Yiwu 管夷吾, ca. 720–645 BCE)
2.102 The curving lanes and streets of Jiankang were partially a result of Wang’s influence
5.23 Wang saves the Emperor from the impropriety of changing his heir from his oldest son due to favoritism toward a concubine
6.13 Wang refuses to take precautions against Yu Liang’s rise to power because Wang regarded him as a friend
22.1 Wang refuses untoward favor from the Emperor
26.4 Wang waves away Yu Liang’s “dust” as Yu threatens the capital with military force
26.6 Wang responds to Cai Mo’s insult with his own
27.8 Drawn from the Jin Chunqiu 晉陽秋 by Sun Sheng 孫盛 (ca. 302– 373), in which Wang advises against bringing Su Jun 蘇峻 (d. 328) to court because of the danger he poses.

Although it might be an exaggeration to claim that Wang Dao is a cipher for the attributes of a model official, the list above suggests that idiosyncratic traits were less central to his portrayal in the Jin shu biography, whose authors emphasized the qualities of loyalty and propriety when selecting narratives for inclusion.

As with pre-Qin and Han historiography, coherence and internal consistency were among the key organizing principles of historical data in Wang Dao’s biography. Each vignette serves to identify him with the state in the strongest possible terms, mapping Wang’s virtues as a powerful minister onto the history of the Eastern Jin court. Wang Dao’s close bond with Sima Rui is established at the beginning of the biography, which contextualizes their friendship in terms of the survival of the Jin state.

At the time, Emperor Yuan was the King of Langya, and the two men admired one another. Wang Dao knew the empire was already in chaos, and wholeheartedly esteemed [Sima Rui], feeling he had the vision to restore the empire. Emperor Yuan also had high regard for Wang Dao, and the two became close friends.

In a reversal of the trope of wise rulers selecting good officials, Wang Dao, a savvy bureaucrat, throws in his lot with a member of the ruling clan whom he judges to possess the necessary vision (zhi 志) for navigating unsettled times. What ultimately may have prompted the friendship between the two men is unknown, but in the hindsight of the Jin shu narrative, their relationship possesses the fateful overtones of saving the realm from chaos while identifying Wang Dao as the driving force behind this effort.

According to his biography, Wang Dao had originally served on the military staff of the Prince of Donghai 東海, Sima Yue 司馬越 (d. 311), but in 307 he went south with Sima Rui to secure the province of Yangzhou 揚州. Their mission proved difficult, for the old Wu 吳 aristocracy in the area around Jianye 建業 had little desire to collaborate with so minor a member of the imperial clan as Sima Rui. Wang leveraged the fame and authority of his older brother, Wang Dun 王敦 (266–324), to secure the respect of the local gentry

Then [ca. 307] [Emperor Yuan] went to pacify Jiankang, but the people of Wu did not accept him, and after being there for more than one month, there were neither scholars or commoners who came to him, and Wang Dao worried about this. In a short while Wang Dun arrived at Emperor Yuan’s court, and Wang Dao said to him, “Although the King of Langya’s benevolence and virtue is broad, his reputation is still slight. My brother, your greatness is already well established, you should be the one to help alleviate this issue.” A short while later, at the beginning of the third lunar month, Sima Rui personally observed the biannual purification ritual, riding in a sedan chair, possessing a dignified air, with Dun, Dao, and many other noteworthy individuals following behind on horseback. Ji Zhan and Gu Rong of Wu, both of great renown south of the Yangzi, surreptitiously observed him, and seeing him thus became alarmed, and thereupon together set an example by kneeling to the left side of the road.

With this clever bit of political theater, Wang Dao, acting as a Puss in Boots to Sima Rui’s Marquis of Carabas, fabricates an aura of virtue around his friend and benefactor and elicits respect and awe from the local gentry. In addition to highlighting Wang Dao’s skill at manipulating the grammar of political power, this vignette, not found in the Shishuo xinyu, explicitly acknowledges that the source of Sima Rui’s authority lay with his allies, the Wangs

This sleight of hand was quickly followed by earnest attempts to reach out to the local gentry. By calling attention to the position of Yangzhou’s local elites and the importance of regional custom, Wang Dao urged Sima Rui to consolidate his power by ingratiating himself to local luminaries, thereby overcoming his relatively weak position in the region.

Wang Dao thereby advanced his plan, saying, “Of kings of old, there were none who did not respect famous people of old dynasties, honor their customs, hollow themselves and humble their hearts, and seek those of superior talent. Moreover, all under heaven is in chaos, the country is divided; the great undertaking begins by urgently seeking talented people! Gu Rong and He Xun, and talented people of this region, why not woo them and thereby win the hearts of the people. If these two gentlemen come, then there will be no one who does not come.”

It was unlikely that any ruler in early China would have rejected such advice; indeed, it was so much a nod to established protocol that Wang Dao did not even muster a specific historical precedent. But what is more unusual is the relatively early date at which the advice was given. The authors of the Jin shu seem to suggest that Wang may have proposed this course of action early in Sima Rui’s tenure at Jianye, perhaps as early as a decade prior to his adoption of the title King of Jin 晉王 in 317 and his ascension to the position of Emperor the following year. The authors of the Jin shu biography thus establish Wang Dao as the instigator of a long-term plan to place Sima Rui on the throne, counseling him to begin his “great undertaking” by drawing talented ministers from the local population. From this perspective, the judicious use of material from the Shishuo xinyu and its commentary is easily explained in terms of the narrow rhetorical goals of the narrative.

Wang Dao’s tenure in government spanned three emperors: Sima Rui, Sima Rui’s eldest son, Sima Shao 司馬紹 (299–325), who ruled briefly as Emperor Ming 晉明帝 (r. 323–325), and Sima Yan 司馬衍 (321–342), who ascended to the throne as Emperor Cheng 成 as a young boy in 325. Dao helped guide the state through attempted coups by his own brother, Wang Dun, in 322 and 324, and by the general Su Jun in 327, who had, ironically, helped put down Wang Dun’s rebellion only three years earlier. Wang Dao served in multiple positions of power and influence, including that of Imperial Regent to the young Emperor Cheng. Upon his death he was laid to rest with unprecedented ceremony. “As for the funeral, a hearse with a banner of nine silk tassels was provided, with yellow silk canopies and ox tail banners hung on the left side, with one hundred drums, fifes, and brave warriors bearing swords all under feathered canopies [marching] ahead and behind; among the famous ministers of the Jin revival none compared to him” 及葬,給九游轀輬 車、黃屋左纛、前後羽葆鼓吹、武賁班劍百人,中興名臣莫與為比. Wang Dao’s influence was such that his hearse bore accoutrement and symbolism normally reserved for the Emperor.

The acclamation of a minister whose power rivaled that of the imperial house was potentially problematic, but the authors of the Jin shu tempered Wang’s unprecedented status by defining his character in terms of narrow archetypical ideals. Although the Jin shu identifies Wang with the establishment and survival of the Eastern Jin court, it also repeatedly demonstrates that the role he inhabited as a loyal minister was unambiguous, and that his sense of public propriety was not clouded by his enormous influence.

When Sima Rui ascended the throne, the various officials were arrayed at court, and Sima Rui requested that Wang Dao sit with him on the imperial platform. Dao steadfastly refused, as many as three or four times, and said, “If the sun descended to be with creation, how could common folk raise their gaze to its light?” The Emperor desisted.

This anecdote, which parallels Shishuo xinyu chapter 22, “Favor and Veneration” 寵禮, shows how the close relationship between the two men may have complicated the normative, ritual decorum of the court. As we have seen, although their friendship may have been the foundation of Sima Rui’s success, in the story above their relationship threatens to upset the established hierarchical norms between the sovereign and the minister and thereby undermine the authority of the Emperor. Wang Dao is therefore at great pains to maintain the appearance of propriety, especially in the presence of other officials. His refusal of Sima Rui’s favor shows the triumph of principle over even the most well-established private relationships.

Wang Dao’s image of unwavering loyalty, not simply to a dynasty but to an archetypal role, stands in contrast to his brother, Dun, who sought to dominate the court with military might. In 322, Dun began his campaign against the court at Jiankang, seeking to root out those who opposed his growing power such as Diao Xie 刁協 (d. 322) and Zhou Yi 周顗 (269–322), both of whom were killed in the ensuing chaos. Wang Dao refused to take part in Dun’s aggression against the court. His Jin shu biography reads:

When Wang Dun rebelled, Liu Kui urged the emperor to punish the entire Wang clan with death, but those who discussed this urged caution. Wang Dao led more than twenty of his followers and kinsmen every morning to the foot of the throne to await punishment. The emperor recognized that Wang Dao had been loyal for so long and gave him back his official robes and summoned him. Dao kowtowed to him gratefully and said, “Treacherous officials and thieving sons, what age is without them, but I wouldn’t have thought that this one would be from my own clan!”

Dao’s victory over Dun, however, is not only one of principled loyalty over opportunism, it is also a triumph of ministerial values over military might. This contrast is highlighted during Su Jun’s rebellion, when Wang’s great virtue provides him with moral authority sufficient to stay the hand of a rebel and potential usurper. According to his biography, Wang remained at the court during the crisis in order to protect the Emperor, and he resisted attempts to move the young Emperor to another location. On account of this, Jun’s supporters urged him to kill Wang, but because of Jun’s respect 敬 for Wang, he did not allow this. “Jun, on account of Dao’s moral conduct and reputation, did not dare harm him, and moreover let Wang Dao keep his original position, which was higher than [Jun’s]” 峻以導德 望, 不敢加害, 猶以本官, 居己之右. In this way, the Jin shu editors make a clear distinction between Dao’s moral influence and those who attempted to seize control of the court by force.

Although Wang’s loyalty and propriety was manifest in his behavior and contrasted with the opportunism of others, its foundations lay in the way the Jin shu editors equated Wang with well-known archetypes drawn from historical precedents. This rhetorical strategy reaffirmed the hierarchical norms of the court by defining the extent of Wang Dao’s power and influence through reference to earlier paragons of ministerial virtue. Emperor Yuan referred to Wang as his Xiao He 蕭何, the Chancellor to Han Emperor Gaozu 高祖 (Liu Bang 劉邦, r. 202–195 BCE), while Emperor Ming compared Wang to Yi Yin 伊尹 (ca. 1600 BCE), Zhongshan Fu 仲山甫 (ca. eight century BCE), and to Zhou Gong. On several occasions, both the people and the emperor refer to Wang as Zhongfu 仲父, literally, “uncle,” a term of great respect bestowed by many rulers upon great advisors, including by the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇帝 (r. 221–210 BCE) to Lü Buwei 呂不韋 (d. 235 BCE), and by Duke Huan of Qi 齊桓公 (r. 685–643 BCE) to refer to his prime minister Guan Zhong, whose wise counsel helped Duke Huan become the first Hegemon of the Warring States period (770– 476 BCE).

At least one of the references to the archetypical ministers Guan Zhong not only highlights the didactic nature of the biography, but also the malleability of the anecdotes in the rhetoric of life writing. According to Wang Dao’s biography:

When the [Eastern] Jin had been established, and Wang Dao was made Chancellor and Advisor for Military Affairs. When Huan Yi (275–328) had just crossed the Yangzi, he saw that the court was weak, he said to Zhou Yi, “I see that the country is in turmoil, and I have arrived [here] in this way seeking a safe life, but [with the court] as weak as this, how will I get any benefit?” He was worried and unhappy. He went to see Wang Dao, and spoke at length about the situation, and returning said to Yi, “I have gone to see Guan Zhong and my worries are now gone!”

Although the anecdote does not appear in Huan Yi’s biography, it does serve to supplement what we know of Huan Yi’s character and his dogged loyalty to the Jin state: Huan Yi not only served Jin Emperor Ming in rolling back Wang Dun’s rebellion in 324, he was also killed fighting against Su Jun’s rebellion in 329 CE.

This anecdote, however, also appears in Shishuo xinyu 2.36, but with two important differences. First, in place of Huan Yi comparing Wang Dao to Guan Zhong we have Wen Qiao 溫嶠 (288–329), a loyal official who became governor of Jiang Province, and who also aided in the suppression of both Wang Dun’s rebellion in 324 and Su Jun’s uprising in 328. Second, and unsurprisingly, the Shishuo xinyu anecdote is far more elaborate, and includes details regarding the emperor’s abduction, the leveling of imperial tombs, the weeping of assembled officials, and so forth. The anecdote concludes with Wen declaring his allegiance and proclaiming that Wang is a Guan Zhong south of the river 江左自有管夷吾,此復何憂.

Another version of this anecdote appears in Wen Qiao’s biography in Jin shu 67, in a form that closely follows the Yulin of Pei Qi, preserved in the Liang 梁 dynasty (502–557) author Liu Xiaobiao’s 劉孝標 commentary to the Shishuo xinyu. In Pei Qi’s account and Wen’s Jinshu biography, Wen Qiao arrives to describe the decimation of the court in Luoyang and to urge Sima Rui to mount the throne.

When Wen Qiao had just arrived in Jiangkang on his mission to urge Emperor Yuan to mount the throne, Emperor Yuan invited a large number of guests to meet him. As Wen first entered the room his manner and appearance were extraordinarily unprepossessing, so much so that the whole company was dismayed. But after he had been seated and began his recital of how the imperial household was weakened and cut off, the emperor and all his ministers were shaken with sobbing. And when he declared that the realm must not be left without a lord, all of his hearers leaped for joy, and their hair stood straight up against their ceremonial caps. Chancellor Wang Dao had profound confidence in him, and Wen, for his part, after seeing the chancellor, was immediately encouraged and exclaimed, “Now that I’ve seen Guan Zhong, the troubles of the realm no longer worry me.”

The same anecdote thus appears in two different biographies within the Jin shu, with two different individuals proclaiming Wang Dao to be a latter-day Guan Zhong. In Wang Dao’s biography, Huan Yi comments on the precarious position of the newly established state, and Wang Dao gives solace to Huan Yi, who takes comfort in knowing that a wise minister aids the throne. As with all of the anecdotes drawn from the Shishuo xinyu, the emphasis lies on Wang Dao’s relationship to the state and his ministerial qualities. In Wen Qiao’s Jin shu biography, the emphasis shifts to the emperor, who must be urged to seize the moment and take the throne, thereby continuing Jin rule south of the Yangzi. In Wen Qiao’s biography, Wang Dao merely rounds out the picture in his role of great minister to a virtuous emperor.

The seeming interchangeability of Huan Yi and Wen Qiao in the anecdote, and the difference in emphasis between the two versions, highlights the way in which historical and personal anecdotes could be plastic in their application. Regardless of who, exactly, may have made the comparison, the anecdote serves its purpose to associate Wang Dao with a specific cluster of ministerial virtues. It also provides a framework for understanding how northern émigrés to Jiankang may have understood their present circumstances in terms of historical precedent. In this regard, the anecdote may be used to serve two masters, transcending the narrative as the story is made to fit into two different contexts within the text. It may be that what mattered were not, in the end, the basic facts of the account, but the far more important rhetorical truths conveyed by character and actions of these individuals.


Wang Dao’s Jin shu biography was not a wholesale commission of the Shishuo xinyu and its commentary, but a careful selection and omission of specific anecdotes that could convey the values and concerns of its authors. The text illustrates the way in which individual life narratives serve as metonymy; the subject of the narrative embodies specific principles, which, rather than being discussed in abstract terms, are understood by how they operate in historical context. By embodying the archetypal ideals of ministerial behavior, and through his close association with the court, Wang Dao became an important example of Ru ministerial virtues in action. Moreover, the interplay between Wang and other figures such as his brother, Dun, and Su Jun, demonstrate the resilience of these virtues, while any potential conflicts of interest between Wang’s extraordinary power and his official position are diffused rhetorically through recourse to historical precedents.

In a culture in which elites not only were aware of the historical archetypes to which they were indebted, but also understood that they, too, could become models for their contemporaries and remembered by future generations, the embodiment of historical principle was more than an intellectual exercise. According to the authors of the Jin shu, even a few short decades after his death, Wang Dao had already become a new, more contemporary paragon of ministerial virtues. When, in the fall of 372 CE, Emperor Jianwen 簡文帝 (Sima Yu 司馬昱, 320–372) died, his will decreed that Grand Marshall 大司馬 Huan Wen 桓溫 (312–373) should assist in ruling the country, relying on the example of Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181–234) and Wang Dao, two men who, despite their power and opportunity, never abused their position to seize power. The story suggests that, at least for early Tang intellectuals, contemporary figures not even a century old could be understood in terms of embodied principles and characteristics. In this way the lie zhuan of Wang Dao is not primarily the life narrative of a person, but the biography of an idea, one that perpetuated itself and acquired continued relevance even into the Tang period through recourse to the historical memory of the individual to which it had become inexorably tied.


Matthew Wells is Associate Professor of Chinese at the University of Kentucky and is the author of To Die and Not Decay: Autobiography and the Pursuit of Immortality in Early China. His research interests include historiography, life writing, and intellectual history.
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Re: The Academic Corner of Sanguo

Unread postby waywardauthor » Fri Dec 29, 2017 4:13 pm

[This article appeared in its entirety in the Journal of the American Oriental Society in 1992]

The Death of Empress Zhen: Fiction and Historiography in Early Medieval China

Written by Robert Joe Cutter of the University of Wisconsin

Examination of an interpolation in Li Shan's Wen xuan commentary shows that the information contained therein, while fictitious insofar as it portrays a romantic attachment between Empress Zhen and Cao Zhi, is more plausible in the matter of her death. Her biography in Chen Shou's San guo zhi and works quoted in Pei Songzhi's commentary bear this out. A dissenting and dubious description of her death in Wang Chen's Wei shu offers a contrast to the historiographical integrity of Chen and Pei.


LET US BEGIN WITH the curious and anonymous "Ji" ("record," or "note") found prefaced to Cao Zhi's (192-232) "Luo shen fu", [Rhapsody on the Goddess of the Luo] in Li Shan's (d. 689) Wen xuan [Selections of Refined Literature] commentary:

At the end of the Han dynasty, the King of Dong'e of Wei [Cao Zhi] sought the daughter of Zhen Yi. He did not succeed, and when the Grand Progenitor [Cao Cao 155-220] returned, he gave her to the General of the Gentlemen-of-the-Household for All Purposes [Cao Pi 187-226]. Cao Zhi was very upset. He thought of her day and night and stopped sleeping and eating. In the Huangchu reign period [220-26] he attended court, and the emperor [Cao Pi] showed him Empress Zhen's pillow of jade inlay and gold filigree. When Cao Zhi saw it, he unconsciously began to weep. At that time, Empress Zhen had already been slandered by Empress Guo and died. The emperor then knew [how Cao Zhi felt] and consequently had the heir-apparent [Cao Rui 206-39] urge Cao Zhi to stay on for a banquet, at which he made Cao Zhi a present of the pillow. When Cao Zhi was returning [to his benefice], he crossed the Huanyuan range and was going to stop for a short while beside the Luo River. He was thinking of Empress Zhen when all of a sudden he saw a woman coming. She said, "Originally I set my sights on you, my lord, but my wish was not fulfilled. I took that pillow along with me from home when I got married. Formerly, I gave it to the [General of the] Gentlemen-of-the-Household for All Purposes. Now he has given it to you." Then she slept with him. How can mere words express their blissful union? "Empress Guo stuffed my mouth with chaff," [she said,] "and at present my hair is dishevelled. I am embarrassed to see you again, my lord, looking this way." After she spoke, he could no longer see where she was. She sent someone to give him a pearl, and he sent a jade pendant in return. He was overcome with both sorrow and joy, and so he wrote the "Gan Zhen fu" it [Rhapsody on Being Moved by Empress Zhen]. Later, Emperor Ming [Cao Rui] saw it and changed its title to "Luo shen fu”

Few informed people today would lend any credence to this document. There is really no basis for treating "Rhapsody on the Goddess of the Luo" as a poem about Empress Zhen, nor is there reason to assume that Cao Zhi was hopelessly infatuated with her. Rather, this inventive interpretation "seems to be a piece of anecdotal fiction inspired by the rhapsody itself and taking advantage of the possibilities inherent in a triangle involving a beautiful lady, an emperor, and his romanticized brother." Involving as it does an encounter with a ghost, the text is straight out of the zhiguai tradition so prominent in the period between the time of Cao Zhi and the age of Li Shan.

Elements similar to the "Ji" are found elsewhere, however. The first of these elements is precisely this notion that Cao Zhi was in love with Empress Zhen and that there was some sort of competition for her hand. This extremely improbable and largely discredited idea underwent further elaboration in Shishuo xinyu, where we find the following anecdote:

Empress Zhen of Wei was kind and beautiful. She was formerly the wife of Yuan Xi and was greatly favored. When Duke Cao [Cao Cao] massacred Ye, he gave an order to summon Zhen forthwith. Those in attendance told him, "The [General of] the Gentlemen-of-the- Household for All Purposes [Cao Pi] has already taken her away." Duke Cao said, "My smashing of these traitors this year was entirely for her sake.”

Here it is Cao Cao who adores Empress Zhen. Widely varying accounts of the same Three States-period persons and incidents sometimes exist, and Cao Cao is particularly susceptible to such contradictory depictions depending on writers' preconceived attitudes towards him. In the passage just quoted, Liu Yiqing (403-44), or whoever may be the author and compiler of Shishuo xinyu, clearly reflects the negative judgment of Cao Cao current in Liu's time. In fact, other entries concerning Cao in Liu's book are, if any- thing, even more unflattering." Although the legend that it was Cao Zhi who was in love with Empress Zhen is more common, belief in the tradition from Shishuo xinyu that Cao Cao wanted her for himself is enthusiastically endorsed in an important late commentary to San guo zhi, Liang Zhangju's (1775-1849) San guo zhi pangzheng : [Corroborative Annotations to the Records of the Three States].

Fortunately, the anecdote has been succinctly refuted by Zhang Keli. As a matter of fact, we have a good deal of informa- tion on how the lady Zhen became Cao Pi's spouse. Her biography in San guo zhi says:

In the Jian'an period, Yuan Shao obtained her for his middle son Xi. When Xi went out to govern Youzhou, the empress remained behind to care for her mother-in- law. When Jizhou was pacified, Emperor Wen married the empress in Ye.

Thanks to Pei Songzhi's commentary, passages that rehearse the details of the meeting of the future emperor and empress have been preserved. The first comes from the Wei lue:

[Yuan] Xi went out to run Youzhou, and the empress remained behind to wait on her mother-in-law. When Ye's city-wall was breached, [Yuan] Shao's wife and the empress sat together in the main hall. Emperor Wen entered Shao's residence and saw Shao's wife and the empress. As the empress, terrified, put her head on her mother-in-law's lap, Shao's wife instinctively held her with her hands. Emperor Wen said, "Lady Liu, what makes her thus? Have your daughter-in-law lift her head." The mother-in-law then supported her and made her look up. Emperor Wen approached and looked at her. Seeing that she was extraordinary, he sang her praises. When Cao Cao learned how he felt, he brought her back as Emperor Wen's wife.

Pei also quotes the [Wei Jin] Shi yu [Conversations of the Eras (of Wei and Jin)]:

When Cao Cao subjugated Ye, Emperor Wen was first to enter Yuan Shang's compound. There was a woman with dishevelled hair and a dirty face standing behind Shao's wife Liu shedding tears. Emperor Wen asked about her, and Liu replied, "This is Xi's wife." Turning around, she gathered the woman's hair and rubbed her face with a kerchief. Her good looks were matchless. Once it was over, Liu said to the empress, "You don't need to worry about dying now!" She was taken in marriage and was favored.

Despite their differences, the texts just quoted agree on the main points. They are to some extent corroborated by Cao Pi himself. His famous Dian lun [Exemplary Essays] is mostly lost, but what purports to be one of the surviving sections is found in Qunshu zhiyao [Essentials of Governing from Diverse Books]. In the pertinent passage, Cao Pi tells of staying in Yuan Shao's home:

When the emperor pacified Jizhou and garrisoned Ye, I put up at Shao's mansion. I personally strolled his courtyards, ascended his halls, roamed his pavilions, and lay down in his rooms. The buildings had not yet collapsed and the stairs were intact.


If the traditions represented by the "Ji" in Li Shan's commentary and Shishuo xinyu are unreliable in the matter of Cao Cao's and Cao Zhi's postures vis-a-vis Empress Zhen, the "Ji" at least approximates historical reality in its version of her death. Let us recall that it places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of Empress Guo, whom it accuses of "slandering her to death." Empress Zhen's biography deals with her death as follows:

In the tenth month of Huangchu [October/November 220], the emperor ascended the throne as emperor. Afterwards, the Duke of Shangyang presented two daughters in marriage to the Wei ruling house. Empress Guo and the Honorable Ladies Li and Yin were all loved and favored. Empress Zhen was increasingly discouraged and quarrelsome. The emperor became irate, and in the sixth month of the second year, he sent an envoy to order her to commit suicide. She was buried in Ye.

Empress Zhen was the mother of Cao Rui, who in 226 became the sovereign known to posterity as Emperor Ming. He was a teenager at the time of her death and seems to have missed her greatly. For reasons that will become clear, one must be skeptical of the following lament for Empress Guo contained in Wang Chen's (d. 266) Wei shu [Wei History], as quoted by Pei Songzhi:

In the third month of Qinglong 3, on the renshen day, with the empress dowager [Guo] in a catalpa coffin, they ended the obsequial period and were going to bury her at Western Tumulus in Shouyang. Her bereaved son Rui, the emperor, personally sacrificed to the road upon the loading of the hearse while holding this lament. Subsequently, he personally performed the sacrifice for sending off the departed. Striking his heart, he beat his breast and stamped his feet; loudly crying, he looked up and appealed:
I am pained at the soul's journeying abroad,
Sad at the hearse's facing the road.
She has turned her back on the Three Luminaries and concealed herself;
Drawing nigh the Yellow Earth, she shall be placed in the crypt.
Alas! Alack!
Of old The two daughters were consorts to Yu,
And his imperial way was thereby distinguished;
The three mothers married Zhou rulers,
And sage goodness attained full brightness.
Since these rulers received so much good fortune,
They enjoyed the prolongation of their kingdoms.
Alack! Alack! My late loving Mother
Brought transformation to the women's apartments,
Flew dragon-like to the Purple Bourne,
From the start cooperated with the sage sovereign,
And did not expect in middle age
To encounter suddenly catastrophe.
Pity me the little child,
All alone crushed and wounded.
Her soul is forever gone.
How can I hope to pay her morning and evening courtesies?
Alas! Alack !

A measure of Emperor Ming's devotion to his real mother is the fact he bestowed almost unparalleled distinction on the members of her family. Government officials, no doubt taking their clue from the emperor's devotion, made sure to recommend the posthumous honors that were accorded her as well. But Emperor Ming's charity did not extend to Empress Guo, who became Empress Dowager Guo upon his succession. According to the Wei lue:

After Emperor Ming ascended the throne, he was pained by the memory of Empress Zhen's death. As a result, the Empress Dowager [Guo] died unexpectedly from worry. When Empress Zhen was near death, she had placed the emperor under the care of Lady Li. Once the empress dowager had died, the lady explained the harm done by Empress Zhen's being slandered, that she was not properly coffined, and that her disheveled hair covered her face. The emperor shed tears in his sorrow and regret and commanded that in the funeral and burial of the empress dowager all be done as in the case of Empress Zhen.

A similar account appears in the Han Jin chunqiu [Han-Jin Spring and Autumn]:

Earlier, Empress Zhen's murder stemmed from the favoritism shown Empress Guo, and when she was buried, they let her disheveled hair cover her face and stuffed her mouth with chaff. Subsequently Empress Guo was made empress and charged with raising Emperor Ming. The emperor was aware of this, and in his heart always harbored resentment. He often tearfully inquired about the circumstances of Empress Zhen's demise. Empress Guo replied, "The late emperor had her commit suicide. Why interrogate me? Besides, may a man's son turn against his deceased father and kill his step-mother over the wrong done his natural mother?" Emperor Ming was angry and subsequently hounded her to death. In ordering her funeral, he had them do as in the former case of Empress Zhen.

These two accounts obviously have much in com- mon with the anonymous "Ji." Both the "Ji" and the Wei lue indicate that slander had something to do with Empress Zhen's death. Furthermore, the unlovely apparition that materializes before Cao Zhi in the "Ji" says, "Empress Guo stuffed my mouth with chaff and at present my hair is disheveled." The same sort of language is used in the two accounts to describe the wretched burial afforded the beautiful Empress Zhen. The Wei lue makes reference to her "disheveled hair" covering her face in the coffin. The Han Jin chunqiu not only mentions her disheveled hair, but also, in words identical with those of the "Ji," asserts that Empress Guo "stuffed her mouth with chaff." It is tempting, then, to view the "Ji" as a piece of fiction derived directly or indirectly from these other more-or-less historical accounts.


There exists a fourth version of the empress' death, a version that offers insight into the historiography of both Chen Shou and Pei Songzhi. This fourth version of Empress Zhen's death is the treatment of Wang Chen's Wei shu, which says:

The officials concerned memorialized the throne regarding naming a Palace of Prolonged Autumn. The emperor sent a letter bearing his seal, inviting the empress to come to him. The empress sent up a memorial stating:

I have heard that from the beginning of the earliest dynasties, the perpetuation of sacrifices to the state and the handing down of blessings to descendants all were due to empresses and consorts. Therefore, you must carefully select such women in order to make moral education thrive in the palace. Now, when you have just assumed the imperial throne, you really should raise and promote a worthy and good woman to take overall charge of the Six Palaces. I consider myself ignorant and lowly. I cannot handle the offerings of grain-filled vessels and am besides sick in bed, so I dare not maintain the slightest ambition.

The sealed letter came three times and the empress thrice declined, her words being very sincere. At the time it was the height of summer, so the emperor wanted to wait until the coolness of autumn before again inviting the empress. But it happened that her illness became grave, and that summer, on the dingmao day of the sixth month [August 4, 221], she died in Ye. The emperor sighed in sorrow and pain and issued a patent bestowing on her the seal and ribbon of empress.

This version is absolutely at odds with all of the other information about Empress Zhen's demise. In it an anguished Cao Pi laments the passing of his devoted spouse and makes her empress soon after she dies. The passage provides a perfect example of a phenomenon mentioned earlier-the existence of widely varying and even contradictory renderings of the same event.

Later historians have been troubled by contradictions within and among the various accounts of Empress Zhen's death. Lu Bi, for instance, found it unlikely that Emperor Ming was as much in the dark about the circumstances of his mother's death and burial as the Wei lue reports. After all, he was born in Jian'an 11 (206) and would have been sixteen or seventeen by Huangchu 2 (221). Presumably, Lu considered the Han Jin chunqiu account more acceptable, since it says that Emperor Ming resented Empress Guo.

Somewhat more problematic is the matter of Chen Shou's silence regarding Empress Guo's role in Empress Zhen's death. A moment's reflection, however, can help clear up this issue. Chen Shou wrote within certain constraints. We may not be able to read his mind, but we can be pretty sure what sorts of things would have been off-limits, even had he wished to deal with them. Chen's problem in this regard is well known and has often been discussed, with modern historians usually sympathizing with Chen. In doing so they are in part echoing the bibliographical precis for San guo zhi in Siku quanshu zongmu [General Bibliography of the Complete Writings of the Four Treasuries]:

In his history Chen takes Wei to be the legitimate regime. Not until Xi Zuochi wrote the Han Jin chunqiu was a dissenting opinion established. Since the time of Zhu Xi [1130-1200] most have thought Zuochi right, as opposed to Shou. However, while in principle there may be absolutely no excuse for Shou's error, circumstances made it easy for Zuochi to treat [Shu-] Han as the imperial line, but impossible for Shou to do like- wise. In Zuochi's time the Jin had already crossed to the south. Its situation was similar to that of Shu.... But Shou was a minister of Emperor Wu of Jin, and Emperor Wu of Jin succeeded to Wei's line. To impugn Wei was to impugn Jin. How could this have been possible then?

In the case of the death of Empress Zhen, Chen was not faced with questions of legitimacy. But other pressures were probably working on him. He Zhuo (1661-1722), for instance, explains that the reason Chen Shou did not report these events in detail was that Empress Dowager Guo's relatives were still influential at the time.

But let us return to the passage from Wang Chen's Wei shu. The pro-Wei bias of this Wei shu may account for the way Empress Zhen's death and burial are depicted there. Pei Songzhi's reason for including it is clear, for one of the goals he set for himself in compiling his commentary to San guo zhi was precisely that of providing any and all variant accounts of a given event so that the reader could take them into consideration. The presence of such material in Pei's commentary certainly does not imply any endorsement of it. In fact, Pei sometimes criticizes the information he includes from other sources. In the case of the ac- count of Empress Zhen's death in Wang's Wei shu, he adds a fairly lengthy remark:

I understand the meaning of the Spring and Autumn Annals to be that great evils within the palace are concealed, while lesser evils are not written of at all. We have clear knowledge of the fact that Emperor Wen did not make Madame Zhen empress and went so far as to kill her. If the Wei historians considered it to be a great evil, they should have hidden it and not spoken of it. If they considered it a lesser evil, then they should not have lied about it. For exalting embellished and un- true texts to come to this is alien to what we learn from the old historians. If we were to judge from this, then whenever they praise the goodness of the words and deeds of the empresses Bian and Zhen, they would be difficult to find credible. Chen Shou's abridgements and deletions truly have some basis.

It is clear that Pei Songzhi was positive that Empress Zhen had been driven to her death by Cao Pi and Empress Guo and that she had never been named empress by Cao Pi. His condemnation of the historiography of the Wei shu is equally clear. Pei much prefers the understandable reticence of Chen Shou, for while time and place may have led Chen to avoid telling the full story, he refrained from creating a bogus account. The story of Empress Zhen's death, then, is a tiny gap in the curtain of time. Through it we can glimpse two early medieval historians working as conscientiously as historical circumstances would allow to provide later generations with as much accurate information as they could.
Alone I lean under the wispy shade of an aged tree,
Scornfully I raise to parted lips a cup of warm wine,
Longingly I cast an empty vessel aside those exposed roots,
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Re: The Academic Corner of Sanguo

Unread postby waywardauthor » Sat Dec 30, 2017 5:49 am

[This is a book review that appeared in T’oung Pao. I will never transcribe a book here unless its completely out of print and isn't being sold, but book reviews provide a critical summary and analysis of works that are very useful for studying the time period under our purview]

The Talent of Shu. Qiao Zhou and the Intellectual World of Early Medieval Sichuan by J. Michael Farmer book review by Howard L Goodman, Seattle Washington

In The Talent of Shu, J. Michael Farmer offers a biography of Qiao Zhou 譙周 (199/200-270), a Sichuan classicist of the post-Han period. This period of Chinese history and literature presents hurdles—scraps of sources that range across styles and levels of voice and context, often hard to convey in a lucid historical narrative. Our picture of early-medieval China runs in fits and starts. The book at hand will be useful especially for those already familiar with recent scholarship on late-Han and Jin classicism,1 even though it may present problems for generalist readers interested in pre-Song China and for beginning graduate students. On p. xvi the author tells us that the book is a “conversion” from his Ph.D.; still, it should have been reframed and edited.

Let me be clear: Talent of Shu is excellent for its best features and delivers new ideas about early Sichuan scholars. But it strives to solve questions and sketch scenarios only through text-fragments and an impressive array of secondary studies of those texts. My review will point to the best features by summarizing what I take to be the main argument of a chapter, followed in two or three cases by longer remarks. My question is how we can push past the texts and see more of the personal politics, social settings, and even aesthetics of Shu and Shu men.

The book’s mission is two-fold—a literary biography, in other words, a life’s shape via details of the early reception of writings. Here, Farmer argues for Qiao’s being “first,” his creating a “genre,” and his “emerging from a background.” The other part screens the biography through late-classical Sichuan intellectual culture, sprinkled with the political history of Shu. The biographical method is prosopographical groupings (e.g., Qiao’s teachers and students, the historian Chen Shou’s list of Shu diviners). The sequence is as follows. The “intellectual world” of Sichuan is shoe-horned into chapter 1; Qiao’s “early” life is chap. 2, and life at the Shu court is 3. Chapters 4-6 represent Farmer’s philological examination of three genres (relying mainly on fragments)—respectively, Discourse on Truths and Falsehoods in the Spring and Autumn [Annals] (part of his larger Wujing ranfou lun 五經然否論); Investigations of Ancient History 古史考; and Records of Ba 三巴記.

There is an epilogue and an appended single-page chronology of Qiao’s life. (Notes are inconveniently at the end; use of characters is unsystematic, and the index is quite sparse.)
For our present purpose, let us simply situate Qiao Zhou. Qiao does not emerge neatly in Talent of Shu because of the complexity of its organization. J. Michael Farmer is one of our best translators and literary historians, yet he did not translate Qiao’s Sanguo zhi biography and introduce the social and political settings at a convenient place. He may have assumed our knowledge of his Ph.D. or of B. J. Mansvelt-Beck’s synopsis of Qiao Zhou’s life and works. Moreover, Farmer does not list and analyze the entire Qiao Zhou oeuvre, as have Beck and other modern scholars.
Qiao Zhou was born into a Shu family of scholars and court officials. The family had resided in Ba until some point when they moved to the Chengdu area. They may have been relatively well off, and were apparently in a good position to engage in scholarship. Several of his ancestors were associated with the Western and Eastern Han courts, and his father was a master of the Shangshu. Qiao learned from his own father, but as Farmer shows, he also imbibed a tradition of prophetic arts fostered by an important Shu family, the Yangs of Guanghan. He remained in Chengdu until around 267, when finally he went to Luoyang to serve the new Jin dynasty briefly, but his specific activities there are unknown. In Shu, Qiao had served the second Shu “emperor,” Liu Shan, for decades, rising to a high court status and acting chiefly as a tutor, and also a teacher of other Shu scholars. He was well known as a master of prophetic arts and an advisor on military policy: he notoriously counseled Liu Shan to surrender to Wei in 263. While Farmer keeps his focus heavily on Qiao’s relationship with Shu men and Shu events, Mansvelt Beck draws attention to the impact that Qiao most likely had on the Sima imperial clansman Sima Biao 司馬彪 (b. ca. 237, d. 306) in Luoyang. Below, I comment in detail on this.

In the Introduction to Talent of Shu, the author states his themes: modern views about Shu history suffer from a Wei bias (1-2); he believes that Qiao Zhou that Qiao “emerged” from a certain “intellectual background” (4) which featured a “shift” from writing fu to forming a “syncretic” scholarship that some believe was the basis of xuanxue, the so-called mystery studies (12). Except for the link to xuanxue, these are unremarkable arguments. There will always be provincial smugness; moreover, any skilled scholar in early China whose works became known for centuries can be said to have innovated—“market-place forces,” one might say; and emergence from a background is old hat. Farmer’s more solid argument is the assertion that Qiao Zhou was a “conservative classicist” (better: “behind the times”) who was “largely in harmony with Zheng Xuan” (4-5).

The Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127-200) connection is key. It shows Qiao as a retrograde Zheng-ist who leaned toward historical evidence in glossing classics, especially the rites. Did following Zheng, whom many scholars about the years 220-300 derided and criticized as an overweening historicist, and not on par with the enlightened xuan trend, make Qiao seem old-fashion to Luoyang scholars especially? This might have been fleshed out perhaps with five or six pages explaining who Zheng was, and why promoting his style was controversial (more on this below).

In chapter 1 Farmer lays out the “background” of Shu intellectual culture. He asserts, via secondary studies, that Shu’s intellects switched from writing fu (a genre associated with Shu through such great men as Sima Xiangru and Yang Xiong) to a synthetic scholarship (10-12). This seems plucked from specialist journals, and not defined in the sense of a historic impulse. Farmer cites Gong Kechang to the effect that Han-court fu writers were considered mere entertainers. That is a hint for us to try to determine, if possible, if Shu scholars, for “nationalistic” reasons, thought fu to be demeaning to themselves and their region. Farmer discusses those who picked up a “syncretic bent” (14). This “syncretism” involved Taoist writings and classical studies and a host of special arts. The author devotes pages 15-22 to Shu masters of prophecy, perhaps a key to any sort of Shu “regional flavor” (14). He gives us:

1. an introduction to the first famous intellectuals (Zhuang Zun, Yang Xiong, Sima Xiangru), and their relationship with Chang’an culture;

2. a prosopography of occult arts and general pedagogy in Shu via one particular intellectual genealogy with branched clusters of individuals, starting with the Guanghan Yangs and then spreading. The descriptions of the people belonging to the network are informative (see schema, p. 17, which might be improved by showing different types of relationships and symbols for practitioners of prophecy);

3. an analysis of Chen Shou’s juan in Sanguo zhi on Shu intellectuals. This constitutes another prosopography. Farmer says its themes touch on the continuity of the Yangs, tensions between Sichuan and non-Sichuan traditions, and scholars’ relations with the state.

Part two, above, is the heart of the matter. But I would like to suggest a richer approach. Prosopography as a tool is much needed for early China, and Farmer is to be commended. But what does one do with often indirectly related names? Who were these Yangs? Farmer should have plotted the Yangs according to places of origin and activities. Can we connect them to trade patterns, e.g., the Han River link to western Wu (especially Jingzhou)? To funerary stelae and other inscriptions (some captured in Hung Gua’s Li shi)? To office-holding and patron relationships? Sichuan patterns like these have been becoming clearer in recent years. A new work by Robert Harrist (too recent for Talent of Shu) has a beautifully crafted chapter on epigraphic remains situated high on mountain roads northeast of Chengdu, on the way to Han River tributaries. Harrist reveals that a Yang clan of Jianwei (southern Sichuan) exerted influence in Shu local administrations, their names appearing as patrons of great works, and as Harrist shows, it can be connected to a calligraphic specialty and to remarkable actions on the part of women associated with that Yang clan. Unfortunately, none of Harrist’s Jianwei Yangs matches with Farmer’s from Guanghan, but one wonders how the latter might be better contextualized.

To get closer to context—to what Farmer calls Shu “regional flavor”—we are helped by such works as Robert Bagley, ed., Ancient Sichuan: Treasures from a Lost Civilization. In the chapter by Jay Xu we come to an impenetrable wall presented by the ancient, wordless Sanxingdui images discovered outside Chengdu. If they are hard to relate to Shu of late-Warring States and Qin times, at least they tell us of a region with perhaps vast, prehistoric long-distance trade routes and of a powerful state with unique burial and ritual practices. Michael Nylan’s chapter, “The Legacies of the Chengdu Plain,” brings us even closer. Through the earlier work of Yoshikawa Tadao in particular, she shows that prophetic arts were sensed as strongly Shu in style and origin.9 Prophecies show up time and again among Central Plain scholars, but they were often thought to be dangerous. When such oracles originated in Shu, outsiders made something of that fact. Farmer explains the Guanghan Yangs as having turned from older styles of scriptural studies to the contemporary trend in “broad learning” (22). But based on recent Sichuan studies I am tempted to see prophetic arts as a Shu “essential” that shocked men of the Central Plain by its boldness, its speaking truth to power. Boldness shows up also in Sichuan pictorial representations, ably brought out in Nylan’s article. Shu images and gnosticism were not to be passed over lightly. All of this rings truer than any mere dying of one genre (the fu) and “shift” to the next one (prophetic texts). Moreover, Farmer’s handling of the Jingzhou influence upon Shu and the origins of xuanxue would have gone better by bluntly following Yoshikawa (whom he does cite) and the excellent use of the latter by Nylan (who is an advocate of the origins of xuanxue in much earlier Sichuan intellects like Yang Xiong and Zhuang Zun).

In Chapter 2, “Early Life,” Farmer gives us a melange of possibilities concerning Qiao Zhou’s learning milieu. Those whom we may possibly call his teachers were:

1. the ubiquitous Yang family;
2. perhaps (or certainly with qualifications) his father, Qiao Bing;
3. Du Qiong through several encounters and perhaps through Du’s mantic arts;
4. Qin Mi, somewhat formally, with a hint of his dispensing a pedagogy, especially new ways of handling local historical topics.

Farmer wishes merely to identify Qiao Zhou’s teachers. But he does conclude (43) that: “The preceding gleanings … provide a general outline of Qiao Zhou’s academic training…” The phrase “academic training” as it is used here is off-pitch. Rather than the state-run schools for court scholars that came about after roughly 450 AD, or the many private schools of Ming times (see Ming ru xue’an), in this early period we are dealing with personal and familial loyalties to specific men of faith or high principle, not to texts and tests. These were networks of trust. This might bear upon the vast influence of the Guanghan Yangs and the numerous examples of secrecy. Secrecy perhaps was due to the political danger of prognostication.

But secret teaching, or the refusal to teach one’s art, also helped maintain an in-group monopoly over status and influence. Furthermore, it protected the trust network’s special tools, such as not-yet-disseminated writings, methods of recitation, even ancient objects and guides. Qiao Zhou seems to have been building trust relationships with elders from the elite stratum, which ran local wealth and kept order. These elders had fame as high-register moralists who propounded Shu arts, and in some cases Shu quasi-nationalism. Today, our open, meritocratic systems hide the workings of traditional trust networks—still used for vetting and planning (think of boards, political parties, and terror cells).

Chapter 3, “Scholarship and the State,” is relatively successful. The author integrates Qiao Zhou as a teacher with explications of two of his writings and two court policy memorials. This is intended to present the second part of Qiao’s life. The writings are “Model Teachings” 法訓 and “Discourse on Enemy States” 仇國論. Farmer gives another prosopography, based on meager bits of information about Qiao Zhou’s students, whom he rightly calls a “community of scholars” (55). Farmer notes its political ramifications: 1. Qiao and students secured positions for men in their group; 2. they exhibited features of a faction, rallying around political positions; and 3. they tended to abjure the Wei regime and rebuff its offers, but were willing to integrate into the Jin state, while concurrently expressing pro-Shu-Han sentiments.

Farmer weaves in some narration of Shu history under the Lius and Zhuge Liang, including the four decades of the Shu-Han state. He also integrates the most important features of Qiao Zhou’s writing and Shu intellectual culture, namely the use of history (through allusion, models, and classicist commentary) in both historiographical writings and politics, and the use of prophetic arts at difficult political moments (68-71). Farmer makes the valuable point that we need to pay attention to different registers of “thought”: a scholar’s ideas presented to the court and the throne might tend to be watered down and may seem (on retrospect) crude, but his private letters could be more expansive, which is the case of Qiao Zhou (69). Farmer interrogates Chen Shou and another crucial historian, Chang Qu, to reveal strategies used in presenting their subjects (60-61); and his earlier remark (30)—that Chen Shou was deflecting readers from thinking that Qiao Zhou was intent on prophetic arts because Chen had negative opinions of them—is well made.

Chapter 4, on Qiao Zhou’s classicism, is in my opinion the heart of the project along with chaps. 5-6; but here, philology suffers slightly for lack of historical grounding. We need to understand Zheng Xuan and the intellectual reaction to Zheng, a matter that has not, to my mind, been framed well, although Hans van Ess has shown us a path. What kind of guwen/jinwen judgments did Zheng Xuan make that may have been seen as outside, or a violation of, certain norms? Was he too non-Zhou, or too pro-Zhou in areas of standards and rites? Also, why do we get no citations of van Ess in the footnotes where Farmer mentions the Han-era Wujing yiyi (82)?

A history of Qiao Zhou must point to crucial others: namely, Zheng Xuan (who draws Qiao backward) and Sima Biao (projecting Qiao forward). Zheng Xuan was born in the Shandong area and at first held minor posts. He had to retreat from government due to Yellow Turban violence and anti-scholar purges, and he taught the classics privately. Many of his students, like Cui Yan and Kong Rong, became influential. His focus was on pulling together all the Confucian classics, but without bringing to them a radical, taoistic interpretation as some later on would begin doing (that is, xuanxue as promoted in Jingzhou): he would treat the classics and even the less-accepted works like prophetic texts as sources of historical evidence by referring to natural phenomena, celestial patterns, and numerate systems like harmonics, metrology, and calendars. Thus the words of the Confucian texts became a pattern for actually establishing a correct, new ritual basis for the state that would succeed a dying Han. Zheng eventually finished commentaries on all the Confucian scriptures as well as other arts, such as mathematics. Modern scholarship has not adequately delved into Zheng’s reception (save for the ongoing work of van Ess), but we know that Zheng began to be attacked very early. We need a better understanding of exactly what kind of “corrections” to Zheng’s writings were considered necessary, but I will venture to say that in part it was Zheng’s antiquarianism that riled. Zheng’s classics demystified the sage aura of Confucius and brought the classics into the arena of hard-boiled determinations based on “fact-finding” rather than myth-making. One had to know vast amounts of texts and historical references to engage Zheng Xuan’s writings, and thus another objection was that it was all too particular, instead of morally unified. In Sichuan, scholars like Qiao Zhou would have found Zheng’s acceptance of the oracle-texts in particular as a welcome leverage for interpreting history, besides which Zheng’s material enlivened a variety of ritual topics.

Farmer states (80): “Qiao Zhou’s treatment of parts of the canon as history accords with later views on the early unity of canon and history; moreover, the content of Qiao’s critical canonical commentaries matches the overall characterization of the early medieval age’s preoccupation with issues of ritual.” This is on the mark: it was an age of ritual reconsiderations, partly brought on by political corruption. To get at Qiao Zhou’s “critical approach to the canon,” Farmer translates his comments on the Guliang commentary to the Chunqiu (83). The Chunqiu discusses why young heirs are capped at twenty and married at thirty. Against this, Qiao argues, based on the Shangshu:

In order to take a wife, they [heirs to lords and kings] must be capped. In following the way of husband and wife, the king teaches them the root. One cannot follow the way of children and govern them [according to the] rites. At age fifteen, they are mature children and next are adults. … For that reason [Shangshu] says King Cheng was capped at fifteen. …

The English is stilted. For this passage of Qiao’s writing, I punctuate differently, and I would bring out a transition from particulars (capping age) to sermonizing (“The fundamentals”; my comments in parentheses):

To take a wife, they had first to be capped; this relies on the way of husband and wife (capping is early to get them onto the road toward marriage). The fundamentals of a king’s teaching are: he does not rely on an adolescent’s way (he cannot stay on the throne as only a pre-married lad). The rites of governing [the people] mean that: fifteen is for fulfilling adolescence, and they then take up the next step in order to fulfill manhood (by getting married and producing a son).

If my version is acceptable, it may show more clearly Qiao Zhou’s reliance on ancient patterns of historiography to interpret the canon, echoing Zheng Xuan’s agenda. He urges following the Shangshu and its narrative of King Cheng, which fosters Realpolitik: a king shows the people that as he himself (the state’s stud) does, so should they treat adolescence as a brief stage before marriage. Perhaps Qiao’s message was about Shu nation-building through fecundity. And it fits Qiao’s next passage (83, next paragraph) better. Farmer explains (83-84) what Tang commentators made of Qiao’s opinion. And he is no doubt right that the main point is Qiao’s adherence both to the Shangshu and the Zuozhuan as history, even if using the Liji as evidence. It leads us to think further about the importance of the Zuozhuan as a litmus test in Sanguo-Jin times, and the way its rise (culminating in Du Yu) reflected antiquarian and in a sense archeological ways of approaching histories and Confucian classics.

Another passage of Qiao’s comments on rites concerns mourning for an adoptive versus a natural mother (87). Besides the passage culled from the Tongdian, we can add the Jinshu (“Treatise on Rites, B” 20.636), which describes a discussion at court on a similar topic, and Chen Shou (Qiao Zhou’s famous student) is seen to weigh in on the subject, apparently going against the opinion of high Jin officials, including Xun Xu and his third-cousin once-removed Xun Li. This episode is a clue to Qiao’s factional situation, since Xun Xu feuded with Chen Shou about Chen’s style of historiography. We sense that Wei intellectuals were looking closely (and severely) at Shu immigrant scholars like Qiao and his learning community.

Farmer’s conclusions for chapter 4 are that Qiao Zhou was “behind the times” as a scholar (92) because most of his opinions on rites seem to support Zheng Xuan. But why should it be useful to think of the world then as either metaphysical (xuanxue-ist) or Confucian exegeticist? Does that dichotomy mean new versus old? Or New Text versus Old Text? Or philosophical versus evidential? There is another way to lay this out: namely, since Qiao and Chen Shou both seem to have entered the consciousness of Wei scholars in the period about 265-90, and since Xun Xu was pushing for idealized Zhou-era rites (Xun’s “corrected” Zhou musical and metrological standards using archeological evidence), then perhaps Shu scholars were seen as an annoying sort of third way: not yet skilled at Zheng-ian antiquarianism but not xuanxue-ist. We need a clear characterization of the position that Zheng studies held in Shu, if this is at all possible, and a concise monograph on Qiao Zhou’s brand of Zheng-ism would thus become a valuable contribution. I do not think, however, that Farmer has got a handle on this large issue in the book under review.

Chapter 5 on Qiao Zhou’s historiography starts with a roundabout argument (95-97) to suggest that because the “vast majority” of works called “history” by the Suishu’s compilers can be dated to after Qiao Zhou’s lifetime, then Qiao was something of a “pioneer.” I do not wholly accept that. Farmer argues that Qiao Zhou’s historical work Gushi kao (hereafter, GSK) is one of the earliest Shiji commentaries and that it represents a new genre, which he implies ought to be called “kaoshi” (100). The notion of a commentary strictly on Shiji becomes a strawman, since Farmer will show that the work was not specifically a commentary to Shiji (a bit circumlocutory), but that it reached into a lot more. Farmer’s remarks about details related to Shu dialect and Shu persons are the most interesting of all, as is his demonstration that Sima Zhen’s (8th c.) uses of GSK suggest he did not perceive the GSK as strictly a linear commentary (115).

Farmer’s most historically minded tactic is to show the “influence of Qiao Zhou upon later Shu scholars”; in other words, he wants to partake of reception history. This is extremely difficult in regard to Qiao’s contemporaries in Sichuan because of the sparseness of the record. But we can claim a good foothold by looking forward to truly the greatest early reaction to Qiao, though not a “Shu” reaction: this is Sima Biao’s use of GSK, which Farmer skips by quickly (117).

Sima Biao was a second cousin of Sima Yan, the first Jin emperor (acceded Feb., 266).14 His father Mu 司馬睦 was embroiled in struggles about his own status and inheritance in the new imperial family. Because Biao seems to have had “a weakness for women and frivolousness” he was disinherited and officially shuttled into the family branch descended from Sima Yi 懿 (179-251), the pre-imperial founder of the Jin dynasty. The Simas generally, and specifically the Yi and Mu branches, are not ranked highly in scholarly and literary categories and skill levels. Biao, however, turned toward a literary life and a mission in historiography; his expertise centered around state sacrificial rites and court portents and omenology. He was at some point made Chief Commandant of Cavalry, then appointed Gentleman of the Imperial Library in about 265, and in 266 became Assistant in that office at a time when Xun Xu (mentioned earlier) was its head. It was most likely during his years there that he compiled the Xu Hanshu 續漢書, which would eventually receive a major commentary early in the 500s and be praised by the Tang compilers of the Jinshu. Sima Biao also wrote commentaries to such classics as the Hanshu, Huainan zi, and Zhuang zi.

Farmer states without qualification (100) that the remarks about Qiao Zhou found inside Sima Biao’s Tang-era Jinshu biography constitute a Tang source. But is that so? Looking quickly at bibliographic treatises and searching Taiping yulan, it seems that there probably was not a pre-Tang family biography (jiazhuan) of the Sima Mu or Sima Yi family or a biezhuan of Sima Biao; but the Suishu indeed lists a now lost collection of Sima Biao’s collected writings (Sima Biao ji) in four juan.

Thus, it seems that Sima Biao’s seventh-century biography relied to some extent on third- and fourth-century collected letters preserved through the Southern Dynasties and copied into a succession of imperial libraries.

We should follow B. J. Mansvelt Beck’s major work, which interprets the history of Sima Biao’s historiographical process; from it, we see that there were three parts to the biography of Sima Biao: a synthetic Tang-era blurb on Sima’s life; a quotation from Sima’s postface to his own Xu Hanshu; and an addendum by the Tang compilers. Inside the biography is a hint at a hot topic—the Ji Tomb discovery of 279-80, but even that must be set against court factions and scholarly posturing, something that Edward Shaughnessy has sketched out quite well.

Sima Biao was caught up in an ongoing antiquarian flurry that was merely exacerbated further by the Ji Tomb discovery, and he treated Qiao’s GSK as a foil with which to demonstrate his own elite access to the texts of ancient history extracted from the tomb. It appears that Qiao, having resided briefly in Luoyang in about 268-69, had long been working on Eastern Han materials—thus, he was useful to Sima Biao’s primary project. Sima’s peers in Luoyang were already prone to attack Qiao, at least indirectly, and were issuing ad hominem attacks on other Shu scholars; and finally, there were unofficial Ji Tomb access groups. I will touch on this briefly in the following.

We have no specific evidence to explain why Sima Biao placed extreme value on GSK, but Mansvelt Beck captures a plausible answer: Qiao Zhou had compiled portent lists (events in mantic astronomy and court sacrifices) concerning the later Han era. We can thus situate the early-Jin Sima Biao socially as well-connected to the Luoyang power structure. By about 265-66 he served under Xun Xu in the Imperial Library, and he was well known among scholars working on histories of later Han, Wei, and even early Jin. He would naturally have desired to get sources of scholarship from outside the Library and outside Luoyang, since they would be novel and unfamiliar to his peers. The fame of Shu portentologists like Qiao would have appealed to Sima Biao, who was thought by many to have been an expert in court portents, and who was dealing with such materials in compiling treatises on Eastern Han rites.

Newly arrived Shu scholars like Qiao and Chen Shou were not always given a clear pass into the highest cliques and offices in Luoyang. In the case of Chen Shou, we know that both Xun Xu and He Jiao thought well of him and had given him the task of compiling Zhuge Liang’s writings; but later on Chen was detested by Xun: it seems (in my own view) that this was because of Chen’s emphatic interpretation of the way court music developed during Wei times (a subject Xun was working on strenuously); alternatively, it may have been because of Chen’s treatment of Xun’s famous ancestor Xun Yu. Later, Chen received patronage from Zhang Hua (as well as from Du Yu). The former association pegged Chen into an intense anti-Xun Xu faction. But factions did not define attitudes in simple, one-way directions. Thus, Chen Shou was both liked and disliked in Luoyang, and his reputation ended up high.

It so happens that Qiao Zhou’s historical skill was indirectly criticized by Du Yu. This is seen in the Yuefu shiji 樂府詩集 (twelfth century), which quotes a passage from Qiao’s Model Teachings. (Farmer discusses how Model Teachings was quoted in later works at n. 49 on p. 186, but does not list the Yuefu shiji.) Qiao’s passage mentions a type of tune or a lyric style that according to Charles Egan means “Coffin Puller” (based on lyrics under that name written later in Jin times). Thus we read in Qiao’s work:

As to Coffin Puller: After Han Gaodi gave his order [exculpating] Tian Heng, Tian committed suicide upon arriving at Shixiang (near Luoyang). His followers did not dare to cry, but they could not get over their grief. This is why they made the “Puller Song” in order to preserve the notes of their mourning [chant].

Immediately, the Yuefu shiji quotes Du Yu as charging that it was incorrect to say that the precedent dated to early Han, but that it went back to antiquity:

In the Yuefu jieti we read that Zuozhuan (Duke Ai, 11, spring) says, ‘‘When Qi was about to attack Wu at Ailing, Gongsun Xia ordered his soldiers to chant ‘Yubin.’” Du Yu comments, “The mourners’ ‘Coffin Puller’ song was [an ancient] funeral chant; it did not stem from Tian Heng.”
《樂府解題》曰:“《左傳》云:‘齊將與吳戰于艾陵,公孫夏命其徒歌虞殯。’ 杜預云:‘送死《薤露》歌即喪歌,不自田橫始也。’”

We must rely on the Yuefu shiji’s getting Du’s arrow correctly pointed, since Du does not actually mention Qiao, but says: “It did not stem from [the events of ] Tian Heng”—strong enough evidence. We have a third link that can attach Sima to Qiao. The Ji Tomb texts were brought to light in about 280. Jin Wudi placed them right away under the supervision of Xun Xu and He Jiao. Their transcription of the bamboo slips is believed to have taken about two years. The war against Wu, in 279-80, no doubt drained court energy and money, and had engendered certain stresses: Xun and He perhaps worked too quickly. They made bold editorial decisions about orthography and transcription, and experienced factional attacks on those accounts. For at least a decade after the discovery, others squeezed their way into the project, and thus access groups were forming. They included such famous literati as Du, Zhang Hua (actually a close scholarly associate of Xun, although a political enemy after 280), and Wei Guan and Wei Heng. As members of the anti-Xun faction, Du and Zhang acted directly to gain access, just as Xun and He were finishing (or had finished), shoving Xun’s work aside. We have a detailed report from Du about the tomb finds, a description by Xun as well, and later scholars’ analyses of fragments of Zhang’s major work (the Bowu zhi) that show Zhang’s use (and mistaken readings) of the Ji Tomb books. Zhang’s protege Shu Xi also was working with the materials.

We get the sense of Xun Xu’s Ji Tomb project as teamwork especially from the Wei family’s (compiled by Wei Guan and Wei Heng) work Siti shushi 四體書勢 (“Calligraphic Dynamics in the Four Forms”); we read: “Robbers in 279 opened the tomb of Wei king Xiang in Ji commandery, and over 10,000 words of plans (practical manuals?) and writings were obtained. According to the [graphs] that Jing Hou 敬侯 (their ancestor Wei Ji’s noble title) has written out, it would seem that, still, [people in Warring States were using ancient tadpole script].” This relates to Xun because we know of this passage only through a quotation from Xun Xu’s Wenzhang xulu 文章敍錄 (“A Discussion of [Court] Prose”). It indicates that the Wei calligraphic specialty was useful to Xun Xu in deciphering Ji Tomb texts. Thus, Xun was the hub of work in the Imperial Library and the Ji Tomb finds, with links to Zhang Hua, Du Yu, and the Weis, and, as it is now possible to add, Sima Biao, a former scholar under Xun and a member of the imperial family whom Xun served closely.

We now have alternatives to explain the Sima-Qiao link. Sima Biao discovered around 270 that Qiao Zhou, whom certain scholars in Luoyang had probably known about for at least a decade, had been amassing materials for Eastern Han historiography, which Sima had been working on while on Xun Xu’s Library staff in the mid-260s. The second part of Sima’s biography (the postface) describes Sima’s notion of previous Eastern Han historiography: for the “beginning of the restoration down to the Jian’an period” it was in disarray (an expected trope), and although “Qiao had already edited and extracted [this history]” he lacked much material for the reigns of Andi and Shundi, and forward. In part three of the biography it would seem, then, that the Tang compilers wanted their own explanation for such an unusual connection between a Sima and a provincial to be known: when the Ji Tomb finds came about, and with Sima’s special access to them, he was presented with an opportunity to correct Qiao’s Gushi kao. The Tang editors wanted to show reasons other than that Qiao had materials related to Eastern Han history. Qiao’s Gushi kao had simply become a vehicle for a member of the Luoyang elite to try to overturn all previous scholarship on pre-Qin history.

Farmer would have needed this kind of a strong reception history, which in my own opinion tells us more than an argument about Gushi kao as a genre innovation. We would need to know why Farmer thinks that it was a genre, and then what the genre possibly looked like. But despite his reference to Chen Zhi’s study (118), what can Farmer say about Qiao’s being a genre pioneer? He tries to do something with the question: did GSK correct Shiji by means of precedents found strictly in the canons of history, or by going widely into belles-lettres? But Farmer never says whether that in itself is an earmark of generic structuring. He possibly could have been more risk-taking by not just summarizing the work of scholars like Chen, but also using his insights (GSK’s use of Shu particulars, Shu people, and Shu dialect; Sima Zhen’s perception of GSK), and then proposing an original structure of that genre.

Chapter 6 looks into Qiao’s contribution to the writing of local histories. There are several such works, in fragmentary remains. Farmer has the right sort of historical attitude: he wonders where Shu (and Ba) local histories arose, who was first, and why the genre remained attractive to Qiao. But one gets the sense that it is all perhaps a bit overly thought, and that the author should have separated out his pursuit of “who wrote what title first” and “why certain fragments of the same title are so similar.”

Farmer shows that Qiao Zhou wrote local history in both the style of straightforward commandery annals and locality stories, in which he was a pioneer (129).

His claim is that the locality story was relatively “more innovative” than administrative notes (131). Then he does a neat job of explaining this innovative genre, drawing on some recent scholarship in the field. Farmer feels that Qiao was not cutting and pasting, but had deep familiarity with local places and exhibited local pride (135).

In my opinion, what is needed is an essay here that weds locality stories with aesthetics. Farmer touches on it with Qiao’s fragment on the Dance of Ba/Yu (132). The latter is a famous, much-studied aspect of the history of court music in the Han, and if Qiao’s remark were framed properly, we might indirectly merge its “dancing” with early Sichuan’s exuberant and randy styles of outdoor celebration and the pictorial appreciation of those by Sichuan artists, aspects brought out in Nylan’s article. Indeed, Qiao Zhou’s local histories were filled with details of sites and objects (performing musicians, caves, waterfalls, magic animals). I imagined that Qiao was making word pictures, and I would have liked to hear more about that.
Alone I lean under the wispy shade of an aged tree,
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Re: The Academic Corner of Sanguo

Unread postby waywardauthor » Sat Dec 30, 2017 6:39 am

[Another book review, published in the Journal of Asian Studies in 1997]

Book review of Xun Yue (AD 148-209): Life and Reflections of an Early Medieval Confucian by Chen Chi-yun

Written by Albert E. Dien of Stanford University

This is a study of Xun Yue, a Confucian scholar and official who lived in the turbulent years at the end of the Later Han and is known to us primarily through his Han-chi (a chronicle-history of the Former Han) and the Shenqian (a collection of his essays and comments). Xun has been known chiefly as a Han loyalist who wrote a “subsidized dynastic chronicle”; so it is important, in consideration of his work, to know what his historical role was. The early chapters of the book present the historical background; the factional disputes between the eunuchs and anti-eunuch cliques; the Yellow Turban rebellion; the struggle among the “warlords” Dong Zhuo, the Yuan brothers, and Cao Cao; and finally the “restoration” of the Han court at Xu in 196, and the events of the Jianan era (196-210) when Cao Cao confirmed his control of the north. Chapter 4 deals with the family background, official career, and political attitudes of Xun Yue himself. Inevitably, there is duplication of coverage with what went before, but the discussion serves to place Xun precisely in the events of the time. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with the Han-Chi and Shenqian, respectively; and finally, there is a conclusion.

The historical and social background is probably the least satisfactory part of the book, and reflects the paucity of monographic studies of that period. We are given what is basically a traditional view of the social developments of the period, combined with liberal use of the word “elite”; but there is little clarification of these problems. The Xun family is said to have risen from local eminence to position in the high elite when Xun Shuang, an uncle, was appointed Ducal Minister, although the home base was destroyed in the wars. Thus, we may assume in this case that the term “elite” is being used narrowly to mean the higher officials at the court; yet, given the low level to which the imperial power had descended by then, this must have been an elite with more glory than power. An example of their “considerable influence, directly and indirectly, over the military who posed as their captors” is that the Imperial Academy and civil service examinations were reinstituted in 193 during the fighting among Dong Zhuo’s followers (p. 50). Surely this was not merely an empty gesture and not of any consequence. I find this willingness to accept the texts at face value in its treatment of the issue of loyalty to the Han. For example, the discussion of loyalty in the chapter on the Han-Wei transition (51-58) ignores the probability that we are dealing with rationalizations of actions stemming from the realpolitik. It is good to have the traditional view stated, but it should be treated as such.

The chapters concerning the Han-chi and Shenqian are well done, as one expects of someone of Professor Chen’s erudition. Having earlier treated in some detail the philology in the two works – in “Texual Problems of Xun Yue’s Writings: the Han Chi and Shen-Qian,” Monumenta Serica 27, (1968), pp. 208-32 – he here devoted full attention to an analysis of their contents. As Chen shows, the Han court was at a critical juncture in 198, for its future lay in the hands of Cao Cao. “The compilation of the Han-Chi had been intended by the titular Han throne as a commemoration of the dynastic ‘restoration’ at Xu (127); but its purpose was to make the argument, in a subtle way, that Cao should not usurp the throne if he were to avoid Wang Mang’s fate. In the course of discussions in his Shilun, Xun touched on a wide number of topics, advocating a controlled Feng-Qian system, landholding limitations, and a mixture of Confucianism and Legalism in the administration of the state. Chen explains Xun’s attitude towards fate; his theory of the way of the complexity of interaction among the Ways of Man, Earth, and Heaven; and his reflections on the role of contingency in history. Xun’s discussion of the three types of causation (general conditions, the specific situation, and the mental state) closely parallels those proposed recently by Peter Gay in his Art and Act. A precise comparison of the contents of the Han-chi and its source, the Han Shu, allows Chen to come to a number of conclusions about Xun’s purposes and attitudes.

Finally there is discussion and analysis of the Shen-qian. This is a particularly difficult text; we should be thankful for Chen’s skillful treatment of Xun’s thought as revealed in the work. The discussions of Xun’s concept of Dao, of his analogical and dialectical reasoning, and of his resolution of the problem of moral relativism are especially interesting. From this work, one is able to better understand Xun’s place in the history of his time, and to have a clearer sense of his contribution to the development of Chinese thought and historiography.
Alone I lean under the wispy shade of an aged tree,
Scornfully I raise to parted lips a cup of warm wine,
Longingly I cast an empty vessel aside those exposed roots,
And leave behind forgotten memories and forsaken dreams.
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Re: The Academic Corner of Sanguo

Unread postby waywardauthor » Sat Dec 30, 2017 7:07 am

[Another review on the same book, this one appearing in T'oung P'ao in 1977, this one was not transcribed, so there's a bit of Wade-Giles]

Book review of Xun Yue (AD 148-209): Life and Reflections of an Early Medieval Confucian by Chen Chi-yun

Written by B. J. Mansvelt Beck

Chen Chi-yun has done sinology a great favour with this original study on some aspects of the fall of Han. It sheds new light on the complex political and ideological controversies that accompanied the end of Han, and it gives new meaning and perspective to the works of the historian-philosopher Xun Yue. At the same time, the book made me question the whole traditional approach to the fall of Han. It is a study that I have read with fascination, but sometimes with reservation.

The book begins with a general survey of the history of Later Han, with special emphasis on the struggle between the eunuchs and the literati since A.D. I59. It goes on to study the effects of this struggle on the Xun family in which Xun Yue grew up, followed by a short essay on the Yellow Turban rebellion of I84 that, according to the author, was one of the causes of the fall of Han. The second chapter is a history of the period I89-2IO, called the "Han-Wei transition" by the author. After these introductory chapters Chen Chi-yun focuses on Xun Yue and his two major works, the Chronicles of Han Han-chi and the Extended Reflections Shen-chien. The last chapter of the book traces Xun Yue's influence on later historiography and thought.

Xun Yue has long been known among Han specialists as the author of the Chronicles of (Former) Han, and it is also common knowledge that Xun Yue wrote these Chronicles in the last years of the 2nd century A.D. In these years-the early Chien-an period (I96-200)-the Han court was held captive by Cao Cao and exercised no power. So there appeared a new and handy edition of the history of Han just in a time of unmistakable dynastic decline, which makes the question about Xun Yue's motives quite interesting. The form nor the circumstances of his work bear resemblance to earlier histories with Han material. Shih-chi and Han-shu had appeared during the dynasty's heydays, and Tungkuan Han-chi was largely written in committee, different from Xun Yue's one-man venture. Did Xun Yue think that the Han dynasty would soon be over, and did he intend his Chronicles as a final summing-up? If so, why did he stop before the glorious early years of Later Han, the period of the Restoration? Or was Xun Yue merely an antiquarian scholar who did not grasp the importance of what was happening around him? Such an image of Xun Yue, however, is hardly consistent with the series of politically important court functions in which he served the last Han emperor.

Chen Chi-yun answers these and similar questions by an expert analysis of the form and contents of the Han-chi. Because the Book of Later Han Hou Han-shu paints the Chien-an period in such sombre colours, one could be inclined to think that pessimism about the future of Han was widespread. But this shows the influence of Fan Ye's bias, and in fact Chen Chi-yun shows that there were significant circles of society that genuinely expected a second Restoration of Han from the ashes of the Chien-an period. Apparently, the captivity of the court was initially interpreted by these circles from a positive perspective, and such optimism underlay the compilation of the Chronicles of Han. Cao Cao was seen as the "strong virtuous minister" (p. 90/I) who would restore the Han emperor to his rightful place. To reinforce the idea of a second Restoration, Xun Yue had recourse, not to open propaganda, but to subtlety and insinuation. The main purpose of the Han-chi was to remind the public that the first Restoration of A.D. 25 had been an inevitable and Heaven-willed event. It was left to the imagination that a second Restoration would be equally inevitable and Heaven-willed. Xun Yue adopted the "annalistic" style of historiography, in his day a step back from the "composite" style of Shih-chi and Han-shu. The annalistic style attributes each historical event to a particular year of a particular emperor, and history is made to seem nothing but a continuous series of emperors (p. 92). Xun Yue belonged to a school of thought that held that the Han dynasty had accumulated so much merit that it could never be driven from the throne, and for this school the first Restoration was the proof of their theory. So, as Chen Chi-yun says: "the annalistic 'plan' of the Han-chi had one definite ad- vantage. In this work, the 'merits' of the Han rulers were recounted in a continuous dynastic succession, thus producing a 'cumulative' effect. By comparison, the 'marvellous counsels and good works' of the 'meritorious ministers and renowned worthies' were entered as coming from isolated individuals. This tended to reinforce (the) argument that the Liu house of the Han, though declining, still possessed a powerful legacy in its cumulative 'merits', far stronger than that which might be claimed by any of its potential challengers" (p. 92/3). To make his point clearer, Xun Yue let his Chronicles end in a long quotation from a Ist century text, the Discourse on the Mandate of an Emperor Wang-ming unn by Pan Piao (3-58). This text was written at the time of the first Restoration to underscore the Liu family's Heaven-ordained right to rule China (p. 87/9). Xun Yue further stressed the continuity between Earlier and Later Han by writing that he completed his Han-chi in "this four hundred and twenty-sixth year of the Han dynasty" (p. 89), thus counting from the first years of Earlier Han on. Moreover, he mentions in one breath the two Great Ancestors and the six Distinguished Ancestors of Han, viz. the emperors Kao and Kuang-wu, the two founders, and the emperors Wen, Wu, Xuan and Yuan of Earlier Han and Ming and Chang of Later Han (p. 90/I). Here Chen Chi-yun makes a slight factual mistake. He considers emperor An of Later Han as one of the Distinguished Ancestors, but Hon Han-shui states clearly that this prestigious appellation had been taken away from emperor An in the year I90 (Annals of emperor Hsien, under Ch'u-p'ing I).

I have been rather long on the subject of Xun Yue's subtleties, because I believe them to be significant, more significant than Chen Chi-yun makes them. Of course, Han-chi is more than a piece of subtle Han propaganda. Xun Yue was no blind follower of Han, and he had an open eye for the defects of various emperors. His criticisms and opinions on Han rule were expressed in 39 discourses which he inserted into the text of the Chronicles. But most of these discourses are unfortunately in time-honoured cliches and they show no inner coherence. Chen Chi-yun, for instance, resumes discourse IO in the following way: "Xun Yue's view on land policy was in part a reiteration of the proposals of the famous Han Confucian Tung Chung-shu (I76-I04 B.C.), and of the reform programme worked out by Wang Mang. In part it reflected the Cao's regime's concern for the vital importance of agricultural production and its experiment with 'military colonies' and 'land-colonies'... But its central theme lies in Xun Yue's ideal of the new nobility-an elite who would be neither too poor nor too rich, but between extremes" (p. I03). This amounts to saying that Xun Yue's views on land policy were fragmented, and the same holds true for most of his views as expressed in Han-chi. "In all these discourses, Xun Yue emerged as a spokesman of the new elite-a moderate who counselled 'compromise, moderation and tolerance' to all the warring factions in an age of disunity" (p. I05). There is a bit of everything in Xun Yue's counsels, and that has made me concentrate more on the propaganda aspects of the Han-chi.

We will probably never know fully why Xun Yue was not more outspoken in his support for Han. As Chen Chi-yun writes, the main explanation is that he could not antagonise Cao Cao (p. 85). But it may also be that outspokenness was simply not Xun Yue's style, or that he was overconfident of the truth of his arguments. However this may be, it should be pointed out that contemporary political propaganda, especially anti-Han propaganda, had little use for subtleties. Those who believed that Han could not and should not be restored to power did not mince their words. In a letter written to Cao Cao in I92, the Yellow Turbans had said squarely that "the element of Han is already extinguished and a Yellow House should take its place" (quoted in commentary to San-kuo chih, Annals of emperor Wu of Wei (Cao Cao), under Ch'u-p'ing 3). Cao Cao's enemy, the warlord Yuan Shu wrote in his last letter (A.D. I90) that Han had "long since lost the realm" and wondered how Cao Cao could "extend a lineage which had already been terminated" (p. 53). Unconnected with the Han dynasty there is the roughly contemporary Ts'ao Man chuan, the Biography of Cao the Deceiver, ostensibly a biography of Cao Cao, but in fact "a piece of hostile propaganda ... written by a subject of Wu" (see Rafe de Crespigny, The Records of the Three Kingdoms (Canberra, I970), p. 77). With his subtleties, Xun Yue may have been out of touch with his age, and this may partly account for the subsequent defeat of the "Restorationists' " view on Han legitimacy. It is unfortunate that Chen Chi-yun has not pursued this line of argument, because it might have thrown light on the relative strengths of the pro- and anti-Han ideologies.

Chen Chi-yun is no doubt right when he attributes the even greater subtlety of Xun Yue's second major work, the Extended Reflections of 205 A.D., to the changes in the political situation that had occurred since the completion of the Hani-chi. After the battle of Kuan-tu (A.D., 200) Cao Cao had no serious contenders for power left in Northern China. Before the year 200, Cao Cao needed the court perhaps as much as the court needed Cao Cao, but after 200 he could afford a cooler attitude towards the Han court. Attempts on Cao Cao's life had made the position of the court aristocracy to which Xun Yue belonged even more precarious. Consequently, Xun Yue's "formal eulogy on Han rule" (p. I30) in the Shen-chien is so subtle as to be ambiguous. With admirable skill Chen Chi-yun shows that even within one sentence Xun Yue was capable of expressing two diametrically opposed meanings: "its dark side depicts the preceding gloom; its bright side connotes the resulting felicity" (p. I32). As for its actual contents, however, Shen-chien is a marked step forward compared with the rather trite discourses in Han-chi. One finds to one's surprise that Xun Yue even treated such uncommonly en- countered subjects as the marriage of an imperial princess to a commoner or the prohibition of blood vengeance.

Chen Chi-yun succeeds completely in what he set out to do: to show how deeply Xun Yue's life and works were influenced by the events around him, and how difficult his position was as a high dignitary of a doomed court. This part of the study-its most important part-I have read with pleasure and with admiration for the author's sinological skills. Only here and there a stitch is dropped, but this does not affect the quality of his scholarship. When Chen Chi-yun writes: "In fact, the original version of the Han-chi contained certain commonly tabooed material which was ultimately expurgated from the text by its later editors but was preserved in the T'ang dynasty commentary on the Han-shu" (p. 93), it is irritating that we are nowhere told in his book what the tabooed material was. But these are minor matters. I was less happy, however, with Chen Chi-yun's treatment of the general political and philosophical history of Later Han prior to A.D. I89. I was unconvinced by this treatment of the eunuch troubles and bewildered by his expose on the various philosophical tendencies of Later Han. In the eunuch matter, the author follows what may be described as the traditional line of argument. This holds that the downfall of the dynasty was brought about by the struggle between the eunuchs and the literati, but the cause of this conflict is left vague. Chen Chi-yun explains that "the literati" saw "the eunuchs" as a "menace to their ideal and office" (p. I9), but this does not explain why the eunuchs should necessarily be a menace to the literati's ideal or office. It can be shown that the eunuchs' power was mainly based on their control of appointments, and there is no evidence that they ever failed to attract sufficient talent.

The eunuchs needed literate intelligent people to represent them at the various levels of government, and the literati needed the eunuchs to help them into office. Many illustrious families owed their prominence to the eunuchs or were not ashamed to bask in their favour. The Yuan family, possibly the most aristocratic of the empire, allowed Yuan Shao to take up appointment under a eunuch Commander-in-Chief (p. 39). The prominence of the Ts'ao family was perhaps solely due to their eunuch background (see the introduction to Cao Cao's Annals in San-kuo chih). The biography of Xun Yu, Xun Yue's cousin, starts with the information that initially, Xun Yu's father "was afraid of the eunuchs and for the sake of Xun Yu took as wife an (adopted?) daughter of the (eunuch) T'ang Heng" (Hou Han-shu, biography 60). As pointed out by the commentary, there seems to be an oddity in this statement, but Chen Chi-yun should not have omitted it altogether. At one time, these three men had connections with the eunuchs, yet in the event they turned against them. This suggests strongly that the relations between literati and eunuchs were more complex than the traditional view allows. The eunuchs were not per se the enemies of the literati, and the question why they eventually became the enemies of some of the literati goes unanswered.

The same reserves apply to Chen Chi-yun's treatment of the various schools of thought. In this matter, too, the author follows the traditional approach. The major issues of the day are seen in terms of Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism. In this context, Confucianism is defined as "an advocate of compromise and synthesis of extremes" (p. 6). But this is, I think, not the definition of a philosophy, it is the description of a mental attitude. The position of synthesizer of extremes can only be defined in terms of these extremes, and Confucianism is left without a substance of its own. This has the result that distinctions become blurred, and especially the difference between Taoism and Confucianism seems to become based on accidental preference. The author writes that it is difficult to distinguish between Taoist and Confucian in Later Han times (p. 33), and he discovers that some "Taoists drew on exactly the same traditions of the yin-yang cosmology that had been cited by ... the Confucianist Xun Shaung" (p. 34). When this is the case, the terms "Taoist" and "Confucianist" have lost their value as tools of analysis. An example of the misleading results that arise from this lack of differentiation is the description of Xun Yue as "a Confucian in a very special sense. Like many of his Confucian predecessors, Xun Yue absorbed many non-Confucian elements into his work" (p. I36). Now I am sure that the same could be said about all Later Han philosophers, be they Confucian, Taoist or Legalist. Thus the least one can say is that Xun Yue was a Confucian in a very normal sense of the word. In Later Han times, there is no coherent body of thought that can be defined as exclusively Confucian. Nevertheless, early in the book the author speaks of "new Confucian converts" (p. I5) as if Confucianism were a religion. But what were the gods of this religion? Was there a "pure" Taoist doctrine ? The author seems to imply that indeed there was, for he describes the Yellow Turban religion as "a corrupted Taoist doctrine with certain alien inspirations" (p. 30). These are but a few of the instances where I ran into trouble with the text. Confucianism in Later Han times has become such a vague and perhaps even meaningless term that it should either be sharply redefined or perhaps even dropped.

Reading of the tenacity with which Xun Yue defended a lost cause I was reminded of the late classical Roman aristocracy and the insouciance with which it witnessed the passing of the Western Roman empire. For them, the Roman empire was the only category in which they could think and there could be no question of its end. The abdication of Romulus Augustulus and the year 476 passed almost without causing a ripple in contemporary historiography. The last emperor of Han and the last emperor of the Western Roman empire both passed the remainders of their lives in comfortable confinement in country villas. (See M. A. Wes, Das Ende des Kaisertnms im Westen des Rdmischen Reichs, The Hague, I967.) How similar and yet how different, the end of Han and the end of Rome. In both times, significant circles of society clung tenaciously to the old ideals, refusing to see that their time was over. Our picture of the end of an empire could not be complete without them.

The traditional interpretations of the end of Han are, I think, no longer satisfactory. This study, however, deserves great credit because it could show the way to a more satisfactory interpretation, and in fact it lays a cornerstone for future studies.
Alone I lean under the wispy shade of an aged tree,
Scornfully I raise to parted lips a cup of warm wine,
Longingly I cast an empty vessel aside those exposed roots,
And leave behind forgotten memories and forsaken dreams.
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