An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Literature of the Zhou Period

Oct 26, 2018 © Ulrich Theobald

The Western Zhou period 西周 (11th cent.-770 BCE) witnessed the emergence of several text corpora later called the "Classics" (jing 經) because they were during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) adapted by the Confucians and made the core of their canon. Confucianism was made the official state doctrine under the reign of Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE). The canon consists of the books Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs", a collection of airs, odes, and hymns, the Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents", a collection of "documentary" reports and speeches, and the divinatory book Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes". Apart from these three classical texts, written in a language called (Early) Archaic Chinese (shanggu Hanyu 上古漢語), a parallel to the Shangshu has survived, called Yizhoushu 逸周書.

Martin Kern's (2009) analysis of bronze inscriptions resulted in the finding that from the mid-Western Zhou period on, inscriptions in bronze vessels were increasingly written in the style of poems, with tetrasyllabic verses and end rhymes or word reduplications. The ductus of such inscriptions much resembles the royal announcements in the Shangshu. Bronze texts must therefore also be included in a discussion about Zhou-period literature.

The Eastern Zhou period 東周 (770-221 BCE) witnessed the decline of aristocratic dominance and increased social mobility. These phenomena were part of deep-going political, social, and technological changes including the emergence of market economies, centralized states, bureaucracy based on merit, territorial expansion, ferocity of wars with mass infantry, and the promulgation of written legal statues instead of oral instructions. The cultural elite was shaken by a cultural crisis and began either to revive or to question the ideas of the Bronze Age. Self-cultivation of the individual replaced the earlier conscience of a collective elite. Members of lower nobility brought forward new ideas and gave them prominence in literary texts as guiding patterns for social moral, and political behaviour. In this way, literature (wen 文) and philosophy went hand in hand, and produced the writings of "a hundred schools" (zhuzi baijia 諸子百家). The profligacy of political, social, and cosmological philosophy during that time inspired Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) for his theory of the "Axial Age" reaching from Greece and the Biblical Region to India and China.

The literature of the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) is characterized by the tools of philosophy, storytelling, poetry, persuasion, rhetoric, and partially "conscious fictionality" (Puett 2001: 73). Quite a few writers supported rulers in their attempt to reunify China and replace the Zhou dynasty.

The Ancient Classics

Shijing 詩經 "Book of Songs"

The Shijing 詩經 is a collection of 300 texts of songs of three different genres sung and performed in different contexts and quite probably accompanied by different musical arrangements. Airs (feng 風) were sung by the people and at the courts of the regional states and in the royal domain. The Greater Hymns (daya 大雅) were played at the royal court, the Lesser Hymns (xiaoya 小雅) at those of the regional rulers. The Odes were performed in the ancestral temples of the Zhou and Shang 商 (17th-11th cent. BCE) dynasties and of the lineage of the regional state of Lu 魯, descendants of the Duke of Zhou 周公. The collection thus brings together the voices of the people and that of the ruling elite. The songs are anonymous, apart from the song "Lofty the Southern Mountain" (191 Jienanshan 節南山), where an author called Jia Fu 家父 is mentioned.

The odes of Zhou and the Greater Hymns originated in the early Western Zhou period, the lesser hymns in the late Western Zhou and the early Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE). The airs and the odes of Lu and Shang are products of the mid-Spring and Autumn period.

Some of the Greater Hymns (like 245 Shengmin 生民, 250 Gongliu 公劉, 237 Mian 緜, 241 Huangyi 皇矣, 255 Tang 蕩, or 236 Daming 大明) reflect the early history of the Zhou people, and express, for instance, the hope that the Lord of Millet 后稷 might bring better harvest, that the new settlement in Bin 豳 might promise a better environment than earlier dwellings, or narrate how King Wu 周武王 and his supporters vanquished the Shang dynasty. They were quite probably performed during ancestral sacrifices and court banquets and accompanied by the heavy rhythms of bells, drums and sound stones.

Many of the odes of Zhou were created during the peaceful reign of the kings Cheng 周成王 and Kang 周康王, and therefore describe the work of peasants. Most famous are the many airs of the states which reflect customs and habits of the common folks and their environment of life: farming (154 Qiyue 七月), marriage, love and courtship (1 Guanju 關雎, 42 Jingnü 靜女, 58 Mang 氓), and service to the authorities (36 Shiwei 式微, 156 Dongshan 東山, 62 Boxi 伯兮, 66 Junzi yu yi 君子于役), but also military service, and some even political satire and bitter protest (113 Shuoshu 碩鼠).

Quotation 1. Air "Of fair girls" (42 Jingnü 靜女) from the Airs of Bei (Beifeng 邶風)
Of fair girls the loveliest, / Was to meet met at the corner of the wall. / But she hides and will not show herself; / I scratch my head, pace up and down.
Of fair girls the prettiest, / Gave me a red flute. / The flush of that red flute / Is pleasure at the girl’s beauty.
She has been in the pastures and brought for me rush-wool, / Very beautiful and rare. / It is not you that are beautiful; / But you were given by a lovely girl.
Transl. by Waley 1996. The second column presents the end rhymes in Archaic Chinese according to Baxter/Sagart.

The air Jingnü consists of three stanzas of four verses, each of which is four-syllables long, with the exception of two verses, in which two particles prolong the verse. They are "superfluous" in so far as they are grammatically not obligatory (the verb 於 "to be in, at" in v. 2; and the adjunct particle 之 in v. 11).

As far as the reconstruction of Archaic Chinese allows, one can see that the rhymes are not quite regular in each stanza. Quite typical is the partial repetition of the first verse of each stanza, with the change of only one word, namely jing nü qi shu 靜女其姝, and jing nü qi luan 靜女其孌. The position of the word wo 我 "I, me" is the same stanzas I and II. Stanza III deviates from this pattern.

Other odes and hymns are literary forms to cement the legend of King Wu's conquest of the Shang which was only possible because of the superior mode of virtue by which the chieftains of the Zhou allegedly ruled (see Zhou philosophy).

Many scholars have studied literary aspects of the airs. Han-period writers discerned between several figures of speech, namely xing 興 (animation), bi 比 (comparison, antithesis), and fu 賦 (narrative). All three aspects can be found in the air Mian 緜 "Long strings" from the Greater Hymns.

Quotation 2. Ode "Long strings" (237 Mian 緜)
The young gourds spread and spread. / The people after they were first brought into being / From the River Tu 土 [Wei 渭] went to the Qi 漆. / Of old Danfu 亶父 the duke, / Scraped shelters, scraped holes; / As they had no houses.
Of old Danfu the duke, / At coming of day galloped his horses, / Going west along the river bank / Till he came to the foot of Mount Qi 岐. / Where with the lady Jiang 姜 / He came to look for a home.
The plain of Zhou was very fertile, / Its celery and sowthistle sweet as rice-cakes. / "Here we will make a start; / here take counsel; here notch our tortoise." / It says, "Stop," [the divination] says, "Halt. / Build houses here." / [...]
Then he summoned his Master of Works, / Then he summoned his Master of Lands / And made them build houses. / Dead straight was the plumb-line, / The planks were lashed to hold the earth; / They made the Hall of Ancestors, very venerable.
They tilted in the earth with a rattling, / They pounded it with a dull thud, / They beat the walls with a loud clang, / They pared and chiseled them with a faint fengfeng. / The hundred cubits all rose; / The drummers could not hold out. / [...]
The peoples of Yu 虞 and Rui 芮 broke faith, / And King Wen harried their lives. / This I will say, the rebels were brought to allegiance, / Those that were first were made last. / This I will say, there were men zealous in their tasks, / There were those that kept the insolent at bay.
Transl. by Waley 1996.

The ode has nine stanzas, of which six a shown here. The stanzas are absolutely regular, with six four-syllable verses. The only exception are the last two stanzas (only the last one shown here), in which nearly all verses are prolonged by one syllable, in order to arouse attentiveness. The rhythm and composition of the last stanza (5 syllables) differs from the others thematically and goes over to political matters. The last verses are parallel and express, in a repetitive mode (yu yue you 予曰有 "I say there is ..."), what the speaker defines as the correct mode of King Wen to bring order into the kingdom.

The first verse can be seen as the literary device of animation (xing). It speaks of gourds on a long twine, a topic which at first sight has nothing to do with the rest of the ode, but it might be a metaphor (bi) for the many generations which profited from the measures of Duke Danfu, the forebear of the house of Zhou.

Rhymes are not used in a regular way, but become most apparent as epanaleptic (repetition) and onomatopoetic (imitation of sounds) words in stanza V: rengreng 陾陾, honghong 薨薨, dengdeng 登登, fengfeng 馮馮. These words describe the sounds of the construction work of the people which work so fast that even the drummers goading them are unable to beat with the same velocity. Yet repetitions for the purpose of intensification of syllables occur also in other places, mostly by using adjective verbs, like mianmian 緜緜 "long and twined", wuwu 膴膴 "fertile", or yiyi 翼翼 "venerable".

Anaphors within verses are quite common, like tao fu tao xue 陶復陶穴, yuan shi yuan mou 爰始爰謀, or such in parallel verses, like nai zhao sikong, nai zhao situ 乃召司空,乃召司徒.

Quotation 3. Hymn "The Hallowed Temple" (266 Qingmiao 清廟)
於穆清廟! Solemn the hallowed temple,
肅雝顯相, Awed and silent the helpers,
濟濟多士, Well purified the many knights
秉文之德。 That handle their sacred task.
對越在天, There has been an answer in Heaven;
駿奔走在廟。 Swiftly [the ancestral spirits] flit through the temple,
不(=丕)顯不承。 Very bright, very glorious,
無射於人斯! Showing no distaste toward men.
Transl. by Waley 1996.

The hymn Qingmiao is an example of self-reference by which the song describes details of the ceremony that is to be carried out (Kern 2009: 197). Such a duplication of chant and performance as a "polyvocal script for a ritual drama" can be observed in quite a few odes and hymns (for instance, 209 Chuci 楚茨 "Thorny caltrop"), as well as in bronze inscriptions.

Even if there are no rhymes or parallelisms in the verses of the Qingmiao hymn, each one had a fix length of 4 syllables, barring two exceptions (vv. 6 and 8), in which the content is stressed by construction (augmentation of the predicative content 駿 "gallop" + 奔 "hurry") or by addition of an emphatic particle (斯). The only verse showing a kind of parallelism is the anaphor pi xian pi cheng 不顯不承 in v. 7. It emphasized the sacred character of the ceremony. Very typical for Ancient Archaic Chinese is the epanalepsis (repetition) of adjectives, like jiji 濟濟 in v. 3.

The songs of every genre operate with stanzas, verses, and rhymes, and show a rich and diverse language. Confucius (quoted in Lunyu 論語, ch. Yanghuo 陽貨) recommended the study of the Shijing:

Quotation 4. Confucius' recommendation to study the "Odes"
《詩》,可以興,可以觀,可以群,可以怨。邇之事父,遠之事君;多識於鳥獸草木之名。 The "Odes" serve to stimulate the mind. They may be used for purposes of self-contemplation. They teach the art of sociability. They show how to regulate feelings of resentment. From them you learn the more immediate duty of serving one's father, and the remoter one of serving one's prince. From them we become largely acquainted with the names of birds, beasts, and plants.
Transl. by Legge 1895.

In contrast to Confucius, the thinker Mo Di 墨翟 (c. 476-c. 390 BCE) ridiculed the widespread performance of the ancient songs and dances and requested to abolish music, as an expression of profligacy, altogether (ch. 32-34 Feiyue 非樂).

The Shijing was the most widespread of the ancient classics, as can be seen in the many citations in other books and excavated manuscripts from the Warring States period. Zuozhuan and Guoyu, for instance, show that the "Songs" were performed at interstate meetings and were thus a binding element of all regional states of the Spring and Autumn period. Because the songs were transmitted orally and in all regional states, it is also quite probable that there existed different versions of the songs and hymns and that the wording only standardized during the Han period.

As to music, the early texts Yueji 樂記 (transmitted as part of the ritual classic Liji 禮記) and Yuelun 樂論 (part of the book Xunzi 荀子) interprete music as an expression of human feelings as well as a instrument of social and cosmic order. The excavated texts Kongzi shilun 孔子詩論 (Shanghai Museum) and Wuxing 五行 "Five Forms of Conduct" (part of the Mawangdui 馬王堆 manuscripts) also interprete the Songs with hermeneutical methods.

The story of the formation of the Shijing corpus holds that the 300 songs included were just a selection, while others were discarded. An example for songs that found not entrance into the Shijing corpus are the Stone Drum Songs (Shigushi 石鼓詩) of the state of Qin 秦. Albeit they were incised into round stones (in contrast to the orally transmitted Shijing songs), they were not adopted by the ru classicists 儒 ("Confucians") as canonical writings and therefore disappeared from memory until the Tang period 唐 (618-907), when they were rediscovered.

How much rhythmic speech influenced prose writings can be seen in the stone inscriptions mandated by the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇帝 (r. 246-210 BCE).

Rhythmic verses from a Qin stone inscription
The Sovereign Emperor came to the throne, / made decrees and laws / which all his subjects heeded;
In his twenty-sixth year / the land was unified, / all obeyed his rule;
He inspected the black-headed people in distant parts, / ascended Mount Tai / and viewed the eastern extremity;
His obedient subjects remember his achievements, / trace them from the start / and celebrate his virtue.
Yang & Yang 1974: 169.

In written shape, the Shijing was preserved in four different versions called the Lu 魯 version, the Qi 齊version, the Han 韓 version, and the Mao 毛 version. Only the latter has survived.

Shangshu 尚書

The Shangshu 尚書 is only preserved in a fragmentary form of 58 chapters which was reconstructed during the Han period. It includes mainly speeches, but also some narrative chapters, part of which allegedly date from the Xia period 夏 (21th-17th cent. BCE) or earlier. While the Shijing included folk songs and chants of religious content, the texts of the Shangshu are concerned with politics. The part dealing with the Zhou period (Zhoushu 周書) is the longest one and consists of 32 chapters. Quite a few of them represent announcements (gao 誥) by the king or the Duke of Zhou to subordinates or in the ancestral temple. The aim of the Zhoushu was to instruct the king and his functionaries to govern in a moral way.

Many chapters have historiographical value. Some chapters include statements about the time, place and general condition under which a certain announcement was made, for instance, the eve of the battle of Muye 牧野 in the chapter Mushi 牧誓. King Wu explains that the king of Shang was ruling in a wrong way, and that Heaven therefore had given the Zhou the mandate to punish the Shang and replace their dynasty (see Heavenly mandate).

The chapter begins with a date (grey dawn of the day jiazi 甲子昧爽, see calendar) and a description how the king took a ceremonial posture with a golden battle-axe (huangyue 黃鉞) in his left and a white banner (baimao 白旄) in his right, announcing a speech by addressing his highest generals, functionaries, and allies.

He starts with a proverb, saying "The hen does not announce the morning. The crowing of a hen in the morning indicates the subversion of the family". This proverb fitted to the political situation at the Shang court, where King Shou 受 (also known as Zhou 紂) followed the word of his consort Da Ji 妲己. The results of this attitude were the negligence of ancestral sacrifices, of regular exchanges with his allies, and of holding up good relations with the members of the royal house. Instead, King Shou honoured, exalted and promoted "vagabonds from all quarters, loaded with crimes" (sifang zhi duo zuo bu tiao 四方之多罪逋逃). These unworthy persons "tyrannized over the people, and exercised their villainies in the settlements" (transl. Legge 1865).

King Wu is convinced that he was an instrument of Heaven for punishing the king of Shang. Yet he is also sure that he was in need of a disciplined army to overcome that of the Shang, and gives concrete instructions to be "energetic" (Xu zai fu zi 勗哉夫子!; he later resumes this sentence two times) and display a martial bearing like panthers and tigers, but not to rush forward heedlessly. He also appeals to his warriors and allies not to be vengeful, but to receive those who want to submit so that they could serve "our western land". Any other behaviour, he warns, would bring destruction on the army of Zhou.

In the chapter Wuyi 無逸 "Against luxurious ease", the Duke of Zhou admonishes King Cheng not to indulge in luxurious ease. The text, even if constructed as a coherent and logical unity, is divided into seven parts that each begin with the words "The Duke of Zhou said:", each time the instructions begin with the exclamatory words wuhu 嗚呼 "Oh! Alas!", invoking the attention of the lectured king. The Duke's instruction sets in with a postulating definition: "The superior man rests in this, that he will indulge in no luxurious ease", and then gives reasons for this claim, namely that the painful toil of the husbandman nourishes the court, while some of their children despise this work and their parents as outdated and naïve.

The Duke then reports what he "had heard", namely that the earlier, good kings of the Shang were grave, humble, reverential, and timorously cautious. They measured themselves with reference to the decree of Heaven (wei tian ming zi du 畏天命自度, see Zhou philosophy), and cherished a reverent apprehension in governing the people, not daring to indulge in useless ease.

In order to bolster such moral requirements, the Duke brings forward a very physical benefit, namely long live: "It was thus that King Zhongzong 中宗 (Zu Yi 祖乙) enjoyed the throne seventy and five years." King Gaozong 高宗 (Wu Ding 武丁) of the Shang even went further: When he acceded to the throne, he toiled at first away from the court, was among the lower people, and did not speak for three years; afterward, his words were full of harmonious wisdom. This brought him a reign of 59 years. Similar correlations are then told about King Zujia 祖甲, but not about his successors, who enjoyed ease from their birth, did not know the painful toil of sowing and reaping, and instead sought for nothing but excessive pleasure – and yielded a reign of just a few years.

Also the royal ancestors of the Zhou, Taiwang 周太王, Ji Li 季歷, and King Wen 周文王 dressed meanly, gave themselves to the work of tranquillization and to that of husbandry, cherished and protected the inferior people, did not dare to go to excess in excursions or hunting, showed a fostering kindness to the wifeless men and widows, and did not allow themselves leisure to eat. Heaven rewarded the Zhou for this austerity and benevolent rule with the Heavenly Mandate to rule. King Wen ruled for fifty years.

Based on these examples, the Duke then admonishes King Cheng to rule in the same way, otherwise he could not "secure the favour of Heaven" (fei tian you ruo 非天攸若). Another consequence would be that men would imitate the king and practise evil. The Duke warns King Cheng: "Become not like Shou [Zhou] the king of Yin 殷 [Shang], who went quite astray, and, became abandoned to drunkenness!"

The Duke also warns the king not to disregard his instruction, referring to the ministers in anquity which had warned and admonished their kings, with positive results. Ignoring the ministers' warning resulted in bad governance, beginning with the king, and going down all levels of administration, so that in the end, the people disobeyed, rebelled, and cursed the king.

The solution to such prevent dangers is presented immediately: When the virtuous kings of old heard of discontent among the people, they paid great and reverent attention to their conduct, and not confusedly punish the guiltless, and put the innocent to death. In order to make his argument more lively, the Duke quotes the complaints of the suppressed people in a direct way, as if they were already speaking to the king. In his last appeal, the Duke of Zhou urges the king to ponder about this matter.

Quotation 5. Final paragraph of the chapter Wuyi 無逸 "Against luxurious ease"
周公曰:「嗚呼!自殷王中宗及高宗及祖甲,及我周文王,茲四人迪哲。厥或告之曰:『小人怨汝詈汝!』則皇自敬德。厥愆,曰:『朕之愆,允若時。』不啻不敢含怒。此厥不聽,人乃或譸張為幻。曰:『小人怨汝詈汝!』則信之。則若時,不永念厥辟。不寬綽厥心,亂罰無罪,殺無辜,怨有同,是叢于厥身。」 The Duke of Zhou said, "Oh! those kings of Yin 殷, Zhongzong 中宗, Gaozong 高宗, and Zujia 祖甲, with king Wen of our Zhou 周文王, these four men carried their knowledge into practice. If it was told them, 'The lower people murmur against you and revile you,' then they paid great and reverent attention to their conduct; and with reference to the faults imputed to them they said, 'Our faults are really so,' thus not simply shrinking from the cherishing of anger. If you will not listen to this, when men with extravagant language and deceptive tricks say to you, 'The lower people are murmuring against you and reviling you,' you will believe them. Doing this, you will not be always thinking of your royal duties, and will not cultivate a large and generous heart, You will confusedly punish the guiltless, and put the innocent to death. There will be a general murmuring, which will be concentrated upon your person."
Transl. by Legge 1865.

An analysis of the last part of the Wuyi chapter shows which stylistic elements the text uses: The plaints of the common people are recited twice, with exactly the same words (Xiao ren yuan ru li ru 小人怨汝詈汝). Many sentences are compiled in parallel form, either with the same grammatical structure and partially the same words (ze xin zhi, ze ruo shi 則信之。則若時; or bu yong nian jue bi, bu kuan chuo jue xin 不永念厥辟。不寬綽厥心; or fa wu zui, sha wu gu 罰無罪,殺無辜), or as short phrases with identical syntax (bu chi, bu gan 不啻不敢). Rhythmic speech can also be attested even if no parallelism can be seen (zhen zhi yan, yun ruo shi 朕之愆,允若時; or fa wu zui, sha wu gu, yuan you tong 罰無罪,殺無辜,怨有同).

The Archaic Chinese of the Shangshu is quite particular in contrast to the classical language that emerged during the Warring States period. It is believed that part of these linguistic peculiarities originated in the mode of oral transmission, which resulted in the use of colloquial expressions, or in the use to put the object in front of the predicate in case of questions or negation (Liu 1994: 141). Brevity in language is general phenomenon in Classical Chinese, but the language is even more terse in the Shangshu, for instance, by ellipsis of the object or of adjuncts actually necessary to understand the context.

Another grammatical phenomenon is the inversion of predicate and object which in Classical Chinese only occurs in questions or negations. The Shangshu regularly makes use of this "negative polarity" (Dobson 1962), like in wo bu er dong 我不爾動 "we did not move you", or shi chong, shi chang, shi xin, shi shi 是崇是長,是信是使 "these [evildoers King Zhou does] honour and exalt, employ and trust".

Typical archaic expressions are the pronouns yi 台 (a special reading) and ang 卬 for "I, me, my", chou 疇 for "who?", jue 厥 for "he, his", or zhen 朕 for "me" (also of ordinary persons, and not just the ruler, as in Classical Chinese).

While the multiplicity of meaning of characters is common in Classical Chinese, the archaic language of the Shangshu also knows this phenomenon. The word zai 在 (usual meaning "to be somewhere"), for instance, means "to extend one's regard", "to complete", or "to investigate". A phenomenon common also in Classical Chinese is the lending of a character for a word pronounced identically or very similarly. The word kao 考, usually meaning "to test, to investigate" is used for lao 老 "ancestor, forebear". Vocabulary and diction of the Shangshu chapters is very close to the bronze inscriptions.

Also, the use of characters is not yet standardized, and some are used as loan-characters for other words, like /pə/ 不 "not" for /pʰrə/ 丕 "grand", /dzˤə/ 才 "talent" for /dzˤəʔ/ 在 "to be in, to reside", or /tsʰAʔ/ 且 "and" for /tsˤaʔ/ 祖 "ancestor".

Unlike the Shijing, which is in citations always dealt with as a corpus of texts, the Shangshu is rarely mentioned as a corpus. Instead, only individual chapters are mentioned to which a speaker refers to. The history of its transmission is very dubious. Of the three versions existing during the Han period, only a "reconstructed" old-text version survived.

Yijing 易經

The Yijing 易經 is a corpus of divinatory practice with the help of milfoil stalks that were counted out according to certain rules and resulted in numbers that were transferred to one of sixty-four images (hexagrams, gua 卦) consisting of six lines (yao 爻) of two types, either solid (━), or broken (╍). Concerning the philosophical background, see Zhou philosophy.

These images and the six individual lines of each were interpreted in a brief manner. The core text of the Yijing was called Zhouyi 周易 "Changes of the Zhou", called so because some of the individual lines might change into its contrary, and result in a different image or hexagram. Several additional commentaries and interpretations, called the ten "wing commentaries" (yi 翼) were added to this core text, resulting in the Classic Yijing.

Apart from the metaphysical or religious use, the text of the Yijing can be seen from the viewpoint of literature. The highest level of literary meaning is that each of the hexagram stands for an abstract situation in a person's life or the political condition a ruler finds himself, yet each of the images is taken from a concrete situation in daily life. Accordingly, the explanatory text of each hexagram line elucidates its meaning by using a concrete object, like the role of a person, a part of the body, animals, plants, tools, buildings, geographical features, or celestial phenomena.

The lines of the hexagram Qian ䷀ 乾, for instrance, describe the movements of an auspicious dragon in certain environments and under specific condititions, and so gives hints under which preconditions one might fare better. The dragon is a metaphor for a person, and in particular, the ruler. Its movements symbolize activities needed to achieve success, be it quick or slow action, or repose and patience.

Quotation 6. The hexagram Qian ䷀ 乾 and its individual lines
乾:元亨,利貞。 Qian: great and originating, penetrating, advantageous, correct and firm.
初九:潛龍勿用。 1st line, nine (=undivided): The dragon is lying hid [in the deep]. Not the time for active doing.
九二:見龍在田,利見大人。 2nd line, nine: The dragon appearing in the field. Advantageous to meet with the great man.
九三:君子終日乾乾,夕惕若厲。无咎。 3rd line, nine: The superior man active and vigilant all the day, and in the evening still careful and apprehensive. Dangerous, but there will be no mistake.
九四:或躍在淵,无咎。 4th line, nine: [The dragon] leaping up, but still in the deep. There will be no mistake.
九五:飛龍在天,利見大人。 5th line, nine: The dragon on the wing in the sky. Advantageous to meet with the great man.
上九:亢龍,有悔。 6th line, nine: The dragon exceeding the proper limits. Occasion for repentance.
Transl. according to Legge 1882.

The lines of the hexagram describe how one has to wait until a situation becomes favourable. He is "lying hid" in the deep and remains inactive, yet in a vigilant state and careful. In the right situation he "leaps up" and then soars up "into the sky" until he reaches the "limits".

The use of metaphors in the Yijing might have influenced later texts like Mengzi 孟子, Zhuangzi 莊子, Hanfeizi 韓非子, Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋, and Zhanguoce 戰國策, which all make abundant use of parables and metaphors. Traditional Chinese scholars call such metaphors "comparisons" (bi). The stylistic device of xing, which attracts the listener's or reader's attention by evoking moods in a field totally different from the topic of the text, is likewise employed in the Yijing, like in the hexagram Daguo ䷛ 大過, where the text first speaks of withered poplars bearing buds, and then compares this situation with an old man who marries a young bride.

In the same text, it can be seen that the phrases of the Yijing operate with rhymes and equal length of verses, and are thus not unsimilar to lyrics. Lines 2 and 5, for instance, are repated with almost the same words:

Quotation 7. Parallel sentences from the hexagram Daguo 大過 ䷛
九二:枯楊生稊,老夫得其女妻,无不利。 2nd line, nine: A decayed willow producing shoots, or an old husband in possession of his young wife. There will be advantage in every way.
九五:枯楊生華,老婦得其士夫,无咎无譽。 5th line, nine: A decayed willow producing flowers, or an old wife in possession of her young husband. There will be occasion neither for blame nor for praise.
Transl. according to Legge 1882.

The text of the Zhouyi is composed of prose (sanwen 散文) and rhymes (yunwen 韻文). The length of sentences is generally very short, but there are such with 7 or 8 characters length, and some consisting of only a few characters or only one (like "is auspicious"). Parallel sentences (dui'ouju 對偶句) in which one or several characters are identical, occur frequently.

In some instances, narrative passages can be found, like in the hexagram Xiaoxu ䷈ 小畜 which describes the depencence of man and women from each other: "[when] the rain has fallen, and the onward progress is stayed - so must we value the full accumulation of the virtue. But a wife exercising restraint, however firm and correct she may be, is in a position of peril, and like the moon approaching to the full. If the superior man prosecute his measures in such circumstances, there will be evil." Or hexagram Zhongfu ䷼ 中孚 describing the situation of a couple of lovers: "The subject having met with his mate beats his drum, and now he leaves off. Now he weeps, and now he sings."

A combination of many literary elements can be found in the hexagram Kui ䷥ 睽.

Quotation 8. The hexagram Kui ䷥ 睽 and its individual lines
《睽》小事吉。 Kui: In small matters there will be good success.
初九:悔亡。喪馬,勿逐自復。見惡人无咎。 1st line, nine (=undivided): [Occasion for] repentance will disappear. He has lost his horses, but let him not seek for them - they will return of themselves. Should he meet with bad men, he will not err [in communicating with them].
九二:遇主于巷,无咎。 2nd line, nine: Happening to meet with one's lord in a bye-passage. There will be no error.
六三:見輿曳,其牛掣,其人天且劓,无初有終。 3rd line, six (=divided): One's carriage is dragged back, while the oxen in it are pushed back, and oneself is subjected to the shaving of the head and the cutting off of the nose. There is no good beginning, but there will be a good end.
九四:睽孤,遇元夫,交孚,厲无咎。 4th line, nine: Being solitary amidst disunion. One will meets with the good man [see 1st line], and they blend their sincere desires together. The position is one of peril, but there will be no mistake.
六五:悔亡。厥宗噬膚,往何咎? 5th line, six: [Occasion for] repentance will disappear. With his relative [one unites closely and readily) as if one was biting through a piece of skin. When one goes forward, what error can there be?
上九:睽孤,見豕負塗,載鬼一車,先張之弧,後說之弧,匪寇,婚媾。往遇雨,則吉。 6th line, nine: Solitary amidst disunion. [In the subject of the third line, he seems to] see a pig bearing on its back a load of mud, [or fancies] there is a carriage full of ghosts. He first bends his bow against him, and afterwards unbends it, [for he discovers] that he is not an assailant to injure, but a near relative. Going forward, he shall meet with [genial] rain, and there will be good fortune.
Transl. according to Legge 1882.

Not only do the lines describe complex processes in a narrative way. Many sentences show parallel structures, even if there is not the phenomenon of anaphors or other forms of repetition. For instance, line 3 begins with two 3-syllable verses, and line 4 consists of the rhythmic pattern of 2 - 3 - 2 - 3 syllables. Line 6 consists of the sequence 2 - 4 - 4 - 4 - 4 - 2 - 2. Finally, there are several rhymes in the individual lines of the hexagram, namely (tentatively) in line 1 /pruks/ 復 and /gruʔ/ 咎, in line 3 [lat] 曳, /tips/ 掣, and /ŋrats/ 劓, line 4 /kʷˤa/ 孤 and [mbru] 孚, line /pra/ 膚 and /gruʔ/ 咎, and in line 6 /lˤa/ 塗 and /gʷˤa/ 弧, as well as /kʰˤros/ 寇 and /kˤros/ 媾.

A closer linguistic analysis of the oldest part of the Yijing reveils that the text was influenced by the language of Shang-period oracles. This fact was forgotten when the book was appropriated by the ru classicists (Confucians), with the consequence that the first words of the text (yuan heng li zhen 元亨,利貞) were interpreted as expression of virtues, but might quite probably be just technical terms of diviners (Goldin 2001: 89).

Inscriptions of bronze vessels (jinwen 金文)

In contrast to these transmitted texts and their orthodox versions, genuine texts from the Western Zhou period were found in bronze inscriptions. During the Western Zhou period, the royal court in the west retained the right to produce such vessels with the inscriptions. This circumstance allowed for the development of a highly standardized vocabulary and script referring to an intricate system of ceremonies for investitures of regional rulers by the kings of Zhou. On the other hand, the vocabulary of such inscriptions was restricted to investiture charges (ming 命) with moral admonitions and lists of presents by the king consisting of insignia and various paraphernalia as symbols of power.

It is quite probable that the texts inscribed on the inner surface of bronze vessels were read aloud during the investiture ceremony or when commemorating an ancestor who obtained the king's charge and honour. Longer inscriptions consist of three parts. The first usually explains the personal background of the king's servant, and then quotes the king's charge and perhaps the acknowledgement or answer of the nobleman. The speech of the king is mostly highly ritualized. The second part involves the inscribed vessel as part of the ceremony and exemplifies its function as a testimony of the royal appointment. The text mostly closes with formulaic prayers to the ancestors and the wish that the vessel (and with it commemoration of the merits of its owner) might be preserved for many generations.

Bronze inscriptions give evidence of royal appointment, land contracts, legal agreements, marriages, "diplomatic" visits, military achievements, and so on. The writing material allowed to have the appointment ceremony archived for many decades. Bronze inscriptions can thus be seen as legal or historiographical documents. Yet seen from the language of the inscriptions, the text were perceived as a kind of literature, endowed with rhyme, meter, onomatopoeia and other means of euphony allowing the texts to be recited aloud. Moreover, the texts did not necessarily record exact historical facts but only matters following generations wished to remember. Bronze inscriptions constituted thus not factual documents, but a kind of saga which included moral and political paradigms allegedly lived by the people of the past and to be imitated by the living ones. The vessels were therefore kept in the family holdings for generations, yet some were dug in hoards in the turbulent years of the late Western Zhou period, when the western region was raided by the Xianyun 玁狁.

While rhyme and tetrasyllabic meter occur among the earliest Western Zhou inscriptions, these features become increasingly regular from the periods of kings Gong 周共王 and Yi 周懿王 onward, as do the calligraphy and overall visual layout (linear arrangement, spacing between graphs, etc.) of the inscriptions (Kern 2009: 194-195).

Quotation 9. The inscription of the Xing ren Ning zhong 邢人佞鐘 bell
井(=邢)人𡚬(=佞)曰。𡚬盄(=淑)文且(=祖)。皇考。 A Ning 佞 from Xing 邢 says: [My] illustrious and gentle cultured ancestors and august late father
克(=可)質(=哲)厥德。 A Were able to give substance to their virtuous power.
得屯(=純)用魯。 x They obtained purity and used generosity,
永冬(=終)于吉。 B Forever ending in auspiciousness.
𡚬不敢弗帥 B Ning does not dare to disobey them.
用文且皇考。 A Using his cultured ancestors and august late father [as his model],
穆穆秉德。 A He respectfully, respectfully holds on to their virtuous power.
𡚬𡩜𡩜聖(=爽)。 C Ning is elated, elated about their sagely brightness,
■(=疐)處宗室。 B Approaches their place in the ancestral hall.
■(=肆) 𡚬乍(=作)龢父大󱮍(=林)鐘。 C Thus, Ning has made for father He 龢 a grand linzhong[-bell];
用追孝。 A Use it to sacrifi ce in commemoration,
侃歬(=前)文人。 D To delight the former cultured men.
歬文人 D The former cultured
其嚴才(=在)上。 C may solemnly reside above!
󰚕(=豐pʰĭuŋ)󰚕󱎫(=㲋/泉)󱎫。 x Ding, dong, ding, dong -
降余厚 A They bestow on me rich rewards,
多福無彊。 C Manifold blessings without limit!
𡚬其萬年。 D May Ning have a myriad years!
子子孫孫 D May sons of sons, grandsons of grandsons
永寶用亯(=享)。 C Forever treasure and use [this bell] to make off erings!
Transl. by Kern 2009: 196.

Apart from the fact that a substantial number of verses consists of four syllables, there is a great number of end rhymes. Martin Kern makes out the following ones (see letters A-D above): /kr̥ˤuʔ/ 考, /tˤək?/ 德, /qʰˤruʔs/ 孝, and /Cəgˤroʔ/ 厚; /Cqit/ 吉, /sruts/ 帥, and /sti[t]/ 室; /l̥eŋs/ 爽, /toŋ/ 鐘, /Cədaŋʔ/ 上, /kaŋ/ 彊, and /qʰaŋʔ/ 享; as well as /niŋ/ 人, /Cnˤiŋ/ 年, and /sˤun/ 孫. The distribution of rhymes over the whole text shows some regularities, namely the use of rhyming couplets which follow in alternating sequence (AA - BB - AA - CC), but not througout the text.

The language of Western Zhou-period bronze inscriptions is very similar to that of the Shangshu or Shijing, and their texts have a similar function in commemorating the virtuous deeds of the ancestors and their approval by Heaven.

In the Spring and Autumn period, when the Zhou court had lost its dominance over the regional states, the production of vessels and inscriptions fell into the hands of the individual states. This allowed for the change of design and writing styles, while the vocabulary of the texts retained the ductus of the Western Zhou period. In the course of time, the language of the inscriptions differed from the idiom of daily use (not to speak of regional idioms) and became increasingly archaic.

It was therefore necessary to change the language, as can be seen in examples from the Warring States period like the bronze objects from King Cuo of Zhongshan 中山王{璺-玉+昔} (r. 323-313 BCE) which speak more about the political authority of the living than of the moral paradigms of the past. A second change can be seen in the place where the inscriptions were applied. While the inner side of bronze vessels had been visible only for Heaven and the ancestral spirits, Warring-States inscriptions, either on bells or on basins, were applied outside and thus visible for the members of the political community.

Historiography and fictional historiography


Not being part of the ancient corpus of Classics, the Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals" of the state of Lu became a core part of the Confucian Classics as Master Confucius' putative evaluation of the politics of his home state. The annals consist of brief annalistic statements roughly covering the period today known as the Spring and Autumn period. The Annals are all the more important, as they include countless statements on other regional states, yet always from the perspective of Lu.

The regional state of Lu had been the domain of the Duke of Zhou, who is seen as the founder of the concept of the Heavenly mandate (tianming) bestowed by Heaven on the morally superior King Wu, founder of the Zhou dynasty. The Duke of Zhou was also credited with the creation of the rules of propriety and ceremony by which the society of the Zhou state was held together. A group of scholars called the ru 儒 (equalled with ru 柔 "soft", as shushi 術士 "skilled servicemen") was particularly interested in this ceremonial cement and tried to keep to the ritual prescriptions after the disintegration of the Western Zhou kingdom. The most important figure of the ru was Confucius (Kongzi). He is said to have studied and reorganized not just the three ancient Classics Yijing, Shangshu, and Shijing, but also the Annals of Lu.

The moral judgments of the author(s) of the Annals in their transmitted version used an encoded language (baobian 褒貶 "praise and blame", weiyan 微言 "subtle phrasing", and zhengming 正名 "rectification of names") for which a host of commentaries was eventually written during the Han period. Of these, the two "question-and-answer catechisms" (xxx) Gongyangzhuan 公羊傳 and Guliangzhuan 穀梁傳 survive. The former in particular, based on a tradition founded by Confucius' disciple Zixia 子夏, identified Confucius not just as a teacher and "transmitter", but as a person of such insight that he was virtually an uncrowned king. Hefty debates took place among the adherents of the one or other exegetic tradition of the Annals. In 51 BCE, during a conference in the Stone Canal Pavilion (Shiquge 石渠閣), the more practical Guliang tradition won through, as its interpretation was easily to apply to practical issues of governance for the Han dynasty.

Very different from these two texts with their interpretation of semantic codes in historiography is a kind of parallel text to the Chunqiu which has also partially the character of a commentary. This is the Zuozhuan 左傳, authorship of which is attributed to Zuo Qiuming 左丘明 (5th cent. BCE). Zuo brought light into the terse and often enigmatic statements of the Chunqiu texts by delivering innumerable stories on the factual background of a Chunqiu entry, and sometimes even beyond that. The Zuozhuan, the finalization of which is dated to the late 4th century, is seen as a masterpiece of historical narrative contributing to early China's literary achievements, if at the cost of historical credibility, certainly not without didactic accomplishments and integrated moral judgments. In the Zuozhuan stories, history is interpreted as the outcome of individual decisions the effects of which can be guessed by the reader. With the many situations and personal challenges historical figures are confronted with, the texts presents a full panorama of human existence, yet on the level of the ruling class. The Zuozhuan is thus directly addressing rulers to demonstrate which consequences good and bad decisions might have.

Guoyu, Zhanguo and other history books

There are some collections of historiographical stories similar to that presented in the Zuozhuan. Very close is the collection Guoyu 國語 "Discourses of the regional states" which is not organized as a chronicle, but geographically and according to persons acting in the individual stories (many of which are parallels to Zuozhuan stories). Seen from the content, the Guoyu focuses on philosophical matters and stresses the power of rhetoric, and not so much historical context and outcome. Some commentators saw the Guoyu as a kind of appendix to the Zuozhuan and use to called it, like Wei Zhao 韋昭 (d. 273 CE), as an "outer tradition" (waizhuan 外傳) of the twin-Classic Chunqiu-Zhuozhuan.

A similar text is Yanzi chunqiu 晏子春秋, attributed to Yan Ying (d. 500 BCE) of the state of Qi. The stories in this text embody a panoply of historical, rhetorical, and didactic elements. The two story collections Yuejueshu 越絕書 and Wu-Yue chunqiu 吳越春秋, focusing on events in the two southeastern states of Wu 吳 and Yue 越 during the Spring and Autumn period, were compiled in the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE).

The "counterpart" of the Guoyu on the Warring States period is the story collection Zhanguoce 戰國策 "Stratagems of the Warring States", also arranged according to states and persons. Oral persuasion of a ruler or high-standing political person by an "itinerant rhetorician" (youshui 遊說), "diplomatist" or "coalition advisor" (zonghengjia 縱橫家) is the central element of most stories. The collection was compiled in the late Former Han period by the bibliographer Liu Xiang 劉向 (79-8 or 77-6 BCE), as are some other biographical collections on exemplary persons of the Warring States period like the Lienüzhuan 列女傳 on paradigmatic females, Shuoyuan 說苑 "The Garden of persuasions", Xinxu 新序 "New arrangements", and supposedly also the Liexianzhuan 列仙傳 on Daoist "immortals". Some of the Zhanguoce stories have parallels in the great history book Shiji 史記 written during the mid-Former Han period by Sima Qian 司馬遷 (b. 145 or 135 BCE), showing that Sima made use of a pool of stories circulating.

Persuasion or rhetoric was a critical element in policy making. The fundaments of this skill are therefore described in books like Lüshi chunqiu (ch. Shunshui 順說), Hanfeizi (ch. Shuinan 說難) or Shiji (ch. 67 Rizhe liezhuan 日者列傳).

Expository prose of the "masters"

The "hundred schools"

With their stress of the power of persuasion, based on deceit and manipulation, the diplomatists can be called the opposite of the ru classicists ("Confucians") who advocated straightforwardness and reliability. Apart from these two poles, a wide range of "a hundred schools of thought" emerged during the Warring States period. Many of them delivered their own literary products, yet the transmitted shape of late Warring-States books dates in many cases from the Han period, during which circulating texts were compiled to "books" in the proper sense. None of the great masters had himself written the texts known with their name.

Even the concept of the "philosophical schools" was only created during the mid-Former Han period. Sima Qian, compiler of the Shiji, discerned six great intellectual lineages (liujia 六家), namely Yin-Yang cosmologists (yinyangjia 陰陽家), ru classicists or "Confucians" (rujia 儒家), Mohists (mojia 墨家), "sophists", "dialecticians" or "terminologists" (mingjia 名家), legalists (fajia 法家), and Daoists (daojia 道家). This basic pattern was somewhat extended by the bibliographer Liu Xiang and his son Liu Xin 劉歆 (d. 23 CE) who compiled the book catalogue Qilüe 七略 that is preserved as the bibliographical chapter Yiwen zhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書. In addition to the six lineages mentioned above, they discern diplomatists (zonghenjia 縱橫家), syncretists (zajia 雜家), agriculturalists (nongjia 農家), and storytellers (xiaoshuojia 小說家), and set somewhat apart from these writings on military matters (bingjia 兵家), as well as the many literary products of the fields of technical writing such as the occult arts (shushu 數術) and medical skills (fangji 方技) - even if texts of the last three fields were widespread, as seen in the excavated tomb libraries from the time.

The later image of the "contending hundred schools" or authors (baijia zhengming 百家爭鳴) cannot be substantiated. Rarely do their texts present disputative passages. Instead, texts like Mengzi 孟子 do generally denounce opponent schools like the Mohist school of Mo Di 墨翟 (and vice versa) with arguments. The only broad text evaluating other masters is Xunzi's 荀子 chapter Fei shi'er zi 非十二子, where the author briefly assesses the Yangists Tuo Xiao 它囂, Wei Mou 魏牟 (Gongsun Mou 公子牟), Chen Zhong 陳仲, Shi Yuqiu 史魚酋, the Mohists Mo Di (Mozi), Song Xing 宋銒, the legalist Shen Dao 慎到, the Daoist Tian Pian 田駢, the "sophists" Hui Shi 惠施 and Deng Xi 鄧析, and the ru classicists Zisi 子思 and Meng Ke 孟軻 (Mengzi).

It is also not possible to present a list of a hundred texts and classify them by school of lineage, nor do tomb libraries give evidence that a person preferred certain philosophical teachings. People seem to have been quite selective in the types of prose or technical texts they made use of.

Ruist or Confucian texts

The ruists (rujia 儒家), ru classicists or "Confucians" were the outcome of the loss of the Zhou dynasty's sovereign authority after 770. They had the desire to put in place once again the moral and ritual traditions of the early Western Zhou. They believed this to be feasible because they interpreted history as a cyclical process in which the Mandate of Heaven might be gained back by the rulers of the present age. The ruists stressed the didactic function of writing, but also of orally transmitted texts as the "Songs". They studied the ancient texts Shijing, Shujing and Chunqiu to learn from the "distilled patterns of morality" (Puett 2001: 74) presented in these texts. The ruists' vision eventually found she in Han-period exegetic writings that interpreted all parts of the Classics as allegories of virtuous conduct, or as warnings against immoral behaviour.

Early "Confucian" thought was represented by a collection of sayings (including dialogues and brief narrative parts) attributed to Confucius. The so-called "Analects" (Lunyu 論語 ) had apparently a finalized shape in the early Han period and were integrated into the canon of Classics. The dialogues between Confucius, his disciples or personalities of high standing focus on ritual (li 禮), humaneness (ren 仁), a feeling of righteousness (yi 義) and the process of learning (xue 學), all being new concepts re-interpreting statements in the Classics Shijing and Shangshu. The aim of Confucius was to convince his dialogue partners to fight against the decline of social and moral order, to cultivate themselves, and hold up the spirit of antiquity. Confucius invented the image of the "superior man" (shengren 聖人), who was a paradigm of humility and moral authority. The paragraphs and statements of the Lunyu are brief, sometimes enigmatic, and are not structured systematically with regards to the content of the individual dialogues or statements.

Similar statements of Confucius are found in many Warring States-period writings, and were collected in anthologies resembling the Lunyu. Such are Kongzi jiayu 孔子家語, Kongzi jiyu 孔子集語, or the excavated Kongzi shilun 孔子詩論 "Confucius' discussion on the Book of Songs" owned by the Shanghai Museum (Shanghai Bowuguan 上海博物館).

The book Mengzi, based on the discourses and dialogues of the ruist Meng Ke, constitutes a more systematic way of laying down "Confucian" thoughts by elaborating specific arguments. Mengzi makes use of quotations from the Shijing and the Shangshu to bolster his reasoning. He is most famous for his siding with the common folks which, supported by Heaven as an arbiter over the mode of governance, have the right for rebellion against cruel and oppressive lords. In a brilliant mode of rhetoric, Mengzi surprises his conversational partners, mainly lords, by luring them into traps of self-contradiction in order to awaken their consciousness of wrong-doing. In order to do this, Mengzi makes use of parables like the celebrated story a child falling into a well by which Mengzi demonstrated the innate goodness of man.

Even more systematic is the Confucian text Xunzi, probably the first real "book" in the history of Chinese literature (even if the book in its received form was certainly not composed by one person in one time), and presenting methodically the teachings of Xun Kuang 荀況, a late Warring-States philosopher. Convinced that human nature was bad (contrary to Mengzi), Xunzi argues with rationality rather than with parables and images, and sees rituals and ceremonies as an instrument to form and discipline man. This argument brings Xunzi into the vicinity of the legalist school.

While these three, the Lunyu, Mengzi, and Xunzi, represent the ruist school or different lineages of it, tomb excavations brought to light some other texts that can be associated with ru thought, like the finds from Guodian: Ziyi 緇衣 "Black robes", Lu Mugong wen Zisi 魯穆公問子思 "Duke Mu of Lu inquired Zisi", Tang Yu zhi dao 唐虞之道 "The Way of Yao and Shun", Wuxing 五行 "The Five Conducts" (attributed to Zisi), Zun deyi 尊德義 "Revering virtue and propriety", and so on.

Also, most chapters of the ritual classics Liji 禮記, Yili 儀禮 or Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記 had originally been separate texts or "books" of their own. Most famous is this respect are the books Daxue 大學 and Zhongyong 中庸 which later achieved a prominent position in the Classics canon.

Daoist texts

The Confucians' nostalgia for antiquity was opposed by the Daoist school. The most important writings of this lineage are Laozi 老子 or Daodejing 道德經 "The Book of the Way and the Power", and Zhuangzi 莊子. The origin of the first is shrouded in mystery. It was allegedly written by Li Er 李耳 or Li Dan 李聃 and is written in cryptic verses, sometimes with rhyme. The original is preserved in two versions found in a Mawangdui tomb and found interest as a political treatise on rulership (or even military matters) by applying quietism or "non-action" (wuwei 無爲) by following spontaneity and the course of nature. The book was during the early Han period appropriated by the Huang-Lao school 黃老 with their mystic cosmology, and became part of a corpus of (largely lost) texts on the mythological Yellow Emperor (Huang Di 黃帝).

In opposition to ruists and many other writers, Laozi begins his teachings by declaring that names and designations are void and that word are actually not an adequate means to express the profound meaning of the principle underlying the whole world. The cosmic Way (dao 道) was mysterious and enigmatic and not seizable by the mind, also because of it was not characterized by constancy and reliability. The Way was in itself empty, void and enclosed in total quietness. Nonetheless, this non-dimension was the origin of everything, from Yin and Yang to the four seasons and the ten thousand creatures. Following this conception of an unstable world, words and designations would also constantly change, as can be seen in the text of the Daodejing, where the terminology is constantly changing. The book is rich in aphorisms and is therefore a popular source for mottoes. Quite characteristically, persons play no role in the book as actors in narrative prose - the "meta-physicist" Laozi speaks predominantly of the principles behind world, not of history, society, or the state.

The most outstanding example of Warring-States literature is the book Zhuangzi, allegedly compiled by Zhuang Zhou 莊周 (trad. 369-286 BCE), but consisting of parts written during different period of time. Zhuangzi, advocating a life of spontaneity, unification with the cosmic Way, distance from social obligations and political engagement, humility, simplicity and equality of social classes, operates with a multitude of similes, parables and metaphorical stories to enlighten the reader. Fictionalization, hyperbole, puns, wordplays, and imagination as counter-historical elements question and even ridicule the widespread faith of ruists in the paradigmatic character of historic figures.

Zhuangzi even turn around common perceptions by portraiting Confucius as someone being opposed to rites and social prescriptions. His idea was that social distinctions and even general modes of living are challenged not just by humoristic, but also by sarcasm and shocking images. With the use of sophistry and the literary tool of dreams Zhuangzi demonstrated that "reality" – or the Confucian attempt of "rectifying names/designations" (i.e. to achieve congruence of designation and content [of an office, of behaviour]) – wa nothing to rely upon because it was articifial.

Zhuangzi also challenges the traditional attitude of seeing individuals as part of a social network by focusing on the well-being of the self – a topic otherwise mentioned by Yang Zhu 楊朱, founder of the Yangist, "hedonist" or "individualist" school, of whose writings nothing has survived. The same is true for the dialecticians Hui Shi 惠施 and Gongsun Long 公孫龍, who with their wordplays and by distorting common-sense "facts" provoked conventional patterns of thought and society.

The Zhuangzi influenced not just the School of Mystery (xuanxue 玄學) that flourished during the Southern Dynasties period 南朝 (420-589), but also the authors of fantastic tales (zhiguai) of that period, and even Zen (Chan) Buddhism. Moreover, the book Zhuangzi (ch. Waiwu 外物) is the locus classicus for the word xiaoshuo 小說 "trivial talk", which became the modern word for "fiction".

Cosmological thought

Even if the oldest parts of the Shangshu purport to date from oldest times, quite a few chapters were written as late as the Warring States period, a time of great political and social disruptions. Literature therefore presented the image of a world of stability determined by a regular cosmo-political order. Examples for the construction of such an ideal world are the chapters Hongfan 洪範, Yugong 禹貢, Yaodian 堯典 and Gao Yao mo 皋陶謨. The chapter Hongfan "The Great Plan" in particular describes the world as influenced by the forces of the Five Agents (wuxing 五行). The chapter Yugong "The Tribute of Yu" showcases the image of a world of "nine provinces" (jiuzhou 九州) of a unified "all-under-Heaven" (tianxia 天下) that did in fact not exist and had never existed. Both chapters operate with numerological concepts to explain the functioning of the cosmos and the empire, including seasons, cardinal directions, social structures and administration.

Another example of a Warring States text trying to bring mental order into the world is the ritual classic Zhouli 周禮 that purports to describe the administrative system of the Western Zhou. In this book, too, state offices are tied to the sphere of the seasons - on the highest level the Six Ministries (liubu 六部) that are related to Heaven, the Earth, and the four seasons, and accordingly take over duties related to these subjects (rites in spring, war in summer, execution in autumn, and repair in winter).

Close to the Yugong with its descriptions of local products and tributes delivered to the royal court is the account of King Mu's phantastic travel to the west, Mu Tianzi zhuan 穆天子傳 (dated 4th century BCE), where the king is depicted as a cosmic sovereign communicating with deities and spirits. The ethno-cosmography Shanhaijing 山海經, whose first chapters were written during the Warring States period, is a mandala-like description of the world and not a genuine geographical text. Many statements of the Shanhaijing like such on bizarre persons, plants or animals belong to the early genre of tales, which brings it into the vicinity of semi-historiographical texts.

A last example for the dominance of cosmological thinking in the late Warring States period is the collection Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋, allegedly compiled under the direction of the chief counsellor of Qin, Lü Buwei 呂不韋 (d. 235 BCE). In this text, too, the issue of governance is tied to the months of the year and the phaenology of nature.

Astrologers working with lunar phases, and agronomists concerned with the seasonal work of farmers probably contributed to the concept of the two interrelated "forces" Yin 陰 and Yang 陽, the former associated with the night, darkness, weakness, winter, or the female, and the former with day, brightness, strength, summer, or the male. In philosophy and literature, the concept of Yin and Yang is mirrored in the individual lines of the Yijing hexagrams, but found a new and stronger interpretation to this Classic in the shape of the Dazhuan 大傳 (Xiangzhuan 象傳) commentary compiled in the late Warring States period. Unlike the regular transgression from Yin to Yang and back, the Dazhuan interpretes the swith from solid Yang lines to broken Yin lines as spontaneous. The commentary also holds that the invention of cultural objects were inspired by the spontaneous and natural changes of the hexagrams.

Other traditions

Even if not very outstanding in literary ways, the main opponents of Mengzi must be mentioned. The Mohists, represented by Mo Di and the canon Mozi, attacked the waste of resources for the lavish funerals and sacrificial ceremonies carried out by the ru ritualists, and the latter's advocating of social distinctions by bringing forward the argument of "universal love" (jian'ai 兼愛) as a precept for social peace. The Mohists believed that Heaven was much more actively interfering into the human world as it was in the world concept of the ruists. The same is true for spirits and ghosts, discussion about which Confucius had refused. Another Mohist difference to the ruists was the conception of "sages" as creators of (necessary) artifice, not as artificers of ritual patterns in the shape of (written or orally transmitted) texts. The core chapters of the book Mozi operate with a dense rhetorical pattern of arguments and logic to support propositions.

Much closer to the literary field is the book Hanfeizi, constituting the essence of legalist thought. Han Fei stands in the tradition of older legalist texts like Shangjunshu, but goes away from the sphere of legal precepts to an argumentative level by justifying each of his points with a bunch of striking, narrative examples from history, thus combining logic with historiography and fiction. The Hanfeizi is the first book presenting a reflection on the main proposition of Daoism.

Both the Mohist and the legalist tradition fell into oblivion with the foundation of the Han dynasty.

The syncretist tradition might be represented by the book Guanzi 管子, attributed to Guan Zhong 管仲 (725-645 BCE), chief minister in Qi during the Spring and Autumn period, but in fact composed of many different chronological layers. It includes legalist and Daoist thinking and – quite outstanding – quite a few precepts of political economy. The chapter Neiye 内業 "Inner Workings" describes natural phenomena as influenced by spirits in the shape of qi 氣 "energetic spirit". Cultivation meant to refine the qi in order to achieve moral improvement.

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