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Chinese Literature
Huangji jingshi shu 皇極經世書 "The Book of the August Ultimate Through the Ages"


The Huangji jingshi shu 皇極經世書 "Book of the August Ultimate through the ages", short Huangji jingshi, is a Daoist treatise written by the early Northern Song 北宋 (960-1126) mathematician and philosopher Shao Yong 邵雍. According to Chao Shuozhi's 晁說之 biography of Shao Yong's teacher Li Zhicai 李之才, the mathematical knowledge and the metaphysical speculation derived from it goes back to the Daoist master Chen Tuan 陳摶. The book Huangji jingshi is a writing about the "order of things on earth" (wuli 物理, the modern term for "physics"). The term huangji 皇極 comes from the chapter Hongfan 洪範 "The Great Plan" in the Confucian Classic Shangshu 尚書, where "the establishment and use of royal perfection" is one of the divisions of the "Great Plan". The Tang period 唐 (618-907) commentator Kong Yingda 孔穎達 explains that huangji means "great centre" (dazhong 大中), and is a means to measure the affairs of the world (jingwei shishi 經緯世事).
The 12 juan "scrolls" long book is divided into three parts and describes the whole course of Chinese history from the viewpoint of the effects of the trigrams (guaxiang 卦象) of the "Book of Changes" Yijing 易經. In the first six fascicles the author explains, with the logic of the Yijing hexagrams and their visual realization, how the world and society developed from mythical times under the reign of Emperor Yao 堯 to the end of the Five Dynasties period 五代 (907-960). The fascicles 7 to 10 are dedicated to the explanation of the influence of cosmology on music. The central part of the book are the chapters Guanwu neipian 觀物內篇 (11) and Guanwu waipian 觀物外篇 (12). The Waipian was presumably written by disciples of Shao Yong. In the Guanwu chapters "Observing things" Shao Yong explains his doctrine of the Former Heaven (xiantian zhi xue 先天之學). He argues that there are pre-modeled patterns for all creatures and creations in the Former Heaven, according to which the ten thousand beings are generated. All things on earth are therefore only copies of these ideal models. With the help of many illustrations and diagrams Shao Yong demonstrates the patterns of the Former Heaven models and their realization. In this type of creation, numbers play an important role and show that Shao Yong's philosophy was heavily influenced by numerology with a little tast of what modern Chinese scholars call "occultism" (shenmizhuyi 神秘主義). Despite of this phantastic background, Shao Yong's status as a forerunner of the great Neo-Confucians made the Huangji jingshi shu an important source for a lot of Song period philosophers.
The teachings of Shao Yong's book were perpetuated and commented by his disciples Wang Shi 王湜 (Yixue 易學), Zhu Bi 祝泌 (Huangji jingshi jie 皇極經世解 and Qishujue 起數訣), Zhang Xingcheng 張行成 (Huangji jingshi suoyin 皇極經世索隱), Huang Ji 黃畿 (Huangji jingshi shu zhuan 皇極經世書傳) and the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Wang Zhi 王植 (Huangji jingshu shu jie 皇極經世書解). The great Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi 朱熹 praised Shao Yong for his comprehensive explanation of the universe by the book Yijing. Yet he also criticized him because a mantic book like the Yijing could not be used to explain the world in terms of regular astronomical calculations (tuibu 推步). Zhu Xi objects that changes in the Yijing were not bound to regular periods, as Shao Yong postulated in his book. The influence of Daoism can be seen in Shao Yong's political concept that order comes out of chaos, and each order has to go over to chaos one day. The Huangji jingshi is part of the Daoist Canon Daozang 道藏 and the collectaneum Siku quanshu 四庫全書.


Sources:
Gao Liushui 高流水 (1996). "Huangji jingshi 皇極經世", in: Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升 (ed.), Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典, Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe, p. 434.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 1781.


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August 26, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail