An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Li Xuzhong mingshu 李虛中命書

Nov 29, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Li Xuzhong mingshu 李虛中命書 "Li Xuzhong's book of fate" is a book on prognostication traditionally attributed to the "Master of the Demon Valley" Guiguzi 鬼谷子, and the Tang-period 唐 (618-907) commentator Li Xuzhong 李虛中 (762-813).

Li Xuzhong, courtesy name Changrong 常容, was Palace Censor (dianzhong shi yushi 殿中侍御史). The famous writer Han Yu 韓愈 (768-824) wrote a tomb inscription for him, in which is it said that Li was an expert in the theory of the Five Agents (wuxing 五行) and used to soothsay good and bad fortune for everyone.

A book of the title Li Xuzhong mingshu geju 李虛中命書格局 with a length of 2 juan is first mentioned during the Song period 宋 (960-1279). It seems to have consisted of a main part, Li Xuzhong mingshu 李虛中命術, and an appendix Mingshu buyi 命書補遺, as Zheng Qiao's 鄭樵 (1104-1162) encyclopaedia Tongzhi 通志 says. The bibliography Junzhai dushu zhi 郡齋讀書志 is the first who says that the book had a length of 3 juan, while the bibliography Jiaoshi jingji zhi 焦氏經籍志 says that the Mingshu was 3-juan-long, with a separate appendix of 1 juan.

The original text is unfortunately lost, so that the problem of these contradictions can not be solved. Fortunately enough, the Ming-period 明 (1368-1644) encyclopaedia Yongle dadian 永樂大典 quotes long passages of the book, so that the compilers of the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 were able to reconstruct a large part of the Mingshu.

The preface says that the diviner Sima Jizhu 司馬季主 once met Master Guiguzi at the foot of Mt. Hushan 壺山. Master Guiguzi presented him with a book of nine chapters discussing obscure matters. The version that Li Xuzhong edited was a compilation on the base of several texts of various origins. The modern scholar Yu Jiaxi 余嘉錫 (1884-1955) holds that the whole book was written by Li Xuzhong himself, while the preface was added by later persons. Yu says that the first fascile discussing the sixty combinations of the cyclical characters is identical to what the old bibliographies call the appendix. It is interesting to see that the text does not make use of the birth hours for prognostication, which is not identical to Han Yu's statement in the tomb inscriptions. All statements about hours or the "four pillars (sizhu 四柱) must have been compiled at a later date. The use of birth hours as a factor for divination is confirmed in Zhu Song's 朱松 (1380-1407) collected works Weizhai ji 韋齋集 (Song rizhe Su Jun xu 送日者蘇君序), and in Hong Kuo's 洪适 (1117-1184) collected works Panzhou ji 盤洲集 (Song Wang xiucai xu 送王秀才序).

The Li Xuzhong mingshu is included in the series Mohai jinhu 墨海金壺, Shoushange congshu 守山閣 and Siku quanshu.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1789.