An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Baihutong 白虎通

Jul 18, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Baihutong delun 白虎通德論 "Virtuous discussions of the White Tiger Hall", also called Baihu tongyi 白虎通義 "Comprehensive meanings [as discussed] in the White Tiger [Hall]" or shortly Baihutong 白虎通, is a kind of literary protocol of the discussions on the relationships between politics, cosmology and philosophy that were held in 79 CE in the White Tiger Hall 白虎觀. The book was compiled under the supervision of the historian Ban Gu 班固 (32-92 CE).

The discussants were high state officials and Confucian scholars, as experts in the Five Confucian Classics. Questions about ideology, superstition and the relationship between Heaven and Man were not new at that time. People like Wang Chong 王充 (Lunheng 論衡) and Huan Tan 桓譚 (Xinlun 新論) likewise opposed against the superstitious thinking of their contemporaries.

With the restauration of the Han dynasty 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) in 25 CE, Emperor Guangwu 漢光武帝 (r. 25-57) allowed the tradition of apocryphal texts (chenwei 讖緯) to be integrated in the canon of Confucian classics taught at the National University (taixue 太學). This was all the more troublesome, as the "erudites" (boshi 博士) teaching the Confucian classics were not united with regard to the issue which versions of the Classics had to be used for instruction at the University, either the so-called new-text classics (jinwen jing 今文經) which were geared to cosmological interpretation, or the old-text classics (guwen jing 古文經) that had a more worldly approach with a philological tradition.

During the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BC-8 CE), a first conference about the canon of Confucian Classics had been held in the Shiqu Hall 石渠閣. Emperor Zhang 漢章帝 (r. 75-88) of the Later Han dynasty decided to convoke a similar conference at the White Tiger Hall in Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan). It was presided by the emperor himself. The main discussants were Wei Ying 魏應, Chunyu Gong 淳于恭, Jia Kui 賈逵, Ban Gu, Yang Zhong 楊終, Ding Hong 丁鴻, Lou Wang 樓望, Zhang Fu 張酺, Cheng Feng 成封, Lu Gong 魯恭, Huan Yu 桓鬱 and Zhao Xun 召馴. The questions to the matters to disputed were handed in to Wei Ying who had them presented to the emperor. Chunyu Gong answered as a representative of the Confucian scholars. The emperor then decided which answer should be adopted as the imperial standard. The conference lasted over a few months before all questions were dealt with.

The main result of the discussions in the White Tiger Hall was the adaption of the new-text classics as the orthodox versions, as had been already suggested by Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (179-104 BCE) a century earlier, as well as the inclusion of apocryphal texts as interpretive sources. The correlative theories of the Five Agents and the cosmic forces Yin and Yang thus became more stable as a basis for natural science, social science, the governmental system and the understanding of human relationships.

The book Baihutong is not a protocol of the conference, but presents the ideological tenets that were the result of the discussion. It is divided into 43 chapters that cover a large amount of themes, from social questions to such of ritual and propriety, customs and habits, human relations, and the administrative system. Most aspects are concerned with state and society, but a lot of discussions also center around philosophical questions. The book Baihutong is thus an essence of Han-period thought.

Heaven and Earth were seen as the parents of the ruler, the "Son of Heaven" (tianzi 天子). Heaven was the superior judge over the moral comportment especially of the ruler. If the ruler followed the will of Heaven by exerting a virtuous government, he is benefitted by a long rule and the subjects' support. If the ruler was disobedient to Heaven's will, earthquake, disasters and anormal events contradicting the natural flux of seasonal and phenological changes would give him hints of his misbehavior, and in the end, the people would rebell and the ruler or his dynasty be wiped away. A ruler exerting politics of humanity and righteousness would have Heaven's religious authority or the "Heavenly Mandate" (tianming 天命). All things under Heaven followed the natural Celestial order, and Heaven (tian 天) "guarded" (zhen 鎮) mankind. While the Earth was its ancestor and progenitor, Heaven and mankind were essentially similar, or even "one and the same". This order began with the different grades for governmental officials and ends with the social order inside the families, the ancestor being the highest person in a household, after him the father, the son, the mother, and then the daughters. What was therefore to achieve is a natural harmony between the nature and man, and the state and its subjects.

The discussions of the White Tiger Hall were therewith a mirror of the Confucian society. All patterns and rules of the social order serve to facilitate the human relationships. The Five Agents (wuxing 五行) were expressions of Heaven's movement of cosmic "breath" (qi 氣). The shape of the human body was given to man by the "matter" of breath, and its spirit was the practical aspect of the cosmic breath. The difference between humans and animals were that the former possessed the five constant virtues (wuchang 五常), namely kindheartedness (ren 仁), a sense of propriety (yi 義), rituals (li 禮), wisdom (zhi 智), trustworthiness (xin 信). The human character (xing 性) was the expression of the cosmic force Yang, while affects (qing 情) were expressions of the Yin.

In correspondence to these underlying cosmic principles, state and society had to be constructed. The three human relationships (sangang 三綱) determined the subordination of ministers, sons and women under rulers, fathers and men. The state was governed by the Three Dukes (sangong 三公), the Minister of War (sima 司馬, with the horse, ma 馬, as a Yang element), the Minister of Education (situ 司徒) and the Minister of Works (sikong 司空, with the cave, kong 空, as a Yin element).

The Baihutong is to be found in the series Liangjing yibian 兩京遺編, Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書, Gezhi congshu 格致叢書, Gujin yishi 古今逸史, Baojingtang congshu 抱經堂叢書, Zishu baizhong 子書百種, Mishu ershiyi zhong 秘書二十一種, Mishu ershiba zhong 秘書二十八種, Guang Han-Wei congshu 廣漢魏叢書, Sibu congkan 四部叢刊 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書. One of the most important commentaries is Chen Li's 陳立 Baihutong zhengshu 白虎通疏證 from the Qing period 清 (1644-1911).

The Baihutong has been translated by Tjan Tjoe Som (1952), Po Hu T'ung: the Comprehensive Discussion in the White Tiger Hall, Leiden: Brill.

Table 1. Contents of the Baihutong 白虎通
1. Ranks
2. Titles
3. Posthumous titles
4. 五祀 The Five Sacrifices
5. 禮稷 Ritual and offerings to the Lord of Millet
6. 禮樂 Ritual and music
7. 封公侯 Titles of nobility
8. 京師 The Capital
9. 五行 The Five Agents
10. 三軍 The three hosts
11. 誅伐 Execution and punitive expeditions
12. 諫諍 Admonishing and remonstrating the ruler
13. 鄉射 The district archery contest
14. 致仕 Retiring from office
15. 辟雍 The Royal School
16. 災變 Natural disasters
17. 耕桑 Tilling and weaving
18. 封禪 The fengshan offerings to Heaven and Earth
19. 巡狩 Imperial inspection tours
20. 考黜 Examination and degradation
21. 王者不臣 Whom the king does not consider his subjects
22. 蓍龜 Divining by milfoil and tortoise bones
23. 聖人 Sages
24. 八風 The eight winds
25. 商賈 Merchants and vendors
26. 文質 Ritual presents
27. 三正 The three rectifications
28. 三教 The three instructions
29. 三綱六紀 The three major and six minor principles
30. 情性 Temperament and character
31. 壽命 Life and Heavenly Mandate
32. 宗族 Ancestors and kinship
33. 姓名 Names and surnames
34. 天地 Heaven and Earth
35. 日月 Sun and moon
36. 四時 The four seasons
37. 衣裳 Clothes and robes
38. 五刑 The five punishments
39. 五經 The Five Classical Writings
40. 嫁娶 Wedding and nuptial customs
41. 紼冕 Cords and caps
42. 喪衣 Mourning garments
43. 崩薨 Death and burial of the emperor and the regional rulers
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