An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Yueling 月令

Apr 6, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

Yueling 月令 "Proceedings of government in the different months" was a book on the monthly phenology through the year. It was compiled by an unknown person and is transmitted as a chapter of the Confucian Classic Liji 禮記. This chapter is similar to the older calendrical treatise Xia xiaozheng 夏小正 which in turn is part of the sub-classic Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記.

For each of the twelve months, the astronomical phenomena are described, the climate, the acitvities of animals like birds and insects, and the activities of the farmers. An example: "In the last month of spring, the sun is in Wei 胃, the constellation culminating at dusk being Qixing 七星, and that culminating at dawn Qianniu 牽牛. Rainbows begin to appear. In this month the influences of life and growth are fully developed; and the warm and genial airs diffuse themselves. The rains of the season will be coming down, and the waters beneath will be swelling up.” or “The Elaeococca begins to flower. Moles are transformed into quails. Duckweed begins to grow. The crooked shoots are all put forth, and the buds are unfolded."

Compared to the Xia xiaozheng, the Yueling is much more detailed, and also more reliable, because the proper text of the older calendar is spoiled by transmission. The text of the Yueling includes the descriptions of 25 constellations.

Table 1. Starry Constellations Mentioned in the Yueling
恆星 Hengxing The Polestar
營室 Yingshi
Hu xxx
建星 Jianxing
斗 (七星) Dou (Qixing)
牽牛 Qianniu
婺女 Wunü
東井 Dongjing
Huo xxs
觜觽 Zixi
東辟 Dongbi xxx
not mentioned: 心, 箕, 壁, 昴, 鬼, 張

The later standard system of the 28 constellations is thus nearly complete. Very interesting are the statements about the culminations of the constellations at dusk and at dawn. In comparison to the much older text Yaodian 堯典, a chapter of the Classic Shangshu 尚書, which only describes four constellations (Niao 鳥, Huo 火, Xu 虛, and Mao 昴), the progress in astronomical knowledge is decisive. On the basis of these descriptions it can be seen that that the text of the Yueling corresponds to the astronomical situation of the last millennium BCE, with the earliest possible date being 620 BCE.

The few names of the solar terms (jieqi 節氣) mentioned in the Yueling do not yet constitute the full system as it developed later. It is said, for instance, that in the first month of spring, "there takes place the inauguration of spring" (yi li chun 以立春), and that in the second "rains begins to fall" (shi yu shui 始雨水), while in the last month of spring "the buds are (all) unfolded" (meng zhe jin da 萌者盡達), and in the first month of summer, "the husbandman is stimulated to work [vigorously]" (ming nong mian zuo 命農勉作). The first two are identical to the commonly used ones (Lichun and Yushui), while the last two examples do not correspond to any of the established solar terms.

A further difference between the Xia xiaozheng and the Yueling is that the latter includes wealth of information about human acitivities, some of which are deeply influenced by correlative thinking that became fashionable during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). According to this complex philosophy, human action was restricted by numerous cosmic influences, either positive or negative.

As part of the Classic Liji, the Yueling naturally attracted the interest of many Confucian scholars and was often commented along with the other chapters of the Liji. Cai Yong 蔡邕, a late Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE) scholar, wrote a sentence commentary, Yueling zhangju 月令章句, the Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Zhang Fu 張虙 (jinshi degree 1195) wrote the Yueling jie 月令解, the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Huang Daozhou 黄道周 (1585-1646) the Yueling mingyi 月令明義, and during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) Mo Xi 莫熺 (fl. 1669) authored the Yueling kao 月令考 and Sun Guoren 孫國仁 (dates unknown) the Liji Yueling kaoyi 禮記月令考异.

Quotation 1. The First Month (Mengchun zhi yue 孟春之月)
N.B. Translation according to Legge (XXX).
孟春之月,日在營室,昏參中,旦尾中。其日甲乙。其帝大皞,其神句芒。其蟲鱗。其音角。律中大蔟。其數八。其味酸,其臭羶。其祀戶,祭先脾。 In the first month of spring the sun is in Shi 室, the star culminating at dusk being Shen 參, and that culminating at dawn Wei 尾. Its days are jia 甲 and yi 乙. Its divine ruler is Dai Hao 大皞, and the (attending) spirit is Gou Mang 句芒. Its creatures are the scaly. Its musical note is Jiao 角, and its pitch-tube is the Daicu 大蔟. Its number is eight; its taste is sour; its smell is rank. Its sacrifice is that at the door, and of the parts of the victim the spleen has the foremost place.
東風解凍,蟄蟲始振,魚上冰,獺祭魚,鴻鴈來。 The east winds resolve the cold. Creatures that have been torpid during the winter begin to move. The fishes rise up to the ice. Otters sacrifice fish. The wild geese make their appearance.
天子居青陽左个。乘鸞路,駕倉龍,載青旂,衣青衣,服倉玉。食麥與羊,其器疏以達。 The Son of Heaven occupies the apartment on the left of the Qingyang [Fane]; rides in the carriage with the phoenix [bells], drawn by the azure-dragon [horses], and carrying the green flag; wears the green robes, and the [pieces of] green jade [on his cap and at his girdle pendant]. He eats wheat and mutton. The vessels which he uses are slightly carved, [to resemble] the shooting forth [of plants].
是月也,以立春。先立春三日,大史謁之天子曰:「某日立春,盛德在木。」天子乃齊。立春之日,天子親帥三公九卿諸侯大夫以迎春於東郊。還反,賞公卿諸侯大夫於朝。 In this month there takes place the inauguration of spring. Three days before this ceremony, the Grand Recorder (daishi 大史) informs the Son of Heaven, saying, "On such and such a day is the inauguration of the spring. The energies of the season are fully seen in wood. On this the Son of Heaven devotes himself to self-purification, and on the day he leads in person the Three Dukes, his Nine Ministers, the feudal lords, and his Grand Masters, to meet the spring in the eastern suburb; and on their return, he rewards them all in the court.
命相布德和令,行慶施惠,下及兆民。慶賜遂行,毋有不當。 He charges his assistants to disseminate [lessons of] virtue, and harmonise the governmental orders, to give effect to the expressions of his satisfaction and bestow his favours; down to the millions of the people. Those expressions and gifts thereupon proceed, every one in proper [degree and direction].
是月也,天子乃以元日祈穀于上帝。乃擇元辰,天子親載耒耜,措之于參保介之御間,帥三公九卿諸侯大夫,躬耕帝藉。天子三推,(三)公五推,卿諸侯九推。反,執爵于大寢,三公九卿諸侯大夫皆御,命曰勞酒。 In this month the Son of Heaven on the first day prays to the god for a good year; and afterwards, the day of the first conjunction of the sun and moon having been chosen, with the handle and share of the plough in the carriage, placed between the man-at-arms who is its third occupant and the driver, he conducts his Three Dukes, his Nine Ministers, the feudal lords and his Grand Masters, all with their own hands to plough the field of god. The Son of Heaven turns up three furrows, each of the Three Dukes five, and the other ministers and feudal lords nine. When they return, he takes in his hand a cup in the great chamber, all the others being in attendance on him and the Grand Masters, and says, "Drink this cup of comfort after your toil".
禁止伐木。毋覆巢,毋殺孩蟲、胎、夭、飛鳥。毋麛、毋卵。毋聚大眾,毋置城郭。掩骼埋胔。 Prohibitions are issued against cutting down trees. Nests should not be thrown down; unformed insects should not be killed, nor creatures in the Womb, nor very young creatures, nor birds just taking to the wing, nor fawns, nor should eggs be destroyed. No congregating of multitudes should be allowed, and no setting about the rearing of fortifications and walls. Skeletons should be covered up, and bones with the flesh attached to them buried.
Wang Yiliang 王貽梁 (1996). "Liji: Yueling 禮記·月令", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Keji 科技卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 97.
Yang Ronggai 楊榮垓 (1998). "Yueling 月令", in Tang Jiahong 唐嘉弘, ed. Zhongguo gudai dianzhang zhidu da cidian 中國古代典章制度大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 1027.


Further reading:
Chen Meichen 陈美东 (1995). "Yueling, yinyangjia yu tianwen lifa 月令、阴阳家与天文历法", Zhongguo wenhua 中国文化, 1995/2.
Dong, Kaichen (1981). "A Preliminary Discussion of Chinese Agricultural Treatises in the Style of 'Monthly Ordinances': Yueling", Journal d'agriculture traditionnelle et de botanique appliquée; Travaux d'ethno-botanique et d'ethnozoologie, 28/3-4: 231-252.
Sanft, Charles (2008). "Edict of Monthly Ordinances for the Four Seasons in Fifty Articles from 5 C.E.: Introduction to the Wall Inscription Discovered at Xuanquanzhi, with Annotated Translation", Early China, 32: 125-208.
Yang Zhenhong 杨振红 (2004). "Yueling yu Qin-Han zhengzhi zai tantao: Jian lun yueling yuanyuan 月令与秦汉政治再探讨——兼论月令源流", Lishi yanjiu 历史研究, 2004/3.