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Chinese Literature
Wuxing zhi 五行志 "Treatise on the Five Phases"


Wuxing zhi 五行志 "Treatise on the Five Phases" is a specialized type of chapter found in the official dynastic histories. It was first used in Ban Gu's 班固 Hanshu 漢書 and is to be found in all dynastic histories except the Weishu 魏書, Xin Wudaishi 新五代史 and Liaoshi 遼史.

The Wuxing zhi in the history Jinshu 晉書 explains that Ban Gu used the "Great Commentary" Dazhuan 大傳 (i.e. Shangshu dazhuan 尚書大傳) and enriched its statements with writings of the philosopher Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 and the librarians and scholars Liu Xiang 劉向 and Liu Xin 劉歆.

The Wuxing zhi in the Hanshu includes reports about the teachings of the masters Mu Meng 眭孟, Xiahou Sheng 夏侯勝, Jing Fang 京房, Gu Yong 谷永 and Li Xun 李尋 and their disciples. The teachings of these people, many of which were also known as Confucian erudites, were concerned with the divination of luck and mischief of government in order to prognosticate the outcome of political rule as described in the Confucian Classic Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals".

The treatises focus on three aspects, namely the correct "Way" of rule, seen from the side of the ruler, how loyal ministers served him, how "ten thousand beings" followed their correct nature, the airs were harmonious, portents of happiness (xiuzheng 休徵) appeared, and the empire at peace; secondly, a ruler's loosing the correct Way, when "small men" were appointed to high offices, the masses behaved not in the proper way, weird airs came down, portents of disaster (jiuzheng 咎徵) appeared, and the dynasty declined; finally, the right reaction in face of natural disasters by cutting expenditure and abstaining from luxury, by the ruler's personal commitment to the establishing of a rule of virtue, a kind of "crisis management" by the emperor and his capable ministers, and the amending of faults in order to attract Heavenly auspiciousness again.
The Wuxing zhi treatises explain the rise and downfall of each dynasty with the help of metaphysical arguments.

Source: Gao Liushui 高流水 (1996). "Wuxing zhi 五行志", 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. 432.

Chinese literature according to the four-category system

January 1, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail