Source: The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism. Part I The Shu King, the Religious Portions of the Shih King, the Hsiao King, trans. James Legge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879). Chapter: INTRODUCTION to The Shu King.
Copyright: The text is in the public domain.
Fair Use: This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
1. The Shû is the most ancient of the Chinese classical books, and contains historical documents of various kinds, relating to the period from about bc 2357-627.
The book has come down to us in a mutilated condition; but even as it is said to have existed in the time of Confucius, it did not profess to contain a history of China, and much less, to give the annals of that history. It was simply a collection of historical memorials, extending over a space of about 1700 years, but on no connected method, and with frequent and great gaps between them.
The name King (now in Pekinese King) was not added to Shû till the time of the Han dynasty (began bc 202). If Confucius applied it to any of the classical works, it was to the classic of Filial Piety, as will be seen in the Introduction to the translation of that work. The Han scholars, however, when engaged in collecting and digesting the ancient literary monuments of their country, found it convenient to distinguish the most valuable of them, that had been acknowledged by Confucius, as King, meaning what was canonical and of unchallengeable authority.
2. In the Confucian Analects, the sage and one of his disciples quote from the Shû by the simple formula—‘The Shû says.’
One passage in Mencius seems to put it beyond a doubt that the Shû existed as such a collection in his time. Having said that ‘it would be better to be without the Shû than to give entire credit to it,’ he makes immediate reference to one of the books of our classic by name, and adds, ‘In the Completion of the War I select two or three passages only, and believe them1 .’ In Mo-?ze, Hsün-?ze, and other writers of the last two centuries of the Kâu dynasty, the Shû is quoted in the same way, and also frequently with the specification of its parts or larger divisions,—‘The Books of Yü,’ ‘of Hsiâ,’ ‘of Shang,’ ‘of Kâu.’ And, in fine, in many of the narratives of ?o Khiû-ming’s commentary on the Spring and Autumn, the Shû is quoted in the same way, even when the narratives are about men and events long anterior to the sage2 . All these considerations establish the thesis of this paragraph, that the Shû was an existing collection of historical documents before Confucius.
We have seen, however, that the collection existed in his time and before it. Did it then, as An-kwo says, consist of a hundred books? His authority for saying so was a Preface, which was found along with the old tablets of the Shû that were discovered in his time and deciphered by him, as will be related farther on. He does not say, however, that it was the work of Confucius, though Khien does. It still exists,—a list of eighty-one documents in a hundred books. The prevailing opinion of scholars in China is now, that it was not written by the sage. I entirely agree myself with the judgment of ?hâi Kh?n, the disciple of Kû Hsî, whose Collected Comments, first published ad 1210, are now the standard of orthodoxy in the interpretation of the Shû. He says of the document: ‘It sheds light on nothing, and there are things in it at variance with the text of the classic. On the books that are lost it is specially servile and brief, affording us not the slightest help. That it is not the work of Confucius is exceedingly plain.’
The eighty-one documents mentioned in it, and more, may have been in the Shû of the time of Confucius. I think, however, that several of them must have been lost subsequently, before the rise of the tyrant of Khin, who doomed the whole collection to the flames. Mencius complains that in his days the feudal princes destroyed many of the records of antiquity that they might the better perpetrate their own usurpations and innovations1 . Other considerations, on the exhibition of which I need not enter, confirm me in this conclusion.
We have. Under the dynasty of Kâu (bc 1122-256), at the royal court, and at the courts of the feudal princes on a smaller scale, there were officers styled Sze, which has been translated ‘Recorders,’ ‘Annalists,’ ‘Historiographers,’ and simply ‘Clerks.’ There were the Grand Recorder, the Assistant Recorder, the Recorder of the Interior, the Recorder of the Exterior, and the Recorder in Attendance on the Sovereign. Among the duties of the Recorder of the Interior were the following:—‘In case of any charge given by the king to the prince of a state, or to any other dignitary, he writes it on tablets;’ ‘In case of any memorials on business coming in from the different quarters of the kingdom, he reads them (to the king);’ ‘It is his business to write all charges of the king, and to do so in duplicate.’ Of the duties of the Recorder of the Exterior it is said:—‘He has charge of the histories of the states in all parts of the kingdom;’ ‘He has charge of the most ancient books;’ ‘It is his business to publish in all parts of the kingdom the books and the characters in them1 .’
These entries show that under the Kâu dynasty there was provision made for the recording and preservation of royal charges and ordinances, of the operations of the general government, and of the histories of the different states; and, moreover, for the preservation and interpretation of documents come down from more ancient times. Confucius himself tells us that in his early days a recorder would leave a blank in his text, rather than enter anything of which he had not sufficient evidence2 . Mencius also mentions three works, the Sh?ng of Kin, the Thâo-wû of Khû, and the Khun Khiû of Lû, which must have come from the recorders of those states.
Of the existence of a similar class of officers under the previous dynasties of Shang or Yin (bc 1766-1123) and Hsiâ (bc 2205-1765), we have not such abundant evidence. Chapter 2 in the 10th Book of the 5th Part of our classic, however, seems to speak of them in the time of the former. Wû-ting (bc 1324-1264), the twentieth sovereign of it, is described as communicating, in writing, a dream which he had had, to his ministers3 ; and fully four hundred years earlier, Î Yin, the chief minister, remonstrates, in writing, with his young and careless sovereign Thâi Kiâ4 . Going back to the dynasty of Hsiâ, we find the prince of Yin, during the reign of Kung Khang (bc 2159-2145), in addressing his troops, quotes the Statutes of Government in a manner which makes us conceive of him as referring to a well-known written compilation5 . The grandsons of the great Yü, its founder (bc 2205-2196), likewise, make mention, in the Songs of the Five Sons, of his Lessons, in a style that suggests to us the formula that Mencius was wont to employ when referring to the documents acknowledged to be of authority in his day1 .
Mâ Twan-lin, the encyclopedist, in his General Examination of Records and Scholars, first published ad 1321, says that ‘the pencil of the recorders was busy from the time of Hwang Tî (bc 2697).’ The compilers of the records of the Sui dynasty (ad 589-617) say that ‘historical documents began immediately with the invention of written characters.’ That invention I must place myself at an earlier date than the time assigned to Hwang Tî. When once the characters were invented, they would come in time to be employed in the writing of history. The early dates alleged for many of the documents in the Shû are no valid reason for rejecting them without further examination. We may rather be surprised that, when the compilation was made, it did not contain many more than a hundred documents.
This is not the place to explain the reasons that led to this insane attempt to extinguish, with the exception of one work, the ancient literary monuments of China. The edict was ruthlessly enforced, and hundreds of scholars who refused obedience to the imperial command were buried alive. The Shû had nearly perished from off the earth.
Among the scholars of Khin, however, there had been one, of the surname Fû, who, when the edict was issued, hid his tablets of the Shû in a wall. Returning for them, after the rule of Han was established, he found that many were perished or gone. He recovered only twenty-nine of the documents, containing, according to the division of them that has long been followed, thirty-five books in all. About one of them there is some difficulty, on the discussion of which I need not enter. Fû commenced teaching them, and from all parts scholars resorted to him, and sat at his feet. The emperor W?n (bc 179-155) heard of him, and sent one of the recorders of the court to visit him, and bring the recovered tablets themselves, or a copy of them, to the capital. They were in the form of the character that was prevalent at that time, different from that which had been used in previous centuries, and are known as ‘the Shû of the modern text.’ The Catalogue of the Imperial Library, prepared by Liû Hin for the emperor Âi (bc 6-1), contains an entry of ‘the text of the Shû in twenty-nine portions,’—the same, no doubt, which was received from Fû. Fû himself commented on his Shû. The text was engraved on the stone tablets of the emperor Ling (ad 168-189). Very many scholars of the Han times laboured on this text, taught it to their disciples, and published their views on it. Not one of their writings, however, survived, in a complete form, the troubles which desolated the empire during the reign of the emperor Hwâi (ad 307-312) of the western dynasty of Kin.
In the reign of the Han emperor Wû (bc 140-85) a discovery was made in the wall of the house of the Khung or Confucian family of the tablets of the Shû, the Spring and Autumn, the classic of Filial Piety, and the Lun-yü or Confucian Analects. How long they had lain there we do not know. It is commonly said that they had been hidden by some one of the Khung family to save them from the fires of Khin. But they were in a form of the character that had long gone into disuse, and which hardly any one could decipher, and must have been deposited towards the beginning of the fifth century bc They were committed to the care of Khung An-kwo, who was then one of the ‘great scholars’ of the empire, and the chief of the Khung family. By means of the current text of Fû and other resources he made out all the tablets of the Shû that were in good preservation, and in addition to Fû’s twenty-nine documents several others. He found also that Fû had in three cases incorporated two different documents under one name, and taken no note of the division of one other into three books or sections. Altogether there were now forty-six documents or different portions of the old Shû brought anew to light. They appear in Liû Hin’s Catalogue as ‘the text of the Shû in old characters in forty-six portions.’
When An-kwo had made out the tablets, he presented them to the emperor in bc 97, with a transcript of them in the current characters of the time, keeping a second transcript of them for himself; and he received an order to make a commentary on the whole. He did so, but when he was about to lay the result of his labours before the court, troubles had arisen which prevented for several years the paying attention to literary matters. It was owing to these that his commentary was neglected for a time, and the enlarged text which he had deciphered was not officially put in charge of the Board of ‘Great Scholars,’ to which the care of the five King, so far as they had been recovered, had been committed in bc 136.
An-kwo’s commentary, however, was not lost; but before speaking of it, I must refer to a third recovery of a large portion of the Shû early in our first century. A scholar and officer, named Tû Lin, had been a fugitive, having many wonderful escapes, during the usurpation of Mang (ad 9-22). During his wanderings he discovered a portion of the Shû on ‘lacquered’ tablets, or perhaps on lacquered cloth, which he thenceforth guarded as his richest treasure, and kept near his person. When the empire was again settled by the first emperor of the eastern Han, he communicated his text to other scholars. Wei Hung published a commentary on it, and subsequently Kiâ Khwei, Mâ Yung, and K?ng Khang-kh?ng (all, great names in Chinese literature) did the same. Tû Lin’s ‘lacquered’ books were the same in number as An-kwo’s, but they contained five documents in thirteen books, which were not in the text of the other, and wanted nine documents, also in thirteen books, which An-kwo’s text had. The commentary of K?ng Khang-kh?ng continued till the Sui dynasty, after which we lose sight of it.
I return to the commentary of An-kwo, which, of course, contained his text. Its transmission from hand to hand down to the close of the western Han dynasty is clearly traced. Less distinctly, but surely, we can discover evidence of its preservation, till we come to the commencement of the eastern dynasty of Kin, when Mei ?eh, a recorder of the Interior, having come into possession of a copy, presented it to the emperor Yuan (ad 317-322). The Canon of Shun was wanting in it, and was supplied from the commentary of Mâ Yung, based on the text of Tû Lin. From this time the text and commentary of An-kwo had their place assigned them in the Imperial College. They are mentioned in the Catalogue of the Imperial Library of Sui. The second emperor of the Thang dynasty gave orders for a grand edition of the Shû, under the superintendence of Khung Ying-tâ, assisted by others. They adopted the commentary of An-kwo, and enriched it with profuse annotations. In ad 654 their work was ordered to be printed, and happily remains to the present day. The text of the Shû, that is, of all of it that had been recovered by An-kwo, was still further secured, being engraved with that of all the other classics on the Thang tablets of stone which were completed in the year 837, and are still preserved at Khang-an, in Shen-hsî.
It is not necessary to trace the history of the Shû further on. The titles of more than 500 works, on the whole of it or on portions, from the dynasty of Thang to the present day, could easily be adduced. Under the Sung dynasty, indeed, there began the sceptical criticism, which, setting comparatively little store on external evidence, decides on the genuineness of documents principally from their style. The results of such criticism always vary according to the knowledge and the subjective character of the mind of its author. Many maintain that the commentary said to be that of An-kwo was not really from him, but was made by Mei ?eh, and palmed on the world under the name of the great Han scholar. Even if it were so, the work would remain, produced nearly 1600 years ago. And to the annotations of the Thang scholars upon it we are indebted for most of what we know of the earlier views of Mâ Yung, K?ng Khang-kh?ng, and other writers of the Han period. Whether its author were the true Khung or a false Khung, its value cannot be over-estimated. But I do not believe that it was a forgery. That An-kwo did write a commentary on his ‘Shû in the ancient characters’ is admitted by all. When did it perish? There is no evidence that it ever did so. On the contrary, its existence rises as a fact, here and there, at no great intervals of time, on the surface of the literary history of the empire, till we arrive at Mei ?eh, who received it, as Khung Ying-tâ proves, from a scholar named ?ang ?hâo.
Then as to the text of the Shû, there is no controversy about the documents which were recovered in the first place by Fû; but the additional ones found by Khung An-kwo are so much more easily understood, that I do not wonder that the charge of not being genuine has been raised against them. But even they are not easy. They only appear to be so, when we come to one of them, after toiling through some of the more contorted portions common to both texts. And, moreover, the style of the different books differs according to their subjects. The ‘Announcements’ are the hardest to understand of all. The ‘Charges,’ ‘Speeches,’ and ‘Instructions’ are much simpler in their construction; and the portions which we owe to An-kwo consist principally of these. In making out his obsolete characters he had, in the first place, to make use of the Books of Fû. That he did not servilely follow his text we conclude from the readings of Fû’s followers, different from his in many passages which the industry of critics has gathered up. When he came, however, to new books, which were not in Fû’s copy, he had to make out his tablets as he best could. His most valuable aid had ceased. We can conceive that, when he had managed to read the greater portion of a paragraph, and yet there were some stubborn characters that defied him, he completed it according to his understanding of the sense with characters of his own. That he was faithful and successful in the main we find by the many passages of his peculiar books that are found quoted in writings of the Kâu dynasty. This is a fact worthy of the most attentive consideration. I do not think there is an important statement in his chapters that is not thus vouched for. The characteristics of his books which have exposed them to suspicion are not sufficient to overthrow their claims to be regarded as genuine transcripts of the tablets discovered in the wall of the house of the Khung family.
The conclusion to which I come, at the close of this chapter, is, that there is nothing seriously to shake our confidence in the portions of the Shû that we now possess, as being substantially the same as those which were in the collection of the Kâu dynasty both before and after Confucius.
The more recent the documents are, the more, of course, are they to be relied on. And provision was made, we have seen, by the statutes of Kâu, for the preservation of the records of previous dynasties. But it was not to be expected that many of those should not perish in the lapse of time, and others suffer mutilations and corruptions. And this, we find, was the case. Of the eighty-one documents that the Shû at one time contained, only one belonged to the period of Yâo; seven to the period of Shun; four to the dynasty of Hsiâ, much the larger one of which narrates what was done in the time of Yâo; thirty-one to the dynasty of Shang; and thirty-eight to the first 500 years of that of Kâu. All this seems to bear on the surface of it the stamp of verisimilitude.
Of the still earlier dynasty of Hsiâ, there are only four documents, and we have no evidence that there were any more when the collection of the Shû was made in the times of Kâu.
i. The Canon of Yâo and three of the four still existing books of the time of Yü, all commence with the words, ‘Examining into antiquity, we find.’
ii. Much of what is related in the Canons of Yâo and Shun, as well as in the other documents, has more the air of legend than of history.
Shun must have stood the test. Yâo continued to employ him as General Regulator for three years, and then called him to ascend the throne. Shun refused to do so, but discharged the royal duties till the death of Yâo in 2257, becoming himself sole ruler in bc 2255. These and other marvellous notices of Yâo and Shun are largely added to by Mencius and Sze-mâ Khien, but their accounts are of the same extraordinary character. I must believe that the oldest portions of the Shû do not give us the history of Yâo and Shun, but legendary tales about them.
At the same time it must be allowed that the compiler of these books in their present form had in his possession some documents as old as the time of Yâo.
When the Books of Thang and Yu received their present form, we cannot tell. Probably it was in the early period of the Kâu dynasty, though I am not without a suspicion that some verbal changes were made in them under the short-lived dynasty of Khin, which intervened between the dynasties of Kâu and Han, and possibly some also when they were recovered under the latter.
Yâo, in what year of his reign we are not told, appears suddenly startled by the ravages of a terrible inundation. The waters were overtopping the hills, and threatening the heavens in their surging fury. The people everywhere were groaning and murmuring. Was there a capable man to whom he could assign the correction of the calamity? All the nobles recommend one Khw?n, to whom Yâo, against his own better judgment, delegates the difficult task, on which Khw?n labours without success for nine years. His son Yü then entered on the work. From beyond the western bounds of the present China proper he is represented as tracking the great rivers, here burning the woods, hewing the rocks, and cutting through the mountains that obstructed their progress, and there deepening their channels until their waters flow peacefully into the eastern sea. He forms lakes, and raises mighty embankments, till at length ‘the grounds along the rivers were everywhere made habitable; the hills cleared of their superfluous wood; and access to the capital was secured for all within the four seas. A great order was effected in the six magazines (of material wealth); the different parts of the country were subjected to an exact comparison, so that contribution of revenue could be carefully adjusted according to their resources. The fields were all classified according to the three characters of the soil, and the revenues of the Middle Kingdom were established.’ Of the devotion with which Yü pursued his work, he says himself in the Yî and Kî:—‘I mounted my four conveyances,’—carriages on the land, boats on the water, sledges in icy places, and shoes with spikes in them in ascending the hills,—‘and all along the hills hewed down the woods, at the same time, along with Yî, showing the people how to get flesh to eat,’—that is, by capturing fish and birds and beasts. ‘I opened passages for the streams throughout the nine provinces, and conducted them to the sea. I deepened the channels and canals, and conducted them to the streams, at the same time, along with Kî, sowing grain, and showing the people how to procure the food of toil in addition to flesh meat. I urged them to exchange what they had for what they had not, and to dispose of their accumulated stores. In this way all the people got grain to eat, and the myriad regions began to come under good rule.’ And again:—‘When I married in Tû-shan, I remained with my wife only four days.’ Mencius says that while engaged on his task, he thrice passed the door of his house, but did not enter it. His own words are:—‘When Khî (my son) was wailing and weeping, I did not regard him, but kept planning with all my might my labour on the land.’
Along with his operations to assuage the wide-spread inundation, Yü thus carried on other most important labours proper to an incipient civilization. We gather from the Shû that it did not take him many years to accomplish his mighty undertaking. It was successfully finished before the death of Yâo. All this is incredible. The younger Biot, in an article on the Tribute of Yü, published in the Journal Asiatique, in 1842, says:—‘If we are to believe the commentators, Yü will become a supernatural being, who could lead the immense rivers of China as if he had been engaged in regulating the course of feeble streamlets.’ There is no occasion to say, ‘If we are to believe the commentators;’—if we are to believe the Shû, this is the judgment that we must form about Yü.
The general conclusion to which Biot came about the document under our notice was that we are to find in it only the progress of a great colony. Yü was the first explorer of the Chinese world. He established posts of colonists or planters in different parts of the territory. He caused the wood around those posts to be cut down, and commenced the cultivation of the soil. After Yü, the labours of draining the country and clearing the forests continued during some ages, and the result of all was attributed by Chinese tradition to the first chief. I have no doubt there is an inkling of the truth in this view of the French sinologue, but the idea of Yü’s being the leader of a Chinese colony had better be abandoned. We recognise the primitive seat of the Chinese people, in the southern parts of the present Shan-hsî, with the Ho on the west and south of it. His son fought a battle with the Chief of Hû at a place in the present department of Hsî-an, in Shen-hsî, across the Ho, and his grandson was kept a sort of prisoner at large in the present province of Ho-nan, south of the river. The people or tribe extended itself westward, eastward, and southward, and still later northward, as it increased in numbers, and was able to subdue the earth.
The flood of Yâo was probably an inundation of the Ho, similar to many in subsequent times which have procured for that river the name of ‘China’s Sorrow,’ and Yü distinguished himself in the assuaging of it, and the regulation of its course to the sea. The extent of the country came to be ascertained under the dynasties of Hsiâ and Shang, and its different parts were gradually occupied by the increasing numbers of the people, and contributed their various proportions of revenue to the central government. There were memorials of the toils which Yü had undergone, and of allotments of territory which he had made to the most distinguished among his followers. It occurred to some historiographer to form a theory as to the way in which the whole country might have been brought to order by the founder of the Hsiâ dynasty, and he proceeded to glorify Yü by ascribing so grand an achievement to him. About the same time, probably, the popular stories of Yü’s self-denial had found their expression in the Yî and Kî, prompting at once the conception of the Tribute of Yü, and obtaining for it a favourable reception. Yü entered well into association with Yâo and Shun, and formed a triad with them at the beginning of the Chinese monarchy. Their wisdom and benevolence appeared in him, combined with a practical devotion to the duties of his position, in which all sovereigns would have a model, to win them from indolence and self-indulgence, and stimulate them to a painstaking discharge of their responsibilities.
In the nineteenth of the Books of Part V, the duke of Kâu counsels his young sovereign, king Kh?ng (bc 1115-1077), to have his armies in a good state of preparation, so that he might go forth ‘beyond the footsteps of Yü,’ and travel over all beneath the sky, everywhere meeting with submission. The duke’s reference to ‘the footsteps of Yü’ does not prove that Yü really travelled and toiled as the Tribute of Yü reports, but only that such was the current belief at the commencement of the Kâu dynasty, while it affords at the same time a presumption that our document was then among the archives of the kingdom. It may have been compiled before the end of the Hsiâ dynasty, or under that of Shang. From Shang it passed to Kâu, and came under the care of the recorders of the Exterior. Then subsequently it was very properly incorporated in the collection of the Shû.
1. I do not enter here on the subject of the chronology of China further than is necessary to show that there is no chronological difficulty in the way of our accepting the documents of the Shû, which I have just specified, as being possessed of the antiquity ascribed to them.
The Shû itself does not supply the means of laying down any scheme of chronology for the long period of time which it covers.
2. It was under the Han dynasty that it was first attempted to construct a chronological scheme of the history of the nation.
In the Shû itself the current cycle is used to chronicle days, and days only. Years are specified according to their order in the reign of the sovereign to whom they are referred. Such specification of years in it, however, is rare.
Before the Han dynasty a list of sovereigns, and of the length of their several reigns, was the only method which the Chinese had of determining the duration of their national history.
If in any of the classical books of the Kâu dynasty we had a statement of the length of the national history from any given era to the time of the writer, the notice would be exceedingly valuable; or, if the length of the reigns of the sovereigns of Shang and Hsiâ, cursorily mentioned in it, were correctly given, we should be in a position to make an approximate computation for ourselves. But there are only two passages in all those books which are helpful to us in this point. The former of them is in a narrative in ?o Khiû-ming’s supplement to the Spring and Autumn, under the third year of duke Hsüan, where it is said that the dynasty of Shang possessed the throne for 600 years. The other passage is the last chapter of the works of Mencius, where that philosopher says that ‘from Yâo and Shun to Thang’—a period including all the dynasty of Hsiâ—‘there were 500 years and more; from Thang to king W?n’—the period of the Shang dynasty—‘500 years and more; and from king W?n to Confucius, 500 years and more.’ We know that Confucius was born in bc 551. Adding 551 to the 1500 years ‘and more,’ given by Mencius, we have the era of Yâo and Shun at 2100 years ‘and more’ before our Christian era. And the received chronology places Yü’s accession to the throne, as the successor of Shun, in bc 2205. Vague as the language of Mencius is, I do not think that with the most painstaking research, apart from conclusions based on astronomical considerations, we can determine anything more precise and definite concerning the length of Chinese history than it conveys.
I referred on page 13 to an eclipse of the sun, mentioned in the fourth of the Books of Hsiâ, as having occurred in the reign of Kung Khang, a grandson of Yu, and stated that P. Gaubil had found by calculation that on the day and month stated in the document, and in the quarter of the heavens given, an eclipse did occur in the fifth year of Kung Khang, that is, in bc 2156, and was visible at his capital at 6h 49′, a.m. In 1840, J. B. Biot submitted a copy of Gaubil’s calculations to the younger Largeteau, a member, like himself, of the Institute of France, who went over them with the lunar tables of Damoiseau and the solar tables of Delambre, and brought out the result that there was indeed an eclipse on the day stated, but before the rising of the sun at the then capital of China1 . My friend, the Rev. Dr. Chalmers of Canton, not knowing anything of the examination made by Largeteau, undertook to verify the eclipse in 1861, and found that while the year, the month, and the day, as given by Gaubil, were correct, the eclipse had taken place during the night, and could not have been seen by the Chinese astronomers. The eclipse mentioned in the document of the Shû cannot therefore be used at present to confirm the received chronology of China; but I am unwilling to give it up entirely. M. Biot says that, ‘Notwithstanding the failure of the attempt of Largeteau to verify the eclipse, the hope of yet finding it in some one of the years of the twenty-second century before our era is not entirely lost. We ought to wait till the further perfecting of the lunar tables brings us new lights, by means of which we can form a surer judgment.’
In the Canon of Yâo, when that personage is giving directions to his astronomers how to determine the equinoxes and solstices, he tells them that at the vernal equinox they would find the star in Niâo, and at the autumnal in Hsü; at the summer solstice, the star in Hwo, and at the winter in Mâo. It has always been assumed by Chinese scholars that when Yâo said, ‘The star of mid-spring is in Niâo,’ he meant the star culminating at dusk at that season, at the point of observation. And so of the other stars and seasons. A Chinese astronomer at the present day would similarly express himself.
Further, the most common, and what was the earliest division of the ecliptic in China, is that of the twenty-eight lunar mansions, forming what we may call the Chinese zodiac. These mansions are grouped together in four classes of seven each, assigned to the four quarters of the heavens1 . Of the celestial spaces which Yâo specified, Niâo is the general name for the seven mansions or constellations belonging to the southern quarter; Hwo is an old name of what is now called Fang, the central constellation of the eastern quarter; Hsü and Mâo are the central constellations of the northern and southern quarters respectively. What Yâo meant therefore was, that his astronomers could determine the solstices and the autumnal equinox by the culmination of the stars in the mansions which he specified for those seasons. And we may assume that he directed them, for the star of the vernal equinox, to Hsing, the central mansion in the southern space Niâo. Now, Hsing corresponds to α (Alphard) Hydræ, and small stars near it, in our stellar nomenclature; Hwo, to β, δ in Scorpio; Hsü, to β Aquarii; and Mâo, to Pleiades. When we wish to make the directions of Yâo available for the purpose of chronological enquiry, the question that arises is this:—When did the above-named stars culminate at dusk in China at the equinoctial and solstitial seasons?
Bunsen tells us that Ideler, computing the places of the constellations backwards, fixed the accession of Yâo at bc 2163, and that Freret was of opinion that the observations left an uncertainty of 3°, leaving a margin of 210 years1 . On the other hand, J. B. Biot found in the directions a sufficient confirmation of the received date for Yâo’s accession,—bc 23572 . Appended to this Introduction is a chart of the stars as they were visible in China in bc 2300, which the Rev. C. Pritchard, Savilian Professor of Astronomy in the University of Oxford, kindly prepared for me. An inspection of it, in the manner directed by him, will show that the phenomena indicated by Yâo to his astronomers were all apparent at that date. This fact must be accepted as a strong proof of the approximate correctness of the chronology, which places Yâo in the twenty-fourth century bc The precession of the equinoxes, it has already been observed, was not known in China till more than 2500 years after the time assigned to Yâo, so that the culminating stars at the equinoxes and solstices of his remote period could not have been computed back scientifically in the time of the Kâu dynasty, during which the collection of the Shû existed. The form in which the directions are given, and other things in the Canon, savour, indeed, of legend, and I have not claimed for it that in its present form it be received as a document contemporaneous with the reign of Yâo. I have argued, however, that the compiler of it had before him ancient documents, and one of them must have contained the facts about the culminating of the stars, which I have now endeavoured to set in a clear light.
The mention of these culminating stars does seem to fix Yâo’s place in chronology in the twenty-fourth century bc, and to show that at that remote era it was the custom to make and to record astronomical observations of the heavenly bodies. Having respect to these things, my claim to have the documents of the Shû from the Speech at Kan, nearly two centuries later than Yâo, downwards, regarded as contemporaneous with the events which they describe, cannot be considered extravagant.
7. In the 27th Book of the 5th Part, the Marquis of Lü on Punishments, there is a historical reference which would carry us back four centuries beyond the time of Yâo. It is said that, ‘According to the teachings of antiquity, Khih Yû was the first to create disorder.’ There is no intimation, however, of the time when this rebel disturbed the happy order and innocence which had previously prevailed; and the very same sentence brings the review of antiquity down to the time of Shun. But the chronologers place him in the reign of Hwang Tî, towards the end of the twenty-seventh century bc Other writers describe the struggle between him and Hwang Tî, in which dragons, mists, and the invention of the compass play conspicuous parts. It is to the credit of the Shû, and an evidence of its being a genuine collection of historical memorials, that this cursory reference to Khih Yû is the only mention in it of any name older than that of Yâo.
This chart is intended to represent approximately the aspect of the principal zodiacal stars as seen above the horizon of any place in central China, at any hour of any day, about the year bc 2300.
In order to apply the chart to a practical purpose, the reader is advised to cut out a sheet of paper (cardboard is preferable) with its upper edge exactly fitting the curved line A B O C D, and to draw, near to the bottom of the paper, a line coinciding with ‘the hour-line’ on the chart.
This being done, if it be asked what will be the aspect of the heavens when the Sun sets at the Vernal Equinox, the reader is to move the line at the bottom of the cardboard along the horizontal ‘hour-line’ of the chart until the place of the Sun in the Ecliptic at the Vernal Equinox O just touches the curved top of the paper; then all the stars not covered over are above the horizon at the time of that sunset, viz. in this case Aldebaran, Sirius, Spica, &c.; the Pleiades are just setting, Regulus and α Hydræ are very near the meridian, β Centauri is on the point of rising, and α Serpentis is well up above the horizon. This exactly corresponds with that state of the heavens which Yâo, (alleged in the Chinese records to have flourished about bc 2300,) indicated to his astronomers (Hsî and Ho) would be the case, viz. that he would find the star (or the stellar division) Shun Hwo (corresponding, it is said, to α Hydræ) culminating at the time of sunset at the Vernal Equinox1 .
Again, if it be required to find what constellation is culminating at the time of sunset at the Summer Solstice, the cardboard must be moved, as before, towards the right hand until the position of the Sun at the Summer Solstice, viz. G, just touches the horizon curve, when it will be seen that α Serpentis and Antares are then culminating, Regulus and β Centauri are just setting, while the constellations of Aquila and Aquarius are rising; Vega is a conspicuous object above the eastern horizon. This again corresponds to the indications given by Yâo to his astronomers, viz. that they would find the constellation Scorpio culminating at the time.
Thirdly, to find what constellation is culminating at sunset at the Winter Solstice, the cardboard horizon is to be moved, as before, until the Sun at F falls upon it, when the constellations Aries and Taurus with the Pleiades will be seen near to their culmination. This is a third correspondence with the indications of the astronomical sovereign.
Lastly, at sunset of the Autumnal Equinox the movable horizon is to be shifted to the left until the point A falls upon it, where it will be seen in this position that the stars in Aquarius are culminating at the time. It is scarcely possible that all these indications of the positions of the stars at these several times of the year could be simultaneously correct at any other epoch than somewhere about bc 2300 or a very small number of centuries before or after.
The reader may easily make for himself many other interesting applications of the chart. A general notion of the effects of precession on the positions of the stars may be seen at once by observing the three positions of the Pleiades, at the three epochs bc 2300, ad 1, and ad 1878, marked in the chart by the letters K, L, M; and as the approximate effect of precession is to cause all stars to move parallel to the Ecliptic and through the same arc, if the reader will imagine every star to be shifted parallel to the Ecliptic through spaces equal respectively to K L, L M, he will get the aspect of the heavens at the epochs ad 1 and ad 1878.
The following table has been calculated for the apparent positions of the principal stars in the years bc 2300, bc 1500, ad 1, and ad 1000; except in one instance it will be found to confirm a similar calculation made by Biot for the earliest of these dates.
|Name of Star.||For the year bc 2300.||For the year bc 1500.||For the year ad 1.||For the year ad 1000.||For the year ad 1878.|
[1 ] Mencius, VII, ii, ch. 3.
[2 ] The first quotation of the Shû in ?o is under the sixth year of duke Yin, bc 717.
[1 ] Analects, VII, i.
[2 ] The Doctrine of the Mean, XXX, 1.
[1 ] Mencius, V, ii, ch. 2.
[1 ] See for all these statements the Ritual or Official Book of Kâu, XXXI, 35-42.
[2 ] Analects, XV, xxv.
[3 ] Part IV, viii, section 1.
[4 ] Part IV, v, section 1.
[5 ] Part III, iv.
[1 ] Part III, iii.
[1 ]—Yü is the dynastic designation of Shun. It is to be distinguished from Yü (), the name of Shun’s successor, the founder of the dynasty of Hsiâ. Bunsen confounded the two appellations (Egypt’s Place in Universal History, III, p. 399).
[1 ] Mencius, II, i, ch. 1.
[1 ] Etudes sur l’Astronomie Indienne et sur l’Astronomie Chinoise, pp. 376-382.
[1 ] In the Official Book of Kâu, a work of the twelfth century before our era, Book XXVI, par. 25, in the enumeration of the duties of the astronomer royal of that day, there is mentioned the determination of ‘the places of the twenty-eight stars,’ meaning ‘the principal stars in the twenty-eight lunar mansions.’ The names of the stars and their mansions are not mentioned;—surely a sufficient indication that they were even then well known. See Biot’s Etudes sur l’Astronomie Indienne, &c., pp. 112, 113.
[1 ] Egypt’s Place in Universal History, III, pp. 400, 401.
[2 ] Etudes sur l’Astronomie Indienne, &c., pp. 361-366.
[1 ] See an excellent memoir by Mr. Williams, the late Assistant Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, on Chinese Comets, procurable at the apartments of the Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London.
Last modified April 13, 2016