Confucius lived several centuries before the Han Dynasty

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “Confucians had every reason to look upon the dissolution of the Qin empire with optimism. Although the First Emperor had shown a great interest in the culture of the Shandong peninsula, which was the origin of Confucianism, after the fiasco of the "fengshan" sacrifice in 218 B.C. the position of Confucians became tenuous. Although they remained at court among the erudites, they exercised no discernable influence in the policies of Qin, which was, after all, an avowedly Legalistic state. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University ]

“Nevertheless, we must realize that at the time that the Qin first came to power, Confucians, like everyone else, would have regarded the dynasty as the long-awaited new era of Tian’s Mandate, even though the Qin government laid no stress upon the theory (they had no need of it, and its long-term implications would be subversive to future Qin rulers). For centuries, Confucians had avoided the dangers of political entanglements in accord with the “Analects” formula of timeliness: “When the Dao does not prevail in the world, hide.” But surely, Confucius could not have meant to hide forever! If the passing of the Mandate were not the signal to emerge and carry Confucianism to the powers of government, then what other signal could Confucians be waiting for?

“But the "fengshan" incident was a great disappointment, and with the book banning of 213 B.C., the relationship between Confucians and the Qin seems to have become openly adversarial. Chunyu Yue, whose speech before the emperor led to the banning, was clearly a Confucian, and the response of Li Si was couched in anti-Confucian terms. Still, Confucians were not banished from the Qin court or persecuted, so far as we can tell (the burying of the scholars, if it occurred, makes better sense as a punishment for charlatan "fangshi" (practitioners). As late as 209 B.C., under the Second Emperor, we know of at least one Confucian erudite who was still at court. This was a man named Shusun Tong, and his story illustrates very well the paradoxical fact that at the outset of the Han, state policy towards Confucianism was far more negative than the Qin policy had initially been. /+/

“Shusun Tong was from Xue in western Shandong and was a specialist in Confucian texts and ritual ceremonies. The “Shiji” gives us an account of his life, and begins his story at the time of the rebellion of Chen She. When the rebel forces first threatened the court, the Second Emperor summoned his erudites to advise him on the situation. One after another, the erudites encouraged the emperor to punish the rebels for their disloyalty. Shusun Tong, who was at this time apparently an aide to the erudites, stepped forward and gave different advice. He assured the emperor that with all China in harmonious unity under a sage like himself, there was nothing to worry about. Chen She’s forces were nothing but local brigands and were not worthy of the emperor’s attention. The emperor listened attentively to what Shusun Tong said, and then polled the erudites as to whether they regarded the uprising as a rebellion or as banditry. All who responded that it was a rebellion were imprisoned, and Shusun Tong was rewarded with gifts and a promotion to the position of erudite. /+/

According to the “Shiji”: “When questioned by other Confucians concerning his false flattery, Shusun Tong replied, “You would not understand. If I had not spoken so, I would never have escaped the jaws of the tiger!” Then he fled from the capital and made his way home east.” Eno wrote: “If we read this story closely, we can detect that it depicts Shusun Tong’s motivation for his actions as a judgment concerning the appropriate application of the Confucian formula of timeliness. The news of Chen She’s uprising is, for him, a clear indication that the Qin is doomed – that Heaven’s Mandate had actually "not"shifted a decade earlier and that the era of Confucian salvation lay ahead. Under such circumstances, the appropriate Confucian imperative is not service at court but self-preservation, and this is the imperative that Shusun Tong followed (though in a manner that may indicate somewhat less nobility of character than Confucius might have hoped for).” /+/

Emergence of “Confucianism” During the Han Dynasty

Liu Bang

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ It was only with the founding of the Han dynasty (202 B.C.-220 CE) that Confucianism became “Confucianism,” that the ideas associated with Kong Qiu’s name received state support and were disseminated generally throughout upper-class society. The creation of Confucianism was neither simple nor sudden, as the following three examples will make clear. [Source: adapted from “The Spirits of Chinese Religion” by Stephen F. Teiser; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbiaedu/]

“1) The Classical Texts. In the year 136 B.C. the classical writings touted by Confucian scholars were made the foundation of the official system of education and scholarship, to the exclusion of titles supported by other philosophers. The five classics (or five scriptures, wujing) were the Classic of Poetry (Shijing), Classic of History (Shujing), Classic of Changes (Yijing), Record of Rites (Liji), and Chronicles of the Spring and Autumn Period (Chunqiu) with the Zuo Commentary (Zuozhuan), most of which had existed prior to the time of Kong Qiu.Although Kong Qiu was commonly believed to have written or edited some of the five classics, his own statements (collected in “The Analects” [Lunyu]) and the writings of his closest followers were not yet admitted into the canon. [Note: The word jing denotes the warp threads in a piece of cloth. Once adopted as a generic term for the authoritative texts of Han-dynasty Confucianism, it was applied by other traditions to their sacred books. It is translated variously as book, classic, scripture, and sutra.]

“2. State Sponsorship. Kong Qiu’s name was implicated more directly in the second example of the Confucian system, the state-sponsored cult that erected temples in his honor throughout the empire and that provided monetary support for turning his ancestral home into a national shrine. Members of the literate elite visited such temples, paying formalized respect and enacting rituals in front of spirit tablets of the master and his disciples.

“3. Dong Zhongshu’s Cosmological Framework. The third example is the corpus of writing left by the scholar Dong Zhongshu (ca. 179-104 B.C.), who was instrumental in promoting Confucian ideas and books in official circles. Dong was recognized by the government as the leading spokesman for the scholarly elite. His theories provided an overarching cosmological framework for Kong Qiu’s ideals, sometimes adding ideas unknown in Kong Qiu’s time, sometimes making more explicit or providing a particular interpretation of what was already stated in Kong Qiu’s work.

“Dong drew heavily on concepts of earlier thinkers — few of whom were self-avowed Confucians — to explain the workings of the cosmos. He used the concepts of yin and yang to explain how change followed a knowable pattern, and he elaborated on the role of the ruler as one who connected the realms of Heaven, Earth, and humans. The social hierarchy implicit in Kong Qiu’s ideal world was coterminous, thought Dong, with a division of all natural relationships into a superior and inferior member. Dong’s theories proved determinative for the political culture of Confucianism during the Han and later dynasties.

“What in all of the examples above, we need to ask, was Confucian? Or, more precisely, what kind of thing is the “Confucianism” in each of these examples? In the case of the five classics, “Confucianism” amounts to a set of books that were mostly written before Kong Qiu lived but that later tradition associates with his name. It is a curriculum instituted by the emperor for use in the most prestigious institutions of learning. In the case of the state cult, “Confucianism” is a complex ritual apparatus, an empire-wide network of shrines patronized by government authorities. It depends upon the ability of the government to maintain religious institutions throughout the empire and upon the willingness of state officials to engage regularly in worship. In the case of the work of Dong Zhongshu, “Confucianism” is a conceptual scheme, a fluid synthesis of some of Kong Qiu’s ideals and the various cosmologies popular well after Kong Qiu lived. Rather than being an updating of something universally acknowledged as Kong Qiu’s philosophy, it is a conscious systematizing, under the symbol of Kong Qiu, of ideas current in the Han dynasty.”

Civil War That Brought the Han Dynasty as a Confucian Disaster

The civil war that paved the way for the founding of the Han Dynasty began with a rebellion led by Che She and pitted forces loyal to Liu Bang against those of Xiang Yu. Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “Confucians must surely have been delighted to see the Qin fall and had few reservations about offering whatever services they could to the rebel forces. We do not have extensive records, but it is said that the Confucians of Lu “packed up their ritual vessels and marched off to join Chen She” when the revolt broke out, and we know of certain Confucians who later joined the forces of the rebel generals united under Xiang Yu. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Xiang Yu was an attractive leader for the Confucians. He had become, upon the death of his uncle, the leader of a patrician clan, and as a man he retained the cultural bearing of a Chou aristocratic warrior. He was from Chu, which might seem to have been a disadvantage – Chu was not a hot-bed of Confucianism during the Classical period. However, during the last decades of the Warring States era, Chu had expanded to the northeast, and had actually absorbed much of southern and central Shandong, including the Confucian homeland of Lu. Xiang Yu’s ancestral estate in Xiang was in Shandong, not very far from Lu, and soon after Xiang Yu rose to prominence among the rebels, the titular king of Chu conferred upon him the title “Duke of Lu,” successor to the descendants of the Duke of Zhou. Could the Confucians have hoped for a better sign? /+/

“Liu Bang, on the other hand, was not of patrician background. Although he too came from an area not far from Lu, he famously detested Confucians, with their distinctive formality of dress and punctilious manner. He seems to have seen them as an affront to his own peasant origins and rude manners, and he was blatantly and personally insulting to them, far beyond anything associated with the Legalist Qin rulers. Apart from barbed and disdainful remarks, Liu Bang indicated his contempt through dramatic gestures, the most famous of which he performed 3 at a banquet when he urinated into the ceremonial hat of a Confucian scholar. Could the Confucians have feared a worse outcome than the victory of Liu Bang over their champion Xiang Yu? /+/

“Liu Bang’s triumph was a Confucian nightmare come true. The first passage of the Mandate to the Legalist Qin had been bad enough, but now the perversity of Heaven seemed unmatched. How could a brutish peasant emperor with a declared hatred of Confucians be part of Heaven’s plan? The Confucian land of Lu, possessing no significant armed force at all, was nevertheless the last corner of the empire to submit to Liu Bang. The final scene of the wars occurred when Liu Bang brought his troops up to the walls of the old capital city of Lu. “From within,” writes Sima Qian, “came the ceaseless sounds of strings and songs, for in that place, the Confucians still recited and chanted, practicing ceremony and music.” Fortunately for the pious Confucians within the city, the city magistrate, who had been appointed by the recently deceased Xiang Yu, chose surrender over slaughter. /+/

“When Liu Bang ascended the imperial throne as Gao-di, he numbered among his extensive retinue of loyal advisors and supporters only one Confucian we know of. That man was Shusun Tong. Somewhat earlier, another Confucian had served Liu Bang as a military advisor and diplomat. This man, whose service to Liu Bang seems to have in no manner involved his Confucian training, suffered the setback of being boiled in oil by another rebel general late in the civil wars, and was no longer numbered among Liu Bang’s advisors by the time Liu ascended the imperial throne. /+/

Shusun Tong and the First Han Emperor Liu Bang

Dr. Eno wrote: “After escaping from the Qin court and Xianyang, Shusun Tong had fled east and thrown his lot in with the rebels. Eventually, he joined the forces of Xiang Yu and was appointed by Xiang Yu to serve as the magistrate of a city in Shandong. Later, after Xiang Yu and Liu Bang became enemies, Liu Bang stormed the city and Shusun Tong offered its surrender. Shusun Tong, never a stickler about loyalty, soon departed the town as a stalwart member of Liu Bang’s retinue. In recognition of Liu Bang’s prejudices, Shusun Tong abandoned the ritual robes that identified Confucian masters so as to avoid provoking his new patron. Shusun Tong was not a stickler about minor matters such as ritual dress either. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“During the reign of Liu Bang as Gao-di, Confucians were completely shut out of the government of the Han. Liu Bang’s distaste for their presence generally persisted, and he never permitted the lifting of the laws that prohibited them from teaching or possessing their sacred texts. However, after a time, they made a single inroad, the first positive step of Confucianism towards participation in the Han regime. This step was the product of Liu Bang’s frustration in trying to preside over a court of unpolished and raucous warriors. He found he could not do without "li", and when he realized this, Shusun Tong was there, ready to help. The story of Shusun Tong’s role during the reign of Liu Bang is well told in the “Shiji”. We will pick the story up at the time when Shusun Tong had just surrendered to Liu Bang and joined his entourage.” /+/

Sima Qian wrote in “The Shinji”: “When Shusun Tong surrendered to the Han forces, he was joined by over one hundred Confucian scholars who had been studying under him. However, he did not recommend any of them for special appointment and only voiced support for former members of bandit gangs and ruffians. His disciples began to complain behind his back. “We’ve served the master for years and years and have finally been lucky enough to follow him in surrendering to the forces of Han, but instead of recommending us for appointments, he supports no one but gangsters! What is the meaning of this?” [Source: Shiji 99. 2726, “The Shinji” (94 B.C.) by Sima Qian -]

“Shusun Tong learned about their complaints and spoke to them. “The king of Han is beset with arrows and missiles contending for control of the world. Could scholars like you provide aid to him in this fight? This is why I have first spoken for men who can cut off the heads of enemy generals and seize the banners of opposing troops. Bide your time with me awhile, gentlemen. I won’t forget you!” In time, Liu Bang honored Shusun Tong with the rank of Erudite; he was known as the Scion of Jixia. -

Shusun Tong Designs a Simple Form of Confucianism for the Han Emperor

Sima Qian wrote in “The Shinji”: The Emperor said, “You may try designing something, but make the rituals easy to learn, bearing in mind that they must be things I can manage.” Thereupon, Shusun Tong carried the Emperor’s summons to more than thirty scholars in Lu. Two refused to participate. “Sir,” they said, “you have served close to ten different lords, gaining favor through shameless toadying in every case. Now the world has just been set at peace, the dead are yet unburied and the wounded not yet risen from their beds. And yet you wish to fashion new ritual and music! Fashioning ritual and music is a process that occurs as a dynasty accumulates virtue; only after a century can it be accomplished. We could not bear to take part in what you are doing. It fails to conform to ancient norms and we will not go with you. Now go, Sir. Forbear to defile us further!” Shusun Tong laughed. “You are truly simpleminded Confucians! You’ve no understanding of timeliness in action.” [Source: Shiji 99. 2726, “The Shinji” (94 B.C.) by Sima Qian-]

Burning of the books and burying of teh scholars in the Qin Dynasty

“So Shusun Tong and the thirty scholars who did respond to the summons went back to the capital in the west. Together with other scholars in the Emperor’s court entourage and his own disciples, a hundred men in all, he laid out a practice ground in the open land beyond the capital suburbs, using ropes and poles. For over a month they practiced their new ritual, and then Shusun Tong said to the Emperor, “We are ready for Your Majesty to come see.” With the Emperor watching, he had them perform the ritual. “I can manage that,” said the Emperor, and he ordered all the courtiers to learn it and practice until they were ready to perform it at the New Year ceremonies of the tenth month.-

“In the seventh year the Palace of Lasting Joy was completed and all the lords and officials came there for the court rites of the tenth month. The ceremony ran in this way: Before dawn the Master of Visitors began to conduct the ritual performance He led the participants through the pavilion gate in rank order. Within the courtyard the cavalry were deployed with their carts and the infantry and palace guards stood with their weapons at attention and their flags and banners unfurled. The Master of Visitors ordered the participants to make their way forward with dispatch. -

“At the base of the pavilion stood the Palace Attendants lining the stairway, several hundred on the steps. The leading commandants, lords, generals, and army officers took their places by rank on the west side of the hall facing east, while the civil officials from the prime minister on down took their places on the east side of the hall facing west. The Master of Ceremonies in charge of the visitors of nine degrees then passed the order for them to take their places. 6 Thereupon the emperor emerged from the palace rooms, carried in a sedan chair. One hundred offices bearing banners called the assembly to attention, and led each participant forward, from the lords and kings down to officers salaried at 600 bushels of grain, to offer their congratulatory words. From the lords and kings on down none failed to tremble and display reverent awe. -

“When the ceremony was finished wine was served according to rule. All those kneeling in attendance within the pavilion bowed their heads to the floor and then one by one arose in rank to drink long life to the Emperor. After the wine had been poured nine times, the Master of Visitors announced, “The wine service is concluded.” The Grand Secretary ensured that all rules were followed and that anyone who did not perform the ceremony correctly would be promptly removed from the ceremony and expelled. But during the wine service and right through to the end, not a person dared to become obstreperous or to break the rules. -

“As the ceremony ended, the Emperor said, “Today at last I have finally known the honor of being emperor!” So he appointed Shusun Tong Director of Ritual and awarded him five hundred catties of gold. “Shusun Tong seized the moment to speak. “My disciples, students of Confucianism, have followed me for a long time, and they joined with me in designing these ceremonies. I beg Your Majesty to provide them with appointments.” Accordingly, the Emperor appointed all of them as palace attendants. When Shusun Tong emerged he proceeded to distribute the entire five hundred catties of gold to his disciples. They were all delighted and proclaimed, “Master Shusun is truly a sage! He understands what actions are essential for the time.” -

Eno wrote: “The tale of Shusun Tong is a remarkable portrait of the subtlety and ethical ambiguity of the Confucian doctrine of timeliness. One can only wonder at the notion of a Confucian ritual specialist who was no stickler about rituals...Shusun Tong measured his aspiration s for the age in terms of essential action. In abiding by ritual and choosing when to serve or retreat, he changed according to the times and ultimately became the ancestor of all Han dynasty Confucians. “Perfect straightness appears crooked; the Dao is oblique by nature” – this is, perhaps, exemplified by Shusun Tong.” -

Tablet of Confucius

Slow Rise of Confucian Classicism

Dr. Eno wrote: “The role of Confucianism at the Han court did not progress rapidly. Although Shusun Tong was, according to the “Shiji”, instrumental in convincing Liu Bang not to change the designation of the crown prince (a matter discussed earlier), and, perhaps as a result, is portrayed as having great influence over Hui-di in matters of ritual conduct, his impact on Han government is not otherwise discernable. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Nor did Shusun Tong’s service to the Han court result in more active involvement by other Confucians. In fact, in so far as the standing of Confucianism at court was concerned, the reigns that followed Gao-di’s were in many respects even more unfavorable. This was because of the rising influence of advocates of Huang-Lao style governmental policies, and the easy way in which Legalistically inclined ministers were able to coexist with the Huang-Lao School. The long high tide of Huang-Lao doctrine at court, in fact, persists up until the revolutionary changes made under the orders of Wu-di in 135 B.C. /+/

“However, Confucianism itself as a movement began to revive after the reign of Gao-di. This was very likely due less to the influence of men such as Shusun Tong than to the lifting of the prohibitions on private teachings and the private possession of ancient texts in 191 B.C., under Hui-di. It appears that up until that time, Confucian masters had continued to teach students (we have seen that Shusun Tong had numerous disciples), but had perhaps been required to have official patronage. Moreover, a conspicuous feature of Shusun Tong’s Confucian ritualism was that it seems to have been largely independent of textual precedents, other than those provided by the "Qin". It is entirely possible that the Confucian groups that did persist prior to 191 B.C. were forced to transmit the Confucian Dao orally, without reference to texts such as the “Book of Songs”, the “Book of Documents”, ritual texts, or the precursor texts of the “Analects” . /+/

Adoption of the Confucian Classics in the Han Dynasty

Dr. Eno wrote: “Perhaps because of the banning of Confucian texts, when Confucianism did at length reemerge in the Han it appears to have taken a far more bookish form than it had during the Warring States era. It may be that the principal issue for Confucianism during the two decades after the ban on Confucian texts had been the preservation of the written word through oral tradition: rote memorization of texts and their oral explication. This would explain why, once the Confucians were again allowed to speak, teach, and possess the texts of their school, their principal focus was not so much “li”, self-cultivation, or the character of the “junzi”, but was instead a canon of “classical” texts, mastery of which constituted the highest form of Confucian expertise. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The Confucianism of the Han did not view the preserved sayings of Confucius as the core of their school. The Confucian masters had come to believe that rather than make his teaching explicit through speech, Confucius had instead “lodged” his message in six books or traditions. The heavenly message of the sage lay in these texts; mastery of Confucianism meant the ability to read the sacred messages out of these texts. This tradition did not begin during the Han. We see traces of it as early as the late fourth century B.C., in the writings of Mencius. But it became the dominant mode of Confucianism only after the early decades of the Han.” /+/

The “classics” that Confucius had edited were originally six in number. They were as follows, listed from the most straightforward to the most arcane: 1) “The Book of Songs”; 2) “The Book of Documents”; 3) “The Rituals”; 4) “The Music”; 5) “The Yi jing”, or “Book of Changes”; 6) “The Spring and Autumn Annals”. The “Music “had apparently been lost by the start of the Han (the name may not have referred to any single text). That left five texts, and these came to be viewed as a canon of sacred books, the “Five Classics.” /+/

Confucius was viewed as having had a different type of relation to each of the five texts. The Han theory of the texts ran as follows: 1) “Confucius selected, ordered, and ordained the proper context for employing the 305 poems in the “Book of Songs”. 2) “Confucius “preserved and explained “the original 100 chapters of the “Book of Documents”. 3) “Confucius “rectified and instituted “the Rituals “– in the case of this one classic, it is unclear whether the early Han Confucians meant by its title a specific text or the entire body of li “that Confucians sought to master. 4) “Confucius “added a final level of commentary “to the “Yi jing”. 5) “Confucius “subtly altered the wording “of the “Spring and Autumn Annals “in order to endow this simple annals with profound meaning. /+/

Eno wrote: “During the early Han, the norm of Confucian scholarship was for an individual Confucian to seek to master one of these five texts so profoundly that he could articulate the authentic Dao that Confucius had either detected or engendered within it. Each text required a special methodology of interpretation (our contemporary term for such an interpretive method is “hermeneutic”). Sometimes, masters of one particular classic might differ on their methodologies and on the way in which they interpreted the classic in which they specialized. In that case, they were said to be teaching different “traditions” of the classic. Early Han Confucianism is well pictured as a population of men, each qualifying as a Confucian by virtue of his mastery of one classic, and each fiercely loyal to the interpretive tradition that his own teacher had passed on to him.” /+/

five classics

Where Were The Lost Confucian Texts Found?

Dr. Eno wrote: “The Qin had attempted to destroy most of these texts, allowing only court erudites to possess them. (The “Yi jing”, a divination book, had never been banned; Li Si, knowing the First Emperor’s superstitious nature had exempted such texts from the law.) It is likely that most of the erudites’ copies were destroyed when Xiang Yu sacked and burned the Qin capital city of Xianyang. The ban had continued for over fifteen years after the fall of the Qin. How did these texts survive? Since the “Rituals” may not have actually constituted a written text and the “Yi jing” had never been banned, this question actually applies only to the other three texts. The answers are different in each case. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Rote memorization of the “Book of Songs” had been required of patrician youths for centuries. The poems were metered, rhymed, and brief, generally easy to memorize and to retain. It is likely that the “Poetry” was never, in fact, lost, because even with no written text it would have been so common a possession of former patrician families that daily speech as well as concerted effort would have dictated its continued availability in the minds of a broad range of people. /+/

“The “Book of Documents”, however, was a different matter. Its chapters (a number of which you have encountered in this course) were relatively long and dry and had been composed in a difficult, arcane style. This text was, indeed, lost during the period of banned books. It was recovered only in the early years of Wen-di’s reign, during the 170s B.C., and even then, only 29 chapters were pieced together. /+/

“The recovery of the “Book of Documents” was a celebrated event. Interest in lost Confucian texts first emerged at the Han court about the time that Wen-di took the throne, and it was soon reported to the emperor that there remained only one man in China who still had knowledge of this text, a scholar named Fu Sheng, who lived in Shandong. At the time that Li Si had banned the “Documents”, Fu had been an erudite at the Qin court, and he had hidden a copy of the text in a wall of his home. After the ban was lifted, he had rescued what remained of that copy, which turned out to be only 29 of the original 100 chapters. These he began to transmit orally to students. In the course of doing so, he memorized it perfectly, but lost the written copy for good. /+/

“Wen-di deputed a high officer named Chao Cuo to travel to Shandong to receive from Fu Sheng the transmission of this text, since Fu, who was about ninety years old, was too frail to go to Chang’an. Chao Cuo, who later became prime minister under Jing-di and seems himself to have been principally a Legalist, found Fu, but discovered that the scholar was not only toothless, but the proud possessor of a heavy Shandong accent (tough to understand even today!). Chao Cuo obtained the text, but, we are told, only by enlisting Fu Sheng’s daughter as an interpreter for her father. /+/

“The story is charming, but is so far-fetched and illogical that it cannot be credited (if Fu had been an erudite, he would not have needed to hide the copy, and why on earth had neither he nor his students ever committed the text to writing?). Nevertheless, "something" happened at this time which resulted in our obtaining a 29-chapter version of the “Documents”, and this tale will suffice as well as any other. /+/

“The “Spring and Autumn Annals”, one of the most bizarre texts in any cultural tradition, has something of a different story. We will discuss it in detail in a later section devoted to that text. Like the “Poetry”, it was preserved intact through a strong oral tradition, but in this case, the power of memory that carried the text was a product of neither the text’s poetic quality (it is immaculately dull) nor its widespread familiarity (it was known only to fanatic Confucians). It was preserved through an extremity of reverence which could only be called religious faith in the divinity of its wisdom (though today, almost everyone familiar with it would agree that it possesses no more of that item than a Sears catalogue).” /+/

Return of Confucian Erudites under Wen-Di

Emperor Wen, Paragon of Filial Piety

Dr. Eno wrote: “All early Han emperors continued the Qin practice of appointing learned men to the position of Erudite at court. The office not only constituted official recognition of each individual erudite’s worth as a scholar or master of some valuable art, it carried the privileges of high rank, a very substantial salary, and certain powers of patronage. Erudites were in a position to ensure that their friends and followers would receive lower level appointments. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Confucians had served as erudites during the Qin and the early years of the Han, but their presence among the ranks of these wiseman advisors was entirely according to the whim of each individual ruler and the recommendations of his high ministers. There existed no institutionalized Confucian presence at court, and no sure avenue of government patronage to which aspiring Confucians might turn. Confucianism was simply a privately pursued scholarly tradition, without any form of official endorsement. /+/

“This began to change during the reign of Wen-di, and the form of the new arrangements that were created fully reflected the new character of Confucianism as a text-based cult of classical learning. Although Sima Qian reports that Wen-di himself was inclined towards the works of Legalist writers, as we have already seen he showed a clear interest in the preservation of Confucian learning. It was apparently under Wen-di’s reign that Confucians first began to be appointed to the office of erudite on the basis of their mastery of the classical traditions. This opened a new avenue to prestige and potential power for the Confucian movement, one that would reward with government recognition the abstruse textual skills that had increasingly come to characterize Confucianism as a private teaching. Although the presence of masters of the classics did not grow during the era of Huang-Lao court dominance under Jing-di, the office of erudite became the foundation upon which was built Confucian state orthodoxy during the reign of Wu-di. /+/

Dong Zhongshu and Metaphysical Confucianism

Dong Zhongshu (c. 195–c. 105 B.C.) a renowned Confucian scholar and government official during the reign of the Han Emperor Wu di. He played a significant role in developing and articulating a philosophical synthesis which, while taking Confucianism as its basis, incorporated Daoist and Legalist ideas and the concepts of yin and yang. “Dong’s thought was important in defining the roles and expectations of rulers and ministers and for making this particular version of Confucianism the orthodox philosophy of government in China.” [Source: “Sources of Chinese Tradition”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 299-300, Asia for Educators, Columbia University]

Dr. Eno wrote: “Dong Zhongshu (c. 179-104 B.C.) was perhaps the most influential Confucian after Confucius himself. His impact on Confucianism was threefold. 1) He reformulated Confucianism by systematically adapting the popular notions of yin-yang and the five forces into a thoroughly Confucianized metaphysics, specifically tailored to exalt of the emperor in the style of the Qin-Han state. 2) From a position as a minor official he successfully proposed to Wu-di the adoption of his enlarged concept of Confucianism as state orthodoxy, and the establishment of Confucian studies as a prerequisite for official position. 3) Within the Confucian tradition, as a master of the “Spring and Autumn Annals” Dong Zhongshu sustained an anti-hereditary doctrine that was explicitly counter to Han imperial interests, thus endowing state Confucianism with a provocatively subversive esoteric direction. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Metaphysics is the branch of thought that concerns structures of existence transcending the boundaries of ordinary experience; it often includes cosmology, or speculation on the greater order of the cosmos. Classical Confucianism was extraordinarily free of metaphysics. Confucius’s disciple Zigong states in the “Analects” that we may not hear of Confucius’s view of the Dao of Heaven or of human nature, and Xunzi, in his “Treatise on Heaven,” maintained that man’s only proper sphere of inquiry was the social and natural world, not the cosmic or supernatural. /+/

“Confucianism changed dramatically during the Han and it is Dong Zhongshu who is usually credited with engineering the change. (Although recent scholarship has cast doubts upon his authorship of some key texts concerning these issues that have long been attributed to him, we will not become engaged in those debates.) The writings that bear Dong Zhongshu’s name present traditional Confucian concerns of personal morality and humane rule in the context of an elaborate model of the universe and mankind’s entailment in it. /+/

Dong Zhongshu’s Metaphysical Confucianist Scheme

Dong Zhongshu

Dr. Eno wrote: “Dong pictured the universe as an organically connected composite of three separate realms of existence: the realm of heaven above, the realm of earth below, and the realm of man between them. Heaven and earth possessed natural types of cyclical rhythms, governed by the forces of yin and yang and by the successive influences of the five forces. This natural realm was largely a "homeostatic" (balanced and self-correcting) system that harmonized a concatenation of rhythms: the day, the month, the seasons, the year, the circuit of Jupiter, and so forth. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“But this homeostatic system is not an exhaustive portrait of the cosmos, which also includes elements such as the spirits, mankind, and anomalous natural irregularities, such as comets, earthquakes, floods, and so forth. Dong Zhongshu seems to have viewed mankind as a governor preserving the regularities of nature through action that suppressed the eruption of anomalies. The way in which the human realm performed this function has a number of aspects. /+/

“In terms of the regularities of yin, yang, and the five forces, mankind preserves their balance by emulating their natures. That is, in the spring, mankind must act in accordance with the principles of life-giving, as yang is on the rise, and must wear green colored clothes, so as to accord with the force of wood. In autumn, mankind must reap and may make war, as yin is in the ascendant, representing forces of life-taking; human beings should dress in white, the color of metal, which is the predominant force in the fall. These systems were available to Dong in texts such as the “Monthly Ordinances,” part of which we encountered earlier. Dong worked out new systems along these lines, and we can recognize in them adaptations of "fangshi", five elements, and Huang-Lao ideas that had previously served to "undermine" the authority of Confucianism. /+/

“In terms of the disruptive potential of the spirits, mankind acted as a governor in maintaining the appropriate schedule of sacrifices to the spirits and performing the ceremonies that would honor and propitiate them. If there should appear a sign of spirit disruption, mankind was responsible for adjusting the ceremonies and sacrifices in such a way as to restore homeostatic balance. Spiritual disruptions generally took the form of natural anomalies, reflecting the tight weave between spiritual and material forces. /+/

“Such disruptions were, in any event, largely the consequences of human action, which was governed by complex forces beyond those governing nature. It was good that man should employ his mind to go beyond nature, but the innovations of mankind were only appropriate to the degree that they matched the balance of the cosmos. The fundamental issue that determined the value of human behavior was the way in which human action related to natural structures. As a Confucian, Dong offered portraits of virtues such as "ren" and righteousness that were highly naturalistic, in the sense of his overall model. /+/

Emperor in Dong Zhongshu’s Metaphysical Confucianist Universe

Dr. Eno wrote: “The central regulator of the human sphere was the king, or emperor. The actions of mankind could not hope to accord with natural patterns if each individual invented his or her own guidelines. Instead, over the course of history, sages had traced the appropriate forms of confluence between human and natural patterns, had developed the complex array of everyday life rituals and focal state ceremonies that ensured a proper fit between man and the cosmos. At the center of this system stood the king, who represented the pivot of all human society, the hub of a constantly revolving wheel of action. The directionality of his actions – his ritual observances, his manifestations of character, his policies – synchronized the action of the entire human realm. If his acts were appropriate, the entire realm would harmonize with nature. If the king deviated from the appropriate path, all human action would be distorted and the homeostasis of the cosmos disturbed. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Tomb of Dong Zhongshu

“In cases such as these, the consequences could be grim. A wanton ruler could generate eons of natural disasters and social chaos. Fortunately, the cosmos itself serves as a reactive alarm system that can alert rulers to their errors. If a ruler is misguided, his actions disturb nature and result in visible anomalies. If these are observed by or reported to the ruler, he can become aware that a problem exists, and by administrative inquiry and self-examination he can determine what element of his governance has given rise to this imbalance. If he corrects the problem, balance can be restored before the consequences of his missteps grow beyond his abilities to control. /+/

“Dong Zhongshu’s model of the harmonious universe can be represented by the diagram at left, which pictures the realms of heaven, man, and earth in synchronous motion, with the king at the center, his own directional action tied to the operation not only of the human sphere, but of all the lines of force (yin, yang, five elements, spirituality, and so forth) that link the three realms. The character for “king” was, in Dong’s view, a representation of this model. /+/

“Dong Zhongshu elaborated the role of the ruler in this system at great length. In doing so, Dong was not only currying favor for Confucianism by appealing to Wu-di’s self-appraisal as the center of the universe. The portrait of the emperor as the center of the cosmos certainly had the potential to exalt his political standing to heights that were semi-divine, but it also had the effect of sharply "constraining" the emperor. Under Dong’s system, the ruler had a very extensive set of “cosmic duties” to perform. And in light of the stimulus-response model which pictured the effect of the emperor’s actions on the realm of nature, any natural anomaly could be interpreted as a sign of imperial error, thus opening the door to ministerial remonstrance.” /+/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

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