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Liang, Zhu (2023) Occult Verse: Poetry, Divination and Classical Exegesis in Han China (202 BCE 220 CE): A Study of the Han Divination Manual Jiaoshi Yilin 焦氏易林. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The present thesis sets out to examine a divination manual entitled Jiaoshi Yilin 焦氏易林 _(Mister Jiao’s Forest of Changes), which began to circulate around the late Western Han (202 BCE-8 CE) to the early Eastern Han period (25 CE-220 CE). The manual consists of 4096 oracular poems appropriated from classical sources including theShijing詩經 _(Classic of Songs), theZhouyi周易 _(Zhou Changes) and the Chunqiu春秋 _(Spring and Autumn [Annals]). The text has previously been examined in author-oriented studies mainly as an anthology of four-syllable verse, or as a summa of philosophical contemplation of the Han philosopher Jiao Yanshou焦延壽 _(fl.1 cent. BCE). Through applying hermeneutics and reception aesthetics theory, the present thesis shifts the focus from the “author” to the “reader”. It aims to illustrate how the classics were interpreted and adapted in a cosmological discourse in order to meet the demands of readers who wished to procure future knowledge and guidance for making daily decisions.My study presents an alternative Han reading of the classics, which instead of being underpinned by political, moral, and philosophical concerns, focused more on divinatory settings and utilitarian applications for resolving life problems. The study is intended to enrich our understanding of the transmission and permeation of the tenets and precedents in classics in the wider social fabric and stratum. In Chapter 1, after reviewing the debate over the authorship and authenticity of the manual, I advance that from the perspective of transmission of mantic knowledge centredon texts in the Han period, readers and transmitters had an active role in the compilation of mantic texts. Jiaoshi Yilin was a composite text with collective authorship. The inconsistencies in the literary style, interpolations and miscellaneous contents targeting different groups of readers are indicative of the multi-layered nature ofthe text. From the phonetic system, the historical events referred to in the text and the belief in the cult of the Queen Mother of the West embedded in the text, it can be deduced that an early version of the manual was compiled sometime between the first century BCE to the first century CE. I also arguethat Jiaoshi Yilinwas not related tothezhiri值日 _([sixty four Hexagrams] corresponding to the days) method, which was attributed to the ascribed author Jiao Yanshou. Instead,Jiaoshi Yilinwas meant to be used with the zhigua之卦 _(changing hexagrams)method,which was observed in milfoil stalk divination in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods. The application of the zhigua method in Jiaoshi Yilinreflected the standardisation and popularisation of milfoil stalk divination during the Han period. Chapter 2 delineates the historical and intellectual context of the prophetic interpretation of classics in texts like Jiaoshi Yilin. The chapter postulates that the classics were imbued with divine authority, prophetic and talismanic properties to make prophecies in the correlative cosmological model embraced bytheHan society. The readers of the classics were conflated with occultists in their shared hermetic knowledge and in their roles at court. In addition, the ethical standards promulgated in the classics such aswuchang五常 _(five consistencies)and sangang 三綱 _(three bonds) were further absorbed in the cosmological discourse, and reconciled with terms and tenets in that discourse such asyinyangand wuxing五行 _(five phases). Therefore, it was the interaction between the technical-occult tradition and Han Confucianism that shaped the reception of the classics in a prophetic context. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 explore the strategies and characteristics of the interpretation of the classics in Jiaoshi Yilinby comparing the prophetic interpretations in this text with interpretations of the same classical sources in classical commentaries. Chapter 3 focuses on orthographical and lexical features of the appropriation of the ShijinginJiaoshi Yilinby comparing graphic and lexical variations with their counterparts in the Mao recension of theShijing. It can be noted that the readings inJiaoshi Yilinthat are at odds with the Maoshirepresent an alternative understanding and creative engagement on the part of the Han readership. In particular, archaic language was replaced with updated and colloquial language in Jiaoshi Yilin. Chapter 4 compares Jiaoshi Yilin’s interpretation of the imagery in the Shijingwith the interpretation in Mao commentaries and in Zheng Xuan’s annotations. Chapter 5 lists the commentaries on theZhouyiby the school of xiangshu象數 _(images and numbers)to highlight strategies and assumptions in the explanation of theZhouyiin Jiaoshi Yilin. The comparison shows that in their interpretationsof the classics, Jiaoshi Yilinand the classical commentaries shared language and strategies inspired by the correlative mode of thought, and both interpretations linked the ethical values promulgated in the classics with cosmological categories. Nevertheless, Jiaoshi Yilin’s interpretation is characterised by a concern for personal welfare and by its esoteric interests.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Bernhard Fuehrer
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 07 Nov 2023 17:26
Funders: Other

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