“Safeguarding at Feng” (Feng bao 酆保)

Chapter 21 of the Yi Zhou shu 逸周書


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The core of “Feng bao” is a set of numerical lists containing admonitory instructions dealing with internal and external affairs. These instructions were supposedly engraved by King Wen on a stele erected after he was implored by hereditary rulers (zhuhou 諸侯) to perform royal sacrifices that he was not entitled to do while the king of Shang remained his formal superior. Nevertheless, the Duke of Zhou encouraged the king to cast aside the doubts concerning his royal prerogatives and proceed steadfastly with this usurpatory ritual. Another scandalous aspect of this text are the subversive instructions relating to external affairs, aiming to strengthen one’s state by corrupting and deceiving the neighbours. The attribution of such instructions to King Wen would certainly appear shocking to those accustomed to think of him as a paragon of virtue.

1. Contextual setting.
The opening passage in “Feng bao” is unusual as it mentions an external event—the coming of the hereditary rulers of the nine regions—straight after the dating formula and before the mention of the king’s location. This violates the predominant pattern of contextual settings in royal colloquies, which usually contain only the information related to the king’s person: date according to the royal calendar and the location of the king. Here, the emphasis is made on the voluntary submission of the rulers of the nine regions as a confirmation of King Wen’s uncontested legitimacy even before the conquest of Shang. This theme is essential for the chapter overall, as will become clear from the following parts.


In the twenty-third ritual cycle on day gengzi (37/60), at the new moon,Like many other chapters of the Yi Zhou shu, “Feng bao” uses an archaic word “ritual cycle” (si 祀) instead of “year” (nian 年) that became commonplace already by the Middle Western Zhou (approx. mid. 10th–mid. 9th cent. BC) period. The term shuo 朔 (new moon) is unknown in earlier bronze texts of the Western Zhou and Springs and Autumns periods, and it is attested only on one Warring States bronze vessel (Gongchu zuoguan ding 公廚左官鼎, Jinwen jicheng #2701). The use of the archaic si together with a very late shuo perhaps betrays an eclectic background and imitatory nature of the text. rulers of the nine regionsThe “nine regions” (jiu zhou 九州) are also mentioned in chapters 28 “Xiao kai wu” 小開武, 47 “Cheng kai” 成開, 56 “Chang mai” 嘗麥, 62 “Zhi fang” 職方, and perhaps in 59 “Wang hui” 王會, where the first word is written with a different character chou 仇. This notion is probably related to the geographical model most famously depicted in the “Yu gong” 禹貢 chapter of the Shang shu which contains a catalogue of the nine regions of the Chinese oikoumene. The “nine regions” is not the only model of geographical organisation that is recorded in the Yi Zhou shu: chapter 11 “Da kuang” 大匡 mentions “princes of the three regions” (san zhou zhi hou 三州之侯), while chapter 12 “Cheng dian” 程典 refers to “princes of the six regions” (liu zhou zhi hou 六州之侯). The concept “three regions” seems to be relatively late. It is perhaps related to the administrative practices of the Han dynasty: the Han shu 漢書 and Hou Han shu 後漢書 contain a number of references to the “three regions”, but the exact regions are not the same on every occasion. The “six regions” are mentioned in several early sources in connection to the “change of the Mandate” (ge ming 革命), when the majority of the All-under-heaven (six regions out of nine) submits to the lineage that eventually establishes a new dynasty. In particular, chapter “Jia yan” 嘉言 of the Kongcongzi 孔叢子 mentions it in the context of King Wen’s 文王 ability to attract people to his side, while chapter “Gu le” 古樂 of the Lüshi Chunqiu 呂氏春秋 mentions it in the context of Cheng Tang’s 成湯 battle against Jie 桀, the last mischievous ruler of the Xia 夏 dynasty. came to Zhou.This part of the “Feng bao” digresses from the contextualizing pattern of bronze texts that it apparently attempts to imitate. It is impossible for a bronze text to mention a third party, such as the princes of the nine regions, in the very middle of the formula, between the date and the king’s location. This passage may have been composed when the compositional conventions of bronze texts were no longer well understood. The king was at Feng.Feng 酆 was one of the centres of the early Zhou. While it is not mentioned in the Shang shu, it appears multiple times in the Yi Zhou shu, although these mentions do not clarify the historic role of Feng very much. For a discussion of the location of Feng with useful references to epigraphic and transmitted sources, see Li Feng (2006, 44–46). See also Khayutina (2008), Sun (2021, 79). Before dawn, he stood in the small courtyard.To my knowledge, apart from this chapter and chapter 22 “Da kai” 大開 of the Yi Zhou shu, the “small courtyard” (shao ting 少庭) is not mentioned neither in pre-imperial or early imperial transmitted texts, nor in epigraphy. In bronze texts, the “middle courtyard” (zhong ting 中廷) is mentioned frequently, but, apart from two dubious poorly preserved rubbings (Xiao Yu ding 小盂鼎 [Jinwen jicheng #02839] and Jin gong pen 晉公盆 [#10342]), there are no mentions of the “great courtyard” (da ting 大廷), while the “small courtyard” is not attested even in such dubious rubbings. The king made an announcement to the Duke of Zhou, saying:

2. The king shares his main concern.
The arrival of the rulers of the nine regions seems to surprise King Wen who does not feel prepared to assume the position of the universal king while the king of Shang still occupies his post. He shares, his doubts with the Duke of Zhou, and the latter reassures the king saying that the good fortune has already abandoned Shang and their royal privileges can therefore be justifiably appropriated. In more practical terms, King Wen should act according to the volition of the regional rulers, who have expressed their allegiance, and conduct the royal sacrifices without thinking about Shang.

「嗚呼!諸侯咸格來慶,辛苦役商,吾何保守?何用行?」 旦拜手稽首曰:「商為無道,棄德刑範,欺侮群臣,辛苦百姓,忍辱諸侯。莫大之綱:福其亡,亡人惟庸。王其祀,德純禮明,允無二,卑位柔色,金聲以合之。」

Wuhu! All the princes have come to felicitate. [They] are heavily burdened with their service to Shang. How shall I safeguard? And what shall I rely on in my actions?”

Dan bowed, touching the ground with his head, and said: “The Shang commit iniquity; they have cast aside the virtuous examples, [they] mistreat all the officials, overburden the common people, and humiliate the regional rulers. There is no greater rule [than this]:The passage is difficult to interpret without emendations. My translation here is based on a substitution of mo da zhi gang 莫大之綱 (the unrivalled discipline) with mo zhi da gang 莫之大綱 (there is no one to greatly discipline them). While even with this emendation the passage appears awkward, it fits the context better, and it has a parallels with a line in Han shi wai zhuan 韓詩外傳 (Outer commentary to the Songs of Master Han) that contains a similar lamentation about the erosion of discipline in the different walks of life: 意欲施之,上無明王,下無賢士方伯,王道衰,政教失,強陵弱,眾暴寡,百姓縱心,莫之綱紀, “Even if one wants to do good to them, above there is no clairvoyant king, below there are no wise gentlemen and elders of the states. The way of the king has come into decline, the instructions concerning the government have been lost, the strong have come over the week, those who are many tyrannise those who are few, the common people have become laddish in their hearts, and there is no one to discipline them.” when the good fortune is about to be lost, the forsaken people become a resource [to be exploited]. When you, o King, are about to perform the regular sacrifices, your virtue should be pure and your ritual bright, truly without counterparts: lowly in position and mild in demeanour, accompanied by the sounds of bells.”

3. Erection of a stele; summary of numerical lists.
“Feng bao” is unusual among royal colloquies, for it appears to present its core instruction not as a dialogue, but as a material object (a stele) that was engraved by King Wen in the aftermath of the sacrilegious ceremony that he conducted in violation of his formal subordination to the Shang dynasty. This core instruction is divided into two parts: internal and external. It can be read in two ways. On the one hand, it may correspond to the inner and the outer surfaces of the stele. On the other, it refers to the different norms that a ruler should adopt in domestic and external relations. Both associations were probably intended by the composers.

王乃命三公、九卿、及百姓之人,曰:「恭敬齊潔,咸格而祀于上帝。」 商饋始于王,因饗諸侯,重禮庶吏。出送于郊,樹昏于崇,內備五祥、六衛、七厲、十敗、四葛,外用四蠹、五落、六容、七惡。

Then the king ordered the three instructors,The expression sangong 三公 is interpreted in two ways. It can refer to the Taishi 太師, Taifu 太傅, and Taibao 太保. According to later accounts, these positions were occupied by the Grand Duke 太公, the Duke of Zhou 周公, and the Duke of Shao 召公, the assistants of the Zhou kings at the time of the establishment of the dynasty. According to a different interpretation, the three gong refer to situ 司徒 (Minister of Instruction), sima 司馬 (Supervisor of Military Affairs) and sikong 司空 (Minister of Public Works). the nine ministersThe “nine ministers” (jiu qing 九卿) is known from the Qin and Han administrative practice. It is also attested in the Liji 禮記 and Kaogong ji 考工記, the texts that probably reflect the reconstructive imagination of the fourth-third centuries BC, but not earlier. and the people from among the commoners,As Tang Dapei 唐大沛 (fl. 1836) notices, it is unlikely that king Wen had a full-fledged administrative apparatus with the three gong and nine qing and was entitled to offer sacrifice to Shangdi (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 197). In other words, “Feng bao” is not just in conflict with historical realities of the Western Zhou, but also with the traditional historiography concerning the Western Zhou. Evidently, King Wen is portrayed here as more of a universal monarch than he ought to be while the king of Shang was still at power. saying: “In venerance and purity, you have all come to sacrifice to Shangdi.”Zhu Youzeng 朱右曾 (1800–?) quotes a passage from Chunqiu fanlu 春秋繁露 saying that, upon receiving the Mandate, the king first has to sacrifice to Heaven and only then proceed with his affairs (已受命而王,必先祭天,乃行王事). “Feng bao” was perhaps influenced by similar ideas. The Shang food offerings start from the king, then the regional rulers are feasted, and various officials are solemnly treated. [As the king] saw them off to the suburbs, he erected an [inscribed] stone tablet at Chong.The original text reads shu hun yu chong 樹昏于崇 (erected the dusk at mount Chong), which is hardly comprehensible. In the reading given here, I follow Ding Zongluo 丁宗落 (1771–1841) who proposes to read hun 昏 as min(Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 197–98). This suggestions seems to be reasonable, especially considering the fact that the same word min can also be spelled as 碈.

[The contents of the stele:] Inside: one should provide the five propitiousnesses, six guards, seven hastenings, ten defeats, four coverings.Yu Chang 于鬯 (1862–1919) notices that the signifying terms of four out of five categories carved on the “inside” belong to the same rhyme group ye 叶, and therefore the first term xiang 祥 (propitiousness) should be emended as da 達 (attainment) (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 198).

Outside: one should use the four erosions, five abscissions, six agents,Wang Niansun 王念孫 (1733–1832) suggests that the “six containers” (liu rong 六容) should be read as “six guests” or “six agents” (liu ke 六客). This emendations makes the rhyming of the “external” group consistent. Unlike rong 容 *[ɢ](r)oŋ, ke 客 *khʕrak rhymes well with the other components: du 蠹 *tʕak-s, luo 落 *kə.rʕak, wu 惡 *ʔʕak-s. It also provides a more plausible reading for the group: while “six containers” are very difficult to understand, the “six agents” can be interpreted as different types of intelligence-gathering and subversive work on the enemy’s territory (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 199). seven evils.

4. Exposition of numerical lists.
Having summarized the numerical lists that constitute the core instruction inscribed on the stone stele, the text proceeds to enumerate the contents of each list. The external set is scandalous in the way it violates conventional morality to strengthen one’s state on account of others. The inclusion of these questionable statements explains why the text attaches itself to the moment in the semi-legendary early Zhou history when King Wen had already started exercising royal duties despite not having yet overthrown the Shang dynasty, his formal sovereign at the time. The irreconcilably contradictory nature of royal legitimacy at this transitional moment provides very convenient background for the text’s cynical view on foreign relations.


The five propitiousnesses are:
      The first: the ruler elects [officials].
      The second: officials obtain [proper] measures.
      The third: duties are not to be abandoned.
      The fourth: do not give or receive bribes.
      The fifth: investigate the people’s troubles.


The six guards are:
      The first: the one who is perspicacious in humaneness cherishes indulgence.
      The second: the one who is perspicacious in wisdom designs plans.A number of early editions, including the earliest Yuan-dynasty edition of the Jizhong Zhou shu 汲冢周書, record hui 毁 in place of she 設, which produces a different reading: ming zhi hui mou 明智毁謀 (clairvoyant in wisdom ruins the plans) (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 200).
      The third: the one who is perspicacious in martiality promotes the brave ones.Lu Wenchao 盧文弨 (1717–1796), apparently following editions that are no longer preserved today, emends this passage with ming jie she yong 明戒攝勇 (clairvoyant in martiality selects the brave ones). He suggests that the text of this chapter in the received edition is conflated with chapter “Da wu jie” 大武解 that contains similar passages (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 200).
      The fourth: the one who is perspicacious in talents promotes gentlemen.
      The fifth: the one who is perspicacious in arts sets an example for officials.Lu Wenchao emends this passage as follows: ming de she guan 明德摄官 (clairvoyant in the de-virtue selects the officials). This emendation seems to be based on editions that are no longer preserved (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 200).
      The sixth: the one who is perspicacious in the Mandate promotes the [members of] government.


The seven hastenings are:
      The first: encouraging diligence hastens the [public] works.
      The second: putting the righteous to action hastens people.
      The third: quelling the auspicious portents hastens martiality.
      The fourth: encouraging the arts hastens production.
      The fifth: encouraging words hastens responses.
      The sixth: encouraging reverence hastens the multitudes.
      The seventh: enouraging wisdom hastens the way.Chen Hanzhang 陳漢章 (1864–1938) notices that these two lists seem to expound a passage from the “Gao Yao mo” 皋陶謨 (Counsels of Gao Yao) from the Shang shu: shu ming li yi 庶明勵翼 (the multitude of perspicacious will hasten themselves in assistance). Chen Hanzhang suggests that the “perspicacious” mentioned in the list of “six guards” correspond to the “multitude of perspicatious” (shu ming 庶明), while the contents of the present list elaborate upon the second part “hasten themselves in assistance” (li yi 勵翼) (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 201).


The ten defeats are:
      The first: smooth-tongued people defeat modesty.Some editions of the Yi Zhou shu record pu 樸 (modest, single-minded) instead of pu 撲 (to strike). In this alternative rendering, the passage reads: “smooth-tongued people defeat the single-minded” (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 201).
      The second: flattering words destroy savings.Lu Wenchao emends tao 謟 (indecisive) with chan 諂 (flattering). With this emendation, the passage reads: “flattering words destroy what is accumulated”. As Zhu Youzeng notices, there is a passage in chapter “Yu fu” 漁父 of the Zhuangzi 莊子 where ning 佞 and chan 諂, the key terms of the two first lines in this group, also follow each other: 莫之顧而進之,謂之佞;希意道言,謂之諂. In this light, Lu Wenchao’s emendation appears reasonable (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 201).
      The third: self-promotion relying on secret resources.
      The fourth: women and gifts precipitate disasters.
      The fifth: those who associate in factions should not be elected.
      The sixth: softening litigations due to ingratiating entreaties.
      The seventh: spiritualistic tortoises defeat divination.
      The eighth: refusing grain in sacrifices conducted for guests.Liu Shipei 劉師培 (1884–1919) proposes to read gu 谷 (or gu 穀 as it is written in many other editions of the Yi Zhou shu) as a graphical error for que 慤 (sincere). This leads to a different reading: “the guest sacrifices repel sincerity” (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 202).
      The ninth: humiliating oneself through angry words.
      The tenth: people carrying different surnames bring chaos into lineages.


The four coverings are:
      The first: if one covers the peasants, the due times will not be shifting.
      The second: if one overworks the land, such one should be concerned [that it] does not produce [harvest].
      The third: if one rectifies awards and punishments, then there will be no excess and misconduct in litigations.
      The fourth: if one covers his military plans, then the [members of the] lineage will not estrange themselves.Commentators observe that the final characters in this group of four lines rhyme (yi 移 *laj, hua 化 *qʷʰˤaj-s, qi 奇 *[k](r)aj). The only exception is the final character fa 罰 *[b][a]t in the last line, which is also not easily comprehensible. The proposed emendations are different: Zhu Junsheng 朱駿聲 (1788–1858) proposes to emend the last character fa 罰 with li 詈 (to scold), but to read it as li 離 (to depart, to separate). Sun Yirang 孫怡讓 (1848–1908) instead proposes luo 羅 (a net), also reading it as a phonetic substitute for li 離. The English translation for these two emendations will be the same. Finally, Liu Shipei suggests to emend two characters in the last line: zu 族 (lineage) with l 旅 (a military brigade), and the last character with ba 罷 (to dismiss), which can result in the following translation: “if one covers his military plans, then the brigades will not be dismissed” (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 203).


The four erosions are:
      The first: curb them with the beautiful and wondrous.Several commentators find the character chi 治 (to rule, here translated as “to curb”) unsatisfactory and suggest that it must be a loan character. Liu Shipei argues that it stands for dai 怠 (idle, negligent) which can result in a translation like: “seduce them into idleness with the beautiful and wondrous.” Yu Chang believes that it could stand either for yi 怡 (cheerful) or dai 紿 (to fool). It is worth mentioning, however, that the original character chi 治 *C.lrә produces the best rhyme with the other three lines in this group (fu 服 *[b]әk, li 力 *k.rək, huo 惑 *[ɢ]ʷˤәk). Keeping it in its place still produces a comprehensible reading, so no emendation appears necessary.
      The second: subdue them with wanton words and idle sayings.
      The third: belabor them with unceasing construction work.
      The fourth: perplex them with spiritualistic mediums and the favorites with psychic [abilities].


The five abscissions are:
      The first: display our adamancy so as to shift their fame.
      The second: lightly shower frost and snow so as to take [their] pines and cypresses.This passage builds on a well-known metaphor: it is only after the first winter frost falls on the branches of pines and cypresses that their splendor becomes visible. Cf. similar passages in the Fengsu tongyi 風俗通義: 大寒既至,霜雪既降,吾是以知松柏之茂也 and the Huainanzi 淮南子: 夫大寒至,霜雪降,然後知松柏之茂也.
      The third: if someone puts trust in scorpion’s spawn, no such person can dwell safely.
      The fourth: strengthen their prayers and mediums, and then their plans [can be] captured.
      The fifth: set the de-virtue afloat and inflate extravaganceIn the place of character kuang 狂 (mad), several early editions record wang 枉 (crooked) (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 205). to expose their evils.


The six agents are:
      The first: spread gossip.
      The second: put to action merchants and craftsmen.
      The third: employment of military units.
      The fourth: what is lifted by the rumours from the outside.
      The fifth: perishing through misdeeds:
                 [knowing that] the conduct of business should correspond to proper times,
                 the proper times would then [have to] be lost.
      The sixth: be generous to their ambassadors to give currency to what they conceal.

七惡:一以物角兵,二令美其前而厚其傷,三閒得大國,安得吉凶,四交其所親,靜之以物,則以流其身,五率諸侯以朝賢人, 而已猶不往,六令之有求,遂以生尤,七見親所親,勿與深謀,命友人疑。

The seven evils are:
      The first: counter troops with material goods.
      The second: put the agreeable things in their front so as to aggravate their injuries.
      The third: when wedged between large states,In most early editions of the Yi Zhou shu, jian de 閒得 is written as jian yu 閒於 (be in between of). I follow this variant in the translation. how can one [hope] to get auspicious and inauspicious [things]?
      The fourth: communicate with their intimates, appease them with goods, and thus drift their persons [towards peril].
      The fifth: lead the hereditary rulers to present themselves before wise people, but do not go there in person.
      The sixth: make them have requests [for you], and consequently [this will] provoke misdoings.
      The seventh: manifest one’s intimacy with someone they are intimate with; do not deeply plan with them, causing their friends to be doubtful.

5. Duke of Zhou’s admonition.
After the detailed exposition of the instructions aimed at domestic and foreign relations that were supposedly carved on a stone stele, the text moves to the Duke of Zhou, who summarizes the importance of these instructions. At this point, the text seems to shift its focus: it is no longer the perplexed King Wen confused by the hereditary rulers’ voluntary submission before the conquest of Shang, but the king’s future posterity that it addresses.


Dan bowed and said: “Wuhu! Let the king’s posterity respect All-under-heaven! If so, they will not manifest any flaws, but if they have flaws, then then they should not take pleasure in self-interest so as to tread with clear awareness.

Wuhu! Be reverent! If you see that the five propitiousnesses, six guards, seven hastenings, ten defeats, and four coverings are not cultivated, the country will not be firm. Attend to the completeness of the four erosions, five abscissions, six agents, and seven evils. The one who is untimely, uncertain, not straightforward, and not generousIn place of the character huan 緩 (sluggish), some editions record non-standard graphically similar forms: in one case, the right part of the character either consists of a combination of 罒 (on top) and 友 (in the bottom); in the other case, 吅 (on top) and 女 (in the bottom). Considering these divergent variants, Lu Wenchao suggests that the character could be emended with sui 綏 (peaceful), which gives the passage a different reading: “The one who is not straightforward is not at peace and will, conversely, exhaust himself” (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 209). will, conversely, exhaust himself.”

6. Concluding call to posterity.
The text concludes with the Duke of Zhou’s call to constantly mediate on the instruction contained in it and to forewarn posterity about its importance. The brief confirmation by the king seals the validity of this instruction with the foundational king’s authority.


Wuhu! Deeply meditate on it! Think about it over again! If [you do not meditate on it] deeply, then [your] advantageous balance will not be great. The one who follows the balance is comforted, the one who does not follow [it] will collapse, and if one collapses,I follow Lu Wenchao who emends the character du 瀆 with kui 潰, which allows to link the passage better with the previous sentence (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 210). one cannot be restored. Forewarn the posterity so that they use your plans!”

The king said: “Truly so!”


Huang Huaixin 黃懷信, Tian Xudong 田旭東, and Zhang Maorong 張懋鎔, eds. 2007. Yi Zhou shu huijiao jizhu 逸周書彙校集注. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe.
Khayutina, Maria. 2008. “Western ‘Capitals’ of the Western Zhou Dynasty: Historical Reality and Its Reflections Until the Time of Sima Qian.” Oriens Extremus 47: 25–65.
Li Feng. 2006. Landscape and power in Early China: The crisis and fall of the Western Zhou 1045 BC. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sun, Yan. 2021. Many worlds under one Heaven. New York: Columbia University Press.