“The Great Instruction” (Da kai 大開)

Chapter 22 of the Yi Zhou shu 逸周書


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Chapter “Da kai” contains a number of lacunae, and the text is poorly legible. Nevertheless, one can identify the characteristic structure of royal colloquies: contextual setting at the beginning, a set of numerical lists in the middle, and a series of exhortative formulas at the end. Despite the lack of the character yue 曰, which usually marks the beginning of speech, the text appears to have been composed as a dialogical exchange between the king and his adviser.

1. Contextual setting.
The dating formula is typical, however, the protagonists are not properly introduced, suggesting that the beginning of the text has not been preserved intact. Comparing this chapter with other royal colloquies, one can speculate that it was originally composed as a dialogue between a king (most likely King Wen but also possibly King Wu) and the Duke of Zhou.


In the king’s second month, when [the lunar] po was already born, the king was at Feng.For a discussion of the location of Feng 酆 with useful references to epigraphic and transmitted sources, see Li Feng (2006, 44–46). [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.

2. Exposition of numerical lists.
The numerical lists in the chapter are expounded in the standard sequence, which includes the initial mention of the lists followed by the detailed exposition of their components. Unfortunately, some of these elements are badly preserved, making it difficult to fully understand the logical sequence of the lists.

八儆: 一□旦于開,二躬修九過,三族修九禁,四無競維義,五習用九教,六□用守備,七足用九利,八寧用懷□。

HavingFollowing Wang Niansun 王念孫 (1744–1832), I read zhao 兆 (to divine; portent) as zhao(Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 212). Following Kryukov and Huang Shuying, I understand zhao as an archaic modal adverb marking the perfective aspect (Kryukov and Huang Shuying 1978, 73). conceivedFollowing Ding Zongluo 丁宗洛 (1771–1841) and Zhu Youzeng 朱右曾 (1800–?) reading mu 墓 (tomb) as mo 謩 (variant: 謨—“to plan, to conceive”). the nine instructions,There is a title “Nine instructions” (Jiu kai 九開) among the eight unpreserved chapters in juan 2 of the Yi Zhou shu. The “nine instructions” are never expounded in the text, which leads Wang Niansun to conclude that jiu kai 九開 should be instead read as a self-reference to chapter title “Da kai” 大開 (The great instruction). Zhu Youzeng prefers to read jiu kai as a reference to the lost chapter whose text was pronounced by a minister named Zhao 兆, but this reading is strained (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 212). he instructed his posterity in the eight warnings and five admonitions.

The eight warnings:
        First: … dawn at instructing.
        Second: in what relates to one's own person, practice the nine trespasses.The “nine trespasses” are also mentioned in chapter 38 “Wen zheng” 文政 (Cultured government), where they are expounded as follows (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 379–80): 一視民傲,二聽民暴,三遠慎而近䫉,四法令□亂,五仁善是誅,六不察而好殺,七不念□害行,八不思前後,九偷其身不路而助無漁 (The first: being arrogant when seeing the commoners. The second: being aggressive when listening to the commoners. The third: being cautious towards those who are far away and yet partial towards those who are close. The fourth: in laws and ordinances, … chaos. The fifth: the humane and good are the ones to be executed. The sixth: being fond of killing without examination. The seventh: not thinking … do harm. The eighth: not thinking of what comes before and what follows after. The ninth: concealing one's own waywardness and assisting in expropriation.) The last passage is unclear. I follow Zhu Youzeng who suggests that wu 無 is extrapolated (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 380).
        Third: in what relates to the kin, practice the nine interdictions.
        Fourth: there should not be any strife other than for rightness.
        Fifth: habitually use the nine teachings.
        Sixth: … use the preparations for defense.
        Seventh: sufficiently use the nine merits.
        Eighth: quietly use the cherished …
The five admonitions:
        First: respectfully employ the kin members who [are able to] plan.
        Second: control the women and admonish the artisans.
        Third: do not cast away relatives.
        Fourth: in carving do not make thin …
        Five: in prayers do not have superfluousFollowing Pan Zhen, 潘振 I read you 憂 (anxious) as you 優 (superfluous). Alternatively, Chen Fengheng 陳逢衡 (1778–1855) proposes to read this line as a reference to an ancient practice of burning jade during prayer, in which case it could be translated as: “in prayer, do not grieve about [the burnt] jade” (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 215). jades.


Manage to [compensate for] the people’s exhaustion and shortcomings.This passage is difficult and probably corrupt.

3. Formulaic conclusion.
The formulaic expressions in the concluding part of “Da kai” are typical for the Yi Zhou shu royal colloquies (see the discussion in chapter 4 of Mediation of Legitimacy). These formulas look like ossified incantations from some forgotten ancient liturgy; to interpret them in a fully satisfying and lucid way does not appear possible.


The king bowed: “Forewarn my posterity about these plans. If they dissent, they cannot prosper.I follow Sun Yirang (1848–1908) in reading cang 藏 (to store) as zang 臧 (good, to be good) (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 215). Admonish posterity so that they use your plans! [Be wary that] the nights are incomplete and the days are insufficient!”


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.
Kryukov, M. V., and Huang Shuying. 1978. Drevnekitaı̆skiı̆ iazyk. Moscow: Glavnaia redaktsiia vostochnoı̆ literatury.
Li Feng. 2006. Landscape and power in Early China: The crisis and fall of the Western Zhou 1045 BC. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.