“The Lesser Instruction” (Xiao kai 小開)

Chapter 23 of the Yi Zhou shu 逸周書


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Chapter “Xiao kai” is poorly preserved and is not easy to translate. The text contains many explicit lacunae marked with empty squares. Elsewhere, the corruption is less obvious, but the frequent interruptions in the narrative flow suggest that the text was either composed in an irregular manner or, more likely, has lost much of its initial coherence in the course of transmission. The text’s compositional, rhetorical, and lexical features are typical of the royal colloquies of the Yi Zhou shu.

1. Contextual setting.
The opening passage is badly preserved, but it seems to contain a dating sequence that consists of the ritual cycle (year), month, and cyclical day. In addition, there seems to be a mention of a lunar eclipse, a natural omen that compels the king to deliver his instruction. The identity of the king’s interlocutor remains unclear.


In the thirty-fifth ritual cycle, the king said in contemplation: “The many ...”It is rather unusual for the dating pattern including the year, the month, and the cyclical day to be interrupted by other elements, and I suspect that the king's incomplete utterance inserted between these elements is caused by textual corruption. In the first month, on day bingzi (13/60), [they] venerated the eclipse of the full moon that occurred in an untimely fashion.

“You should induct the heir in planning!”

2. Reference to a past precedent.
In this section, the king cites a saying from the past. As observed by Sun Yirang 孫怡讓 (1848–1908), the first four characters of this saying, ming ming fei chang 明明非常 seem to be attested also in the chapter “Lü xing” 呂刑 of the Shang shu, spelled slightly differently: ming ming fei chang 明明棐常.Huang Huaixin 黃懷信, Tian Xudong 田旭東, and Zhang Maorong 張懋鎔 (2007, 220). This observation appears the more interesting considering the rhetorical similarity of “Lü xing” to royal colloquies (see the discussion in chapter four of Mediation of Legitimacy). Unfortunately, the interpretation of this phrase in the Shang shu has been a matter of debate, and no fully satisfying reading has been proposed.Gu Jiegang 顧頡剛 (1893–1980) and Liu Qiyu 劉起釪 (1917–2012) provide a convenient survey of opinions: (Gu and Liu 2005, 1959–60). Their proposed translation into contemporary Chinese is, however, questionable (Gu and Liu 2005, 2078). The corresponding passage of “Lü xing” seems to have been also preserved in the Mozi, but in a different rendering and in a different context, pushing the scope of possible interpretations even broader.Sun Yirang 孫詒讓 (2001, 69). The Shang shu passage ming ming fei chang has been interpreted as a statement describing the protagonist’s action, as in Karlgren’s translation: “clearly elucidated the irregular practices.”Karlgren (1949, 179). The context of the “Xiao kai”, however, suggests that it should be read rather as an aphoristic statement: “The bright luminosity is not constant”. A similar reading may be possible for “Lü xing.” Although one cannot exclude that “Xiao kai” is referring to “Lü xing”, both texts probably rely on a shared body of aphoristic expressions.

曰:嗚呼!于來後之人。余聞In the edition by Huang Huaixin et al., which is based on the 1543 collated edition by Zhang Bo 章檗, this character is misspelled as kai(Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 219). However, in the earliest surviving 1354 blockprint edition, this character is written correctly as wen(Jizhong Zhou shu 汲冢周書 2005, 3.3b). According to Huang Huaixin et al. (2007, 219), other early editions also contain the correct character.在昔曰:明明非常,維德曰為明。食無時。

[The king] said: “Wuhu! Oh, the people who come thereafter!I read yu 于 as an exclamation xu 吁. I have heard that it was said of old:”The bright luminosity is not constant. It is only the De-virtue that is called luminous”.Ding Zongluo 丁宗落 (1771–1841) and Yu Chang 于鬯 (1862–1919) suggest that the character yue 曰 in this phrase is superfluous (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 219). This suggestion is plausible, but I do not follow it in my translation. … in an untimely fashion.The last three characters duplicate an identical sequence of characters at the beginning of the text and appear interpolated.

3. First set of rhetorical questions; reference to oral wisdom.
In “Xiao kai”, there are several sets of rhetorical questions employing the pattern “何X非Y” typical of the Yi Zhou shu royal colloquies and chapter “Lü xing” from the Shang shu. I do not break this rather long fragment into smaller units because the notions gong 躬 (person) and yan 言 (words) mentioned in the first two rhetorical questions reoccur in a saying quoted by the king at the end. Although there does not seem to be a narrative connection between the rhetorical questions and the contents of the saying, I still feel obliged to keep this possible argumentative unit undivided. This section contains some of the least intelligible passages in the text, and the proposed translation of the second half is tentative. Towards the end of this section, an emphasis is made on the notion of mou 謀 (plans) which is mentioned multiple times in “Xiao kai”. The text seems to discourage the use of mou in persuasion and warns against its leaking.


[From morning till] night,In my translation, I follow Ding Zongluo who emends the text by inserting the character ri 日 before ye 夜, making it possible to read the passage as an exclamation regarding an activity that does not cease at any time (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 220). However, the compound riye 日夜 (day and night) does not occur in other royal colloquies, and perhaps the character su 夙 (morning) would be more suitable: unlike riye, suye 夙夜 (morning and night) is commonplace in royal colloquies. what would you refine if not [your own] person? What would you be cautious about if not the words? Who would you elect if not the virtuous?

Wuhu! Be reverent in this! You should respectfully heed [to this]. If you are unruly, [you will be like someone who] offers wares for sale and yet is not able to sell them.As observed by Chen Fengheng 陳逢衡 (1778–1855), this phrase seems to be borrowed from the ode “Gu feng” 谷風 (East wind) from the “Bei feng” 邶風 (Airs of Bei) subsection in the “Guo feng” 國風 (Airs of the states) section of the Shi jing 詩經 (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 221). Here is this fragment with James Legge’s translation (Legge 1871, 57–58):

You cannot cherish me,
And you even count me as an enemy.
You disdain my virtues, -
A pedlar's wares which do not sell.

Although “Xiao kai” uses chou 讎 (enemy) and not shou 售 (to sell), these two words belong to the same phonetic series, and it is likely that one is the loan character for the other. Baxter and Sagart reconstruct chou as *[d]u, but they provide no reconstruction for shou. Starostin reconstructs chou as *dhu and shou as *dhus.
Ponder on this!

If you do not reflect [on this], a disaster will be attracted. [In this case] do not say: it was unavoidable. If you do not have accomplishments, you will not flourish. If you are not orderly, people [will be led to] calamity. If you do not [make] plans, you will be lost and forsaken as if you were not human.This passage is one of the most problematic in the chapter. There are many ways to divide it into syntagms, which would result in different readings. My translation is influenced by the reading proposed by Zhu Youzeng, although I structure it differently in order to maintain the possible parallel between “disaster” and “human calamity” (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 222).

I have heard: when employing people, one should not [accept] persuasion through planning. If the persuasion is evil and there are false words, then, [enchanted with] appearance, one can no longer be aware of being lax; being lax, one can no longer be aware of plans; and if the plans leak, then your own person will not be sure.

4. Another reference to oral wisdom; on scarcity of talents.
This relatively brief section appears to contain a statement regarding the difficulty of finding good companions for mou-planning.


Wuhu! Be reverent towards this, o the people who come later!

I have heard that it was said: “In planning, there may be mutual pertinacity.I follow Duan Yucai’s 段玉裁 (1735–1815) interpretation of rong 軵 as an obstructing activity with an intention to receive a concession: see Xu Shen 許慎 and Duan Yucai 段玉裁 (1981, 729). If it is so, then you should withdraw.”

Among the people, those who:
    like being at ease and yet do not get exhausted;
    are noble and yet not haughty;
    are rich and yet not pretentious;
    are paired [with someone] and yet do not contest;
    listen and yet do not wander;
    are afar off and yet do not break away;
    are in extreme conditions and yet not destitute—
are rare.

5. Second set of rhetorical questions; on division/branching.
This section is structured around three rhetorical questions using the pattern “何X非Y” and statements involving the notion of zhi 枳 (枝 *ke), which has a broad semantic scope, including “branch”, “limb”, and “to support”. The semantic proximity between “branching” and “support” seems to be played on consciously as zhi is discussed as the fundamental underpinning of any hierarchical relations.


When you plan, where would do you direct [yourself] if not towards protection?

There is mutual branching and support. If the branching and support have lost their significance, then the big will harm the small, and it will be impossible to remove them [even] with an axe. As for the employment of the virtuous, if they are all employed in state planning, then the great will be few, and there will be no harm.

Wuhu! What would you revere if not time?Shi 時 could be understood as an indicative pronoun: “What would you revere? Is it not this [what has just been explained]?” However, considering that shi in “Xiao kai” is also employed as a noun and that it occurs in rhetorically accentuated positions, I prefer to translate it consistently as a noun in this chapter.
Who would you elect if not the virtuous?
The De-virtue extends in support to the ruler,
the ruler extends in support to the ministers,
the ministers extend in support to the middle-ranking officials,
the middle-ranking officials extend in support to the noble men.
How sublime! How magnificent!

… extends in support to the state,
the state extends in support to the capital,
the capital extends in support to towns,
the towns extend in support to families,
the families extend in support to [their] needs without boundaries.The concluding part of this sequence is not intelligible. Perhaps it is a result of an interpolation, because the two confusing characters wu jiang 無疆 (no boundaries) from this passage reappear later in the text.

6. Numerical lists and the third set of rhetorical questions.
This section mentions several numerical lists that occur in other chapters of the Yi Zhou shu: “Da wu” 大武 (Great warfare), “Da kai wu” 大開武 (The great instruction of King Wu), “Xiao kai wu” 小開武 (The lesser instruction of King Wu), “Cheng kai” 成開 (King Cheng’s instruction). However, “Xiao kai” does not provide explicit enumerations of the lists’ contents. It may be possible to supplement them with information from other chapters, such as the expositions of the “three extremities” (san ji 三極) in chapters “Xiao kai wu” and “Cheng kai”. In “Xiao kai wu,” the “three extremities” are expounded as “nine luminaries” (jiu xing 九星), “nine regions” (jiu zhou 九州), and “four limbs” (si zuo 四左), while in “Cheng kai” they appear as “nine ranks” (jiu lie 九列), “nine regions” (jiu zhou 九州), and “four limbs” (si zuo 四佐). Unlike the “three extremities”, where there is not much contradiction between “Xiao kai wu” and “Cheng kai”, the expositions of the “nine causations” (jiu yin 九因), “four proximal relations” (si qi 四戚) and “five harmonies” (wu he 五和) in “Da wu” and “Da kai wu” are structured in different and incompatible ways.


In movement, there are three extremities.
In employment, there are nine causations;
      the causations include four proximal relations and five harmonies.I follow Chen Fengheng, Ding Zongluo, Tang Dapei 唐大沛 and Zhu Youzeng who emend si 私 with he 和 in this passage (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 226). This makes “Xiao kai” more consistent with “Da wu” 大武 and “Da kai wu” 大開武, which contain a similar cluster of numerical lists: “nine causations”, “four proximal relations”, and “five harmonies”. The characters si and he are graphically similar in early imperial excavated texts, so I find this emendation unproblematic.
The extremities elucidate being together.
      In being together, there is fear and encouragement.

How would you protectI read yi 異 (to differ) as yi 翼 (to protect, to assist) to maintain consistency as yi 翼 occurs in several other parts of this chapter. if not by righteousness?
Among whom would you inspire fear if not among the people of [the present] generation?
How would you instill courage if not by music?
If, in planning, you acquire the three extremities, there will be no boundaries.
If, in movement, you acquire the nine causations, there will be no limits.
If, in affairs, you use the three virtues, this will facilitate your accomplishments.Reading gong 攻 (attack) as gong 功 (accomplishment).
The crooked … discuss that protection, the protection is in the intention to assess the seasonal De-virtue.This passage is badly preserved and cannot be translated intelligibly.

7. Statements regarding timeliness/seasonality.
This section brings to the forefront the preoccupation with proper timing. The notions of “seasonality” (shi 時) and “virtue” (De 德) that permeate the text appear interrelated.


Spring fosters birth:
      the coarse grass strengthens, the dense and the sparse become replenished.
Summer fosters growth:
      [this is the time] to enjoy the branches and the blossom, to prevent inundations.
Autumn is the time of the first mowing:I follow Sun Yirang who proposes to read yi 藝 (to plant, to cultivate) as a phonetic loan for yi 刈 (to mow), which better fits the context of seasonal autumn activities (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 222). Baxter and Sagart reconstruct these words as *ŋet-s and *ŋa[t]-s, respectively.
      if [work] is not done during the right season, then [the fruits] will fall off.
Winter is the time of the great cutting.

If you turn your back on the trustworthy, how would you plan? The basic …

The seasons and years deliver heavenly manifestations.

8. Final set of rhetorical questions and concluding formulas.
In this final section, the text can be fruitfully compared with other royal colloquies and chapter “Lü xing” of the Shang shu that employ a similar set of formulaic expressions. Despite the imperfect preservation of this passage, it is clearly related in its formulaic and rhetorical features to other royal colloquies.


Wuhu! How would you exercise authority if not in a timely manner?I follow Gu Jiegang and Liu Qiyu in my interpretation of jian 監. While it is commonly understood as “to inspect”, they propose to interpret it as “to look downwards” and by extension “to govern”, following a gloss in the Shuowen jiezi (Gu Jiegang 顧頡剛 and Liu Qiyu 劉起釪 2005, 2069).
What would you exert yourself in if not in De-virtue?
How would you urge if not by causation?
How would you use if not by extremities?

Speaking of the relationship between Zhou and the commoners, when people plan, if they dissent, they cannot [prosper].In the translation, I follow what I believe is a better preserved rendition of the same formula in “Da kai”: 儆我後人謀,競不可以藏 (Forewarn my posterity about these plans. If they dissent, they cannot prosper). The last character is missing in “Xiao kai”, rendering the passage incomprehensible. Following Sun Yirang, I add the character zang 臧 (to prosper), by analogy with “Da kai”: (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 229–30). Posterity, beware! Posterity, beware! [Beware that] the nights are incomplete and the days are insufficient!


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