“Distress at awakening” (Wù jing 寤儆)

Chapter 31 of the Yi Zhou shu 逸周書


Hide/show section annotations.


“Wù jing” 寤儆 depicts a dialogue between a Western Zhou king (probably King Wu) and the Duke of Zhou that happened in the aftermath of a distressing dream revelation, which made the king feel very worried about the success of his struggle against Shang. The Duke delivers a moralizing instruction that reassures the king. In the conclusion, the king and the Duke of Zhou extend the instruction to the future posterity.

1. Contextual setting.
The king summons the Duke of Zhou and tells him about a distressing dream, which made him feel anxious about the leaking of his plans as well as his personal shortcomings that may affect his ongoing rivalry with Shang.


In the fourth month, on the new moon, the king made an announcement about distress. He summoned Duke of Zhou Dan, saying: “Wuhu! My plans are leaking! As I woke up today, Shang distressed me. If I want to associate with them, I do not have … [a matching] status, and if I want to attack them, I have nobody to employ. With these shortcomings in my kingship, even when I am cautious, I do not prosper. My anxiety is profound!”

2. Duke of Zhou’s reassuring message.
The Duke of Zhou reassures the king, reminding him of his moral duties and explaining the revelation as an admonition from Heaven.


The Duke of Zhou said: “Heaven does not have partial sympathy towards Zhou; it has disquieted the king in order to bring him to his senses. May the king be reverent towards the Mandate, respectfully re-enacting what he studies from antiquity! If the king is able to elucidate the three De-virtues,According to the ancient commentary attributed to Kong Chao, the three virtues are hardness (gang 剛), softness (rou 柔), and fairness (zhengzhi 正直): Huang Huaixin et al. -Huang Huaixin 黃懷信, Tian Xudong 田旭東, and Zhang Maorong 張懋鎔 (2007, 305). then he will have the status, and if he is affable with remote people, he will have whom to employ. [The king should] accomplish the royal prayers, pardon those who have committed offenses, cherish his multiple subjects, and then [he] will be allotted fortune. [The king should] be observant and alert regarding what is good and what is ruinous, watchfully preserving and not losing it! [The king] should not append wings to a tiger; otherwise, it will fly up and enter the palace, pick out people, and devour them. [If the king] is neither haughty nor stingy, there will be no equal [to him]!”

3. Conclusion.
The king is visibly reassured by the Duke’s instruction, and he confirms his commitment to further observance of the moral principles. In the conclusion, both the king and the Duke jointly announce that the relevance of this instruction extends to their posterity.


The king bowed and said: “Truly so! I have heard of the plans you have shared [that] these plans [should be] employed and concealed in a timely manner. Not to leak and never to be depleted [in plans]The two words in this phrase are rhymed: 泄 *s-lat, 竭 *N-krat. is something that only Heaven can achieve! Me and you, we should be observant in what we preserve from old [times]!”


Both reverently said: “Admonish posterity so that they are vigilant!”


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.