“King Cheng’s instruction” (Cheng kai 成開)

Chapter 47 of the Yi Zhou shu 逸周書


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“Cheng kai” is the last “instruction” (kai 開) chapter in the Yi Zhou shu. Its choice of protagonists—the young King Cheng asking questions to the Duke of Zhou—constructs a peculiar kind of power relationship, where the king appears as a humble follower of the wise adviser who transmits the precious knowledge of the righteous ways of the kings of the former generations (here primarily King Wen). Although the final part of the text contains some corrupt passages with missing characters, it is generally relatively well-preserved.

1. Contextual setting.
The beginning part of the chapter states that the dialog occurred during the ninth year of King Cheng. The young King Cheng feels anxious about the remnants of Shang and he shares his anxiety with the Duke of Zhou, asking for his advice. If we take the “ninth year” mentioned in the chapter literally, the dialogue would be positioned at the time after the Duke of Zhou had already completed Zhou’s second campaign against Shang, exterminated the last ruler Wu Geng 武庚 and punished the three Zhou royal relatives (Guan shu 管叔, Cai shu 蔡叔, and Huo shu 霍叔) who took the side of the Shang king.


In the ninth year of King Cheng, the great instruction [was presented. The king] announced that the Duke of Zhou [should] be employed,My reading departs from the commentary attributed to Kong Chao 孔晁 (fl. 3rd century AD)— followed by most commentators—in that I read the first phrase in the chapter as the words of King Cheng, and not the Duke of Zhou. (cf. Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 498). Although the transition to the Duke of Zhou’s speech is not marked in the text explicitly, it is quite clearly indicated by the first phrase “The king should ...”. This reading is informed by other royal colloquies, where the dialogical form prevails and where the inquiries of the king are usually followed by the Duke’s homilies. It also matches the structure of the chapter, for the king reappears once again at the end to confirm the validity of the Duke’s instruction. saying: “Wuhu! My toils from morning till night! Now the spawn of Shang are scattering around to protect themselves. How shall I follow [them]? How shall I follow [them] and how shall I be cautious?”Lu Wenchao 盧文弨 (1717–1796) emends the date in the contextual setting to the first year 元年, pointing out that the ongoing struggle with Shang mentioned in the chapter corresponds to the events at the very beginning of King Cheng’s reign. Nevertheless, as Sun Yirang 孫怡讓 (1848–1908) observes, the ninth year is also mentioned in the Shi lüe 史略 (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 498). Therefore the dialogue may be set at the time when the Duke of Zhou had already completed Zhou’s second campaign against Shang and returned royal prerogatives to the matured King Cheng.

2. King Wen’s virtues summarized in numerical lists.
In response to the King’s request, the Duke of Zhou comes up with an ordered exposition of the virtuous behavior of King Wen (his own father and King Cheng’s grandfather). This instruction is presented in the form of mnemonically structured numerical lists.For a discussion of numerical lists in the Yi Zhou shu, see Grebnev (2020). Most of these lists encompass the prescriptive principles of rulership. However, the first list of the “three perfections” is cosmological. Commonly for royal colloquies, by combining cosmology with practical instruction, the text promotes its message to the rank of universal cosmic wisdom.


[The Duke of Zhou said:] “The King should venerate the Mandate of Heaven, he should not take lightly Heaven’s impartiality! Formerly, Father Wen had personally cultivated the five managerial duties and exerted himself to expand the nine accomplishments. Being reverent towards men and fearful of Heaven, he instructed in the six principles, four protections, five manifestations, and three perfections. He reverently responded to [the people of] the eight directions, establishing trustworthiness and harmonizing rightness—and thence he rose [to prominence].


The three perfections:
      The first: Heaven has nine ranks,According to Lu Wenchao, here following Hui Dong 惠棟 (1697–1758), this refers to the nine planets. Chen Fengheng 陳逢衡 (1778–1855) suggests an alternative understanding: these are the nine paths followed by the sun and the moon in their courses (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 500).
          which are used to discern between times, the yin and yang.
      The second: the earth has nine regions,
          which are used to position the five phases.
      The third: people have four limbs,
          and the assisting officials should be clear-sighted.


When the five manifestations are exhibited, one truly clarifies what he aspires to.


The five manifestations:
      The first: clarifying [official] posts [is a] manifestation for noble men.
      The second: clarifying kindness [is a] manifestation for the multitudes.
      The third: the bright lord manifests tranquility.
      The fourth: dwelling in peace [is a] manifestation for the wife and children.
      The fifth: the use for benefit manifests production.

Production enriches the impoverished. When the household is taken care of, think about the end. The lord—make him the master. With virtue, comfort the multitudes. When the multitudes are in agreement, then there is commonality.


The four protections:
      The first: when issuing orders, make the full use of human resources; when the resources are depleted, it will bring death.
      The second: the soldiers protect the city wall and the moat.
      The third: dam the water to repel bandits.
      The fourth: have in abundance [the means to] attack with fine coal.I follow Lu Wenchao in reading zheng 政 (to govern) as gong 攻 (to attack). Liu Shipei 劉師培 (1884–1919) points out convincing parallels with the Mozi (chapters “Beiti” 備梯 and “Zashou” 雜守) where fine coal (shatan 沙炭; alternatively, “sand and coal”) is mentioned as one of the substances that, together with “arrows and stones” (shishi 矢石) were “rained” on invaders from the walls of the fortified city (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 502).


The six principles:
      The first: be in agreement with the multitudes [of soldiers].
      The second: distribute the amassed [goods].
      The third: clarify the complaints.
      The fourth: redirect the anger.
      The fifth: fear the suspicion.
      The sixth: marshal the desire.


The nine accomplishments:
      The first: what guests enjoy is contained in bamboo baskets [with gifts].
      The second: excessive craftiness ruins regulations.
      The third: fondness of risk ruins affairs.
      The fourth: appointing profit-seekers defeats accomplishments.
      The fifth: spirit mediums provoke the multitudes.
      The sixth: fully condole the people’s impoverishment.
      The seventh: in desolation and joy, have no distinction.
      The eighth: the absence of regulations ruins instruction.
      The ninth: appointing the cunning ones engenders deceit.


To put in agreement and assemble together; assembling together so as to restrict; in substance have alienation, nobody therefore communicates.This passage is obscure; a number of Qing-dynasty scholars have preferred to exclude it from their editions. Although the character zhu 逐 is attested in the earliest Yuan-dynasty edition of the Ji zhong Zhou shu and in the 1543 collated edition by Zhang Bo 章檗 that I adopt as the base text, I follow Lu Wenchao, who emends zhu 逐 with sui 遂, as recorded in other Ming-dynasty editions (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 505).


The five managerial duties:
      The first: the elder of speeches manages sacrifices.The exact referents of this corrupt fragment are not clear. Lu Wenchao identifies the “elder of speeches” (yanfu 言父) with the office of Superintendent of Rituals zongbo 宗伯, the “elder of manifestations” (xianfu 顯父) with the Minister of Instruction situ 司徒, the “elder of rightness” (zhengfu 正父) with the Supervisor of Military Affairs sima 司馬, and the “elder of pivotal moments” (jifu 機父) with the offices of Instructors (shi 師) and Protectors (bao 保). Sun Yirang identifies the last title with the Minister of Punishments sikou 司寇 (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 505, 507).
          When sacrifices illumine Heaven, the hundred families are obediently respectful.
      The second: the elder of manifestations reports on the de-virtue.
          When the de-virtue descends, it becomes a principle, and when the principle
          is trusted, the people are tranquil.
      The third: the elder of rightness reports on errors.
          In errors, one
          should be more cautious than in military affairs. The defense facilities
          will be without excess.
      The fourth: the elder of pivotal moments reports on losses.
          If one
          perfects … officials, then among officials nobody will be
      The fifth: …
          If one regulates with condolence and consumes sparingly,
          then governance will be orderly, and the people will be taken care of.


When the five managerial duties have constancy, then [those in charge of] government will be heavily instructed in their protection.This passage is corrupt. Lu Wenchao suggests that the two characters zhi shou 之守 breaking the rhythmic pattern of the passage are superfluous (Huang Huaixin et al. 2007, 508). This may well be the case, but removing them does not make the passage legible, so I do not follow this emendation. On the inside, [everyone] will follow intentions; on the outside, [everyone] will follow in respectfulness. Being faultless on the inside and the outside is called ‘luminous kingship.’”

3. Conclusion.
Impressed by the instruction received from the Duke, King Cheng reiterates the importance of constant vigilance and warns against the tragic consequences of dismissing the instruction. This emotional and anxious warning is typical for the concluding passages in royal colloquies.

王拜曰:「允哉!維予聞曰:何鄉非懷?懷人惟思,思若不及,禍格無日。式皇敬哉! 余小子思繼厥常,以昭文祖之守、定武考之烈,嗚呼!余夙夜不寧。

The king bowed and said: “Truly so! I have heard a saying: ’In what direction would one aim if not towards what one cares about? Caring about people is [what one should] think about. If, [in one’s] thinking, [one] doesn’t reach that far, then troubles will come unexpectedly. [I shall] put this into practice, being earnestly respectful! I, the young son, think about continuing the constant rules so as to illuminate what was preserved from my grandfather Wen and to reaffirm the glorious deeds of my father Wu! Wuhu! I am, from morning till night, not tranquil [about this].”


Grebnev, Yegor. 2020. “Numerical Lists of Foundational Knowledge in Early Chinese and Early Buddhist Traditions.” Asiatische Studien - Études Asiatiques 74 (3): 453–84. https://doi.org/10.1515/asia-2020-0012.
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.