Research Project


Concepts of Fate and the Organization of Mantic Knowledge among the Song Dynasty Elite

Prof. Liao Hsien-Huei
National Chi Nan University, Taiwan, Department of History
Research stay: February – July 2010

Lectures at the IKGF:

  • Round Table Feature, Annual Conference 2010: Knowledge and Recognition: Diviners, Literati and Their Interactions in the Song Period.
  • Song Confucian Literati, Diviners and Their Social Interactions, March 23, 2010.

Reading Session:

  • Readings in Zhu Xi and his Concept of Fate (贈徐師表序 in《晦庵集》 of 朱熹,卷75,《四庫全書》 and 羅大經,《鶴林玉露》,卷13,《四庫全書》), May 12, 2010.

Concepts of Fate and the Organization of Mantic Knowledge among the Song Dynasty Elite

My research at the International Consortium for Research in the Humanities concerned the Song literati’s concept of fate and their classification of mantic knowledge. Their close interactions with mantic specialists testify to the fact that they were interested not only in personal fate, but also in the mantic theories that made prognostication possible. It is intriguing to ask whether their interest in personal fate might affect the way in which they perceived their own life, and whether their studies of mantic theories might change the role of prognostication in the genealogy of knowledge. For the first question, I took the late Song literatus Wen Tianxiang as a case study, exploring how the practical arts took part in, and became juxtaposed with, the Confucian teachings in literatus' life, and how the Song literati chose to react when faced with crises. Given that Wen was deeply involved in both mantic arts and Confucian teachings, his life experiences serve as a great window through which to investigate how the juxtaposition of these two systems of knowledge came into being. It is also important to examine how Wen Tianxiang reacted, and which part of his knowledge became embodied, especially during the final stage of his heroic, yet tragic, life.

For the second question, I probed into the changing implications of the terms the "Way" and the "byway". Initiated by Zixia and later recorded in the Analects, the distinction between the Way and the byway thereafter became an important yardstick for differentiating the value of different learning, and determining the social and cultural status of those who practice them. Being classified as the byway, such practical arts as farming, divining, healing, astrology and astronomy became the fields in which “gentlemen” should not engage. However, a close investigation into the Song literati’s contacts with mantic practitioners suggests that the distinction between the Way and the byway began to become blurred. Based on their exploration of mantic theories and techniques, many Song literati treated them as important knowledge that was complementary to their own. Some literati wrote in defense of studying them, while others were directly involved in rectifying or re-editing related mantic texts in order to promote and propagate the “correct”, “acceptable” version. It is fair to say that the criterion for classifying knowledge underwent significant changes during the Song period and that the literati played a significant role in the transmission of mantic arts.

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