Cosmology and Prognostication in the Apocrypha: A Survey of Major Sources and Themes

Prof. Dr. Fabrizio Pregadio

During the Han period (2nd century BCE- 2nd century CE), cosmology became the main tool to devise how the ruler should apply the principles of "humanity" or "righteousness" (in the Confucian worldview), or how he could rule according to the principle of "non-action" (in the Daoist worldview). Against this background, a still little-known body of literature was created, which proposed to interpret the older "Confucian" Classics in the light of the newly-developed cosmological system. This corpus of texts, which is now largely lost, is known in Chinese as wei or weishu ("weft texts", in contrast to the "warp texts", jing, i.e., the Classics), but is often referred to as "the apocrypha" by Western scholars.

The apocrypha constitute an almost literally untapped mine of information on cosmology, divination, and prognostication in the Han period, especially with regard to early imperial political ideology. However, because of their fragmentary nature, their difficulty of interpretation, and their ambiguous status-they are often indiscriminately referred to as "Confucian", "Daoist", or "unofficial"-they have not yet been utilized as suitable, especially by Western scholarship.

My contribution to the "Fate, Freedom and Prognostication" Project consists in a bibliographic survey of the major sources belonging to this corpus, and in a thematic survey of subjects and motives that are directly relevant to the Project.

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