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TU Berlin

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The System of the "Monthly Ordinances (yueling)"

Joachim Gentz (Sinologisches Seminar der Universitaet Heidelberg)

The purpose of the paper is to show that two different traditional systems of cosmological order were combined and amalgamated in a construction of a new system which is known to us as "Monthly Ordinances (yueling)" and to explain the function and potential of this new construction.

I will argue, first, that there are two independent traditions of cycles of cosmological order which can be traced back to the Shang and through archaeological findings even further and which I define as "phenomenological cycle" and "agent cycle". The "phenomenological cycle" is the cyclical order of the visible continuous changes in the phenomenological realm of heaven (stars) and earth (plants, animals). Early conceptions of this sort of cyclical order are handed down in almanacs preserved in texts like the "Yao dian"-chapter of the Shangshu, the Shijing poem "Qi yue" (Mao 154) or the "Xia xiao zheng"- chapter in the DaDai Liji etc. The "agent cycle" is a hidden and unvisible cyclical order which reveals itself only through its efficacy within the visible world. It is composed of abstract rather than phenomenological agents like the 60 cyclical stems (ganzhi), the ten ancestors in the routine cyclical ten-day divinations (Keightley 1988), Yin Yang, the five "elements" etc. I will provide a brief scetch of important stages within the development of these two distinct traditions.

Second, I will show that the combination of these two traditions is evident for the first time in the silk manuscript of Chu and can be found in a more elaborated form in the specific construction of the new system of the "Monthly Ordinances". I will explain the function of this new system in illustrating its new explicative power. The "Monthly Ordinances" for the first time allowed reasonable explinations of deviations in the regular world. It also provided systematic and reasonable grounds for connecting the emergence of portents with governmental actions, which became a crucial element of Chinese political culture afterwards.

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