An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

biyong 辟雍

Feb 18, 2019 © Ulrich Theobald

The word biyong 辟雍 (also written 辟雝, 璧雍, or 辟廱) had basically two meanings, first, a lake surrounding the temple hall in which the Son of Heaven carried out ancestral sacrifices, which is perhaps nothing else than the Bright Hall (mingtang 明堂), and second, a kind of school for the princes of the house of Zhou, also located inmidst a lake.

The great Later Han 後漢 (25-220 CE) commentator Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127-200) explains that bi 辟 meant "bright" (ming 明), and yong 雍 "harmonious" (he 和), signifying that the hall served to "enlighten and harmonize the world" (suoyi ming he tianxia 所以明和天下).

The semi-classic text Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記 (67 Mingtang 明堂) explains that the Mingtang Hall had nine chambers and was surrounded by a water called Biyong (wai shui yue Biyong 外水曰辟雍). The encyclopaedia Baihu tongyi 白虎通義 holds that the Son of Heaven erected the Biyong Hall, where he carried out rituals accompanied with ritual music, in order to propagate his virtue (xuan dehua 宣德化). The name Biyong is interpreted from the fact that "the sovereign" (bi 辟) was a representative of Heaven, which had the shape of a jade circle (bi 璧), "the round taking Heaven as a model" (yuan fa tian 圓法天), and whose waters "harmonized" this relation (yong zhi yi shui 雍之以水) by symbolizing that the education by and of the Son of Heaven, focusing on a government of virtue, "spread like water" (xiang jiaohua liuxing 象教化流行).

In his book Xinlun 新論, Huan Tan 桓譚 (23 BCE-56 CE) explained that the king used to construct a lake round like the shape of a jade disk, and his roundness was used to harmonize (yi yuan yong zhi 以圓雍之) and spread the royal virtue in all directions. The Biyong Hall was the spot where the king connected the Earth with Heaven (cheng tiandi 承天地), classifed his instructions (ban jiaoling 班教令), and spread the royal Way (liuzhuan wangdao 流轉王道) in to all directions and in a repetitive manner (zhou er fushi 周爾復始). The geometrical background of the word Biyong is also confirmed by the Later Han scholar Cai Yong 蔡邕 (132-192, discussion Mingtang Yueling lun 明堂月令論).

The dictionary Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 (character 廱) explains the word Biyong as a place where the Son of Heaven held banquets (xiangyin 饗飲) for his ancestors (after heaving held a certain period of fasting).

The character of the Biyong building as a "school for the Son of Heaven" (tianzi zhi xue 天子之學) is first recorded in the semi-classic Hanshi waizhuan 韓詩外傳.

Quotation 1. Instructions by the King of Zhou in the Biyong Hall
祀乎明堂而民知孝,朝覲然後諸侯知以敬。 When King Wu of Zhou sacrificed in the ancestral temple, the people learned about filial piety. He held open court and from that the regional rulers learned about respect.
坐三老於大學,天子執醬而饋,執爵而酳,所以教諸侯之悌也。此四者,天下之大教也。 He seated the three old men in the Great School, and he, the Son of Heaven, respectfully served them with sauce and gave them cups to rinse out their mouths. In this manner he taught the regional rulers the behaviour proper to younger brothers. These four acts constitute the great teachings of the empire.
Translation by Hightower 1952: 91.

In Spring, the Hall served as a place tot rain archery, in autumn, to feast the „three (classes of the) old, and the five (classes of the) experienced (sanlao, wugeng 三老五更) in the ceremony "nourishing the aged" (yanglao 養老).

Lu Jia 陸賈 (d. 170 BCE) notes down in his book Xinyu 新語 (8 Zhide 至德) that at that occasion, the king of Zhou

Quotation 2. The King rules by law, order, and exemplarious virtue
賞善罰惡而潤色之,興辟雍庠序而教誨之。 rewarded the good and punished the evil-doers and so gradually reformed them; he encouraged academies and local schools to teach and guide the people.
賢愚異議,廉鄙異科,長幼異節,上下有差。 [Based on these activities it was possible] to give different ranks to the worthy and the foolish, different rules to the cultivated and the unpolished fellows, approporiate courtesy to the old and young, and difference of position to the high and low,
強弱相扶,小大相懷,尊卑相承。 [in order to motive] the strong to help the weak, the elders to give attention to the young, people of high rank to assist the humble.
不言而信,不怒而威。 [The result of all these formal instructions were that the sovereign] was trusted even tough he did not make any formal oath and possessed authority without using the force of anger.
Translation according to Ku 1988: 109.

The chapter Wangzhi 王制 "Royal regulations" in the ritual Classic Liji 禮記 holds that the Grand School (daxue 大學) was located in the suburbs of the capital (jiao 郊). As parts of this institution, the school for the Son of Heaven (and his sons?) was called Biyong, that for the (sons of) regional rulers was called Pangong 頖宮 (also written 泮宮). While the Biyong was in the centre of a building complex (Taixue 太學, Zhongxue 中學), the eastern one was called Dongxu 東序 (Dongjiao 東膠, Dongxue 東學, allegedly derived from the Xia dynasty 夏), the western one Guzong 瞽宗 (Xixue 西學, derived from the Shang dynasty), the southern building Chengjun 成均 (Nanxue 南學, derived from the Five Emperors), and the northern one Shangxiang 上庠 (Beixue 北學, derived from Emperor Shun 虞舜). The Guzong Hall served to learn rites and propriety, the Shangxiang Hall to learn reading and writing, and the Chengjun and Dongxu Halls to train music, dance, and archery. Rites and music were the spring and autumn curriculum, and writing that of summer and winter.

According to the chapter Baofu 保傅 (48) in the Da Dai Liji, the sovereign held high the veneration of parents (shang qin 上親) and appreciated humanity (gui ren 貴仁) in the Eastern School, respected the worthies (xian 賢) and appreciated virtue (de 德) in the Western School, venerated persons of high age (chi 齒) and appreciated trustworthiness (xin 信) in the Southern School, and held high nobility (gui 貴) and dignity (zun jue 尊爵) in the Northern School. At the end of his ceremonial tour, the emperor entered the Grand School and addressed the teacher to inquire him about the Way (dao 道) [of ruling by virtue], and then withdrew for his studies, supported by the Grand Preceptor (taifu 太傅, see Three Dukes). The Grand Preceptor punished the sovereign for not keeping to the guidelines (fa qi bu ze 罰其不則) and intensified his knowledge of matters he had not reached yet (da qi bu ji 達其不及). In this way, the sovereign's virtue and wisdom would grow (de zhi zhang 德智長), and he would attain the Way of regulated [rule] (li dao de 理道得) (Gynpas 1967, 68).

From this description it can be seen that the Biyong Hall was a combination of a school, in which the sovereign was instructed by the Grand Preceptor and trained his own physical and mental skills, and a ceremonial hall in which the ruler himself venerated respectful persons and so operated as a model of virtuous rule the regional rulers were expected to imitate. In addition to laying out the fundaments of social etiquette, the Zhou king was free to instruct his subordinates how to run their governments.

Other sources provide the information that the Biyong school was actually only a kind of pavillion, or a building without walls, and a place to train archery, to venerate teachers, nourish the old persons, present tributes and captives, and so on, in other word, a site of certain ceremonial events the Zhou kings had to carry out. In a wider sense, "teaching" or "instruction" referred to the Six Arts (liuyi 六藝), namely rites (li 禮), music (yue 樂), archery (she 射), charioteering (yu 御), writing (shu 書), and arithmetics (shu 數).

When the Son of Heaven was about to launch a military campaign, he would receive an order from his ancestors and completion by studies. Both could apparently be realized in the Biyong Hall.

As the building served to train archery, it were also known as "archery palace" (shegong 射宮), and as "water palace" (zegong 澤宮) because it was surrounded by a lake. The young noblemen used to shoot the fish and birds of the lake, and trained to hunt in the closeby forest (Meng 1998).

Quotation 3. Description of activities at Biyong Lake in Shijing 詩經 (Daya 大雅, 242 Lingtai 靈臺)
When [the king] planned the commencement of the marvellous tower (lingtai 靈臺),/
He planned it, and defined it;/
And the people in crowds undertook the work,/
And in no time completed it./
When he planned the commencement, [he said], "Be not in a hurry;"/
But the people came as if they were his children.
The king was in the marvellous park (lingyu 靈囿),/
Where the does were lying down, /
The does, so sleek and fat;/
With the white birds glistening./
The king was by the marvellous pond (lingzhao 靈沼);/
How full was it of fishes leaping about!
On his posts was the toothed face-board, high and strong,/
With the large drums and bells./
In what unison were their sounds!/
What joy was there in the hall with its circlet of water!
In what unison sounded the drums and bells!/
What joy was there in the hall with its circlet of water!/
The lizard-skin drums rolled harmonious,/
As the blind musicians performed their parts.
Translation according to Legge 1871.

Looking closer at the original landscape around the Biyong Hall during the early Western Zhou, it can be found that the Biyong Lake (also called Lingzhao 靈沼, Dachi 大池, or Bichi 璧池) was an island called Lingtai 靈臺 "Spirit Platform", ontop of which the "platform pavillion" (taixie 臺榭) or "Pavillion of Propagation [of Virtue]" (Xuanxie 宣榭) was standing, as well as an ancestral temple (zongmiao 宗廟). At the western shore of the lake, the Son of Heaven could assemble the dignitaries and nobles in a "Spirit Park" (Lingyu 臺囿), where they could hunt birds and deer which were then offered to the ancestors, deities and spirits. Some late Zhou-period sources like the ritual classic Yili 儀禮 (ch. Xiangshe li 鄉射禮, Dashe 大射) write that the nobility just trained archery with the help of butts (houba 侯靶), and say nothing of hunts. (Wang 2014).

Bi was quite probably a place name, referring to the area of Hao 鎬, just located north of Lake Biyong. It was the residence of King Wu 周武王, who is therefore in bronze inscriptions called Bi wang 辟王 "The King [residing] in Bi" (Zhou 2014: 61).

The existence of a Biyong Hall is attested by bronze inscriptions like that of the Mai zun 麥尊 pot and the vessels Jing gui 靜簋, Yu gui 遹簋, Que Cao ding 趞曹鼎, and Kuang you 匡卣. Contemporary inscriptions further suggest that the Biyong Hall was only created during the reign of King Mu 周穆王 (10th cent. BCE) as a place for memorial ceremonies for King Wen 周文王 (Li & Li 2003).

Yet these inscriptions, together with early Zhou texts like songs of the Classic Shijing "Book of Songs" 詩經, demonstrate that the semantic interpretation of the Biyong Hall was no more than Han-period phantasy: bi just meant "on royal land". Without doubt the hall served for ceremonial purposes, for instance, investiture ceremonies, archery contests, ancestral sacrifices, or the yanglao ceremony to honour the elderly of the royal clan. The idea of the Biyong as a kind of school where a large number of young noblemen were educated must be discarded.

Data provided by sources like the Han-period geographical book Sanfu huangtu 三輔黃圖 (which mentions, among others, the distance between Chang'an and Lingyu Park, Lingzhao Lake, the Lingtai Terrace, and the Biyong Hall) allow to calculate the surface of the Lingzhao Lake (Biyong Lake) as 113 square li 里 (one li being approx. 0.5km), and the area of the Lingtai Platform as 12.56 square li (Wang 2014.)

Figures 1-2. Location of Lake Biyong and the Qing-period Biyong Hall
Left: Reconstruction of the location of Lake Biyong and the lake, on which the Biyong Hall was standing. Dirctly northwest of the lake is the royal residence Hao 鎬, in the southwest Feng 酆 (丰). Northeast of the lake are the areas of Han- and Tang-period Chang'an 長安, as well as the location of Xi'an 西安 during the late imperial period. Today, the area is covered by villages, fields, and small lakes. Zhou 2014. Right: Cut-off drawing of the Biyong Hall of the Qing-period Directorate of Education. It is surrounded by a moat symbolizing the ancient lake. Li 2009. Click to enlarge.

While the Biyong Lake of the Western Zhou period was a real, but artificial, round lake with a dimension of perhaps 2km diameter. the Han dynasty began to imitate this scenery by constructing a Biyong complex as part of the National University (taixue). The ruins of the Mingtang complex in Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi (the former Chang'an 長安), with a 62m-wide building, four secondary halls, and a lake with a diameter of 368m, date from the reign of the usurper Wang Mang 王莽 (45 BCE-23 CE) (Wang 2007). The wall of the square Mingtang complex in Luoyang 洛陽 (Henan) has a length of 170m, with a moat outside. It dates from the time of the early Western Jin period 西晉 (265-316) (Wang 2007). The Mingtang Hall was usually a square building, yet no actual place has been found that can without doubt identified with the round Biyong complex (Li 2009).

In Beijing, the Biyong Hall is part of the Directorate of Education (guozijian 國子監). The present building in Chengxian Road 成賢街 (District Andingmen nei 安定門内) was erected in 1784. While the building is square, the pond-like moat surrounding it gives the whole construction a round appearance. The moat can be crossed by four bridges located in the four cardinal directions of the Hall. Inside the hall, the lecturer (jiangxue zhe 講學者), often the emperor in persons, sat on a throne on an elevated platform.

All dynasties used the Biyong Hall as a combination of school and temple. In the late Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126), the National University (taixue) became the centre of education. In 1102, a Biyong Hall was built south of the city of Kaifeng (Henan, Bianjing 汴京) and was given the name "Outer School" (waixue 外學). It served to receive 3,000 tribute students (gongshi 貢士), as well as students from the Outer College (waishe sheng 外舍生) of the University. From then on, annual examinations were held there, and successful graduates were allowed to enter the National University. The Biyong complex consisted of four lecture halls (jiangtang 講堂) and one hundred lodges, each of which housed 30 students. The school was managed by the Libationer of the Directorate of Education (guozijian jijiu 國子監祭酒). From 1105 on, the Biyong Hall was managed by a rector (dasicheng 大司成), a functionary who in 1111 became head of the National University. The preparatory Biyong School was abolished in 1121, and the students were transferred to the Outer College.

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