An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Yiwei 易緯

Mar 21, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

Yiwei 易緯 is a collection of apocryphal texts explaining the Confucian Classic Yijing 易經.

There is only a small group of apocryphal classics included in the corpus of the imperial collectaneum Siku quanshu 四庫全書. These are the so-called Yiwei "Apocryphals to the Changes", namely

Table 1. Seven Apocryphal Interpretations of the "Book of Changes" (Yiwei 易緯)
N.B. transl. after Nielsen 1999.
乾坤鑿度 二卷 Qiankun zaodu "Opening the laws of the hexagrams Qian and Kun"
易緯稽覽圖 二卷 Yiwei jilan tu "Examining and observing the diagrams"
易緯辨終備 一卷 Yiwei bianzhong bei "Preparing the differentiations of ends"
周易乾鑿度 二卷 Zhouyi qianzao du "Opening the laws of the hexagram Qian"
易緯通卦驗 二卷 Yiwei tonggua yan "Penetrating the potency of the hexagrams"
易緯乾元序制記 一卷 Yiwei qianyuan xuzhi ji "Record of the original sequence and system of the hexagram Qian"
易緯是類謀 一卷 Yiwei shilei mou "Plan of the right category"
易緯坤靈圖 一卷 Yiwei kunling tu "Diagram of the spirit of the hexagram Kun"

Origin and Preservation

These texts are appended to the Siku quanshu sub-section Yilei 易類 that includes commentaries on the Yijing. The eight texts have a total lengh of 12 juan that are said to have been commented by the great Confucian master Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127–200). The compilation team of the Siku quanshu extracted them from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) encyclopaedia Yongle dadian 永樂大典.

Hu Yigui 胡一桂 (fl. 1264) still believed that the apocryphals were important supplementary texts on Yijing because they had been written during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE), when scholars still understood the original meaning of the "Changes", but Hu Yinglin 胡應麟 (1551-1602) maintained that the texts belonged to the traditions of yuanbao 元包 or dongji 洞極 divination, and not to the Yijing tradition. The book Yuanbao 元包 (Yuanbao jingzhuan 元包經傳) was compiled by Wei Yuansong 衛元嵩 (fl. 567). It imitates the structure of Yang Xiong's 揚雄 (53 BCE-18 CE) Taixuanjing 太玄經, and the order of the hexagrams is Kun 坤, Qian 乾, Dui 兌, Gen 艮, Li 離, Kan 坎, Xun 巽, Zhen 震, following that of the lost text Guicang 歸藏. Dongji divination is based on the book Dongji zhenjing 洞極真經 by Guan Lang 關朗. Of both texts, fragments are preserved that are to be found in Ma Guohan's 馬國翰 (1794-1857) collection Yuhan shanfang jiyi shu 玉函山房輯佚書.

Qiankun zaodu 乾坤鑿度

The Qiankun zaodu is divided into two parts. The first one discusses the "four gates" (simen 四門) and the "four correct matters" (sizheng 四正), and explains how the appearances of ideas and objects were selected, and how the numbers (6 for Yin and 9 for Yang) of the various hexagrams and their lines were composed. The second part describes the "ten characters" (shixing 十性) of the hexagram Kun 坤 "Earth", and the relationship of the hexagrams with lakes and hills (i.e. geomancy). It quotes from older texts on the "ten thousand shapes" (wanxing 萬形), the "shape of the earth" (dixing 地形), the "structuring of spirits" (zhiling 制靈), the "perfection of milfoil stalks" (shicheng 蓍成) for divination and how spirit is included in all appearances (han ling yun 含靈孕). The theories of the Qiankun zaodu are very obscure and not easy to understand. The bibliographer Chao Gongwu 晁公武 (1105–1180) was therefore of the opinion that the text was a Song period 宋 (960-1279) forgery, all the more as it did not figure in the bibliographical chapters of the official dynastic histories Jiutangshu 舊唐書 and Xintangshu 新唐樹 or the early Song catalogue Chongwen zongmu 崇文總目. The catalogue Shaoxing xu shumu 紹興續書目 lists a 2-juan long text called Zaodu 鑿度, allegedly commented by Cang Jie 倉頡, the mythical inventor of the Chinese script, as well as the Qianzao du 乾鑿度, commented by Zheng Xuan, which was at that time circulating separately from a part called Kunzaodu 坤鑿度, but later probably merged with it.

Yiwei jilan tu 易緯稽覽圖

In the biography of Fan Ying 樊英 (ch. 82) in the official history Houhanshu 後漢書 seven apocryphal texts are listed (qiwei 七緯), the Jilan tu 稽覽圖 being the first. In the bibliographical chapter Jingji zhi 經籍志 of the official history Suishu 隋書 it is said that these texts had a length of 8 juan, while those in the Jiutangshu and Xintangshu (compiled later) speak of 9 juan, with a commentary written by Song Jun 宋均. The length of the Jilan tu is indicated as 1 juan in the bibliographical chapter in the official history Songshi 宋史, while the history Tongzhi 通志 (Song) says that it was 7-juan long. The bibliographical chapter Jingji kao 經籍考 in Ma Duanlin's 馬端臨 encyclopaedia Wenxian tongkao 文獻通考 (Song period) declares that there were seven apocryphal texts, headed by the Jilan tu, with a length of 2 juan. Yet the catalogue Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書錄解題 (Song period) says it was 3-juan long.

It can be concluded that the text changed over time, and that parts of the commentary probably did not originate in the hands of Zheng Xuan. The text was lost during the later Song period, but fragments survived in the Yongle dadian and in the biography of Yang Ci 楊賜 (ch. 54) in the Houhanshu as well as the biography of Wang Shao 王劭 (ch. 34) in the Suishu. What parts were original, and which were interpolated by later authors, cannot be known. The suriving text shows that the book began with the explanation that the "breath of the hexagrams" (gua qi 卦氣), the hexagram Zhongfu 中孚 being the first. The hexagrams Kun 坎, Li 離, Zhen 震 and Dui 兌 were the so-called "four upright hexagrams" (si zheng gua 四正卦), while the sixty others determined the course of "six days in seven parts" (liu ri qi fen 六日七分), as well as various ranks of nobility, wind and weather, rain and temperature. These theories are identical with the teachings of Meng Xi 孟喜 and Jing Fang 京房 (both 1st cent. BCE), who invented the prognostication of time (zhan hou 占候).

Yiwei bianzhong bei 易緯辨終備

The text Bianzhong bei 辨終備 (also written 辨中備) is not mentioned among the six apocryphal texts on the Yijing listed in the biography of Fan Ying in the Houhanshu. Ma Duanlin notes in his Wenxian tongkao that the Bianzhong bei was commented by Zheng Xuan, and that the text was one-juan long. The Yongle dadian only quoted a few short and incomprehensible phrases. They resemble phrases in the text Shilei mou, but are different from a quotation in the zhengyi commentary 正義 on the history Shiji 史記, where Confucius and his disciple Zigong 子貢 are quoted, talking about the reflection of moral conduct in omens. Possibly the original text was lost soon and later "reconstructed" by collecting phrases from various apocryphal texts.

Zhouyi qianzao du 周易乾鑿度

The Qianzao du 乾鑿度 was commented by Zheng Xuan. The bibliographer Chao Gongwu confounded this text with the Qiankun zaodu. The bibliographical chapter in the history Songshi lists the Yi qianzao du 易乾鑿度 with a length of 3 juan, but not the Qiankun zaodu.

The Qianzao du is often quoted in commentaries on the Classics, for instance, Li Dingzuo's 李鼎祚 (late 8th cent.) Zhouyi jijie 周易集解 which is part of the collectaneum Wujing zhengyi 五經正義. Compared with other apocryphal texts on the Yijing the Qianzao du is written in a plain and direct language. It includes the theories of the "three powers" (sanyi 三義), of the "great Change" (taiyi 太易), the "nine palaces" (jiugong 九宮), explains the direction of the trigrams, the relation of the hexagram lines to hours (yaochen 爻辰), and the influence of the "breath" of each trigram (guaqi 卦氣) on mankind. Part of the theories was later adopted by Neo-Confucians. The text could have been written between the late Warring States and the late Former Han period. It is the most complete of the Yijing apocryphals and presents the most coherent theoretical framework. The Qianzao du was commented by Zheng Xuan and Song Jun, but the latter's commentary is lost.

It says that in the beginning, there was a great void, without shape and substance. This was the "great change", out of which the "great start" (taichu 太初) emerged, followed by the "great beginning" (taishi 太始). At this stage, things took shape, and substance could be perceived, that gradually transformed into the "great plain-ness" (taisu 太素). From then on, "breath", shape, and quality came into being, but were still in a state of chaos (hunlun 渾淪) or "unity" (yi 一) or "great endlessness" (taiji 太極). The two powers Heaven and Earth step by step worked their separate way out of this chaos, light and pure things ascending, and the heavy and muddy ones descending, and finally, the ten thousand beings (wanwu 萬物) took shape.

Yiwei tonggua yan 易緯通卦驗

The apocryphal text Tonggua yan is recorded in the bibliographical chapters of the history Songshi and the encyclopaedia Wenxian tongkao. Huang Zhen 黃震 (1213-1281) explains in his notes Huangshi richao 黃氏日抄 that the Tonggua yan described the relationship between the trigrams and the cosmic "breath" (qi). Zhu Yizun 朱彝尊 (1629 – 1709) analysed the text in his book Jingjikao 經籍考 and came to the conclusion that the book was lost at an early point of time. The version to be found in the collectaneum Shuofu 說郛 was a hodgepodge of phrases from similar apocryphal texts that corresponded only to a fifth or a third of the original book. Although the above-mentioned bibliographies say that the Tonggua yan was 2-juan long, the reconstructed version in the Siku quanshu is not divided into fascicles. Yet the text can be thematically divided into a part describing the active role of man to obtain the "Heavenly Way", so that the ten thousand things display a positive attitude, and a part in which the regular effects on the "cosmic breath" signified in the eight trigrams is transformed into auspicious or inauspicious signs. The transmitted text teems with errors, and occasionally commentaries are mixed up with the main text. Quotations from the Tonggua yan in other books, like Liu Zhao's 劉昭 (early 6th cent.) supplementary commentary (Buzhu 補注) on the history Xuhanshu 續漢書 (i.e. Houhanshu), the encyclopaedias Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚, Chuxueji 初學記 (both Tang period) or Taiping yulan 太平御覽 (Song), or Sun Jue's 孫瑴 (1585-1643) collection Guweishu 古微書, also vary widely in their wording.

Xiwei qianyuan xuzhi ji 易緯乾元序制記

The history Houhanshu mentions seven apocryphal texts on the Yijing, though not the Qianyuan xuzhi ji 乾元序制記. As this thext was first found in the bibliographical chapter in the Wenxian tongkao, Chen Zhensun 陳振孫, author of the Zhizhai shulu jieti, was of the opinion that it had only been compiled during the Song period and attached to the ancient apocryphals. When comparing quotations from other apocryphal texts on the Yijing it must be concluded that the Qianyuan xuzhi ji is a collection of phrases or paragraphs from different apocryphal texts and not an individual text. Chao Gongwu was even of the opinion that the text was compiled by Li Shu 李淑, a daughter of Emperor Suzong 唐肅宗 (756–762) of the Tang dynasty.

Yiwei shilei mou 易緯是類謀

The text Shilei mou 是類謀, also called Shilei mou 筮類謀, is written in verses representing a coherent theory, and was therefore often quoted in encyclopaedias like Yiwen leiju or Taiping yulan, so that it has survived in a fairly complete condition. It describes how auspicious prognostications come true, and also how a family name might be used to support the lucky character of a personal name. It is written in a clearer language than the Qianzao du and can therefore be used to understand this text. It is also referred to in the chapter on measures and astronomy (11-13 Lüli zhi 律曆志) in the history book Suishu. This goes to show that in ancient times this text was often used by diviners. The Shilei mou purports to have been written by Confucius when the latter was granted the Heavenly Mandate as a—spiritual—ruler of China. All political rulers of China could witness Heaven's approval of their rule by auspicious portents, or be reminded that their rule lacked moral principles.

Yiwei kunling tu 易緯坤靈圖

The text Kunling tu 坤靈圖 (briefly called Lingtu 靈圖) is almost entirely lost, bar a few phrases on the hexagrams Qian 乾, Wuwang 無妄 and Dachu 大畜.


Except in the Siku quanshu, the eight texts are to be found in the collectanea Fanshi ershi zhong qishu 范氏二十種奇書 (i.e. Qi Cheng's 祁承, fl. 1604, selection of texts from a collection by Fan Qin 范欽, 1506-1585), Wuyingdian juzhenban shu 武英殿聚珍版書, Gujing jie huihan 古經解彙函, Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 (all arranged in 2 juan), Qiao Songnian's 喬松年 (1815-1875) collected writings Qiao Qinkegong quanji 喬勤恪公全集, Shuofu, Shanyou congshu chubian 山右叢書初編 (not divided into juan), Zengding Han-Wei liuchao biejie 增定漢魏六朝別解, Zhao Zaihan's 趙在翰 (early/mid-19th cent.) collection Qiwei 七緯, and Hanxuetang congshu 漢學堂叢書 (all with an indicated length of 1 juan).

Gu Jian 古鑒 (1997), "Zhouyi qiankun zaodu 周易乾坤鑿度", in Men Kui 門巋, Zhang Yanqin 張燕瑾, ed., Zhonghua guocui da cidian 中華國粹大辭典 (Xianggang: Guoji wenhua chuban gongsi), 492.
Li Xiaoyun 李曉雲 (1988), "Zhouyi 易緯", in Zhao Jihui 趙吉惠, Guo Hou'an 郭厚安, ed.,
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文郁 (1996), eds., Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 1, 33-34, 113.
Zhongguo ruxue cidian 中國儒學辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 279.
Tang Qiling 湯其領 (1988), "Zhouyi qianzao du 周易乾鑿度", in Zhao Jihui 趙吉惠, Guo Hou'an 郭厚安, ed., Zhongguo ruxue cidian 中國儒學辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 279.
Wu Feng 吳楓 (1987), ed., Jianming Zhongguo guji cidian 簡明中國古籍辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 506.
Zhong Zhaopeng 鐘肇鵬, "Zhouyi qianzao du 周易乾鑿度", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe, 1992), Vol. 2, 1232.
Further reading:
Bent Nielsen, "An Introduction to the Apocrypha of the Changes (Yi Wei) of the Han Dynasty", in The Oracle: Journal of Yijing Studies, 2/8 (1999): 1-7.
Bent Nielsen, A Companion to Yi jing Numerology and Cosmology: Chinese Studies of Images and Numbers from Han to Song (New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 306.
Edward Hacker, Steve Moore, Lorraine Patsco, ed. I Ching: An Annotated Bibliography (New York/London: Routledge, 2002).