An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Dunjia yanyi 遁甲演義

Jan 9, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Dunjia yanyi 遁甲演義 "Explanation of the meaning of dunjia divination" is a compendium on a specialized method of divination called dunjia 遁甲 "hidden shields" (better: "secret jia combinations"). Dunjia, also called qimen dunjia 奇門遁甲 "hidden shields of the wondrous gates", is one of the great divination methods, and one of the "three standards" (sanshi 三式), together with the liuren 六壬 and the taiyi 太乙 method.

The book of 4 juan was written during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Cheng Daosheng 程道生, courtesy name Kesheng 可生. He hailed from Haining 海寧, Zhejiang, but his dates of life are unknown.

The text is a compendium on the dunjia method of divination. It quotes from many ancient texts, like Huangyi yinfu jing 黃帝陰符經, but also gives the reader detailed explanations on the elements of the dunjia technique compiled by Cheng Daosheng himself. The Dunjia yanyi helps to understand more of the art of determining auspicious days or auspicious places for the construction of houses or tombs. The Dunjia yanyi is included in the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書. It was submitted to the compilation team as a manuscript owned by Yao Youruo 姚有若.

The art of dunjia is said to go back to the "Inscription of the River Luo" Luoshu 洛書, but the name "Luoshu" actually says that this should be a text, and not a diagram in the shape as it is transmitted, like its counterpart, the "River Chart" Hetu 河圖. Ancient bibliographers indeed described the Luoshu as a text: The Han-period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) writer Ban Gu 班固 (32-92 CE) explains in the Treatise on the Five Agents Wuxing zhi 五行志 in his dynastic history Hanshu 漢書 that the Luoshu consisted of 65 characters. Yet Liu Xiang 劉向 (79-8 or 77-6 BCE) speaks of 38, and Liu Xin 劉歆 (d. 23 CE) of only 20 words (compare the commentary Shangshu zhengyi 尚書正義). This is proof that during the Han period the Luoshu was not a diagram but a short text.

The introduction to the chapter on magicians (82 Fangshu zhuan 方術傳) in the history book Houshanshu 後漢書 lists several divination methods, among others fengjiao 風角 ("sound of wind"), dunjia, and qizheng 七政 ("the seven celestial bodies"). The Tang-period commentator Li Xian 李賢 (655-684) explains the dunjia method as "operationalizing the Yin in the six shields in order to seclude it" (tui liujia zhi yin er yin dun 推六甲之陰而隱遁).

In Han-period texts only Feng Hou's 風后 method of the "six jia" is mentioned (Feng Hou liujia 風后六甲), as well as Feng Hou's method of the "solitary void" (Feng Hou guxu 風后孤虛). The term dunjia seems to be originating in the apocryphal classic Yiwei qianzao du 易緯•乾鑿度, yet it is first mentioned in a poem by Emperor Jianwen 梁簡文帝 (r. 549-550) of the Liang dynasty 梁 (502-557), where it is said that "the three gates respond to the dunjia" (sanmen ying dunjia 三門應遁甲). The bibliography Qizhi 七志 from the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479) apparently listed a book called Dunjia jing 遁甲經.

The first history book, in which the dunjia method is mentioned is the Chenshu 陳書 (biography of Emperor Wu 陳武帝, Wudi ji 武帝紀). It can thus be seen that the dunjia method was invented during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600). Accordingly, the treatise on the Five Agents in the history Suishu 隋書 mentions thirteen texts on this method, like Wu Zixu dunjia wen 伍子胥遁甲文 (attributed to Wu Zixu), Xin Dufang dunjia jing 信都芳遁甲經 or Gemi sanyuan dunjia tu 葛秘三元遁甲圖. During the Tang period 唐 (618-907), Li Jing 李靖 (571-649) allegedly wrote the formula Wanyi dunjia jue 萬一遁甲訣 and Hu Qian 胡乾 the classic Dunjiajing 遁甲經.

Unfortunately all of these scriptures are lost. Emperor Renzong 宋仁宗 (r. 1022-1063) of the Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279) ordered the compilation of the book Jingjue yuesui xinjing 景玦樂髓新經 that describes the two alternations by the Seven Masters (qizong erbian 七宗二變), which is actually a musicological concept, but the book also includes some information on the liuren and dunjia methods. Emperor Renzong also ordered Astronomical Director (sitianzheng 司天政) Yang Weide 楊維德 to write the book Dunjia yuhan fuying jing 遁甲玉函符應經, to which he personally wrote a preface. These two texts represent the fully developed dunjia theory during the Song period. These teachings were later vitiated by incorrect teachings like that of Guo Jing 郭京 (d. 1127) and other concepts derived from talismanic methods of Daoism. These unorthodox additions contributed to the decline of the dunjia method that was more and more replaced by the liuren teachings.

In the numerology in the chapter Mingtang 明堂 "Bright Hall" of the semi-classic Da Dai Liji 大戴禮 it can be seen that the dunjia method is in fact derived from the Nine-Palace (jiugong 九宮) concept and makes use of several "warps" or additional elements like the "three odds" (sanqi 三奇), the "six propers" (liuyi 六儀), the "eight gates" (bamen 八門) and the "nine stars" (jiuxing 九星) in order to prognosticate luck and mischief.

Feng Hou, the "Lord of the Winds", is said to have been a cowherd at Daze 大澤, but was made counsellor and general by the Yellow Emperor 黃帝. He is believed to have compiled thirteen chapters of military strategies (bingfa 兵法) and twelve chapters of text on the solitary-Branches method (guxu 孤虛). He also created the 1,080 parts (ju 局) of the dunjia system.

The word dun 遁 is explained as a "secret method", and jia 甲 as "befitting, or proper". The "six befittings" (liuyi 六儀, or liujia 六甲) were the worthiest deities under the Celestial unity (tianyi 天乙) and were normally hidden beneath the six-centre (liuwu 六戊). With the help of the patterns of refined weapons and tools the warriors were able to communicate with divine virtues.

Dunjia can also be translated as "secret shields" and was originally a kind of divination used during military campaigns to determine auspicious days for attacks. Yet jia "shield" is also the first of the Ten Celestial Stems (shi tiangan 十天干) that serve to count days. The next three of the Stems are used for the method of the "three odds" (sanqi 三奇), namely yi 乙 for the day (riqi 日奇), bing 丙 for the month (yueqi 月奇), and ding 丁 to evaluate the southern polestar (nanji 南極, therefore called xingqi 星奇). These are also called the "starry essence" (xingjing 星精). These three with the last six of the Stems (the so-called liuyi 六儀 "proper six") completed the Nine Palaces (jiugong 九宮) that were all based on the elementary Stem jia 甲.

The Dunjia yanyi explains that the three Celestial Odds (tianshang sanqi 天上三奇) originated as "stem agencies" (gan de 干德) of the "valuable man" (guiren 貴人) and spread with the Terrestrial Branches (shi'er dizhi 十二地支). They moved smoothly with the "valuable man of Yang" (yi yang guiren shunxing 以陽貴人順行). The trigram kun 坤 of the Former Heaven (xiantian 先天, i.e. an ideal of all things before they come into being) began with the Branch zi 子. The agency of yi joined with the Branch chou 丑, that of bing with the Branch yin 寅, and that of ding with the Branch mao 卯. The agencies of the three Stems (the three odds) were linked to each other and never interrupted. They move counter-rotating with the "valuable man of Yin" (yi yin guiren nixing 以陰貴人逆行). The trigram kun of the Later Heaven (houtian 後天, i.e. real life) began with the Stem jia. The agency of yin joined with the Branch wei 未, that of bing with the Branch wu 午, and that of ding with the Branch si 巳. While the three Odds themselves could create mischief, they would nevertheless bring luck if they followed the agencies of the "valuable man".

There are two mnemonic verses to illustrate the sequence:

The Three Odds were combined with transformations of the Eight Trigrams (bagua 八卦) to the Eight Gates (bamen 八門), namely luck (xiu 休), life (sheng 生), injury (shang 傷), obstruction (du 杜), brilliant harmony (jing 景), death (si 死), dismay (jing 驚) and opening (kai 開). The most auspicious of these Gates were xiu, kai and sheng, while the others were inauspicious.

Table 1. Correlation of stars, trigrams, agents, and gates
star trigram/palace (gong ) agent gate
天蓬星 Tianfengxing 一 坎 ☵ kan 水 water 休門 Xiumen
天芮星 Tianruixing 二 坤 ☷ kun 土 earth 死門 Simen
天沖星 Tianchongxing 三 震 ☳ zhen 木 wood 傷門 Shangmen
天輔星 Tianfuxing 四 巽 ☴ xun 木 wood 杜門 Dumen
天禽星 Qianqinxing 五 中央 centre 土 earth
天心星 Tianxinxing 六 乾 ☰ qian 金 metal 開門 Kaimen
天柱星 Tianzhuxing 七 兌 ☱ dui 金 metal 驚門 Jingmen
天任星 Tianrenxing 八 艮 ☶ gen 土 earth 生門 Shengmen
天英星 Tianyingxing 九 離 ☲ li 火 fire 景門 Jingmen

The "nine stars" (jiuxing 九星) are the five planets (wuxing 五星: Venus jinxing 金星, Jupiter muxing 木星, Mercury shuixing 水星, Mars huoxing 火星, and Saturn tuxing 土星) and four additional (imaginary) para-planets (jianxing 兼形). These were related to auspicious or inauspicious days or spots in the landscape. For the nine planets, there were two series of names, one originating in Yang Yunsong's 楊筠松 (834-900) geomantic text Hanlongjing 撼龍經 from the Tang period, where the planets are called Tanlangxing 貪狼星, Jumenxing 巨門星, Lucunxing 祿存星, Wenquxing 文曲星, Wuquxing 武曲星, Lianzhenxing 廉貞星, Pojunxing 破軍星, Zuofuxing 左輔星, and Youbixing 右弼星. The other series originated in the Song period, found in Liao Yu's 廖瑀 (943-1018) book Jiuxing chuanbian 九星傳變, where the celestial bodies are called Taiyangxing 太陽星, Taiyinxing 太陰星, Jinshuixing 金水星, Muxing 木星, Tiancaixing 天財星, Tiangangxing 天罡星, Guyaoxing 孤曜星, Zaohuoxing 燥火星, and Saodangxing 掃蕩星.

The Stem jia is the most important, but is often hidden behind the "six befitting" (liuyi), represented by the Stems wu 戊, yi 己, geng 庚, xin 辛, ren 壬 and gui 癸. The Three Odds and the Six Befittings were distributed in the Nine Palaces, yet jia does not occupy one single palace, but overlaps into other palaces. According to the scripture Dunjia fuying jing 遁甲符應經 by Yang Weide from the Song period, the cyclical combination jiazi 甲子 reigned the six wu 六戊, jiaxu 甲戌 the six ji 六己, jiashen 甲申 the six geng 六庚, jiawu 甲午 the six xin 六辛, jiachen 甲辰 the six ren 六壬, and jiayin 甲寅 the six kui 六癸.

Table 2. Contents of the Dunjia yanyi 遁甲演義
1 遁甲源流
2 奇門吉格:天遁、地遁、人遁
3 九星所屬
4 陰陽二遁十八局圖列
Chen Yongzheng 陳永正, ed. (1991). Zhongguo fangshu da cidian 中國方術大辭典 (Guangzhou: Zhongshan daxue chubanshe), 135, 296, 297, 303, 309, 311, 395.
Dollhausen, Nick (2015). Das chinesische Prognosesystem Qimen Dunjia und der Wahrheitsgehalt seiner Aussagen hinsichtlich heilkundlicher/medizinischer Fragestellungen (PhD Dissertation: Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder).
King, Jerry (2014). Qi Men Dun Jia: An Ancient Chinese Divination System (Vancouver: White Dragon).
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1790.