An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Yuchijing 玉尺經

Jan 5, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Yuchijing 玉尺經 "Classic of the golden foot", also called Pingsha yuchi jing 平砂玉尺經, is a book on geomancy (fengshui 風水) allegedly compiled by the Yuan-period 元 (1279-1368) master Liu Bingzhong 劉秉忠 (1216-1274). It was commented on by the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Liu Ji 劉基 (1311-1375).

Liu Bingzhong, original name Liu Kan 劉侃, courtesy name Zhonghui 仲晦, later name Zicong 子聰, held the high offices of Grand Master for Splendid Happiness (guanglu dafu 光祿大夫) and Grand Guardian (taibao 太保). His biography in the official dynastic history Yuanshi 元史 mentions his expertise in geomancy. He therefore took over an important role in determining an ideal location for the "Supreme Capital" Shangdu 上都 (Karakorum), as well as the main capital Dadu 大都 (modern Beijing).

The real authors of the book Yuchijing might therefore have borrowed the name of this famous geomancer for marketing purposes, as one would say today. Even Liu Ji's authorship of the commentary cannot be ascertained. He lived at the beginning of the Ming period, yet the commentary makes use of the place name Guizhou 貴州 which is of a younger date.

The 4-juan-long book explains that all mountains in China are derived from the originary Kunlun Range 昆侖 and were scattered as single mountains (yue 嶽) over the empire. Their geographical distribution followed the three trigrams (see Yijing 易經) gen 艮, zhen 震 and xun 巽. The Yellow River corresponded to a dragon forming a boundary to the northwest, in accordance with the Terrestrial Branch (dizhi 地支) chou 丑 (see calendar) and the trigram gen 艮, while the Yangtze River formed the boundary to the southeast, in accordance with the trigram xun 巽 and the Branch chen 辰. The author describes these "dragon veins" (longmai 龍脈) of all rivers, and their auspicious and inauspicious spots.

The Yuchijing can therefore be called a macro-approach to geomancy. It has been lauded by many Ming- and Qing- 清 (1644-1911) period geomancers. Jiang Pingjie 蔣平階 (1616-1714), author of the book Dili bianzheng 地理辨證, wrote a critical assessment of Liu Bingzhong's theory. The compilers of the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, nonetheless, rated the Yuchijing as a concoction of the thoughts of earlier geomancers as Yang Yunsong 楊筠松 (see Hanlongjing 撼龍經, Qingnang aoyu 青囊奧語, and Tianyujing neizhuan 天玉經內傳) from the Tang period 唐 (618-907) and Lai Wenjun 賴文俊 (see Cuiguanpian 催官篇) from the Song period 宋 (960-1279), while the own contribution of the Yuchijing was not very original, and also somewhat confuse.

The Yuchijing is included in the series Dili daquan 地理大全.

Table 1. Contents of the Yuchijing 玉尺經
1 審勢篇 Inspection of topography
2 審氣篇 Inspection of Qi
3 審龍篇 Inspection of dragons
4 審穴篇 Inspection of lairs
5 審向篇 Inspection of directions
6 審砂篇 Inspection of gravels
7 造微賦 The rhapsody of creating minuscule [analysis]
8 天機賦 The rhapsody of the Heavenly loom
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, 1786.