An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Lunheng 論衡

Nov 15, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Lunheng 論衡 "Discussive weighing" is a philosophical treatise written during the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220) by Wang Chong 王充 (27-97 CE).

It took himself thirty years to complete his book. Of the originally 85 chapters one is lost (Zhaozhi 招致). Wang Chong screened a vast amount of ancient literature to obtain a pool of statements of the supernatural, which he wanted to engage in a scientific dispute. Wang Chong is highly esteemed both in China and in the West as one of the first philosophers who critically analysed history books and stories to eliminate superstitious elements. Especially two beliefs were attacked by Wang Chong, firstly the belief that human deeds were somehow redeemed by Heaven as a moral instance (ganying 感應), and secondly, the belief in magic and omens. There was a very popular tradition of explaining the Confucian Classics in terms of portents sent down by Heaven, as expressed in the vast treasury of apocryphal (chenwei 讖緯) literature.

Wang Chong did not believe in a thorough and mutual connectivity of all objects existing in the universe (see correlative thinking) which would make the existence of all objects, physical qualities and human emotions dependent on a set of other conditions in the universe, and which would postulate that—like in the biblical sense—the universe was complete in its actual state. Wang, quite contrary, believed that, for instance, the existence of certain plants was not the result of Heaven's will to nourish humans, or that thunder, inundations, the appearance of phoenixes or strange sprites, were caused by good or evil behaviour of a ruler. The existence of all objects and their qualities was accidental (ziran 自然), as Wang Chong believed, and not the result of a higher metaphysical plan. Heaven was also not the force enthroning a ruler by assigning to him the Heavenly Mandate, but men became sovereigns by way of their own powers and favoured by historical circumstances. Ghosts could simply not exist, because there was no spirit (jing 精) without body (ti 體), just as there is no fire without fuel. Wang also doubted the existence of innate knowledge because everyone had to gather experience acquire knowledge.

There is a commentary written by Huang Hui 黃暉, the Lunheng jiaoshi 論衡校釋, Liu Pan's 劉盼 Lunheng jijie 論衡集解, and the commentary Lunheng zhushi 論衡注釋 written by the modern scholar by Gao Suheng 高蘇垣.

The Lunheng was quite widespread from the Southern and Northern Dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600) on and was categorized as a writing of miscellaneous masters (zajia 雜家). One reason for its popularity might be that it was the oldest book in which systematically stories of bizarre events were assembled, and this genre (zhiguai 志怪) was one of the most favoured types through the history of Chinese literature.

During the Qing period 清 (1644-1911), some scholars doubted the authenticity of many chapters of the Lunheng, like Xiong Bolong 熊伯龍 (1617-1669), who believed the chapters Wen Kong 問孔 and Ci Meng 刺孟 to be later insertions.

There is a moveable-type printing from the Song period 宋 (960-1279) preserved in the Beijing Library 北京圖書館, as well as a fragmentary print of 30 juan from the Yuan 元 (1279-1368) or early Ming period 明 (1368-1644). A fragment of 25 juan of a Song-period print is preserved in the Library of the Imperial Household Agency (Kunai-chō shoryō-bu zushoryō 宮内庁書陵部図書寮) in Japan. There is also a print from Su Xianke's 蘇獻可 Tongjincao Studio 通津草堂 from 1535, and Cheng Rong's 程榮 print in the series Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書 from 1573. The Lunheng is also to be found in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Zengding Han-Wei congshu 增訂漢魏叢書, Longxi jingshe congshu 龍溪精舍叢書, Sibu congkan 四部叢刊 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成初編.

There is a complete English translation by Alfred Forke (1962), Lun-Heng: Philosophical Essays of Wang Ch‘ung (New York: Paragon).

Table 1. Contents of the Lunheng 論衡
1. 逢遇篇 Fengyu Success and luck
2. 累害篇 Leihai Annoyances and vexations
3. 命祿篇 Minglu On destiny and fortune
4. 氣壽篇 Qishou Long life and vital fluid
5. 幸偶篇 Xing'ou On chance and luck
6. 命義篇 Mingyi What is meant by destiny?
7. 無形篇 Wuxing Unfounded assertions
8. 率性篇 Shuaixing The forming of characters
9. 吉驗篇 Jiyan Auspicious portents
10. 偶會篇 Ouhui Coincidences
11. 骨相篇 Guxiang On anthroposcopy
12. 初稟篇 Chubing Heaven's original gift
13. 本性篇 Benxing On original nature
14. 物勢篇 Wushi The nature of things
15. 奇怪篇 Qiguai Miracles
16. 書虛篇 Shuxu Falsehoods in books
17. 變虛篇 Bianxu Ficticious phenomena
18. 異虛篇 Yixu Ficticious prodigies
19. 感虛篇 Ganxu Ficticious influences
20. 福虛篇 Fuxu Wrong notions about happiness
21. 禍虛篇 Huoxu Wrong notions about unhappiness
22. 龍虛篇 Longxu On dragons
23. 雷虛篇 Leixu On thunder and lightning
24. 道虛篇 Daoxu Daoist untruths
25. 語增篇 Yuzeng Exaggerations
26. 儒增篇 Ruzeng Exaggerations of the literati
27. 藝增篇 Yizeng Literary exaggerations
28. 問孔篇 Wen Kong Criticisms on Confucius
29. 非韓篇 Fei Han Strictures on Han Feizi
30. 刺孟篇 Ci Meng Censures on Mengzi
31. 談天篇 Tantian On Heaven
32. 說日篇 Shuori On the Sun
33. 答佞篇 Daning On the cunning and artful
34. 程材篇 Chengcai Weighing of talents
35. 量知篇 Liangzhi The valuation of knowledge
36. 謝短篇 Xieduan Admitting shortcomings
37. 效力篇 Xiaoli The display of energy
38. 別通篇 Bietong On intelligence
39. 超奇篇 Chaoqi On preeminence
40. 狀留篇 Zhuangliu Apparent backwardness
41. 寒溫篇 Hanwen On heat and cold
42. 譴告篇 Qiangao On reprimands
43. 變動篇 Biandong Phenomenal changes
44. 招致篇 Zhaozhi Results of moral behaviour
45. 明雩篇 Mingwu On the rain sacrifice
46. 順鼓篇 Shungu Gentle drums
47. 亂龍篇 Luanlong A last word on dragons
48. 遭虎篇 Caohu The tiger trouble
49. 適蟲篇 Shichong Remarks on insects
50. 講瑞篇 Jiangrui Arguments on ominous creatures
51. 指瑞篇 Zhirui Thoughts on omens
52. 是應篇 Shiying Auguries verified
53. 治期篇 Zhiqi Periods of government
54. 自然篇 Ziran Spontaneity
55. 感類篇 Ganlei Sympathetic emotions
56. 齊世篇 Qishi The quality of ages
57. 宣漢篇 Xuan Han Praise of the Han dynasty
58. 恢國篇 Huiguo Further remarks on the state
59. 驗符篇 Yanfu Ominous signs investigated
60. 須頌篇 Xusong The necessity of eulogies
61. 佚文篇 Yiwen Lost texts
62. 論死篇 Lunsi On death
63. 死偽篇 Siwei False reports about the death
64. 紀妖篇 Jiyao Spook stories
65. 訂鬼篇 Dinggui All about ghosts
66. 言毒篇 Yandu On poison
67. 薄葬篇 Bozang Simplicity of funerals
68. 四諱篇 Siwei Four things to be avoided
69. 譋時篇 Lanshi False charges against time
70. 譏日篇 Jiri Slandering of days
71. 卜筮篇 Bushi On divination
72. 辨祟篇 Biansui Criticisms on noxious influences
73. 難歲篇 Nansui Questions about the Year Star
74. 詰術篇 Jieshu Criticism on certain theories
75. 解除篇 Jiechu On exorcism
76. 祀義篇 Siyi Sacrifices to the departed
77. 祭意篇 Jiyi Sacrifices
78. 實知篇 Shizhi The knowledge of truth
79. 知實篇 Zhishi The real nature of knowledge
80. 定賢篇 Dingxian A definition of worthies
81. 正說篇 Zhengshuo Statements corrected
82. 書解篇 Shujie On literary works
83. 案書篇 Anshu Critical remarks on various books
84. 對作篇 Duizuo Replies in self-defence
85. 自紀篇 Ziji Autobiography
Bai Jianxin 白建新 (1997). "Lunheng 論衡", in Pang Pu 龐樸, ed. Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin) Vol. 3, 171.
Bu Fengxian 卜風賢 (2018). "Zhongguo gudai duwu zhishi de kexue yuantou: Jiyu Wang Chogn Lunheng Yandu deng pianzhang de zonghe kaocha 中國古代毒物知識的科學源頭——基於王充《論衡·言毒》等篇章的綜合考察", Wuhan Keji Daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 武漢科技大學學報(社會科學版), 20 (5): 557-564.
Chen Ying 陳瑛, Xu Qixian 許啟賢, eds. (1989). Zhongguo lunli da cidian 中國倫理大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 289.
Cheng Guangzhi 盛廣智 (1996). "Lunheng 論衡", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, eds. Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 321.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mark (2006). "From 'Asking question about Kongzi' (Wen Kong), chapter 9 of the Balanced Discussions (Lunheng)", in Mark Csikszentmihalyi, ed. Readings in Han Chinese Thought (Cambridge, MA: Hackett), 93-95.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mark (2006). "From 'Revising demons' (Ding gui), chapter 65 of the Balanced Discussions (Lunheng)", in Mark Csikszentmihalyi, ed. Readings in Han Chinese Thought (Cambridge, MA: Hackett), 137-139.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mark (2006). "From 'Falsehoods about the way' (Dao xu), chapter 9 of the Balanced Discussions (Lunheng)", in Mark Csikszentmihalyi, ed. Readings in Han Chinese Thought (Cambridge, MA: Hackett), 150-152.
Dai Hongcai 戴洪才 (1992). "Lunheng 論衡", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Zhexue 哲學卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 191.
Di Giacinto, Licia (2006). "Between Ideology and Rationality: Rage under the Han", in Paolo Santangelo and Donatella Guida, eds. Love, Hatred, and Other Passions: Questions and Themes on Emotions in Chinese Civilization (Boston, MA: Brill), 345-355.
Emmerich, Reinhard (2008). "Wang Chong's Praises for the Han Dynasty", Monumenta Serica, 56: 117-148.
Jin Zhongming 金忠明 (1996). "Lunheng 論衡", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Jiaoyu 教育卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 135.
Jiang Xijin 蔣錫金, ed. (1990). Wen-shi-zhe xuexi cidian 文史哲學習辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 956.
Klein, Esther Sunkyung and Colin Klein (2016). "Wang Chong's Epistemology of Testimony", Asia Major, 3rd series, 29 (2): 115-146.
Kong Min 孔繁 (1987). "Lunheng 論衡", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 524-525.
Leng Jiyao 凌繼堯 (2010). "Huainanzi de Lunheng de yishuxie sixiang 《淮南子》和《論衡》的藝術學思想", Hangzhou Shifan Daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 杭州師範大學學報(社會科學版), 32 (3): 73-79.
Li Bingzhong 李秉忠, Wei Canjin 衛燦金, Lin Conglong 林從龍, eds. (1990). Jianming wenshi zhishi cidian 簡明文史知識詞典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 641.
Li Hao 李浩 (2017). Wang Chong ji qi Lunheng yanjiu 王充及其《論衡》研究, Ph.D. Dissertation, Nanjing Daxue.
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, 1943.
Li Zhi 力之 (2013a). "Wenxuan fen wenti wei sanshiqi lei shuo zhengbian: Wenxuan fenti san zhong shuo Lunheng zhi yi 《文選》分文體為三十七類說辨正——《文選》分體三種說論衡之一", Guangxi Shifan Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 廣西師範大學學報(哲學社會科學版), 49 (6): 70-76.
Li Zhi 力之 (2013b). "Wenxuan fen wenti de sanshiba lei shuo bianzheng: Wenxuan fenti san zhong shuo Lunheng zhi er 《文選》分文體為三十八類說辨正——《〈文選〉分體三種說論衡》之二", Sichuan Shifan Daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 四川師範大學學報(社會科學版), 40 (5): 111-118.
Liu Peiyu 劉培育 (1994). "Lunheng 論衡", in Zhou Liquan 周禮全, ed. Luoji baike cidian 邏輯百科辭典 (Chengdu: Sichuan jiaoyu chubanshe), 307.
Liu Xiaogan 劉笑敢 (2020). "ziran de tuibian: Cong Laozi dao Lunheng “自然”的蛻變——從《老子》到《論衡》", Zhexue yanjiu 哲學研究, 2020 (10): 50-64+129.
Ma Yufeng 馬玉峰 (1987). "Lunheng 論衡", in Wang Xiangfeng 王向峰, ed. Wenyi meixue cidian 文藝美學辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning daxue chubanshe), 619.
McLeod, Alexus (2007). "A Reappraisal of Wang Chong's Critical Method Through the Wenkong Chapter", Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 34 (4): 581-596.
Puett, Michael (2005). "Listening to Sages: Divination, Omens, and the Rhetoric of Antiquity in Wang Chong's Lunheng", Oriens Extremus, 45: 271-281.
Pokora, Timoteus, Michael Loewe (1993). "Lun heng", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China/Institute of East Asian Studies), 309-312.
Qi Tinggui 戚廷貴, Liu Xiaoyan 劉孝嚴, Tang Shufan 唐樹凡 eds. (1992). Dong-xifang wenyi cidian 東西方藝術辭典 (Changchun: Jilin jiaoyu chubanshe), 60.
Shi Ding 施丁 (2008). "Wang Chong Lunheng de shixue piping 王充《論衡》的史學批評", Langfang Shifan Xueyuan xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 廊坊師範學院學報(社會科學版), 24 (6): 38-44.
Shi Wenying 石文英 (1982). "Wang Chong lun qi: Du Lunheng Chaoqi pian zhaji 王充論“奇”——讀《論衡·超奇篇》札記", Xiamen Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 廈門大學學報(哲學社會科學版), 1982 (3): 117-124.
Shi Shaobo 史少博 (2011). "Wang Chong Lunheng dui Zhouyi shushu de gongxian 王充《論衡》對《周易》術數的貢獻", Qingdao Keji Daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 青島科技大學學報(社會科學版), 27 (2): 32-35.
Tabery, Thomas (2006). "Von der Hermeneutik zur Politik: Das Idealbild des Gelehrten in Lunheng des Wang Chong", Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 156 (1): 151-178.
Wang Jimin 王濟民 (2010). "Wenxin diaolong yu Lunheng 《文心雕龍》與《論衡》", Huazhong Shifan Daxue xuebao (Renwen shehui kexue ban) 華中師範大學學報(人文社會科學版), 49 (6): 99-104.
Wang Wei 王維 (2019). "Wang Chong Lunheng zhong de yuelun sixiang yanjiu 王充《論衡》中的樂論思想研究", Nanjing Yishu Xueyuan xuebao (Yinyue yu biaoyan) 南京藝術學院學報(音樂與表演), 2019 (3): 23-27+7.
Wang Yuguang 王余光, Xu Yan 徐雁, eds. (1999). Zhongguo dushu da cidian 中國讀書大辭典 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), 1160.
Wang Zhili 王治理 (2004). "Lunheng de wenxueguan 《論衡》的文學觀", Xiamen Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 廈門大學學報(哲學社會科學版), 2004 (3): 54-60.
Wang Zhili 王治理 (2011). "Lunheng dui Wenxin diaolong de yingxiang 《論衡》對《文心雕龍》的影響", Xkamen Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 廈門大學學報(哲學社會科學版), 2011 (1): 102-108.
Wang Zijin 王子今 (2019). "Lunheng de haiyang lunyi yu Wang Chong de haiyang qingjie 《論衡》的海洋論議與王充的海洋情結", Wuhan Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 武漢大學學報(哲學社會科學版), 72 (5): 83-95.
Wu Congxiang 吳從祥 (2010). "Cong Lunheng kan Wang Chong yu chenwei zhi guanxi 從《論衡》看王充與讖緯之關係", Xinan Jiaotong Daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 西南交通大學學報(社會科學版), 11 (1): 119-124+129.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1994). Zhonghua gu wenxian da cidian 中華古文獻大辭典, Vol. Wenxue 文學卷 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 265.
Wu Zeyu 吳則虞 (1962). "Lunheng de goucheng ji qi weiwuzhuyi de teidian 《論衡》的構成及其唯物主義的特點", Zhexue yanjiu 哲學研究, 1962 (4): 75-83.
Xu Yingjin 徐英瑾 (2021). "Wang Chong de Lunheng shi yi bu zixiang maodun de zhexue wenben ma 王充的《論衡》是一部自相矛盾的哲學文本嗎?", Shehui kexue 社會科學, 2021 (12): 14-24.
Yang Hehao 楊鶴臯 (1996). "Lunheng 論衡", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Zhengzhi falü 政治法律卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 132.
Yang Yanjing 楊妍靜 (2011). "Shilun Lunheng de wenxian jiazhi 試論《論衡》的文獻價值", Tushuguan jie 圖書館界, 2011 (1): 51-54.
Yuan Junwei 袁俊偉 (2021). "Cong Wang Cong Lunheng dao Lu Ji Wenyu: Ge Hong Baopuzu wenlun jieshou yuanyuan shulüe 從王充《論衡》到陸機《文賦》——葛洪《抱朴子》文論接受淵源述略", Zhongguo meishu yanjiu 中國美學研究, 2021 (1): 34-52.
Yue Zongwei 岳宗偉 (2006). Lunheng yinshu yanjiu 《論衡》引書研究, Ph.D. Dissertation, Fudan Daxue.
Zeng Kang 曾抗 (1996). "Lunheng 論衡", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Keji 科技卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 805.
Cheng Fangping 程方平 (1997). "Lunheng 論衡", in Men Kui 門巋, Zhang Yanjin 張燕瑾, eds. Zhonghua guocui da cidian 中華國粹大辭典 (Xianggang: Guojia wenhua chuban gongsi), 279.
Zhao Zecheng 趙則誠, Zhang Liandi 張連弟, Bi Wancheng 畢萬忱, eds. (1985). Zhongguo gudai wenxue lilun cidian 中國古代文學理論辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 204.
Zhao Shulian 趙書廉, ed. (1986). Zhongguo zhexue xiao cidian 中國哲學史小辭典 (Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe), 205.
Zheng Yilin 鄭易林 (2022). "Lunheng banben yuanliu kao 《論衡》版本源流考", Wenxian 文獻, 2022 (6): 8-24.
Zhi Yanna 智延娜, Su Guowei 蘇國偉, Wang Zhenwei 王振偉 (2015). "Songdai Lunheng yanjiu zongshu 宋代《論衡》研究綜述", Hebei Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 河北大學學報(哲學社會科學版), 40 (4) :92-95.
Zhou Guidian 周桂鈿 (1993). "Lunheng 論衡", in Ru Xin 汝信, ed. Shijie baike zhuzuo cidian 世界百科著作辭典 (Beijing: Zhongguo gongren chubanshe), 49.