An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Qianshenlun 錢神論

Dec 5, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Qianshenlun 錢神論 "About the numinosity of cash" is a treatise on money written during the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) by Lu Bao 魯褒 (dates unknown), courtesy name Yuandao 元道, from Nanyang 南陽 (today in Henan).

The short treatise is a very critical text towards the demonic powers of money and its influence on society. The author criticizes that people in possession of money were always promoted and favoured, while the poor were left out dry. Persons in high offices had achieved their positions thanks to fortune and money, not because they had read books. Whoever had money could turn danger into safety and death to life again, but people without money would impoverish and perish. Money led to victory in trials, to raise in position, to vanquish enemies, and allowed people to make jokes. The author turned around an old argument of Confucius' (Kongzi 孔子, 551-479 BCE) disciple Zixia 子夏 (b. c. 507 BCE) and argued that life and death were not determined by fate, but riches and honours depended on money (and not upon Heaven's will).

The text is written as a dialogue between two fictional persons, Sikong Gongzi 司空公子, and Qiwu Xiansheng 綦毋先生. The fragmentary text as extracted from the encyclopaedia Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚 and the official dynastic history Jinshu 晉書 (94 Yinyi zhuan 隱逸傳) is included in Yan Kejun's 嚴可均 (1762—1843) collection Quanjinwen 全晉文 (see Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen 全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文).

A similar text had ben written by Cheng Gongsui 成公綏 (231-273) during the early Western Jin period 西晉 (265-316) that seems to have served as a blueprint for Lu Bao's writing. Fragments of Cheng’s texts are found in the encyclopaedia Taiping yulan 太平御覽. The two writings demonstrate that the urban society of the time was already monetized to a considerably high degree.

The two texts were imitated in later writings like the rhapsodies "on the piggybank" Puman fu 撲滿賦 and Xiao puman fu 小撲滿賦 by Wei Zhao 韋肇 (early 7th cent.) and in the ironical pharmacopoeia Qian bencao 錢本草. Similar thoughts on money are also express in Gao Ming's 高明 (c. 1310-c. 1380) theatre play Wubao zhuan 烏寶傳 "The black treasure" and in Jiang Youxian's 蔣攸銛 (1766-1830) song Quan min xi qian ge 勸民惜錢歌 "Exhortation to the people to be greedy for cash".

Wang Yi 王益, Bai Qinxian 白欽先, eds. (2000). Dangdai jiinrong cidian 當代金融辭典 (Beijing: Zhongguo jingji chubanshe), 809.
Yin Nangen 殷南根 (1992). "Qianshenlun 錢神論", in Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Zhexue 哲學卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 275.
蜀漢 (221-263)