UBC Faculty Research and Publications

The Cherished Instruction (Baoxun 保訓) Hamm, Matthew


The Baoxun 保訓 ("The Cherished Instruction") is an excavated text of eleven bamboo strips that is part of the collection of such texts purchased by Tsinghua in 2008. As with other such collections, their provenance is unknown. The text is notable because its content and self-identification as a xun 訓 "instruction," associate it with the Shangshu 尚書 or "Book of Documents" (for more, see the entry on the Shangshu by Maddalena Poli). Despite the fact that xun is one of the six types of documents in the Shangshu, the Baoxun has no counterpart in the Shangshu or the received tradition more broadly. The Baoxun, thus, points to the idea that shu were not simply the documents of the Shangshu, but a genre of texts defined by their claimed contemporaneity. Shu originated as the pre-prepared scripts of speeches by kings and ministers that were read out during formal ceremonies and often presented to those they addressed. Later texts of the shu genre were fictional compositions written in imitation of those earlier records. Accordingly, they adopt the formal style of those speeches, employing phrases such as "the king so said" (wang ruo yue 王若曰) - a phrase also found on bronze vessel inscriptions from the Western Zhou period (1046-771 BCE). In doing so, shu texts claim to be contemporary to the events that they portray, irrespective of when they were actually written. In the case of the Baoxun, it was likely written during the Warring States period but it is set during the final days of the life of King Wen 文. It takes the form of an instruction left by King Wen to his son, King Wu 武, who would go on to conquer the Shang 商 dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) and establish the Zhou 周 dynasty (1046-771 BCE). In his instruction, King Wen presents the sage-king Shun 舜 and Shang Jia Wei 上甲微 (an ancestor of the Shang) as models and urges his son to hold fast to the "center" (zhong 中) in order to rule. The center is both actual - meaning Mount Song 嵩 in Henan 河南 province, traditionally considered the center of All under Heaven - and cosmological and to rule with the celestial mandate of the high god entailed possessing the center in both a literal and figurative sense. This emphasis on the center would have been more relevant to the Warring States than the Zhou dynasty because during the former period there was no longer a central authority and so the concern was with establishing a central power rather than overthrowing an existing one.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution 4.0 International