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Command to Fu Yue 傅說之命 Poli, Maddalena


“Command to Fu Yue” 傅說之命 (Fu Yue zhi ming) is a Warring States manuscript part of the collection purchased by the Tsinghua University in 2008. The collection has been dated to circa 350 BCE. It has been published in volume three (2012) of the series. The manuscripts narrates the story of Fu Yue 傅說, well known in the ancient literature. According to the legend, he lived during the reign of king Wu Ding 武丁 (traditional dates 1250-1129 BCE), working as a laborer. One night, the king had a dream; in the dream, he is told that there is a sage in his reign, whose name and looks are revealed to the king. He thus produced images resembling what he had seen in his dream, and sent his aids out in his reign to look for Fu Yue, who was eventually found and brought back to court to become a crucial component of king Wu Ding’s reign. ___ The manuscript is divided into three sections, separated by a blank space; it may be argued that the three are in fact three separate compositions. Each one is titled “Command to Fu Yue” on the verso side. The first section narrates king Wu Ding’s dream, and introduces Fu Yue as serving a different lord. The flow of the narrative is interrupted by an act of divination whose pertinency has puzzled scholars. The first part ends with Fu Yue settling in the king’s court. The second part opens with Fu Yue again reaching Wu Ding’s court, another suggestion that perhaps these three sections are in fact three different stories. An exchange with Wu Ding follows, where the king exhorts Fu Yue to be diligent and a loyal servant. It also warns Fu Yue to be ready for difficult times. The passage uses famous metaphors found in the literature, and the language style is that of bronze inscriptions. ___ The third part is constituted entirely of king’s (likely Wu Ding, although the name of the king is never specified) invocations and commands opened by the formulaic “the King said” 王曰. Presumably, these statements are addressed to Fu Yue. As with the second part, the king exhorts his minister to be a loyal servant, not to yield during difficult times, and not disappoint Heaven. ___ The manuscript is most famous in relation to the Exalted Writings 尚書. Of the 25 “forged” chapters (see Shangshu entry in this database), three go by the title “Command to Yue” 說命 (divided in 上中下). Because of the tripartite division of the manuscript, as well as the closeness of the topic, the Tsinghua “Command to Fu Yue” has been identified as the “original” chapter of the Shangshu collection (Li Xueqing; Liao Mingchun). Push-backs against this secure and linear identification arrived soon after (e.g., Li Rui; Ed Shaughenssy); too much information is still missing about the production of these manuscripts and the formation of the Shangshu to make such definite claims. ___ By comparing the manuscript “Command to Fu Yue” to the “Command to Yue” chapters in the received Exalted Writings, several observations can be drawn, although these are more revealing of the fourth century CE intellectual environment that produced the “forged” chapters of the Exalted Writings. A striking difference is the way in which the interaction between Wu Ding and his minister Fu Yue is portrayed. In the circa 350 BCE manuscript, the king commands and orders his soon-to-be minister for loyalty and upright behavior to sustain government. Fu Yue utters a handful of words, and is otherwise not active (or even mentioned) in the narration; by reading the third part of the Tsinghua “Command to Fu Yue” especially, one imagines Fu Yue to be listening in silence. This is very reminiscent of bronze inscriptions, in which kings talk authoritatively to obedient, and for the most silent, ministers. ___ The fourth century CE “Command to Yue,” instead, portrays Fu Yue as talkative, having a proper dialogue with the king. The production of the latter was most likely influenced by Warring States intellectual narrations on kings and ministers. During the Warring States, intellectuals and aspiring ministers (sometimes identified as the shi 士 class) become steady protagonists of literary works, likely a reflection of a new importance given to their social class in real-life politics. In these works, they are portrayed as having long exchanges with rulers, outmaneuvering their questions with rhetorical devices, hardly ever interrupted in their disquisition which, very often, are crowned by rulers’ praises. Here I suggest that whoever composed the “Command to Yue” in the fourth century CE was imagining their own ancient past on the basis of Warring States narratives and documents, that thus shaped the way in which minister-ruler interaction was portrayed. It remains to be explored what documents the author(s) of “Command to Yue” consulted. ___ For reference, the Tsinghua collection is a collection of manuscripts purchased by Tsinghua University in 2008. Like many other collections of Warring States and early imperial Chinese manuscripts, this material was looted. No information was given, or has since surfaced, regarding the conditions of this purchase (who possessed the manuscripts, or how much was invested in it; see Liu 2015 for an overview of this collection). The strips were authenticated on November 14, 2008, by a group of scholars from several universities and institutions from PRC China. There are currently 11 volumes published, and at least three more are forthcoming. The collection includes an impressive array of manuscripts dated to mid to late Warring States period (453 - 221 BCE), largely of philosophical and historical content. It has become particularly famous for its shu 書 (lit: “writings”) related material, i.e. manuscripts that can be associated to chapters of the “Exalted Writings” 尚 書 in light of their content, structure, and tone. They bear on the tradition of this extremely influential work, and have thus received much attention. Other manuscripts include historical texts bearing on the “Spring and Autumn” tradition, texts of philosophic and cosmological content, prayers, etc. See introduction in volume one, pages 3-4, of 清華大學藏戰國竹簡.

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