Natural Order and Divine Will in The Three Virtues

  • Zhongjiang Wang


The publication of The Great Drought of the State of Lu 《鲁邦大旱》, in the second volume of the Shanghai Museum’s Chu bamboo manuscripts, has sparked a renewed interest in the views Confucius held concerning ritual sacrifice. This issue further instigated the reconsideration of whether or not Confucius really believed, or to what extent he believed, in the existence of a transcendent Mandate of Heaven or Divine Will. This problem is complex and must be approached carefully. For example, if one begins with either the perspective of the Three Dynasties religious traditions or that which later completely opposes the old tradition, one will easily reach faulty conclusions when investigating Confucius’ stance on religious issues. 1 We must recognize that rise of the “learning of the masters” in the Spring and Autumn period, and the competition between the different schools both generated a trend of valorizing philosophical rationality and led to a transformation and fragmentation of religion.


Natural Order Strange Star Ritual Sacrifice Great Famine Solar Term 
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  1. 1.
    We cannot view the relationship of the religion of the Three Dynasties and the philosophy of the Eastern Zhou as one unified linear historical transformation. For more on this, see Christian Jochim, Chinese Religions: A Cultural Perspective (New York: Pearson, 1985)Google Scholar
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  3. 2.
    Concerning issues related to the collation and transcription of The Three Virtues, see the following. Ma Chengyuan 马承源, ed. Shanghai Bowuguan Zhanguo Chu zhushu, vol. 5 上海博物馆藏战国楚竹 书 五 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2005)Google Scholar
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  5. Cao Feng 曹峰, “San De de bianlian yu fen zhang” 《三德》的编联与分章, in Shang Bo Chujian sixiang yanjiu 上博楚简思想研究 (Taibei: Taiwan wanjuanlou tushu gufen youxian gongsi, 2006).Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    Cao Feng 曹峰 feels it is highly compatible with the Huangdi sijing. However, The Three Virtues clearly has Confucian tendencies, especially in regards to its notion of “ritual” li 禮, and “the farming season” nongshi 農時. It certainly does not incorporate any Daoist ideas, let alone Legalist ones. Therefore, it overall must be identified as Confucian. As for the issue concerning the similarities between the Huangdi sijing and The Three Virtues, and the question of which text influenced which, these require further investigation. See Cao Feng 曹峰 San De yu Huangdi sijing duibi yanjiu 《三德》与《黄帝四 经》对比研究, in Shang Bo Chujian sixiang yanjiu 上博楚简思想研 究 (Taibei: Taiwan wanjuanlou tushu gufen youxian gongsi, 2006).Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    The Guodian manuscript Chenzhi wenzhi 《成之聞之》 requires the ruler to “sacrifice to Heaven’s Constants” which seems to depict the normally naturalist expression “Heaven’s Constants” as a reference to nature spirits or gods, but here “sacrifice” might also be understood in reference to following the rationalistic natural patterns. It says, “Only the Superior Person can seek things near and not borough things from afar. What did it mean, in ancient times, when the Superior Person mentioned, ‘The sage’s heavenly virtue?’ It means to carefully seek it in yourself and then you can rely on it to perfectly follow Heaven’s Constants. What does it mean when the “Kang Gao” 《康誥》 chapter of The Book of History says, ‘Those that did not return or did not [practice] the common rituals were punished by King Wen, executing the guilty without mercy’? This saying says do not oppose the Great Constants as King Wen’s punishments were not excessive. Thus the Superior person is careful of the six positions and ‘sacrifices to Heaven’s Constants.’” Hanshi waizhuan 《韩诗外传》 discusses the relationships of the Heaven Earth and humanity in a manner concordant with The Three Virtues, “Know Heaven above and you can use it seasons; know Earth below and you can use its materials; know humanity in the middle and you can [bring] peace and joy to them. This is sagely benevolence.” See Jingmenshi bowuguan 荆门市博物馆 ed., Guodian Chumu zhujian 郭店楚墓竹简 (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe),168; Han Ying 韩婴, and Xu Weiyu 许维遹校释, ed. Hanshi waizhuan jishi 韩诗外传集释 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980), 25.Google Scholar
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    Huang Huaixin 黄怀信, ed. Yizhou shu huijiao jizhu 逸周书汇校集注 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1995), 1211–1212.Google Scholar

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  • Zhongjiang Wang

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