Between Science and Divination: Modes of Ordering the World

Workshop in Celebration of the 1000th Anniversary of Shao Yong (* Jan. 21, 1012; † July 27, 1077)

January 20–21, 2012


Contents and Principles of Shao Yong’s Tables of sounds

Presenter: Alain Arrault
The paper explores the inner structure of Shao Yong's tables of sounds. It uses the notions of substantial numbers (tishu 體數), functional number (yongshu 用數), and general number (tongshu 通數) to show a model which is a framework in which a series of notions explains the working of the universe. This model will be confronted with the field of phonology. Shao Yong's tables are not intended to be a classical rhyme dictionary indicating the right pronunciation, but to present all possible sounds in the world by the combination of all initials with all finals.

Shao Yong and His Yi 易 Learning

Presenter: Chu P’ing-tzu
This paper will explore Shao Yong’s conception of the Yijing (Book of Changes) and the manner in which his view of the text was interpreted by later intellectuals. As is well known, Shao Yong's Yi learning received a great deal of attention from later generations; however, there are key discrepancies between the way later scholars described Shao's Yi learning and the positions he advanced in his two major works - the Huangji jingshi and the Jirang ji. This paper will examine this discrepancy historically by looking at Zhu Xi's definition of Shao Yong's Yi learning, the comments of those before Zhu Xi, the accounts of Shao's son Shao Bowen and grandson Shao Bo, and finally Shao Yong's own writings. In the conclusion, this paper will try to provide a more accurate account of Shao Yong's understanding of the Book of Changes, and also relate this understanding to Shao Yong's views on divination.

Shao Yong and Number

Presenter: Peter K. Bol
The 11th century saw a growing interest in discovering the coherence of the processes of heaven-and-earth as the basis for establishing an integrated social order in the present. But how was that coherence to be grasped? Shao Yong answer was exceptional in his times in that he asserted that "number" was the starting point and that there are systematic, predictable relationships between categories which can be generated through simple quasi-mathematical operations, both on paper and in life. For Shao the material world is complete and sufficient, and contains within itself the guides to its own perfection. The task for the literati is to learn how to see the world like this, for if they do they will be able to locate themselves in their correct historical time and location. Knowing exactly where they are at any point they will be able to correctly plot the course of history. This makes divination/prognostication more a mechanical science than an art. Shao Yong can be associated with the tradition of "symbol and number" 象數 at a higher intellectual plain and with the tradition of almanac based prognostication at a more popular social register.

The Transcendence of the Past: Objectivity, Relativism, and Moralism in the Historical Thought of Shao Yong

Presenter: Don J. Wyatt
Of all the areas of human inquiry and knowledge into which he delved, Shao Yong may well have contributed more substantively to the discipline of history than to any other into which he foraged. Nevertheless, despite such being the case, in no other sphere—whether we consider cosmology, ethics, or poetics—have his contributions been less appreciated. In addition to tracing the sources of his historical outlook, the present study investigates the reason for this conspicuously underappreciated and nearly altogether neglected state of Shao Yong’s historical vision.

In this paper, I isolate and explicate three crucial methodological pillars of Shao Yong’s historical worldview—objectivity, relativism, and moralism—and attempt to demonstrate how he construed these foundational precepts, if adhered to properly and fully, as resulting in a state of historical transcendence. Interestingly, I have found each of these precepts to be traceable to one or more human and/or textual precedents, for even as Shao Yong departed from classical tradition with respect to historical inquiry, much as was the case for him in his other areas of endeavor, he also drew richly from it in constructing his unique historical purview. For example, I have determined Shao’s precept of objectivity to be much owing to the standpoint on the historical enterprise established by the pre-Qin philosopher Xunzi (ca. 312-ca. 230 B.C.E.).

Nonetheless, what is foremost in importance concerning objectivity, relativism, and moralism as operative principles is Shao Yong’s assumption that they necessarily lead the practitioner to a transcendent vantage point in the effort to acquire and apply historical knowledge. Moreover, what is perhaps most revelatory of all is how we learn from Shao Yong that the goal of such acquisition and application is always clear and never in doubt. The expressed objective is invariantly that of aiding the recipient of the reservoir of collective past experience that constitutes history itself in successfully negotiating the otherwise uncertain future.

From Mysticism of Unity to Mysticism of Connection: the Intellectual/Spiritual Path of Shao Yong

Presenter: Sophia Katz
This paper assesses the intellectual/spiritual quest of Shao Yong邵雍 (1012-1077) as expressed in his poetry collection, Yichuan Jirangji 伊川擊壤集, by placing it within the context of the larger tradition of Chinese philosophical and religious mysticism. My inquiry follows the development of Shao Yong’s vision during his life-time, focusing especially on the change that occurred in Shao’s understanding in 1070-1071. I show that in comparison to the visions of the majority of his predecessors and contemporaries, Shao’s mystical vision was unique mainly because the form of his mysticism changed during the course of his life. It transformed from a traditional "mysticism of unity", advocated by Daoist traditions, to the "mysticism of connection" which revived the religious aspects of Confucianism.

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