University of Oxford
In this thesis, I discuss a group of compositionally related “core” chapters within the Yi Zhou shu 逸周書, a collection of 59 texts from ancient China that has received very limited attention in scholarship. The texts in this collection are difficult to read and interpret because of their poor preservation and the lack of concise commentaries.
I develop a methodological strategy for the identification of philologically related texts within the collection, which allows me to single out a group of texts related by compositional structures, rhetorical patterns and characteristic formulaic expressions. I call such chapters “kingly consultations”, considering that most of such texts are presented as speeches involving sage rulers of the Western Zhou 西周 (mid. 11th century – 771 BC), in which they share the fundamental wisdoms of kingship. I argue that these texts are remnants of an important ritualised textual practice, which has left traces not only in the Yi Zhou shu, but also in other collections, such as the Liu tao 六韜 (Six Bow Cases), which is commonly classified among “military” texts.
I reconstruct elements of the socio-political context of the kingly consultations using comparative insight. I examine the numerical lists used for systematisation of knowledge against similar lists in the Pāli canon. I also explain the significance of the expressions that emphasise the secretive transmission of texts against better known esoteric textual communities in China and Japan. Such comparison allows me to preliminarily identify the communities behind the kingly consultations as based on strict knowledge-based hierarchy, but prone to segmentation. Finally, I position the kingly consultations within the broader context of the practice of treasure texts. This practice is an important development in ancient China that led to the emergence of a new type of textual authority by “detaching” earlier epigraphic texts from their precious material carriers and introducing them into novel environment of manuscript culture.