«6 Reading the Heavenly Mandate: Dong Zhongshu’s Rhetoric of the Way (Dao) Yichun Liu and Xiaoye You Studies of Confucian rhetoric in the West have ...»
No less than three times he renounced the sovereignty of all things under Heaven, without the people getting a chance to praise him for it. (8.1) Reading the Heavenly Mandate 159
On both occasions, Confucius brought up historical figures without stating his theses. For his students, or someone who has studied the Analects carefully, Confucius’s intent is quite unambiguous. He wanted to say that T’ai Po, Duke Wen, and Duke Huan were historical figures from whom we could learn about appropriate ritual practices. T’ai Po, the oldest son of King Tang, gave up the throne to his younger brother because he wanted to travel afar to collect medicine for his ailing father. Giving up the throne constituted the highest ritualistic expression of filial piety. In the case of Duke Wen and Duke Huan, neither ancient nor modern scholars have agreed as to which particular events made Confucius denigrate them.4 However, there is little doubt that Confucius intended to say that T’ai Po was a perfect example of a virtuous leader who performed in the spirit of dao, while Duke Wen and Duke Huan were imperfect as leaders for the state.
Thus, Confucius encouraged his audience to emulate the great deeds of T’ai Po and avoid the weaknesses of Dukes Wen and Huan. As these two examples show, history was mobilized as an archetypical topos for Confucius to bolster his teaching. In the process, we contend, he installed a particular line of reasoning in his audiences.
We end this synoptic discussion of Confucius’s rhetoric by reiterating its several key elements. Siding with Daoists, Confucius looked up to dao as the highest world order that human beings must submit to. However, differing from Daoists, while respecting Heaven’s will, he concerned himself chiefly with human affairs in his teaching, distancing himself from natural and metaphysical matters. He believed that only through performance of rituals in alignment with dao would human society reach the ideal state of dao. He saw human history as offering individuals guidance in learning and practicing proper rituals; therefore, he compiled several important historical documents and offered his own interpretations in his teaching. He evoked history as an archetypical topos in his discourse with both his students and government officials. As we are going to show, some of these components were later dismissed and some were revised by Dong Zhongshu three hundred years later.
160 Yichun Liu and Xiaoye Yous Dong Zhongshu was remembered as a Confucian exegete who expanded Confucian thought through his close reading of the Spring and Autumn Annals. After the Western Han was established following the tumultuous Zhou Dynasty and the short-lived Qin Dynasty (221 BCE—206 BCE), the government took a Daoist laissez-faire approach to state-making. The Daoists emphasized non-action (无为 wuwei) in their philosophy. The Western Han government imposed lower tax rates on peasants and enforced lenient laws and regulations. The Daoist-style governance allowed the masses to gradually recuperate from the difficulties of the wars. Several decades later, Emperor Wu, who favored Confucian thought, came to the throne and saw the need to strengthen his imperial governance. Therefore, he invited Confucian intellectuals to discuss state matters with him in 134 BCE. One of those learned men was Dong Zhongshu, an adept of the Spring and Autumn Annals in the Gong-Yang interpretive lineage. In his three renowned responses to Emperor Wu’s enquiries, he expounded political matters grounded in his exegesis of the Spring and Autumn text, thus offering his view of history and state-making. At the end of his third response, Dong suggested that only the Confucian school of thought be studied and other schools be eradicated in the imperial academy.
Dong’s forthright recommendations deeply impressed the emperor, who promoted Dong to serve as a regional administrator and later as a grand master of the palace. Our rendering of Dong Zhongshu’s rhetorical perspectives will be based on his three responses and on a collection of his writings called The Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn, which offered an extended treatment of points made in his three responses.5 Modern Chinese rhetoricians have expressed keen interest in Dong Zhongshu’s rhetoric. Quite unanimously, they concur that Dong offered important rhetorical perspectives in The Luxuriant Dew. For example, Dai Wanying highlights Dong’s three rhetorical perspectives.
First, like Confucius, Dong addressed the relationship between substance and ornamentation (质文 zhi wen). However, while Confucius placed equal emphasis on them, Dong stressed the ultimate importance of substance. Second, Dong analyzed and interpreted Confucius’s use of hyperbole in the latter’s comments on some historical events in the Spring and Autumn. Third, he noted that “cautious language” (慎辞 shen ci) was widely used in the Spring and Autumn to accurately signify hierarchical social relations, ultimately perpetuating Confucian Reading the Heavenly Mandate 161 morality (Yuan and Zong 33–35). Chen Guanglei and Wang Junheng note a few other perspectives by Dong, such as the rectification of names (文辞不隐情 wen ci bu yin qing), the use of concise language to capture the nature of and relations between matters (文约而法明 wen yue er fa ming), and the kairotic use of language (无通辞 wu tong ci) in the Spring and Autumn (203–213). While we agreed with these scholars about Dong’s perspectives on language use, we consider their shared definition of rhetoric as the “methods and strategies of effective language use” (Yuan and Zong 1) too narrow for our present undertaking. We define rhetoric more broadly as the use of symbols in human communication. With a broader definition, we have identified a rhetorical theory that centers on the discourse of dao between Heaven and human subjects. Besides offering his perspectives on Confucius’s use of language in the Spring and Autumn, Dong developed a rhetorical theory to facilitate humans in reading and responding to the evolving Heavenly mandate, or the inherent expression of dao.
Heaven as the Most Powerful Interlocutor In his interpretation of the Spring and Autumn, Dong reinforced history as an archetypical topos by including Heaven as the most powerful interlocutor of dao. He concurred with Confucius that historical knowledge possesses ritualizing power for cultivating a righteous leader. He claimed, for example, that as the Book of History recorded previous kings’ achievements, it would familiarize the leader with government affairs; he also claimed that since the Spring and Autumn focused on telling apart righteous and wicked behaviors, it would teach a leader how to manage the masses morally and properly (The Luxuriant Dew 25–26). However, more emphatically than Confucius, Dong conceived the evolution of human history as directly correlating to the Heavenly mandate (天命 tian ming). He evoked Heaven as the mediator between the humans and dao, asserting that Heaven, earth, and humans share the same origin (元 yuan) (i.e., dao). In human society, the king is the son of Heaven, supposedly representing and operating in dao. Hence, the Chinese character for king (王 wang) consists of three horizontal stokes signifying Heaven, humans, and earth, with a vertical stroke signifying dao (295). On the one hand, the king needs to understand Heaven’s will by studying history and the natural world, and then needs to enact the will in his human reign. On the other hand, if the king misunderstands Heaven’s will and governs his people 162 Yichun Liu and Xiaoye Yous ruthlessly, Heaven will warn him with natural signs, punish him and his people with natural disasters, or even dethrone him. Thus, human society as led by the king was under the constant gaze of Heaven. The rise and fall of human history was framed as a result of following or disobeying the Heavenly mandate, rather than as following or not following the appropriate rituals, as Confucius so emphasized. By promoting Heaven as the mediator of dao, Dong seemed to have sidelined the mystic dao; in fact, he erected a powerful arbitrating divine to prevent the emperor from enacting any ruthless behaviors. In this neo-Confucian reformulation of human history, the emperor was legitimized as the leader of the Western Han Empire, but, dialectically, was held responsible to Heaven, the omnipotent mediator between humans and dao.
Dong evoked the new historical topos as consultant to Emperor Wu. For example, on one occasion, the emperor asked Dong to elucidate one of his concerns: “In terms of what the three great emperors have taught us about dao, they reigned in different times and they all made mistakes. Some say that dao does not change in time; but does dao mean different things for the emperors?” (Yao, Book 21, 9). Emperor Wu was most concerned about how to govern the empire in the true spirit of dao. Dong’s response to the emperor’s question not only reveals his thoughts on human history, but also his use of history as an
archetypical topos in political discourse. Dong replied:
When dao prevails, the world is devoid of corruption. Corruption rises when dao falls. The dao of previous emperors had its own deviations and inefficacy, thus their governance sometimes became stifled and they amended corruption with deviations. Dao of the three emperors occurred in different times. It is not that their dao was opposite but that they encountered different circumstances in salvaging the nation. Therefore, Confucius says, “Among those that ‘ruled by inactivity’ surely Shun may be counted.”6 Shun only changed the first month of the calendar and the color of court dress to comply with the Heavenly mandate.
As he largely adopted the dao of Emperor Yao, why did he need to change anything else? Therefore, the emperors only changed some regulations, but not dao. However, the Xia Dynasty valued loyalty, the Yin Dynasty piety, and the Zhou Dynasty culture—such change of focus is the right way to amend the corruption left from the previous dynasty. Confucius says, “We know in what ways the Yin Reading the Heavenly Mandate 163 modified ritual when they followed upon the Hsia (Xia).
We know in what ways the Chou [Zhou] modified ritual when they follow upon the Yin. And hence we can foretell what the successors of Chou [Zhou] will be like, even supposing they do not appear till a hundred generations from now.”7 That means all emperors will emulate the three dynasties in their governance. The Xia followed the Yin without people speaking of any modification of ritual, because they share dao and value the same thing. The grandness of dao originates from Heaven. Heaven does not change, nor does dao. Therefore when Yu succeeded Shun, and Shun succeeded Yao, they passed the empire from one to the other, preserving the single dao. They did not have any major corruption to address; therefore we don’t talk about how they modified dao. From this perspective, when inheriting a prosperous nation, the dao of governance stays the same. When inheriting a tumultuous nation, dao needs to be adjusted.8 (11–12) The heavy reliance on historical events and classical texts as the backing of Dong’s exposition reveals a particular line of rhetorical reasoning, or enthymeme. In Dong’s reasoning, history reflects the Heavenly mandate and dao; therefore what happened in the past can be a reference for the present and the future. This particular view of history constitutes the key premise of Dong’s rhetorical syllogism. As Dong claims in the passage, “The grandness of dao originates from Heaven.
Heaven does not change, nor does dao.” In the same conversation with Emperor Wu, Dong also asked, “Heaven of the ancients is also the same Heaven of the present. Underneath the same Heaven, the country was ruled peacefully and harmoniously in the ancient times.... Gauging the present with the ancient standards, why is it that the present lags far behind ancient times?” (12). In other words, the dao of Heaven does not change; therefore the dao of the ancients can be studied and restored in the present. It is due to this view of history that Dong mobilizes historical events and sages’ words as premises to back up his claim.
In Dong Zhongshu’s rhetorical reformulation, Heaven was positioned as the most powerful interlocutor in the discourse of dao. When Confucius delineated his discursive system, he respected Heaven but virtually excluded Heaven as a discursive participant. Confucius’s system chiefly involves three constitutive entities—the ritualized and learned gentleman, the ruler, and the masses. The gentleman counsels 164 Yichun Liu and Xiaoye Yous the ruler on how to govern the country by conforming to dao, and the ruler tries to convince the masses about his legitimate leadership position through wise and humane governance and proper ritual performance. In Dong’s rhetorical reformulation, Heaven was ushered into the discursive system not only as an overseer and a protector of human beings, but also as an emotionally charged arbitrator of human affairs.
It is in foregrounding a transcendent interlocutor with anthropomorphic quality, we argue, that Dong’s discourse of dao departed from that of pre-imperial Confucians.
Understanding the Anthropomorphic Interlocutor Once establishing Heaven as the fourth and the most powerful participant in the discourse of dao, Dong sought to identify the deity’s “personality”—its values, intentions, and emotions. However, Dong’s endeavor was not born out of pure scholarly interest, but from an interest in seeking state patronage for the Confucian school. Confucian scholars of the Western Han, including Dong, started to pay much more attention to the mystic power of Heaven than the pre-imperial Confucians. Sympathetic with the Confucian school, Emperor Wu trusted Heaven’s tremendous power over his human reign. As the proclaimed son of Heaven, Emperor Wu was most concerned about how to read the mind of Heaven so that he could execute the Heavenly mandate without committing errors. In one of his inquiries of Confucian scholars, he expressed puzzlement as to how his reign was legitimated by Heaven. Dong capitalized on the occasion to expound the deity’s
anthropomorphic quality. The emperor’s puzzle was given as follows:
Over the last five hundred years, many kings, who upheld both culture and dao, endeavored to model previous emperors’ regulations to bring peace to their people.