Sunday, October 07, 2012

Review of Homer H Dubs’ article on ‘Did Confucius study the Book of Changes?’

Over the past eight decades, anyone after reading the late US Professor Homer Dubs’ 1928 influential article published in the Tongbao, the first international journal in sinology established in 1890, would be confounded as to whether or not Confucius had actually studied the Book of Changes. The article in simple English is very persuasive and well supported by several quotations from the Analects, and one each from the Book of History and from the Records of the Grand Historian. (Homer H Dubs’ article on ‘Did Confucius study the Book of Changes?’, is kindly made available by Steve Marshall for those interested at )

Professor Homer Dubs (1892 to 1969) was a Yale graduate in philosophy, a Columbia University masters, and after having earned a PhD from the University of Chicago with a dissertation on the Chinese philosopher, Xunzi that he would publish in two volumes, taught at several US Universities before taking up the Chair of Chinese at Oxford that had been held by James Legge. In addition, Dubs grew up in China as a child of missionary parents and returned there as a missionary after obtaining his masters and his Bachelor of Divinity. The professor, an American sinologist and polymath, is best known for his translation of sections of Ban Gu’s Book of Han. (The life, credentials, works, and later eccentricities of Homer Dubs can be further read at Wikipedia:

Anyone not having studied ancient Chinese philosophy as deep as Homer Dubs, a professor at the University of Minnesota when he published the well debated article, could be influenced or swayed by his persuasive and substantiated arguments to believe likewise that Confucius would have nothing to do with the Book of Changes anymore than about spirits. With his impressive array of scholarly credentials and works, his immense knowledge of ancient Chinese philosophy, and stature, it would seem nigh impossible to provide a substantive review of the article. To challenge such a scholarly article supported by various historical citations appears daunting even to those who continue to believe that Confucius did study the Book of Changes; unless they happened to be equally or more steeped in ancient Chinese philosophy than him. Of his contemporary sinologists, Richard Wilhelm would have been the ideal candidate and/or Yijing aficionado to review Dub’s 1928 article even though his eminent Chinese mentor has had passed away by then. However, Wilhelm was probably too ill when the article was published, and had passed away two years later.

Apparently, this influential 1928 article has yet to be reviewed. Therefore under the circumstances, this student who knows only a touch of the ancients and the Zhouyi, with no particular talent or virtue to speak of, takes up the challenge to review Homer Dubs’ article readied to be shamed if he falters. In the review, reasons would be submitted on why the article has had blindsided both Dubs’ admirers and dissenters for more than eighty years.

Dubs had probably started out the article to provide a contrary view to that of Professor Hu Shih’, which according to him was the best and most critical scholar of the day. And I would tend to agree with Dubs’ poor assessment of Hu Shih, if the eminent Chinese Professor had not provided any further evidence that Confucius actually used the Book beyond his famous saying that ‘if some years were added to his life, he would give fifty to the study of the Book of Changes and then might come to be free from great faults’ (VII, xvi) and/or that of Sima Qian’ Records of the Grand Historian on the life events and works of the great sage. (Pages 82 and 83 Tongpao XXV 1928)

Now to write a scholarly article to uphold or to refute the age old Chinese belief that Confucius has had studied the Book of Changes, it could do great injustice to the ancient sage for not having discussed the ancient classic, the ten wings, and the four Confucian books as a whole.

If Professor Hu Shih only knew what his peers would know, it reflects a run-of-the-mill mentality, and no special in-depth knowledge of both the four Confucian books and the Book of Changes that we can learn from. However, neither did Professor Dubs know much about the Book of Changes of Zhou or the Ten Wings, if at all, since he rarely touched on them in his article, if his admirers and/or dissenters have not noticed.

The following analyses and findings of Dubs would depict his level of knowledge, if any, of the Zhouyi and the Ten Wings:

According to Dubs, Sima Qian in his monumental Historical Record states that Confucius wrote various appendixes to the Book of Changes. Relying on Legge’ correct assessment that the attribution of the entire Ten Wings to Confucius is wrong and that we cannot be sure that any of it is from the pen of Confucius himself. He reasoned that: ‘They (The Ten Wings) were too trivial and unworthy to a great man. So we cannot conclude from the Book of Changes itself that Confucius had any connection with it, rather the contrary. Likewise Sima Qian’ evidence must be ruled out as secondary and based on insufficient evidence’. (pages 83 and 84)

The fact that Confucius did write various appendixes to the Book of Changes of Zhou as indicated by Sima Qian had been likely confirmed by James Legge (and Richard Wilhelm in his W/B translation) seemed to be lost on Dubs probably in his over eagerness to refute the age old belief. The whitewashing of the Records of the Grand Historian, which he himself ascribed as monumental, was to be repeated in the article when Dubs tried to cover up (Xunzi’ student) Li Si’ infamous acts. If Dubs had been a student of the Book of Changes, he would not have so lightly dismissed the involvement of Confucius in the writing of the Ten Wings by just relying on the thoughts and the feelings of Legge.

Dubs has had cleverly blindsided Yijing aficionados and scholars by quoting sources from the Analects which supported his prejudices against Chinese ancestor worship, prayers, and divination. Such prejudices could have arisen because of his previous missionary background together with his adoration for Xunzi (who hated the evil princes who did not follow the Way but gave their attention to magic and prayers and believed in omens and luck – Shiji). He provided an unclear quotation - and considered it without basis as ancestor worship - on Confucius teaching Chi Lu that he must be able to serve men before learning how to serve the dead, to support his contention that the sage has nothing to do with divination (and spirits). (In his translation, James Legge had mentioned the distinction by way of notes between ghosts (Gui) and spirits (Shen); and that Confucius had used ghosts (Gui) in the quotation. And the differing views offered by past eminent scholars on this particular quotation.) (XI, xi) (84)

Dubs further displayed a lack of deep understanding of ancient Chinese philosophy when he contended that Confucius holds prayers useless by offering two inappropriate supporting quotations from the Analects, ‘He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray.’ (III, xiii) And – “where the sage had indicated there was no necessity for his student to offer prayers on his behalf for his illness, because his praying has been for a long time.” (VII, xxxiii) (84) By applying the first quotation, he like his idol, Xunzi, clearly did not understand that Heaven has a moral will. Also did he not understand what Confucius has said about his own prayers in the latter quotation? Therefore the presented argument of Dubs that since Confucius holds prayers useless, divination is useless too, holds no water.

By quoting the statement ‘divination, when fortunate, should not be repeated’ from the Book of History to support his contention that indeed divination is superstition, he laid bare his ineptness, if he had any knowledge at all, of the Book of Changes. (84) Only the ignorant would be foolish enough to again ask the Book of Changes after obtaining a fortunate prognostication, or a happy omen. Furthermore there was no cause whatsoever for Dubs to cast aspersions on the exemplary Emperor Shun and the Great Yu, as superstitious, just to sway readers to his preferred way of thought or belief. (The historical statement on divination was made by Shun to Yu, in the Great Counsels of Yu.)

To answer his questions as to why there were no records of Confucius teaching or of his recommending the Book of Changes to his students, I can only submit my opinion that if the great sage knew that he has not fully comprehended a profound subject like the Book of Changes, he would not have proceeded to teach the subject to his students. And since Confucius was versed with the Odes, the Rites, and the Music, and found them easier to learn, he recommended his students to study them instead. (85)

This usual opinion of mine is probably now supported by the missing and recently found chapter Yao of the Analects wherein Confucius indicated that his divination accuracy is 70% and about the same as one of his students. (But it would be rather unfair to the late Professor Dubs to use the Yao Chapter to counter his well articulated points on why Confucius did not study the Book of Changes.)

Dubs then tried to hoodwink less knowledgeable readers in ancient Chinese philosophy by making the statement that, ‘Should Confucius have honored and admired it, we should expect that his disciples and followers would have likewise studied and spoken of it. On the contrary they maintain a complete silence for centuries after his death.’ And immediately after that he launched into a vile attack on the author of the Doctrine of the Mean as superstitious, because the author believes in spirits and in divination. (85)

Surely, the learned Professor of ancient Chinese philosophy like James Legge knew that it was Confucius’ beloved grandson (and student), Zisi who wrote the Doctrine of the Mean! Therefore was there or was there not evidence that Confucius’ disciples did study and speak about the Book of Changes? Or did Dubs again try to whitewash important ancient writings that supported the age old belief by casting aspersions on the texts and/or personages? Furthermore, would this renowned grandson of Confucius who is the accredited teacher of Mencius, turn against his own grandfather’s teachings by writing something deemed unbecoming? It is left to readers of this review to decide.

In addition, Dubs indicated that Mencius was quiet on the matter and so was Xunzi. Without knowing much about the Book of Changes and the Ten Wings, Dubs certainly would be clueless as to the profound Yijing knowledge of Mencius; even though he has had read his Book. From brief accounts of Xunzi in the Wikipedia, it is quite possible that this particular philosopher did not study the Book of Changes since unlike Mencius he disbelieved that Heaven has moral will. Therefore, Xunzi may not even know what the Mandate of Heaven was. Similar to some pedant scholars, Dubs argued that it was not until Zuo Zhuan that the Book of Changes was mentioned, totally disregarding the existence of the Doctrine of the Mean which is traditionally honored as one of the four Confucian books.

One can discern that Dubs then at the age of 36 adored Xunzi as his hero, probably influenced by his teachings while writing the thesis on the ancient Chinese philosopher for his PhD. Since in the article, he had made several attempts to raise the stature of both Xunzi, and his rouge student, Li Si who as the prime minister of Qin buried Confucians alive, and burned many categories of books. However, in the eyes of the learned and the wise, Xunzi would never be equally great as Mencius as Dubs has had wished. (85) And Li Si is still rouge because of his despicable acts against humanity and learning. Since Xunzi the teacher did not understand much about Heaven, neither would his student or followers! And to the Chinese, the acts of a student reflect upon the teacher. Mencius is honored as a Confucian sage while Xunzi will remain as an eminent philosopher because his theory on human nature directly contradicts that of Mencius’ Man is born good.

On Li Si’s infamous acts of ‘Burning of books and burying of scholars’, an event recorded by Sima Qian, the Grand Historian of Han, Dubs again tried to cast aspersions on the integrity of the Records of the Grand Historian. (88) While Dubs will certainly know the fact that Sima Qian on the pain of death dared to record the dastardly acts of the first Han Emperor’s wife, Empress Lu after Liu Bang’s death, the professor because of his vested interests still tried to mislead readers; admirers and dissenters alike. That Li Si was subjected to the Five Tortures by the second Qin emperor and later put to death by the prime minister of the day was no more than what he had deserved.

Even though he did not quite make out a convincing case to those in the know for condemning the Book of Changes as superstition; Dubs deviously praised the wisdom of Confucius for not having anything to do with superstitious things. This would confound both the Yijing aficionados and those who hold on to the age old belief.

Without an in-depth Yijing knowledge, how could one appreciate the age old connection between the commentaries by Confucius and/or his students, and Mencius contained in the Ten Wings and the Zhouyi?

Using selective irrelevant citations coupled with flawed analyses which led to incorrect findings, Professor Dubs still unabashedly conclude that Confucius did not concern himself with the Book of Changes anymore than about spirits. Yet his flawed findings and misleading conclusion that Confucius did not study the Book of Changes had stood unchallenged for more than eight decades!

Surely, the late Professor Dubs would not mind it a bit, if my review can finally put his misleading arguments to rest, once and for all. If the influential and yet misleading article is not brought to light and shamed, it would continue to be a disservice to the Book of Changes, Confucius, the current and future generations of Yijing aficionados. Although it is never too late or too old to study the Book of Changes, the ‘lost’ generations (the misled) in between the eighty odd years cannot be brought back to the Light.

In case readers think that the review is nothing but hype, and that this student only know the famous quote used by generations of scholars - including the late eminent Chinese Professor Hu Shih - to support the belief and/or contention that ‘Confucius did study the Book of Changes’, I append below just a few assorted quotations from the Analects for your reading pleasure. Please put on your thinking cap before reading the quotations since they have proven too deep even for generations of eminent Chinese scholars of ancient Chinese philosophy, and without any exception, readers should also know their Yijing studies well otherwise the quotations’ trails to the ancient classic will remain hidden:

I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there.’

[Analects 7.19]

The Fang bird does not come; the river sends forth no map; - it is all over for me!’
[Analects 9. 8]

When Tao pervades all under heaven, be prominent. When Tao recesses, go into hiding.’ [Translated by AL]
[Book 8 Chapter 13 of the Analects]

The Master said,
The people of the south have a saying – ‘A man without constancy cannot be either a wizard or a doctor.’ Good!

Inconstant in his virtue, he will be visited with disgrace.’

The Master said,
This arises simply from not attending to the prognostication.’

[Analects 8. 22 Legge]

Allan Lian

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