7. Reimagining the Yellow Emperor's Four Faces
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Chapter 7 Reimagining the Yellow Emperor's Four Faces Mark Csikszentmihalyi ~~s:~~~WrnOO~~oR~s:~w~~a~rnA~mrn 15" " "J/tzrmrnoo" Zigong said: "Should we give credence to the idea that in the past the Yellow Emperor had four faces?" Confucius said: ''The Yellow Emperor took four people who were in accord with him and sent them to govern the four directions.... This is why they say 'four faces.ott Taiping yulan ;:t3JlfMJ'It, "Huangdi Xuanyuan Shi" ~Wl\if'U~ This fragment of the Shizi F~ preserved in a Tang collection recounts a conversation between Confucius and his disciple Zigong about the legend that the mythical Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) had four faces. It is characteristic of the portrayals of Confucius in Warcing States and Qin-Han texts that he offers a historical explanation of lore and curiosities brought to him by his disciples. Derk Bodde comments on this story: ''What is meant is that the Yellow Lord used four officials to govern the four quarters.... So he was 'four faced' in the sense that the four 'faces' or 'sides' of his empire were controlled by these officials on his behalf." 1 Zigong's question indicates familiarity with other, less figurative, readings of the "four faces." While Confucius was solely concerned with explaining the symbolism of Huangdi's four faces in a historically reductive fashion, from the viewpoint of a contemporary reader of early Chinese literature, it is possible that a more literal answer to Zigong's question may be found. This chapter has two aims, one specific to the issue of the four faces of Huangdi and a more general one concerning how epigraphic or pseudepigraphic writings became decontextualized as texts were transmitted in early China. In the first section, I will argue that while Confucius might 226 REIMAGINING THE YELLOW EMPEROR'S FOUR FACES 227 have correctly identified one meaning of the symbolism surrounding the Yellow Emperor, there are other answers to the riddle of the four faces. It is possible to identify a passage in an inscription-style silk text-"Liming" 11. $ (Establishing the mandate), an early Han manuscript excavated at Mawangdui ,~.:E:It in the 197Os-that was composed to evoke a vessel that literally depicted the Yellow Emperor as having four faces. The text's evocation of the medium of a vessel with four faces coincides with a message that told of his sending ministers to govern the four directions. The "Liming" is not alone, because for many texts of the period, the assertion of a link between a text and a ritually privileged medium served to valorize or sanctify the text. The more general argument applies this observation about an excavated text to transmitted texts that do not at first appear to have connections to inscriptions at all. As in the case of the "Liming" inscriptional passage, the connection between ritual medium and text can break down, and the resulting decontextualization is an important phase in the development of some early texts. Reimagining the original medium of inscriptional passages in texts such as the Laozi ~T may provide important information about the genesis of such passages. This assertion of a link between a text and a ritually privileged medium is related to the phenomenon of the actual shift from bamboo and silk to a ritually privileged medium already described by Falkenhausen and Kern (see chapters 3 and 5). In the case of the "Liming," the sacrality of the text derives not from its message but from the link, either historical or imagined, to a ritually significant medium. li.terary Inscriptions In order to examine the conventions of Warring States and Qin-Han inscriptions associated with former rulers and sages such as the Yellow Emperor, I will begin with a survey of some inscriptions listed in the bibliographical chapter of the Hanshu lJiā€¢. By examining their titles and assembling fragments of these now lost texts, I will develop a list of attributes that describe a subgenre of the political-philosophical writing of the period (zhuzi baijia !liT13~, "the many masters and hundred experts") that I will label "literary inscriptions." Turning to the matter of the four faces of the Yellow Emperor, it will become clear that the Mawangdui silk text "Liming" shares a number of attributes with these and other texts. 228 MARK CSIKSZENTMIHALYI Since the "Liming" is written in the voice of the YeHow Emperor and describes the gathering of four ministers to, in the words of Confucius, "govern the four directions," I will...