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Choosing Balance: Weighing (quan) as a Metaphor for Action in Early Chinese Texts*

  • Griet Vankeerberghen (a1)


Texts from the Zhou and Han periods regularly use the term quan “to weigh” when describing or prescribing human action. This essay seeks to determine precisely which concrete acts of weighing underlie the metaphoric application of the term to human action. A survey of the available textual and archaeological evidence shows that even before the Eastern Han, when steelyards became the most common weighing device, the act of weighing might have been executed and conceptualized in multiple ways. A similar conclusion is drawn from a survey of pictorial and literary references to metaphoric weighing in non-Chinese traditions. More precisely, I suggest three distinct possibilities: matching the object to be weighed with a known standard, determining which of two objects weighs heaviest, and, lastly, seeking the point at which the balance beam will gain or recover balance.

Early Chinese texts provide examples of all three (quan A, B, and C). Quan B became prominent especially during the 3rd century B.C.E., when persuaders discussed how every choice had negative as well as positive consequences. Quan A and C are attested in texts usually dated to the 4th century B.C.E. or before. In this essay I argue that it is quan C that became the dominant metaphor in moral-political discourse, and that it had two competing interpretations: it could refer either to the multiple ways in which a sage adapts his actions to the circumstances, or to a temporary lifting of moral standards during an emergency. Whereas scholars in the Han and Qing dynasties generally accepted that moral rules were not absolute, Song scholars were scandalized by the notion that deviations from the rule were part and parcel of moral action.



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*An earlier version of this paper was presented in the panel “Conceptual Metaphor and the Study of Religion” at the 2002 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Toronto. The current text revises and expands a section in my The Huainanzi and Liu Art's Claim to Moral Authority (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001). I would like to thank W.J. Peterson, my dissertation adviser and the first person with whom I discussed the ideas for this piece, E. Slingerland for the invitation to the AAR panel, and the anonymous readers and the editor of Early China for their persistent efforts in improving the text I originally submitted.



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1. I define a steelyard (in modern Chinese gancheng ) as a scale with uneven arms (the fulcrum not residing at the mid-point of the beam), the simple balance (in modern Chinese tianping ) as a scale with equal length arms that has its fulcrum in the middle.

2. Until recently, the assumption was that steelyards had always been prevalent in China. As a result, the term quan (nominal) in early Chinese texts was often translated anachronistically as either the “counterpoise” (of the steelyard) or as the “steelyard” itself and the weights that were found archeologically were interpreted as such counterpoises. Qiu Guangming , the foremost authority on the history of weighing and measuring in China, changed his position on this issue in the course of the 1980s. In his 1990 article “Woguo gudai quanhengqi jianlun” , he refutes the position that he took in the 1984 volume Zhongguo gudai duliangheng tuji of which he was co-editor. See his Woguo gudai quanhengqi jianlun,” in Zhongguo gudai duliangheng lunwen ji , ed. Guangming, Qiu (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji, 1990), 407. He reaffirms his later position in Zhongguo kexue jishu shi: duliangheng juan (Beijing: Kexue, 2001), 254–62.

3. The dengzi itself was promoted and further improved in early Song times, by the eunuch Liu Chenggui who was in charge of the court treasury. See Vogel, Hans Ulrich, “Weights and Measures in China,” in Encyclopedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, ed. Selin, Helaine (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1997), 1011; Zhengzhong, Guo, “The Deng Steelyards of the Song Dynasty (960–1279): In Commemoration of the One Thousandth Anniversary of their Manufacture by Liu Chenggui,” in Une activité universelle: peser et mesurer à travers les ages, ed. Hocquet, Jean-Claude (Caen: Éditions du Lys, 1994), 297–306

4. Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao , ed. Guangming, Qiu (Beijing: Kexue, 1992), presents what seems to be a fairly exhaustive list (with descriptions, pictures, and bibliographical references) of excavated materials related to weighing and measuring. Tables that supplement this material are provided throughout his Zhongguo kexue jishu shi: duliangheng juan.

5. See Qiu Guangming, Zhongguo kexue jishu shi: duliangheng juan, 257.

6. Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, -4.

7. Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, -7 (also from Chu).

8. Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, -157.

9. Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, -159.

10. There are some variant shapes, too; see, for example, Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, -52 (from Han ), -74 (from Zhongshan ), -83, 84, 85, 101, 102, 114, 115, 116 (imperial Qin , variants on regular shape); for the earliest weights that date to the Spring and Autumn period (770–476 b.c.e.), see Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, -1, 2, 3.

11. For Chu's legacy in the imperial period, see Defining Chu: Image and Reality in Ancient China, ed. Cook, Constance and Major, John S. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999).

12. This is known on the basis of two weights that have their weight inscribed on them. See Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, 165 and 167.

13. Qiu Guangming, Zhongguo kexuejishu shi: duliangheng juan, 255–57. For the Qin the range is from 240 to 278 g, for the Western Han from 235–266.7 g, and for Wang Mang's reign from 220 to 250 g. This means that from the Eastern Han onward one can no longer reliably calculate the value of a unit of weight based on the weight of archeologically discovered weights.

14. The devices were apparently excavated from Shou county in Anhui province at an unknown date. Their derivation from Chu is corroborated by the fact that both devices bear the inscription wang , an inscription also found on other Chu objects. The beams were first analyzed in a 1979 article in the journal Wenwu ; see Dongrui, Liu, “Tan Zhanguo shiqi de budeng bicheng ‘wang’ tongheng ,” Wenwu 1979.4,73–76. See also Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, -29.

15. In beam B some of the sections are further subdivided towards the middle.

16. See Liu Dongrui, “Tan Zhanguo shiqi de budeng bicheng ‘wang’ tongheng,” 73–76 and Qiu Guangming, Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, 302–03. In a separate discussion of these two weighing devices, Qiu Guangming states his belief that these two balances may not have been unique. See Qiu Guangming, “Wo guo gudai quanhengqi jianlun,” 404–15.

17. Yirang, Sun, Mozi jiangu (Shanghai: Shanghai, 1986), “Jingshuo xia” , 221. I follow here the textual emendations and the translation of A.C. Graham, who classifies the passage as B 25 b. For the sake of clarity, I have replaced A.C. Graham's translation of quan as “positional advantage” with “leverage.” Graham rejects “leverage” as a translation based on B 26, as that passage supposedly showed that the authors of the canons did not quite understand the whole theory of leverage. See Graham, A.C., Later Mohist Logic, Ethics and Science (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1978), 387–90. However, the term “positional advantage” also does not adequately cover the meaning of quan in this passage, as I will argue in my discussion of quan as “power” in the following section. For a critique of Graham's reconstruction of the technical chapters of the Mozi, see Geanie, J.M., “A Critique of A.C. Graham's Reconstruction of the ‘Neo-Mohist Canons,'Journal of the American Oriental Society, 119.1 (1999), 1–11.

18. A.C. Graham, Later Mohist Logic, Ethics and Science, 389–90; Baocong, Qian, “Mojing lixue jinshi, Kexueshi jikan 1965.8, 66–67. Whereas Graham treats this passage (B 25 b) as a separate canon from the preceding one (B 25 a), Qian explains both of them together.

19. Of course, one cannot exclude the possibility that the Mozi passage is theoretical rather than descriptive.

20. Xidan, Sun, Li ji jijie (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1989), 427 (“Yue ling” ).

21. Joseph Needham posits that quart's basic meaning is counterpoise, and that the meaning subsequently was extended, first to the steelyard as a whole, and then to the act of weighing. See Needham, Joseph, Science and Civilisation in China, 4.1, Physics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962), 22. For recent examples where scholars have translated quan as “steelyard,” see Knoblock, John and Riegel, Jeffrey, The Annals of Lii Buzvei: A Complete Translation and Study (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 78. Liu Cunren interprets quan both as “counterpoise” and as “steelyard;” see Cunren, Liu, “Shuo quan ji ru zhi xing quan yi, Zhongguo wenzhe yanjiu tongxun 9.1 (1998), 127.

22. Ode 135. See Xianqian, Wang, Shi sanjia yi jishu (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1987), 459–61.

23. Shen, Xu, Shuowen jiezi (Beijing; Zhonghua, 1992), 117a; Er ya zhu-shu , 63a, 71a, in Shisanjing zhushu , ed. Ruan, Yuan (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1980 [1996]), 2629a, 2637a.

24. This chapter is not thought to belong to the oldest core of the Documents, and is usually dated to the Early Spring and Autumn period. See Shaughnessy, Edward L., “Shang Shu (Shu ching ),” in Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide, ed. Loewe, M. (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China and Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1993), 380.

25. Wanli, Qu, Shang shu jishi (Taibei: Lianjing, 1983), 259. Karlgren translates “you quan as “there is the balance of circumstances.” See Karlgren, Bernard, “The Book of Documents,” Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 22 (1959), 77. Also Legge translates quan as “the balance of circumstances.” See Legge, James, The Chinese Classics, Vol. 3, The Shoo King (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1960), 606–7.

26. The scale as a symbol of justice, as I will point out below, is very widespread in the modern West. In China, the metaphor of the scale is applied to the legal context through terms other than quan, for example the term ping “even.”

27. As it is difficult to discern a semantic link between quan as “beginning” and quan as “weighing,” we should not exclude the possibility that the two different concepts were expressed by similar sounding words, which eventually came to be denoted by the same graph.

28. Mengzi 1 A 7; Xun, Jiao, Mengzi zhengyi (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1990), 87 (“Liang Hui wang shang” ).

29. Mozi jiangu, 243 (“Da qu” ); translation adapted from A.C. Graham, Later Mohist Logic, EC 8, 252.

30. Qian, Sima, Shi ji (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1959), 6.258

31. Shi ji, 42.1777.

32. Shi ji, 9.404.

33. Shi ji, 32.1492.

34. Shiji, 8.367.

35. Shi ji, 8.376.

36. Shi ji, 87.2559.

37. Qian Baocong, “Mojing lixue jinshi,” 67–68.

38. The “Yi bing” chapter of Xunzi , for example, has the following sentence: “[States in which] power derives from one will be strong, those in which power derives from two will be weak” . Xianqian, Wang, Xunzi jijie (Beijing: Zhonghua 1988 [1992]), 271. Such usage is hardly compatible with “positional advantage.”

39. Maoshi zhengyi , 88a, in Shisan jing zhushu, 356a; the link with quan as power was suggested by one of the reviewers of this manuscript.

40. Gu, Ban, Han shu (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1962), 21A.969.

41. Han shu, 21A.969.

42. Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, 159. As the picture of the weight shows, Qiu has the characters for “shi” and “quan” reversed in his transcription.

43. Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, 163. Another term for “weight” that is attested to in inscriptions from Western Han onward is the term lei . See Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, 147–48. Whereas Qiu Guangming thinks that the terms quan and lei are interchangeable, Sun Ji opines that quan was the term used for the ring-shaped weights, whereas lei was used for the half-spherical weights. See Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, 159. See Ji, Sun, Han dai wuzhi wenhua ziliao tushuo (Beijing: Wenwu, 1991), 30n9.

44. A.C. Graham, Later Mohist Logic, Ethics, and Science, 184.

45. For example, the standardization measures of the First Emperor (r. as emperor 221–210 b.c.e.), usually described in English as the Qin unification of weights and measures, are referred to in several of the Qin stele inscriptions, and also in the edict from the First Emperor's 26th year (which was his first year as emperor) that is found inscribed on many weights from the Qin period: in none of these cases is the term quan used. For the text of the stele inscriptions and their translation, see Kern, Martin, The Stele Inscriptions of Ch'in Shih-Huang: Text and Ritual in Early Chinese Imperial Representation (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 2000). For references to the standardization measures in the inscriptions, see p. 26, “he rectified and balanced the rules and measures” , p. 35, “he establishes and fixes the rules and measures” , and, p. 48, “all respect measures and rules” . In the text of the edict the term quan does not occur, and the “unification of weights and measures” is referred to as fa duliang . For facsimile reproductions and transcriptions of the text of the edict, see Qin Hanjinwen huibian , ed. Weizu, Sun and Gufu, Xu (Shanghai: Shanghai, 1997), 5–15; for a translation of the edict, see É. Chavannes, , tr. Les Mémoires historiques de Se-ma Ts'ien (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1895–1905; rpt. (with 6th vol.), Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1969), 2.549–51. The term quan is not used in the passage from the Documents that forms the locus classicus for such standardizations. There it is said how Shun “made uniform the pitch-pipes and the measures for length, capacity, and weight (duliangheng ). See Shang shu jishi, 19 (“Yao dian” ); the passage is quoted and translated in M. Kern, The Stele Inscriptions of Ch'in Shih-Huang, 110–11.

46. Changyao, Yan, Guanzi jiaoshi (Changsha: Yuelu, 1996), 582 (“Kui duo” ).

47. Guanzi jiaoshi, 521 (“Mingfa jie” ); note that my translation and interpretation of this passage differs substantially from that offered by Rickett, see Rickett, A., Guanzi: Political, Economic, and Philosophical Essays from Early China: A Study and Translation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 161. That quan should be understood as a weight is strengthened by a parallel passage in Han Feizi , where heng “the balance” is contrasted not with quan but with shi , a weight with a particular value. See Xianshen, Wang, Han Feizi jijie (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1998), 427 (“Ba shuo” ).

48. Sun Xidan, Li ji jijie, 475 (“Yue ling”). The compound quanheng occurs relatively frequently in the textual record. Especially interesting, given the certainty of a date before 168 b.c.e., is its occurrence in the Mawangdui Silk Manuscripts. Robin D.S. Yates translates the compound once as “steelyard,” another time as “the pivot and beam of the steelyard;” see Yates, Robin D.S., Five Lost Classics: Tao, Huang-Lao and Yin-yang in Han China (New York: Ballantine, 1997), 53, 77.

49. Sun Xidan, Li ji jijie, 427 (“Yue ling”). This is the passage where Zheng Xuan glosses quan as the counterpoise of the steelyard (chengchui ). The same passage forms part of an inscription on a weight from Wang Mang's reign; see Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, ed. Qiu Guangming, 159.

50. Shude, Cheng, Lun yu jishi (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1990), 2360 (“Yao yue” ).

51. Qian Baocong believes that the basic meaning of quan is “scale” (one with the fulcrum in the center of the beam), and views “to weigh,” and the nominal meaning of quan as “power” as derivative meanings. For the latter, he acknowledges both the metaphoric usage (as in the power of a ruler or of a state) and the technical usage (as in the above quoted passage from Mozi). Qian Baocong, “Mojing lixue jinshi,” 67–68.

52. The scale, together with the mirror, was sometimes taken as a symbol for objective, inactive rulership. For a discussion of this metaphor in the “Dao shu” chapter of Jia Yi's Xin shu , and the passages from Shen Buhai and Han Feizi upon which it draws, see Svarverud, Rune, Methods of the Way: Early Chinese Ethical Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 158–60, and Csikszentmihalyi, Mark, “Jia Yi's ‘Techniques of the Dao’ and the Han Confucian Appropriation of Technical Discourse,” Asia Major 10.1–2 (1997), 54. Chapter 9 “Zhu shu” of Huainanzi contains a similar passage: “It is because the beam when it comes to determining lightness or heaviness has no preference for either its left or its right side that it can be balanced” ; Wendian, Liu, Huainan honglie jijie (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1989), 276.

53. See for example Breughel's engraving “Justice,” 1559–1550, Lavalleye, Jacques, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Lucas van Leyden: The Complete Engravings, Etchings, and Woodcuts (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1967), plate 65.

54. Iliad, 8, 69–71 and 22, 209–10. Homer, , Iliad, Murray, A. T., trans. (Loeb Classical Library 170–171; 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 1.355; 2.467.

55. For instance, whereas in the Egyptian examples of psychostasis a person's soul is weighed against a standard, in many of the medieval examples weighing is comparative, as when a person's good deeds are weighed against her sins. On ancient Egypt, see Assman, Jan, Ma'at: Gerechtigkeit und Unsterblichkeit im Alten Ägypten (München: C.H. Beck, 1990), 122–59; psychostasis in the medieval period is treated in Baschet, Jérôme, “Jugement de l'âme, jugement dernier: contradiction, complémentarité, chevauchement?Revue Mabillon n.s., t. 6 (=t. 67) (1995), 159–203. The Greeks and the Romans are supposed to provide the links between ancient Egypt and medieval Europe. For a study of the symbolism of the scale in Greek and Roman antiquity, see Skutsch, Karl Ludwig, “Libramen Aequum. Eine Untersuchung über die Entwicklung des Wägungsgedankens von der Antike bis ins Christliche Mittelalter,Die Antike 12 (1936), 49–64; for a broader discussion of weighing in ancient Greece, see Grimaudo, Sabrina, Misurare e pesare nella Grecia antica: teorie, storia, ideologie (Palermo: l'Epos, 1998). Slechte, C.H., ‘”De valsche en de regte balans': Het gebruik van de weegschaal op allegorische afbeeldingen en spotprenten,De Boekenwereld 6:5 (1990), 171–82, offers an interesting discussion of the symbolism of the scale in Dutch satirical prints from the 16th through 20th centuries.

56. I am referring here to the terminology employed in the cognitivist theories of metaphor developed in or inspired by the work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. For an application of these theories to early Chinese thought, see Slingerland, Edward, Effortless Action: Wu-wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), esp. pp. 21–27.

57. The first such images appear in Dunhuang caves from the Northern Wei (386–534) and later. Often these illustrate the jakata of Sivi in which Sivi, seeing an eagle pursuing a dove, cuts his own flesh and weighs it against that of the dove, planning to present the flesh to the eagle in exchange for the dove's life. For an example, see Watson, William, Studies in Chinese Archaeology and Art, Vol. 2 (London: Pindar Press, 1998), plate 13.

58. Karl LudwigSkutsch, “Libramen Aequum,” 56. “Das zursymbolischen Vertiefung so sehr Verlockende am Instrument der Wage ist ja neben dem Hinauf und Hinab der Wagschalen, in denen Gut und Böse liegen, vor allem auch der Wagepunkt, der geheim- nisvolle Punkt des Gleichsgewichts; an dieser Stelle wird gerichtet, hier is aequitas das Wesen des Richtenden, der das libramen aequum vollzieht, von dem Prudentius im 4. Jahrhundert spricht.”

59. See Jan Assman, Ma'at: Gerechtigkeit und Unsterblichkeit im Alten Ägypten, 122–59, and Faulkner, Raymond O. and Andrews, Carol, The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, (London: British Museum Publications, 1985), 29–34.

60. Daniel 5, 27.

61. Skutsch does not elaborate on what this may mean, but one could think of evidence matching up to a standard of proof, of the nature and gravitas of a crime matching certain categories of punishment, or, the scenario most congruent with Skutsch's above-quoted statement, of an act being deemed good or bad, resulting in the perpetrator being found guilty or innocent.

62. On Roman imperial coins the scale is found as an attribute of the goddess Aequitas, not Iustitia. The goddess Aequitas carries a scale in her right hand, and most often a cornucopia in her left, whereas the goddess Iustitia carries in one hand a scepter, in the other a palm twig or an offering dish. Skutsch, “Libramen Aequum,” 55.

63. Skutsch, “Libramen Aequum,” 50–55.

64. Interestingly, the image was also often used to mock the absence of justice, by having the beam tilt to one side. According to C.H. Slechte, this tradition of satirical portrayals of justice originated in the 16th century. See Slechte, C.H., “‘De valsche en de regte balans’,De Boekenwereld 6.5 (1990), 171–82.

65. See C.H. Slechte, “‘De valsche en de regte balans’,” 174–76.

66. The use of the scale in medieval cases of psychostasis is found both in the literary and the pictorial tradition. See Jérôme Baschet, “Jugement de l'âme, jugement dernier: contradiction, complémentarité, chevauchement?,” 173–77. A superb example is Rogier van der Weyden's polyptich, now in Hôtel Dieu, Beaune (France). See <>, or Destrée, Jules, Roger de la Pasture Van der Weyden (Paris, Brussels: Éditions G. Van Oest, 1930), plates 92 and 95.

67. In the two examples from the Iliad it is the losing side that causes the scale to go downward, whereas in later European images the heavier side is the winner. This must be due to the Greeks’ identification of Hades as a netherworld. “But when for the fourth time they had come to the springs, then it was that the father lifted up his golden scales, and set in them two fates of grievous death, one for Achilles, and one for horse-taming Hector; then he grasped the balance by the middle and raised it; and down sank the day of doom of Hector, and went away to Hades.” Homer, Iliad, A. T. Murray, trans., 2.467–69.

68. As elsewhere in the world, establishing standards for weights was a matter of great concern to rulers in early China. Usually each regime chose to set its own standards, creating, certainly in the Warring States period, a bewildering array of weighing units and values. See Qiu Guangming, Zhongguo lidai duliangheng kao, 286–431, and Zhongguo gudai duliangheng (Beijing: Shangwu, 1996). See also Wilkinson, Endymion, Chinese History: A Manual (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2000), 234–40. As mentioned, many Qin weights were inscribed with an edict by the First or Second Thearch. From Han times we also have a number of weights bearing the inscription guan “official.” By mid-Han times, efforts were underway to ground the standards for weights in the cosmology of the time, thus universalizing them, by establishing a series of five units of weight and by linking them to the huang-zhong pitch-pipe; see Han shu 21A.969–72, and Hans Ulrich Vogel, “Weights and Measures in China,” 1010–11.

69. Mengzi zhengyi, 87 (“Liang Hui wang shang”); also quoted above.

70. Guanzi jiaoshi, 521 (“Mingfa jie”).

71. Xianshen, Wang, Han Feizi jijie (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1998), 18 (“Cun Han” ). See also Shi ji, 92.2618, where Lord Guangwu (i.e., Li Zuoju ) exclaims: “How would I be qualified to deliberate (quan) affairs of great importance” ?

72. Liqi, WangLüshi chunqiu zhushu (Chengdu: Bashu, 2002), 1896 (“Cha wei” ); translation adapted from Knoblock and Riegel, Annals ofLii Buwei, 196–97. Note that my punctuation differs from theirs.

73. Arriving at an accurate weight was not always a straightforward process, as scales could be ill-adjusted, either intentionally, or due to a technical failure. A passage that occurs in both Han Feizi and Guanzi states that people may refuse to use scales when they cannot manipulate them to their advantage. Guanzi jiaoshi, 52a (“Mingfa jie”); Han Feizi jijie, 427 (“Ba shuo”). Obviously, states had an important stake in ensuring the accuracy of scales, both to prevent fraud in commerce, and for levying taxes. Xunzi is the one text that exploits this possibility of ill-adjusted scales (heng bu zheng ) metaphorically. It remarks how just as ill-adjusted scales make heavy objects look light and vice versa, inaccurate assessments of the likely consequences of acting upon our desires and aversions can make misfortune seem like good fortune and vice versa. See Xunzi jijie, 430 (“Zheng ming” ).

74. Mozi jiangu, 243 (“Da qu”); translation adapted from A.C. Graham, Later Mohist Logic, EC 8, 252; also quoted above.

75. Shi ji, 1.30. The term quan occurs in the sentence just preceding Yao's reasoning, where it is stated that “Yao realized that his son Danzhu was incompetent and did not deserve being given All-under-Heaven. At that point he weighed (quan) giving it to Shun” .

76. Han Feizi jijie, 426–27 (“Ba shuo”).

77. The latter example is from a different passage, Han Feizi jijie, 417 (“Liu fan” ).

78. Xunzi jijie, 430 (“Zheng ming”).

79. Xunzi jijie, 51 (“Bu gou” ).

80. The term may refer to the recording of the results of the weighing, so that they could be publicly scrutinized, like the account books sent to the ruler at set times (I thank Robin D.S. Yates for this suggestion). Alternatively, it may be the same usage of ji as the one occurring in the Sunzi : its opening chapter “Ji pian” states how before battle the five factors that will determine the outcome have to be “compared by means of the counting rods” . See Sunzi (Bingshu sizhong zhuzi suoyin , Institute for Chinese Studies Concordance [Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1992]), A1/1/3–21, and Lewis, M.E., Writing and Authority in Early China (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), 282.

81. Lü shi chunqiu zhushu, 1650–75.

82. This anecdote is also described at length in Zuo zhuan and is dated there to the year 655 b.c.e. See Bojun, Yang, Chun qiu Zuo zhuan zhu (Beijing, Zhonghua, 1990), 307–10.

83. Homer, Iliad, ed. Walter Leaf (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, i960), 337, note to Iliad 8.69.

84. Mozi jiangu, 243 (“Da qu”); trans. A.C. Graham, Later Mohist Logic, EC 8, 252. This passage immediately follows the definition of quan quoted above. Sun Yirang comments that the first fei in fei fei wei fei ye should be read as yi , the translation would then be “Likewise, the wrong is what is wrong.”

85. In Yantie lun, the high ministers, while discussing the failures of the appeasement policy of the Han government versus the Xiongnu threat, claim that “intelligent men weigh their actions” zhishi quan xing . See Liqi, Wang, Yantie lun jiaozhu (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1992 [1996]), 479 (“Jie he” ). Li Ji lists four components necessary to fulfill the human way: benevolence (ren ), rightness (yi ), ritual (li ), and wisdom/intelligence (zhi ). Of these, benevolence is associated with generosity of feeling (en ), whereas wisdom/intelligence is associated with weighing (quan). Li ji jijie, 1470–72 (“Sangfu sizhi” ). The Huainanzi provides the example of a magistrate who, moved by compassion, would rather not punish a criminal (doing so would be zheng-action), but then, knowing that such action may bring the system of justice itself into danger, brings himself to administer the punishment after all (making it a quan-action), although he cannot help showing his discomfort. Huainan honglie jijie, 314 (“Zhu shu”).

86. Huainan honglie jijie, 314 (“Zhu shu”).

87. Bingshu sizhong zhuzi suoyin, “Sima Fa” (“Ren ben” ), D1/45/3–5. See also, A.C. Graham, Later Mohist Logic, 254. It is surprising, however, how little the verb quan is used in the military classics as a whole. Most occurrences of quan involve its nominal usage as “power.”

88. Mengzi zhengyi, 520–22 (“Li Lou shang” ).

89. Huainanzi honglie jijie, 442–43.

90. Zhai is supposedly the man's family name. The Gongyang states that the Chun qiu does not give his personal name (ming ) to show that the Chun qiu's compiler deemed him worthy (xian ). The name, therefore, means something like “a younger son of the Zhai family.” Gongyang zhuan (Gongyang zhuan zhuzi suoyin , Institute for Chinese Studies Concordance [Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1995]), “Duke Huan” , year 11, 2.11.3/14/22–29.

91. Even when one takes fan to mean “returning to” rather than “going against,” it implies undeniably that quan requires a moment of deviation from the rule. As I will explain below, some Han classicists wanted to subject these deviations to strict conditions, whereas others were more tolerant. Some Song exegetes fulminated against explaining quan as fan jing, maintaining that jing and quan perfectly coincided.

92. Even the Gongyang had to admit that Hu's reinstatement as ruler, four years after his departure, was only brief. Less than four months after being reinstated, Hu was again expelled by his brother Tu. Here the Gongyang puts the blame squarely on Hu's shoulders: he was a weak ruler, who, after the death of Zhaizhong, was not able to stand up for himself. See Gongyang zhuan zhuzi suoyin, “Duke Huan”, year 15,2.15.5 and 2.15.9. The chronology given in the Gongyang does not coincide with the one in Shi ji's “Hereditary House of Zheng” . There Hu dies before Zhaizhong, see Shi ji, 42.1761–64. The Guliang commentary claims that the Chun qiu loathed (wu ) Zhaizhong: after the death of the former Duke of Zheng (the father of Hu and Tu), power (quan) landed in Zhaizhong's hands; instead of dying for his ruler when he was a captive in Song, Zhaizhong expelled ruler Hu and set up his evil brother instead. See Combined Concordances to Ch'un-ch'iu, Kung-yang, Ku-liangand Tso-chuan (Harvard-Yenching Index 11; Taibei, 1966), “Duke Huan”, year 11, 37-38. The differences between the assessments of Zhaizhong in the Gongyang, Guliang and Zuo commentaries are laid out in Liu Cunren, “Shuo quan ji ru zhi xing quan yi,” i35rf.

93. Mark Csikszentmihalyi consistently translates quan as “moral balance” or “balancing,” a translation that coincides well with my quan C. Csikszentmihalyi does not acknowledge the possibility that quan may in some cases represent an altogether different metaphor and treats many of the examples that I have considered under quan A and B as subsets of “moral balance.” See Csikszentmihalyi, Mark, Material Virtue: Ethics and the Body in Early China (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 118–27.

94. Shang shu jishi, 259.

95. Several other texts explain what the “Lü xing” chapter may be referring to with its statement that “punishments and penalties are light in some periods, heavy in others.” The Zhou li , too, states that one should adjust one's codes of law according to circumstances: light in a newly conquered state, medium for a state in peace, and heavy for a state in disorder. See Zhou li, “Qiu guan sikou” (Zhou li zhuzi suoyin , Institute for Chinese Studies Concordance [Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1993]), 5.1/67/1–2. In an explicit gloss to the “Lü xing” passage, the Xunzi (Chap. 18 “Zheng lun” ) explains that in times of disorder the code of laws should be relatively light, whereas in times of order the opposite should hold. The commentary explains this by stating that in times of order everyone is well provided for, making crimes less excusable. See Xunzi jijie, 328.

96. I am not the first to offer this hypothesis. The Yuan scholar Chen Tianxiang likened the weighing of the sage to the back and forth movements of the steelyard's counterpoise (chengchui zhi xingyun wanglai ); the Qing scholar Jiao Xun (1763–1820), arguing for the need of constantly adapting the norms, remarked how without moving the counterpoise in accordance with the weight of the object to be weighed, no balance can be achieved. See Shude, Cheng, Lun yu jishi (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1990), 628 and 629 (“Zihan xia” ).

97. Mengzi zhengyi, 915–20 (“Jin xin shang” ).

98. Gongyang zhuan zhuzi suoyin, “Duke Huan,” year 11, 2.11.3/14/28–29.

99. “Only the sage knows how to weigh when he acts” ; “Weighing is something the sage alone can see” . Huainan honglie jijie, 442, 444.

100. Huainan honglie jijie, 443–44.

101. This is well brought out in an anecdote that occurs both in the Han Feizi and in the Huainanzi. The Duke of Jin, before the famous battle of Chengpu against the state of Chu (632 b.c.e.), receives contradictory advice from two of his aides: one high-minded adviser, counsels the Duke never to abandon his moral standards (renyi ), whereas another adviser tells him that now is the time to resort to “ruse and deceit” (zhawei ). The duke follows the advice of the latter, and consequently wins the war. However, when it comes to giving out rewards, the duke gives nothing to the adviser who had counseled him to use “ruse and deceit,” but instead rewards the one who advised him to stick with morally principled behavior. The duke explains his apparent duplicity as a classic case of quan C: his deviation from morality was nothing but a “once-only adjustment” (yi shi zhi quan) to which he was forced by pressing circumstances; his rewarding the virtuous adviser only shows how, even as he was deviating from it, morality was always on his mind. See Han Feizi jijie, 347–48 (“Nan yi” —); Huainan honglie jijie, 602–3 (“Ren jian” ). The phrase yi shi zhi quan became somewhat of a stock phrase.

102. This I take to be the purport of the opening of the passage in which the Zhou shu is quoted as saying: “Superior words are inferior when applied; inferior words are superior when applied; inferior words are superior when applied. Superior words represent constant norms, inferior words represent weighing” .

103. Shi ji, 69.2277, 70.2304, 93.2642, 94.2649, 129.3258. The first four occurrences are all in appraisals appended to the end of a biography, raising the possibility that it was a neologism.

104. Hanshi waizhuan (Hanshi waizhuan zhuzi suoyin , Institute for Chinese Studies Concordance [Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1992), 2.3/7/24; Hightower, J. R., trans. Han Shih Wai Chuan: Han Ying's Illustrations of the Didactic Application of the Classic of Songs (Harvard: Harvard University Press: 1952), 40–41.

105. Lun yu jishi, 626–29 (“Zihan xia”). Dai Zhen (1724–1777) clarifies why quan is praised more than the other activities as follows: 1. People may study for the wrong reasons (i.e., to receive emoluments and fame); 2. People, however well-intentioned, may not be able to avoid being led astray while pursuing the Way; 3. People may know only about the constant, and not about changes. See Zhen, Dai, Dai Zhen quanji (Beijing: Qinghua, 1991), 203(“Mengzi ziyi shuzheng); Chin, Ann-ping and Freeman, Mansfield (trans.), Tai Chen on Mencius: Explorations in Word and Meaning: A Translation of the Meng Tzu tzu-i shu-cheng with a Critical Introduction (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 163–64.

106. I am not assuming that these words can be attributed to the historical Confucius (551–479 b.c.e.), only that they were authoritative since they were ascribed to him.

107. I regard the Gongyang commentary here as a Warring States text, although it may not have been stabilized in its current form until the Western Han. For an excellent discussion of the Gongyang's textual history, see Gentz, Joachim, Das Gongyang zhuan: Auslegung und Kanonisierung der Friihlings-und Herbstannalen (Chunqiu) (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 2001), 345–403. The Chunqiu fanlu again takes up Zhaizhong's story where it asks for the reasons why Zhaizhong met with the Gongyang's approval, whereas another man who had engaged in a comparable act did not. Yu, Su, Chunqiu fanlu yizheng (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1992), 59–63 (“Zhu lin”).

108. Han Feizi jijie, 416 (“Liu fan”).

109. Huainanzi honglie jijie, 444 (“Fan lun”). There is only slight grammatical varia- tion with the received text of the Lun yu. The Huainanzi, unlike the Chunqiu fanlu or the Zhong lun quotes the passage in full. Zhong lun , “Zhi xing” (Zhong lun zhuzi suoyin , Institute for Chinese Studies Concordance [Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1995]), 9/13/14–15. The possibility exists that the quote found its way into the Lun yu by way of the Huainanzi. On the compilation of the Lun yu, see Csikszentmihalyi, Mark, “Confucius and the Analects in the Han,” in Confucius and the Analects: New Essays, ed. Norden, Bryan Van (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 134–62, and Makeham, John, ”The Formation of Lunyu as a Book,Monumento Serica 44 (1996), 1–24

110. Chunqiu fanlu yizheng, 74–76 (“Yu ying”). Interestingly, the quote conflates two of the abilities praised by Confucius, ”approach the Way” (shi dao ) and quan. That the passage also refers to quan A as it occurs in Mencius lA 7 is something that I will return to later. Chunqiu fanlu, unlike the Huainanzi and the Zhong lun does not attribute the quote.

111. Han shu, 78.3277.

112. Zhong lun, “Zhi xing” (Zhong lun zhuzi suoyin, 9/13/14–19. The other quote Xu Gan offers in this passage derives from Mencius 7A 26.

113. Shuo yuan , “Quanmou” (Shuo yuan zhuzi suoyin , Institute for Chinese Studies Concordance [Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1992]), 13.1/101/3–13.

114. While discussing several men who have made a name for themselves by retiring from politics, Confucius describes two brothers who went to live among the barbarians so that their father could appoint their younger brother as successor as follows: “They lived in concealment and spoke whatever was on their minds, but in their persons they managed to remain pure, and in their self-denial they managed to weigh” ” (Lun yu jishi, 1284–85 [“Weizi xia” ]). This passage is quoted in the “Zhu lin” chapter of the Chunqiu fanlu (Chunqiufanlu yizheng, 60 and 62) and in ch. 13 “Fan lun” of the Huainanzi (Huainanzi honglie jijie, 427).

115. Chunqiu fanlu yizheng, 75 (“Yu ying”).

116. Quoted together with Lun yu 9:30 in Zhong lun. See Zhong lun, “Zhi xing” (Zhong lun zhuzi suoyin,, 9/13/15.I have found no direct quotations of Mencius 4A 17.

117. Chunqiu fanlu yizheng, 75 (“Yu ying”); Yantie lun jiaozhu, 150 (“Lun ru” ).

118. Thus, as in the passage quoted above, the “Yu ying” chapter of Chunqiu fanlu juxtaposes Mencius lA 7 and Lun yu 9: 30; further on in the chapter the Gongyang is quoted; its “Zhu lin” chapter elaborates on the Gongyang's praise of Zhaizhong as a man who “knows how to weigh” by repeatedly quoting Lun yu 18:8's expression zhong quan; Chunqiu fanlu yizheng, 60, 62, 75, 79. The Zhong lun, besides quoting Lun yu 9:30, also quotes Mencius 7 A 26. In Dai Zhen's discourse on quan, we find a true medley of quotes, opening with Mencius lA 7, and continuing with Lun yu 9: 30 and Mencius 7 A 26. Whereas in sources of the Han dynasty and later, quotations frequently mix instances of quan A and C, in the secondary literature, quan B and C are conflated, as for example where M. E. Lewis translates the quan in the Gongyang passage on Zhaizhong as “expedient assessment,” but then explains it as a recourse to “utilitarian calculation” (Lewis, Writing and Authority in Early China, 143). In a stimulating discussion of quan, Sarah Queen loosely describes it as follows “Expediency (ch'üan) encompassed the idea of properly weighing and adjusting oneself to changing circumstances” (Queen, Sarah, From Chronicle to Canon: The Hermeneutics of the Spring and Autumn, according to Tung Chung-shu [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], 152).

119. See Nate, Richard, “Metaphor,” in Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, ed. Sloane, T.O. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 494.

120. Perhaps indicative of this trend is how examples of quan B become interpreted as examples of quan C.Sima Zhen] 's (early eighth century) Suoyin -commentary refers to the Shi ji passage in which Yao is deciding whether to give the empire to Shun or to his son (Shi ji 1.30; in my view, an instance of quan B), and unequivocally interprets it as a case of quan C: “That father and son succeed one another is the constant way. To search for a competent candidate and abdicate the throne to him, is the discretionary way. Using one's discretion, while in opposition to the constant, is in agreement with the Way” .

121. The first one to formulate this seems to have been one of the Cheng brothers, Cheng Hao (1032–85) or Cheng Yi (1033–1107), referred to in the commentary as Master Cheng . He argued for the equation of quan and jing, and speculated that Han classicists may have been misled in explaining quan as fan jing by the occurrence, further on, in Lun yu 9:30 of the term fan to describe the waving about of the flowers of the cherry tree. This statement implies that Master Cheng assumed that the Gongyang passage elaborated on Lun yu 9:30. See Lun yu jishi, 627–28.

122. The Yuan dynasty scholar Chen Tianxiang, the Qing scholar Jiao Xun and Cheng Shude himself all took issue with Master Cheng's position. See Lun yu jishi, 628–29.

123. Dai Zhen quanji, 203–5.

124. So far I have seen only one exception, a Dutch satirical print of 1937, depicted in Slechte, 173. There are, as far as I know, no examples of symbolic depictions of scales in murals from the Han or before; the earliest such examples are on Buddhist murals in what is now China's North-West. See Zhongguo kexue jishu shi: duliangheng, ed. Qiu Guangming, 258–59.

*An earlier version of this paper was presented in the panel “Conceptual Metaphor and the Study of Religion” at the 2002 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Toronto. The current text revises and expands a section in my The Huainanzi and Liu Art's Claim to Moral Authority (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001). I would like to thank W.J. Peterson, my dissertation adviser and the first person with whom I discussed the ideas for this piece, E. Slingerland for the invitation to the AAR panel, and the anonymous readers and the editor of Early China for their persistent efforts in improving the text I originally submitted.

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