As a youth he probably was a student of Zhuang Zun, a reclusive marketplace fortune teller who refused to take office, opting instead to use divination and fortune-telling as a means to encourage virtue among the common people. Yang Xiong’s reputation as a poet eventually reached the capital of Chang’an, and around 20 B. Yang Xiong’s life and writings were overshadowed by the rise and fall of the notorious Wang Mang (45 B. In 9 CE, through a combination of court intrigue, political machinations, manipulation of popular superstitions, and opportunity, he seized the throne from the founding House of Liu and declared himself the rightful possessor of the Mandate of Heaven. E.) and the Later or Eastern Han (25-220 CE) and, due to widespread rebellion and a series of natural catastrophes, is widely considered one of the most calamitous periods in Chinese history. The focus of Yang Xiong’s writings during the middle years of his life is commonly seen as reflecting the Han trend toward syncretism and correlative cosmology.Before coming to the capital he gained renown for his poetic writings, in particular for his , a poetic genre associated with an earlier native of Shu, Sima Xiangru (179-117 B. His short-lived Xin dynasty marks the dividing line between the Former or Western Han (202 B. While little is known of Yang Xiong’s activities during his final years, his biography notes that, shortly after Wang Mang’s usurpation Yang Xiong attempted suicide when he was named in a scandal involving one of his former students. When Wang Mang heard of it, he ordered all charges against Yang Xiong dropped, proclaiming that the poet had never been involved in any political affairs at court. While the disunity of the Warring States period (475-221 B. E.) provided fertile soil for the flourishing of the “One Hundred Schools of Thought” (), the unification brought about by the Qin (221-206 B. E.) and the Former Han dynasties provided the impetus for their coalescence.
These tables often use a Five Phase cosmological framework in which things are organized analogically on the basis of their relevant associations, rather than on the basis of some discrete essence. Legend has it that these latter texts survived the book burnings of the Qin dynasty by lying concealed in the walls of the home of Confucius.
As can be seen in Yang Xiong’s , the correlations which form the basis of these classification systems can be bewildering - especially to anyone unfamiliar with the sorts of complex associations found in early Chinese culture. Generally speaking, the Old Text School was associated with the simpler, more pragmatic philosophy of Confucius’s native state of Lu, while the New Text school was associated with the often fantastic writings of Zou Yan (305-240 B. E.), a native of Qi and founder of the theories promoted by New Text adherents.
Also, the often obscure correlative-poetic organization of the images and their associated line appraisals can be seen in the .
For example, “Numbers of the Mystery” correlates the number five with the earth, the color yellow, fear, wind omens, tumuli, the naked animal (humankind), fur, bottles, weaving, sleeping mats, complying, verticality, glue, sacks, hubs, calves, coffins, bows and arrows, stupidity, and the center courtyard rain well.
Many historians of Chinese philosophy have identified Yang Xiong’s final and best-known work, the ) and characters of the Zhou dynasty (c. During this period, New Text scholars increasingly became interested in esoteric readings of the classics, cosmological speculation, and calamity and portent interpretation.
The chief representatives of this period were classical scholars who commonly employed correlations, numerical calculations, and various techniques of divination to fathom the harmony and continuity of humanity, nature, and the ancestral spirits - and to forecast disruptions.
Finally, there are sayings and dialogues which address the concerns of scholar officials living not only in the troubled late Former Han, but throughout much of China’s long history - the practicality and viability of the Confucian way of life, the vanity of the desires for wealth, office and renown, and the challenges of surviving and maintaining one’s integrity in a time of disorder.
Throughout the , Yang Xiong sets the tone for subsequent representatives of the Old Text School by repeatedly poking fun at questions on magic, immortals, spirits, omens and portents, and esoteric interpretations of the classics.
The latter takes a similar approach to understanding natural phenomena but includes the idea that “Five Phases” (each associated with metal, wood, water, fire, and earth, respectively) succeed one another in a never-ending cyclical process.
The amalgamation of Confucianism, ) were also common during this period and can be seen as part of the larger trend toward syncretization.
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