Lunheng 论衡 “Discussive Weighing”


The Lunheng 论衡 “Discussive Weighing” is a philosophical treatise written by the Later Han period 后汉 (25-220) scholar Wang Chong 王充. It took himself thirty years to complete his book. Of the originally 85 chapters one is lost (Zhaozhi 招致). Wang Chong screened a vast amount of ancient literature to obtain a fundus of statements of the supernatural, which he wanted to engage in a scientific dispute. Wang Chong is highly esteemed both in China and in the West as one of the first philosophers who critically analysed histories and stories to eliminate superstitious elements. Especially two beliefs were attacked by Wang Chong, firstly the belief that human deeds were somehow redeemed by Heaven as a moral instance (ganying 感应), and secondly, the belief in magic and omina.

There was a very popular tradition of explaining the Confucian classics in terms of apocryphal omina sent down by Heaven, as expressed in the vast treasury of apocryphal (chenwei 谶纬) literature. Wang Chong did not believe in a thorough and mutual connectivity of all objects existing in the universe which would make the existance of all objects, physical qualities and human emotions dependant on a set of other conditions in the universe, and which would postulate that—like in a biblic sense—the universe was complete in its actual state. Wang, quite contrary, believed that, for instance, the existance of certain plants was not the result of Heaven’s will to nourish humans, or that thunder, inundations, the appearance of phoenixes or strange sprites, were caused by good or bad behaviour of a ruler. The existance of all objects and their qualities is accidental (ziran 自然), as Wang Chong believed, and not the result of a higher metaphysical plan. Heaven is also not the force enthroning a ruler by assigning to him the Heavenly mandate, but a ruler is made by himself, by man and the historical circumstances. Ghosts could simply not be, because there is no spirit (jing 精) without body (ti 体), like there is no fire without fuel. There is also, he said, no innate knowledge, as everybody has to undergo experience before knowing.

Previous articleLüshi chunqiu 吕氏春秋 “Spring and Autumn of Master Lü”
Next articleMojing 墨经 “The Book of Inkstones”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here