A God's Own Tale

The Book of Transformations of Wenchang, the Divine Lord of Zitong

By Terry F. Kleeman

Subjects: Chinese Religion And Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791420027, 335 pages, August 1994
Hardcover : 9780791420010, 335 pages, August 1994

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents





Early History of the Cult

The Book of Transformations

The Cult in Late Imperial China


Traces of the Transformation

1. Primordial Mandate

2. Flowing Form

3. Born as a Commoner

4. Changing Customs

5. Investigating Antiquity

6. Worshiping the Perfected

7. Giving Repose to My Parents

8. Spirit Marriage

9. Yuanshi

10. The Tame Pheasants

11. Diverting the Stream

12. Subduing the Epidemic

13. Loving the Living

14. The Celestial Office

15. Recommending the Worthy

16. Correcting Errors

17. Returning Home in Glory

18. Consideration for the Clan

19. Returning to Nirvana

20. Mount Monarch

21. Moved to be Born

22. Serving Forebears

23. The Filial Friend

24. The Mian River

25. The White Colt

26. Recommending an Enemy for Promotion

27. Taking Pity on Orphans

28. Compassionate Instructions

29. Exhausting Loyalty>

30. A Perch in Perfection

31. The Mountain King

32. Punishments and Rewards

33. Preserving Bao

34. The Whirlwind

35. Clarifying Injustice

36. The Town of Ju

37. Saving the Drowning

38. Raining Grain

39. Diverting the Rain

40. Slaying the Bandit

41. The Northern Suburb

42. Turning Back the Fire

43. Pacifying Ju

44. The Fei Stalwarts

45. The Stone Oxen

46. The Five Wives

47. Manifesting My Numinous Power

48. The Grand Elixir

49. Badu

50. Posuo

51. Warning the Dragons

52. Mount Pheonix

53. Yufu

54. Verbal Karma

55. The Eastern Rampart

56. Ox Mountain

57. The Daunting Power of Heaven

58. Esteeming Righteousness 

59. Recognizing a Recluse

60. Aiding the Upright

61. Killing Living Creatures

62. Cruel Mistreatment

63. Commiserating with the World

64. Xianyang

65. Qiong Pool

66. Liberation

67. Benevolent Administration

68. The Quick and the Dead

69. Planning

70. The Ruyi Scepter

71. Dingwei

72. The Water Bureau

73. The Cinnamon Record

Appendix: Extant Editions of the Book Of Transformations




This scripture was revealed through spirit writing in 1181. It traces Wenchang's development through his many transformations culminating in his apotheosis as director of the Wenchang Palace and custodian of the Cinnamon Record that determines men's and women's fates. The god has since assumed a high position in the Taoist pantheon, has been introduced into the school system and Confucian temples, and now controls the all-important civil service examinations in China.

The text translated here provides a unique window into the religious world of Traditional China. Numerous anecdotes of good- and evil-doers reveal the ethical dilemmas facing men and women of the time, from social questions like infanticide and discrimination against women to more purely religious issues such as how evil gods are punished and how China's divergent religious traditions can be reconciled.

Terry F. Kleeman is Assistant Professor of Chinese Language and Culture in the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Department at the University of Pennsylvania.


"It provides a thorough history of the cult of Wenchang, the patron saint of scholars, one of the deities still worshipped by the Chinese in their temples today. The Book of Transformations is a delightful and unique autobiography of the god in which he traces his various lives in the world and his various divine appointments. Kleeman's chapter by chapter commentary to the translation is jam-packed with information on customs and traditions in traditional China, those of the aristocracy and those of common folk. It is also loaded with information on the workings of Chinese folk religion and Buddhism and Taoism, and in following the incarnations of Wenchang, the reader learns a good deal along the way about the history of China from early Chou times into the fourth century of the Common Era. " — Robert G. Henricks, Dartmouth College