The Canon of Supreme Mystery by Yang Hsiung

A Translation with Commentary of the T'ai hsüan ching by Michael Nylan

By Michael Nylan

Subjects: Asian Religion And Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791413968, 680 pages, February 2014
Hardcover : 9780791413951, 680 pages, June 1993

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Table of contents



General Introduction to the Mystery Text

On the Term "Mystery"
A Capsule Biography of Yang Hsiung
The Mystery in the Tradition of the Changes
The Arrangement of the Mystery
Significant Structure in the Mystery

The First Seven Heads
No. 1. Center - 18, No. 2. Full Circle - 19, No. 3. Mired - 19, No. 4. Barrier - 19, No. 5. Small - 20, No. 6. Contrariety - 20, No. 7. Ascent - 21
Every Tenth Head
No. 1. Center - 22, No. 11. Divergence - 22, No. 21. Release - 22, No. 31. Packing - 23, No. 41. Response - 23, No. 51. Constancy - 24, No. 61. Embellishment - 24, No. 71. Stoppage - 25, No. 81. Nurturing - 25, General Commentary - 26

Method of Divination of the Mystery
Interpretation Following Divination

On Luck and Divination in the Mystery

The Mystery as Divination Classic
Early Notions of Ming: The Historical Background to the Problem of Fate
Yang Hsiung's Solution to the Problem of Ming
Propositions About Time, Luck, and Virtue
The Intellectual Debts of Yang's New Classic
Yang's Mystery as a Chinese Summa

Contra the Relativists
Contra the Immortality Seekers
Contra the Proponents of "Change as the Only Constant"
Contra Predestination
Contra the Mantic Specialists


Key Terms

The Five Classics of Confucianism
On Ch'i
Yin/yang Five Phases Theory: Correlative Thought
"Center Heart"
The Meaning of Chen

On the Style of the Book

Glossary for the Introductory Sections

Names of People
Concepts and Terms

Translation of the T'AI HSÜAN CHING

List of Tetragrams
No. 1. Center
No. 2. Full Circle
No. 3. Mired
No. 4. Barrier
No. 5. Keeping Small
No. 6. Contrariety
No. 7. Ascent
No. 8. Opposition
No. 9. Branching Out
No. 10. Defectiveness/Distortion
No. 11. Divergence
No. 12. Youthfulness
No. 13. Increase
No. 14. Penetration
No. 15. Reach
No. 16. Contact
No. 17. Holding Back
No. 18. Waiting
No. 19. Following
No. 20. Advance
No. 21. Release
No. 22. Resistance
No. 23. Ease
No. 24. Joy
No. 25. Contention
No. 26. Endeavor
No. 27. Duties
No. 28. Change
No. 29. Decisiveness
No. 30. Bold Resolution
No. 31. Packing
No. 32. Legion
No. 33. Closeness
No. 34. Kinship
No.35. Gathering
No.36. Strength
No.37. Purity
No.38. Fullness
No.39. Residence
No.40. Law/Model
No.41. Response
No.42. Going To Meet
No.43. Encounters
No.44. Stove
No.45. Greatness
No.46. Enlargement
No.47. Pattern
No.48. Ritual
No.49. Flight
No.50. Vastness/Wasting
No.51. Constancy
No.52. Measure
No.53. Eternity
No.54. Unity
o.55. Diminishment
No.56. Closed Mouth
No.57. Guardedness
No.58. Closing In
No.59. Massing
No.60. Accumulation
No.61. Embellishment
No.62. Doubt
No.63. Watch
No.64. Sinking
No.65. Inner
No.66. Departure
No.67. Darkening
No.68. Dimming
No.69. Exhaustion
No.70. Severance
No.71. Stoppage
No.72. Hardness
No.73. Completion
No.74. Closure
No.75. Failure
No.76. Aggravation
No. 77. Compliance
No. 78. On the Verge
No. 79. Difficulties
No. 80. Laboring
No. 81. Fostering
Leap Year Differentials


Polar Oppositions of the Mystery: Hsüan ch'ung
Interplay of Opposites in the Mystery: Hsüan ts'o
Evolution of the Mystery: Hsüan li
Illumination of the Mystery: Hsüan ying
Numbers of the Mystery: Hsüan shu
Elaboration of the Mystery: Hsüan wen
Representations of the Mystery: Hsüan yi
Diagram of the Mystery: Hsüan t'u
Revelation of the Mystery: Hsüan kao



Partial Index of Common Images


Translation of the first grand synthesis of classic Chinese thought.


This is a translation, with a commentary and a long contextualizing introduction, of the only major work of Han (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.) philosophy that is still available in complete form. It is the first translation of the work into a European language and provides unique access to this formative period in Chinese history. Because Yang Hsiung's interpretations drew upon a variety of pre-Han sources and then dominated Confucian learning until the twelfth century, this text is also a valuable resource on early Chinese history, philosophy, and culture beyond the Han period.

The T'ai hsüan is also one of the world's great philosophic poems comparable in scale and grandeur to Lucretius' De rerum naturum. Nathan Sivin has written that this is one of the titles on the short list of Chinese books every cultivated person should read.

Han thinkers saw in this text a compelling restatement of Confucian doctrine that addressed the major objections posed by rival schools including Mohism, Taoism, Legalism and Yin-Yang Five Phase Theory. Since this Han amalgam formed the basis for the state ideology of China from 134 B.C. to 1911, an ideology that in turn provided the intellectual foundations for the Japanese and Korean states, the importance of this book can hardly be overestimated.

Michael Nylan is Professor of Modern and Ancient Chinese Studies at Bryn Mawr College.