The Rong Cheng Shi Version of the "Nine Provinces"

Vera Dorofeeva-Lichtmann, CNRS, Paris)
WSWG 17, Leiden University, 18 September 2003


Descriptions of the "Nine Provinces" (Jiu zhou) giving the names of each "province" occur in a series of texts that have reached us in books dating from the Warring States and the Former Han periods. These include the Yu gong chapter of the Shang shu/Shu jing; the You shi lan chapter of the Lüshi chunqiu; the Shi di chapter of the Er ya; the Zhi fang shi chapter of the Zhou li; the Di xing xun chapter of the Huai nan zi.

From the point of view of the names of the "provinces," and also the way their locations are given, these descriptions constitute two clearly demarcated groups:

I. The Yu gong, the You shi lan, the Shi di, and the Zhi fang shi share the same nucleus of names (the entire sets differ from each other in one or two positions); locations are given with respect to landmarks (rivers, sea and mountains) in the Yu gong, and in a mixed way in the other texts of the group, such as with respect to rivers, according to cardinal directions, and using rivers as objects of cardinal orientation.

II. The names given in the Di xing xun have little in common with those of the 1st group; locations are given exclusively with respect to the eight cardinal directions and the center.

Gu Jiegang tried to find a compromise between the Di xing xun and the Yu gong traditions of the "Nine Provinces." John Major (1984), in contrast, focused on their differences. Both of these traditions differ from the version of the "Nine Provinces" in the recently discovered manuscript, the Rong cheng shi (slips 24-7), especially in the names of "provinces" and in the way their locations are given. For the passage and its examination, see an on-line discussion (I am grateful to Yuri Pines for this reference).

I shall first analyse the newly discovered version of the "Nine Provinces" with respect to the other extant descriptions, and then shall try to reveal parallels and similarities between the Rong Cheng Shi passage and other ancient Chinese texts.

For instance, according to the manuscript version, the system of "Nine Provinces" is directly deduced from the draining floodwaters by Yu. The provinces are represented as places that emerged as habitable sites as a result of these actions. Yu's feats of drainage are formulated in the Gao Yao mo: "I (= Yu) opened nine river flows and led [them] into the four seas, deepened channels and canals and led [them] into rivers." This passage follows a phrase also found at the beginning of the Yu gong: ([Yu] "paved paths through mountains, cut down trees"), but the "provinces" are not mentioned in the Gao Yao mo.

The beginning of the Yu gong ("Yu laid out the lands, paved paths through mountains, established high mountains and big rivers") is very similar to that of the Bin (Sui?) gong xu inscription: "Heaven ordered Yu to lay out the lands, pave paths through mountains, deepen rivers..." At the same time, the two last characters are reminiscent of the passage in the Gao Yao mo just mentioned.

Hints of draining can be found in the Yu gong, but this subject is not the focus of this text. The idea of "provinces" as pieces of land emerging from floodwaters is expressed in the Shuo wen definition of zhou, later developed by Yan Shigu in his commentary on the Di li zhi chapter of the Han shu

I suggest that the Rong Cheng Shi manuscript provides an interpretation of the "Nine Provinces" focused on the draining aspect that for some reason was not retained in the mainstream of Chinese textual tradition, but whose traces are still found in some ancient Chinese texts.

[This paper has now been published as Mapping a ‘Spiritual’ Landscape: Representing Terrestrial Space in the Shan hai jing,” in Nicola di Cosmo and Don Wyatt (ed): Political Frontiers, Ethnic Boundaries, and Human Geographies in Chinese History (Curzon ­ Routledge, 2003) 35-79]


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