An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Xiangmajing 相馬經

Oct 6, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

There is a large group of writings with the title Xiangmajing 相馬經 "Divination by horses" or "Inspection of horses", or Majing 馬經 "Classic of horses". While older texts were specialized on the prognostication of the future by inspecting horses, later texts are of a medical nature and can be called the oldest Chinese texts on veterinary medicine.

The book Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋 shortly describes how the diviner Han Feng 寒風 used to inspect the teeth of the beasts, Ma Chao 麻朝 the cheeks, Zinü Li 子女厲 the eyes, Wei Ji 衛忌 the moustache, Xu Bin 許鄙 the buttocks, Tou Fahe 投伐褐 the breast and flanks, Guan Qing 管青 the parts of the animal used for broth, Chen Bei 陳悲 the limbs and feet, Qin Ya 秦牙 the front, and Zan Jun 贊君 the back of horses. The book Huainanzi 淮南子 also says that the diviners Bo Le 伯樂, Han Feng 韓風, Qin Ya 秦牙 and Guan Qing 管青 each used different methods to tell the future. In the collective biography of the "Soothsayers" (Rizhe liezhuan 日者列傳) in the universal history Shiji 史記 it is told that the horse diviner Huang Zhi 黃直 was a man, and Chen Junfu 陳君夫 a (his?) wife.

A commentary on the biography of Xiahou Xuan 夏侯玄 (208-254) in the history book Sanguozhi 三國志 says that there was a text called Majing 馬經 during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). A book with the title Xiangmajing is quoted in the commentary on Zhang Jingyang's 張景陽 text Qiming 七命 in the anthology Wenxuan 文選.

The agricultural treatise Qimin yaoshu 齊民要術 includes a relatively long chapter about horse divination, which might be quoted from a book entitled Xiangmajing.

The oldest bibliographical mentioning of a book on animal divination is the text Xiangliuchu 相六畜 "Divination by the six domestic animals", with a length of 36 juan, mentioned in the imperial bibliography Yiwen zhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書, but it is not to be found any more in later bibliographies. The imperial bibliography Jingji zhi 經籍志 in the history Suishu 隋書 lists a book called Bo Le Xiangmajing 伯樂相馬經, with a length of 2 juan, but it can not be known if this book was identical with the transmitted text of the ancient Xiangmajing quoted in the Qimin yaoshu. In the bibliography of the history Jiutangshu 舊唐書 the author is called Bo Luan 伯鑾, and in the Xintangshu 新唐志 the size is given as 3 juan, which might be an error that is repeated in the bibliography of the Songshi 宋史. The text is also mentioned in the Song-period 宋 (960-1279) bibliography Chongwen zongmu 崇文總目.

A 60-juan-long Xiangmajing written by Zhuge Ying 諸葛潁 (539-615) is included in the bibliography of the history Jiutangshu among the agricultural treatises (nongjia 農家), and not, as the older books, among the treatises on the Five Agents (wuxing lei 五行類).

In the bibliographies of the Jiutangshu and Xintangshu, a further Xiangmajing is listed, whose author is called Xu Cheng 徐成. According to the Song-period encyclopaedia Taiping yulan 太平御覽, which quotes from the Bo Le Xiangmajing, it can be known that Xu Cheng, courtesy name Zichang 子長, who was "overseer of the fords of the Rivers Huai and Jiang" (Jiang Huai jin du 江淮津督), and his brother were retainers of a fu jun 府君 "lord of the prefecture" (?), to whom they served as horse diviners, probably during the Tang period.

The series Shuofu 說郛 quotes the text of a book Xiangmajing, written by Xu Xian 徐咸, who might be identical with Xu Cheng. The text includes ten short chapters, partially with illustrations of the hair and feet of the inspected beasts, and other parts used for divination, and partially consisting of poems, songs that serve as an aide-mémoire for divination methods. The last three of these chapters are lost. In how fare these transmitted passages correspond to older texts, is a question not solved yet. Part of these fragments is also quoted in book on equine medicine. An extension of the Shuofu called Guang shuofu 廣說郛 is described in the early Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) bibliography Qianqingtang shumu 千頃堂書目 and included a book called Xiangmajing written by a certain Chen Yuanjing 陳元靚 from the Song period. This book is not mentioned in any other bibliography.

The imperial bibliography in the Songshi lists a book Majing, length 3 juan, written by Chang Zhifei 常知非, probably an early Song-period master. His book has not survived in China, but a reprint of a book called Majing in the series Guyi congshu 古逸叢書 is based on a Japanese edition of a horse divination book, compiled by a certain Zhifei 知非, which probably is exactly this text. Another text listed in the Songshi has the lengthy title Guan Lu Li Chunfeng fa Xiao Yi Xiangmajing 管輅李淳風法蕭繹相馬經. Xiao Yi 蕭繹 (Emperor Yuan of the Liang 梁元帝, 508-555) must have been the compiler of the book that described the divination methods of Guan Lu 管輅 (209-256) and Li Chunfeng 李淳風 (602-670). Li Chunfeng is better known as a commentator to early mathematical treatises.

The bibliography Junzhai dushu zhi 郡齋讀書志 lists an anonymous Xiangmajing, with a length of 2 juan, of which it is said that it includes paragraphs on divining as well as such on medicine. The book was owned by the collector Li Shu 李淑 (Li Xianchen 李獻臣). The bibliographical chapter in the encyclopaedia Wenxian tongkao 文獻通考 quotes from the Junzhai dushu zhi, listing a book with the title Ji maxiang shu 集馬相書, with the length of 1 juan, compiled by Sun Gui 孫珪, a Song-period person. Yet the Junzhai dushu zhi does not list such a book, but it is found in the bibliography Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書錄解題. From the name, the Ji maxiang shu seemed to be a kind of overview of all books on horse divination. It is again listed in Chen Di's 陳第 (1541-1617) catalogue Shishantang cangshu mulu 世善堂藏書目錄 from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644), but disappeared thereafter.

The bibliography Chongwen zongmu 崇文總目 lists a 3-juan-long book called Zhou Muwang Xiangmajing 周穆王相馬經, which corresponds in length to the Xiangmajing in the imperial bibliography in the Songshi. According to the title, the age of the book was projected back to the Western Zhou period 西周 (11th cent.-770 BCE), and authorship to King Mu of Zhou 周穆王 (10th cent. BCE), which is quite improbable.

A Majing with a length of 3 fascicles, compiled by the Song-period master Li Mingzhong 李明仲 (d. 1110), is mentioned in Lu Youren's 陸友仁 book Yanbei zazhi 研北雜志 from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368), but not in any Song or Yuan bibliographies (including that in the Songshi). Li Mingzhong, actual name Li Jie 李誡 (Mingzhong is his courtesy name), is known as the compiler of the architectural handbook Yingzao fashi 營造法式.

Gou Cuihua 茍萃華 (1993). "Boshu Xiangmajing tiyao 《帛書相馬經》題要", in Gou Cuihua 茍萃華, ed. Zhongguo kexue jishu dianji tonghui 中國科學技術典籍通彙, part Shengwu 生物卷 (Zhengzhou: Henan jiaoyu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 1-2.
Wang Yuhu 王毓瑚, ed. (1964). Zhongguo nongye shulu 中國農業書錄 (Beijing: Nongye chubanshe), 15, 19, 27, 32, 35, 45, 58, 59, 78, 103, 104.
Liu Guoqiang 李國强 (2009). "Tang sancai xiangmajing 唐三彩的“相馬經”", Yishu shichang 藝術市場, 2009 (9): 56-58.
Mawangdui Hanmu Boshu Zhengli Xiaozu 馬王堆漢墓帛書整理小組 (1977). "Mawangdui Hanmu boshu Xiangmijing shiwen 馬王堆漢墓帛書《相馬經》釋文", Wenwu 文物, 1977 (8): 17-22+81.
Xie Chengxia 謝成俠 (1977). "Guanyu Changsha Mawangdui Hanmu boshu Xiangmajing de tantao 關於長沙馬王堆漢墓帛書《相馬經》的探討", Wenwu 文物, 1977 (8): 23-26.
Zhao Kuifu 趙逵夫 (1989). "Mawangdui Hanmu boshu Xiangmajing fawei 馬王堆漢墓帛書《相馬經》發微", Wenxian 文獻, 1989 (4): 262-268.