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Yuan Hong: a case of premature death by historians?


'Tis night: and on the Western Stream here swims the Cattle Isle.
No cloud to fleck the spotless sky that stretches mile on mile.
Within my skiff I float away the Autumn Moon to view
In idle dreams of General Xie who raised to fame a poet new.
A lofty strain I too can lift. But what will that avail?
There is no patron now to hear my heart-string's sobbing wail.
Our matting sails we raise again to meet to-morrow's sun,
As from the tree the maple leaves are dropping one by one. (2)

This is one of the best-known poems by one of China's greatest poets, namely Li Bai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (701-762?) of the mid-Tang dynasty. As Fletcher's liberal translation elaborates, this poem builds upon the near-legendary discovery by General Xie Shang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (308-357) of the young literary talent Yuan Hong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], then reduced by poverty to a lowly boatman. During a nighttime outing, General Xie overheard Yuan reciting poems in a boat and was deeply impressed by the young poet's gift. This chance meeting led to Yuan Hong's entry into and acceptance by Eastern Jin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (317-420) high society and officialdom, (3) a fortune the similarly talented and "undiscovered" Li Bai dreams of repeating when he passes by the same river isle where General Xie encountered Yuan several centuries earlier.

Li Bai's poem is just one of many examples signifying Yuan Hong's prominence, both during Yuan's own period and in the view of posterity, despite the fact that Yuan's bureaucratic career never exceeded the level of governor (taishou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). (4) Yuan was known not only as an extraordinarily gifted man of letters but more importantly as a historiographer specializing in the Eastern Han [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] dynasty (25-220), otherwise known as the Later Han [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. His Hou Han ji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] remains the only full chronicle extant for that period. Though it is surpassed in many aspects by Fan Ye's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (398-446) (5) general history Hou Han shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] composed some half a century later, Yuan's work was and still is of critical import to the study of the Eastern Han, and contains much exclusive information, including on the coming of Buddhism to China, that is not found elsewhere. The eleventh-century Zizhi tongjian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (hereafter ZZTJ), for instance, repeatedly utilized Yuan's chronicle either explicitly (6) or implicitly. (7)

Yuan has a biography in Jin shu (92.2391-99), and figures prominently in the famous collection of anecdotes Shishuo xinyu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] by Liu Yiqing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (403-444), (8) appearing at least fourteen times in the latter work. His stature in the eyes of posterity is vouched for by the fact that the two most popular (though not the most comprehensive or most scholarly) modern encyclopedic Chinese dictionaries Cihai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (9) and Ciyuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (10) both grant him a formal entry.

What this short essay will dispute are the standard dates of Yuan's life found in all Chinese reference works and typified by the two dictionaries mentioned above, both of which list Yuan's lifespan as 328-376. Zhou Tianyou's annotated edition of Yuan's Hou Han ji contains the most extensive and complete collection of biographic material on Yuan, and represents the pinnacle of modern research on the life and work of this gifted historian and man of letters. Yet Professor Zhou also adheres to these dates. (11) As I shall demonstrate, these dates are derived from an erroneous interpretation of Yuan's biography in Jin shu. I shall calculate Yuan's correct lifespan based on his childhood name and some other considerations, which will lead to some further observations regarding the Chinese "zodiac" or animal cycle.


Yuan Hong's dates given by the standard references quoted above are evidently derived from the Jin shu (92.2398) statement that Yuan died in the commandery of Dongyang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "at the beginning of the Taiyuan era (376-96)," literally [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], at the age of 49 sui [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. All modern reference works assume automatically that "the beginning of the Taiyuan era" means the very first year of this reign period, namely the year 376, and thus Yuan's age of 49 sui at death means he was born 48 years earlier, or in the year 328.

I find such reasoning subjective and arbitrary. In fact, the character chu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "beginning" is widely used by Chinese historiographers, together with zhong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "mid-" and mo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "end," as an indefinite indicator of time, when the exact date is uncertain or unnecessary. Used after a reign title, these three indicators can be roughly translated as "at some point of time during the beginning/mid-/ending years" of such-and-such an era. Of course, "the beginning years" of a reign era include the first year, as the reference works have presumed regarding Yuan Hong's death. But counter-examples abound too. The following are just two of many cases from the same dynastic history for which the exact date of the event can be established from other passages or sources.

In his Jin shu biography (36.1057), Wei Guan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (220-291) is said to have received a promotion to become the (Grand) Minister of Works (sikong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) "at the beginning of the Taikang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] era (280-89)." But Jin shu (3.74) and ZZTJ (81.2581) both record this event on the day jiasheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the twelfth month of the third year of the Taikang era, equivalent to January 28, 283. Jin shu (34.1014) says that Yang Hu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] was promoted to the position of Vice-Director of the Imperial Secretariat of the Left (shangshu zuopuye [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (12) "at the beginning of the Taishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] era (265-74)." But elsewhere (3.56) in Jin shu, the exact date of this event is recorded as the day gengzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the second month of the fourth year of the Taishi era, equivalent to March 3, 268.

These and other examples clearly demonstrate that the phrase "at the beginning of such-and-such an era" can refer to the second, third, or even fourth year of the concerned era. One may find still more extreme examples going into the fifth year and beyond. It may be desirable to conduct an exhaustive study of all such usages in Jin shu for which the exact date can be established, and tabulate the resulting statistical distribution. Such a frequency table may well show the first year to be the most usual reference. But it still cannot be taken as certain.

In fact, in Yuan's case, there is an additional obstacle to the "first year" interpretation. At his death, Yuan was the governor of Dongyang, this being the highest point of his official career. During the Jin, Dongyang belonged to the region of Yangzhou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (13) Both Jin shu (92.2398) and another earlier source (14) record an event when Yuan was first appointed to this job. At that time, the famous chancellor Xie An [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (320-385) at the Eastern Jin court held concurrently the position of regional inspector (cishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of Yangzhou. So upon Yuan's new appointment, Xie threw a farewell banquet in the suburbs of the capital for his new provincial subordinate, during which Yuan's quick wit is said to have won universal admiration.

Xie An's appointment as regional inspector of Yangzhou was an important development, a new political balancing act among powerful aristocratic clans of the Eastern Jin after the death of the ambitious and powerful warlord Huan Wen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (312-373) who nearly usurped the Jin throne. There was strong resistance and opposition to this appointment from the still influential Huan clan that had to give up this powerful post, and from other high-ranking persons. (15) Both Jin shu and ZZTJ give the date of Xie An's appointment as the day jiayin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the fifth month of the third year (June 24, 375) of the Ningkang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] era (373-75), the last year prior to the Taiyuan era.

Xie An was well known for his reluctance toward and even lack of interest in official career and appointments. He had earlier in his somewhat affected life as a recluse repeatedly refused the Jin court's persistent recruiting efforts. In any event, Xie was a very smooth, evasive, and careful bureaucrat, a perpetual compromiser rather than a confrontationist. It is thus extremely unlikely that Xie would be eager to assert aggressively his new authority as regional inspector of Yangzhou after the much contended appointment. The upshot is that the aforementioned banquet for the benefit of Yuan Hong could not have occurred too soon after Xie's regional appointment in the summer of 375. It is worth noting that at the banquet Xie grabbed a fan from one of his servants or subordinates to use as an impromptu parting gift, in order to test Yuan's intellect. (16) This event was unlikely to have occurred prior to the summer of 376. As a result, the Qing dynasty compilers of the Siku quanshu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] surmised that Yuan was appointed governor of Dongyang "at the beginning of the Taiyuan era," (17) a conclusion accepted by some modern reference works without realizing the need to reconcile it with the prevailing date of Yuan's death.

Therefore, if, as all standard references claim, Yuan died in 376, the very first year of Taiyuan, he must have died within months of his final and highest appointment. Such a fate befalling an extraordinarily gifted man of letters well known to his contemporaries would have surely been noted in various sources which have a standard phrase [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("died soon afterwards") for such events. But nowhere do we see such a description of Yuan's end. More exactly as well as more revealingly, it was not until more than sixteen centuries later that Zhou Tianyou, in his 1987 annotated edition of Hou Han ji, was the first to add such a characterization. (18) Zhou apparently recognized the glaring difficulty if not open contradiction between Yuan's last appointment and his presumed date of death, yet he made no effort to reconcile them except to add this artificial "died soon afterwards" phrase.

Contrary to Zhou's much belated insertion, the Jin shu biography (92.2398) makes it clear that Yuan had an active and productive literary career after this appointment--he wrote a nine-section eulogy to honor the previous emperor, Jianwen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Sima Yu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], r. 371-72), and presented it to Jianwen's son, the reigning emperor, Xiaowu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Sima Yao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], r. 372-96), at the Jin capital. Moreover, because Yuan's own preface to Hou Han ji was not dated, Jin shu mentions this work only at the very end of his biography, after recording his death. Given that the aforementioned nine-section eulogy was inspired by reading a similar work by an Eastern Han author, a case can certainly be made that Yuan continued to work on his magnum opus during his tenure at Dongyang.

This discussion demonstrates that, firstly, there is no definite proof that Yuan Hong died in 376 as all standard reference works claim, and secondly, there is both direct and indirect evidence that Yuan died after 376. Then when exactly did Yuan Hong die? The answer can be found by invoking the popular "Chinese horoscope" based on the twelve-animal cycle.

As mentioned earlier, Yuan appears fourteen times in the anecdotal collection Shishou xinyu. In seven of these appearances he is referred to as Yuan Hu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "Yuan the tiger." The Liang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] dynasty (502-557) annotator of Shishuo xinyu, Liu Xiaobiao, who himself had a fascinating and complicated life (19) (and, as I will demonstrate later, also serves as a strong supporting case to my derivation of Yuan's dates), noted that Hu was Yuan's xiaozi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or "childhood name." (20) The high frequency of the use of this name in Shishuo xinyu is sufficient proof that this designation is not a scribal error or memory slip.

Given the vogue of the period (to be further exemplified in the following section), as well as the close fit of Yuan's dates I shall derive from the Jin shu records, there is little doubt that Yuan's childhood name came from his "horoscope sign," or the animal corresponding to his birth year. Yuan's Jin shu biography tells us that he died at the age of 49 sui, or 48 years, an exact multiple of the 12-year cycle; Yuan's death must then have occurred in a tiger year. This leads us to 378, the wuyin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] year, which happened to be the third year of Taiyuan. As we saw earlier, this date fits perfectly the two facts given by or derived from Yuan's Jin shu biography, namely that he died "at the beginning of the Taiyuan era," and that his death did not occur shortly after his appointment at Dongyang which itself could not have happened prior to 376.

By simple subtraction, Yuan must have been born in 330, another tiger year (gengyin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), whence his childhood name Hu.


That almost all historians have hitherto miscalculated Yuan Hong's otherwise straight-forward dates (21) brings to the fore the fact that the twelve-animal cycle, today one of the best-known elements of Chinese culture around the world, was very rarely mentioned in early and medieval Chinese literary sources. Among other things, this historical void in contrast to the cycle's frequent appearance among the "barbarians" within and without China has led to a variety of speculations on a possible non-Sinitic origin of the animal cycle, ranging from the ancient Xiongnu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] to the early Turks, if not a more remote source. (22) These speculations have largely been dispelled by the recent discovery of the Qin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] bamboo strips at Shuihudi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (23) One may also mention the cycle's fascinating link to Austroasiatic linguistic groups uncovered by Jerry Norman. (24) These data point to an indigenous and more southerly origin of the twelve-animal cycle, and to the observation that it was part of early Chinese popular or vulgar culture.

Yuan Hong's childhood name confirms that, despite the void in literary sources, the educated Confucian gentry class was not oblivious to, nor insulated from, the popular twelve-animal cycle. To demonstrate that Yuan's case was not a fluke or random coincidence, I cite the very annotator Liu Xiaobiao of Shishuo xinyu, born within a century after Yuan's death, who made the explicit note that Hu "Tiger" was Yuan's childhood name. Nan shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] records that Liu's original name as a child was Fawu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Chen Yuan correctly observed that the character wu here was the normal substitute for the Tang-dynasty taboo character hu "tiger," (25) especially given that Liu's elder brother was named Fafeng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (26) I submit that this childhood name of Liu Xiaobiao is yet another case of onomastic use of the animal cycle, because one can derive, based on the Liang shu statement that Liu died in 521 at the age of 60 sui, that he was born in 462, another tiger year. (27) Small wonder that Liu made the particular comment regarding the childhood name of a "fellow tiger."

One may add a more formal case of "tiger names" among the gentry class, namely that of Wang Biaozhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], an Eastern Jin high official and a contemporary of Yuan Hong. (28) Many years ago, Peter A. Boodberg in a study of the Northern Dynasties (29) correctly conjectured, in a footnote, that Wang's style-name Shuwu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] was another case of the Tang taboo substitution wu for hu "tiger," the latter in this instance reinforcing the character biao "tiger stripes" in Wang's name. In my view, this suggested case is amply vindicated by the Shishuo xinyu entry that lists Wang's childhood name as Hudu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "tiger cub." (30) The only remaining technical difficultly is the Jin shu statement that Wang died in 377 at the age of 73 sui, which would give his year of birth of 305, not the following tiger year 306. This can be easily explained by the very common mix-up of the Chinese numerals (e.g., the Nan shi error on Lui Xiaobiao's year of death), or the possible (and popular) rounding-up of Wang's age at death that occurred close to the end (on the day renyin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the tenth month, or November 28) of the Chinese year. It should be noted that the Wang family avoided the vulgar version Huzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

These two additional cases not only strengthen my calculation of Yuan Hong's correct dates, but also reveal how a popular cultural tradition prevalent in the lower classes (and among "barbarians") interacted or interfaced with the Confucian elite and high culture that dominated the written sources.

To conclude, we can see how the twelve-animal cycle in medieval Chinese onomasticons can sometimes be used to help solve chronological questions, as suggested decades ago by Boodberg. In addition, it may help study many other issues, particularly but not limited to those related to popular cultures of the period. (31) At the same time, cautions should be raised regarding the relations and distinctions between animal-based horoscopic, opprobrious, and theophoric names. (32*)

The author thanks Victor Mair and two anonymous reviewers, whose comments on earlier versions of this article have led to substantial changes and improvements in the scope and presentation of the materials.

1. Hengtang Tuishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (i.e., Sun Zhu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1711-1778), ed., Tangshi sanbai shou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1959), 5.10.

2. Translation adapted from that of William Fletcher, Gems of Chinese Verse (rpt. New York: Paragon Books, 1966), 34.

3. See the first paragraph of Yuan's biography in Jin shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1974), 92.2391, though the story is widely circulated in earlier sources.

4. On official titles, I generally follow Charles O. Hucker, A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1985).

5. All standard references list 445 as Fan's year of death, without recognizing that his execution for involvement in a regicidal plot happened on the day yiwei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the last month of the Chinese year, which was already in the following year in Julian calendar, or January 23, 446 to be exact.

6. For examples, see ZZTJ (rpt. Beijing: Zhonghua, 1956), 35.1395 and 43.1661.

7. See Zhou Tianyou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], ed., Hou Han ji jiaozhu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Tianjin: Tianjin guji, 1987), preface.

8. See Xu Zhen'e [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Shishuo xinyu jiaojian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1984).

9. (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu, 1988), 534.

10. (Beijing: Shangwu, 1991), 1531.

11. Hou Han ji jiaozhu, preface.

12. The current version mistook "Right" for "Left," as pointed out by an editorial note in the Zhonghua edition.

13. Jin shu 15.461.

14. The now lost Xu Jin yangqiu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], but the story was quoted and preserved in Liu Xiaobiao's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (462-521) annotations to Shishuo xinyu (1.78).

15. See Jin shu 9.227 and ZZTJ 103.3268-69. The perennial strength of the Huan clan was fully shown by the fact that in the end the Eastern Jin was virtually destroyed by Huan Wen's son, Huan Xuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

16. According to Jin shu 92.2398, Xie wanted to see how Yuan would fare under sudden pressure. Without missing a beat, Yuan reportedly responded when given the fan: "I shall quickly soothe the local inhabitants with the benevolent breeze exuding from Your Excellence."

17. Qinding Siku quanshu zongmu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (rpt. Beijing: Zhonghua, 1997), 47.419.

18. Hou Han ji jiaozhu, preface.

19. Liu was born in the south, but was captured and made a slave at a very young age (8 sui), together with his mother, by the advancing Tuoba [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] troops of the Northern Wei and brought to the north. Redeemed by a rich northern Han Chinese family, he grew up and was educated in the north. Driven by poverty, he became a Buddhist monk and helped translate several important Buddhist sutras, some still extant. He then escaped back to the south and became a celebrated literary author. See Chen Yuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Yungang shikusi zhi yijing yu Liu Xiaobiao" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], originally a speech given on October 1, 1929 and published in Yanjing xuebao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 6 (1929): 1015-19, now included in Chen Yuan ji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue, 1995), 42-46.

20. Shishuo xinyu jiaojian 1.144.

21. One JAOS reviewer points out that in Cao Daoheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] et al., eds., Zhongguo wenxuejia da cidian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1996), question marks are indeed added after the dates 328 and 376.

22. The origin of the twelve-animal cycle attracted the attention of several high-caliber Qing dynasty scholars. See Qian Daxin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Hengyan lu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Changsha: Shangwu, 1939), 6.144; Zhai Hao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Tongsu bian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Shanghai: Shangwu, 1937), 2.24-15; and Zhao Yi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Gaiyu congkao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Taipei: Shiji shuju, 1965), 34.10. The Turkic theory was first proposed by Edouard Chavannes, "Le Cycle turc des douze animaux," T'oung Pao 7 (1906): 51-122, and discussed extensively in Louis Bazin's two important works on ancient Turkic calendars, Les Calendriers turcs et medievaux (Lille: Universite de Lille III, 1974), and its newer edition Les Systemes chronologiques dans le monde turc ancien (Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1991).

23. See, e.g., Yu Haoliang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Qinjian Rishu jishi jiyue zhu wenti" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], in Yunmeng Qinjian yanjiu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1981), 315-57; Rao Zongyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Zeng Xiantong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Yunmeng Qinjian Rishu yanjiu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Hongkong: Chinese University, 1982).

24. "A Note on the Origin of the Chinese Duodenary Cycle," in Linguistics of the Sino-Tibetan Area: The State of the Art, ed. G. Thurgood et al. (Canberra: Australian National Univ., 1985), 85-89.

25. Owing to the fact that the grandfather of the Tang founding emperor was named Li Hu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. See Tang huiyao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (rpt. Taipei: Shiji shuju, 1963), 1.1. This might well be a horoscopic name too. Unfortunately Li Hu's age at death (the fifth month in 551, according to ZZTJ 164.5066) was not recorded for verifying this folk custom popular among the "barbarian" and "barbarized" figures in northern China to which the Li clan belonged.

26. Chen Yuan ji, 44. I would further observe that feng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "phoenix" is the standard auspicious euphemism for "rooster" in the animal cycle.

27. See also Chen Yuan ji, 45, where Chen noted the Nan shi error of listing Liu's death in the third year of the Putong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] era (520-26), leading to a contradiction with the fact that Liu was enslaved at the age of 8 sui in year 469. Chen attributed this error to the very common mix-up of the Chinese numerals [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "two" and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "three."

28. For his biography, see Jin shu 76.2006-12.

29. "Marginalia to the Histories of the Northern Dynasties," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 3 (1938): 223-53, 4 (1939): 230-83; see esp. the sections "On the Use of the Animal Cycle Among 'Turco-Mongols'" and "The Chronogrammatic Use of Animal Cycle Terms in Proper Names."

30. Shishuo xinyu 3.446.

31. For instance, I have some tentative evidence, to be presented in a separate study, suggesting possible tax evasion and corvee avoidance by underreporting the age of minors and youngsters, a rather important economic issue.

32. As exemplified by the case of Sima Xiangru [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (179-117 B.C.), arguably the most important Chinese poet between Qu Yuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the Tang-dynasty crop of great talents. I will prove in a further study that his original (or childhood) name Quanzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] was not the earliest case of an opprobrious name in China, as suggested by some scholars, but rather the earliest solid case of onomastic use of the animal cycle. Moreover, the name may also be theophoric, related to the ancient Sinitic or Sino-Tibetan dog-cult now largely forgotten.

* After completing this article, I chanced upon an intriguing story, during a trip to China, related by several people with intimate knowledge of China's booming yet often shady antique markets. A large number of Handynasty shengxiaoyong, or "twelve-animal tomb figurines," coming mostly from illegal excavations in Henan province are being traded in these markets. They are identified as shengxiao yong because of the widely circulated information that in almost every Han-dynasty tomb containing them they formed a near-complete set--that is, twelve animals less one--and the missing animal varied from tomb to tomb. The prevailing theory in the antique trade is that the missing animal is that representing the birth-year of the deceased; but this has yet to be confirmed by rigorous archaeological studies.


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Author:Chen, Sanping
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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