Psycho-Sinology, 2


2. (pp. 11-24) Rudolf G. Wagner : "Imperial Dreams in China".

pp. 11-2 unreliable dreams vs. dreams officiously authenticated as reliable

p. 11

"There are yemeng, wild dreams, and kuangmeng, freak dreams, both caused by demons who seize the soul while one is asleep and lead it astray, or perhaps abscond with it altogether."

p. 12

"The oldest technique of verifying the authenticity of the dream and the correctness of its interpretation is recorded for Wuwang, the founder of the Zhou. Evidence from the dream is matched with evidence from divination by means of the Zhouyi. ... The terms xie ... for "being in agreement" and xi ... to "repeat and duplicate" are often used in later texts for the "verification technique of Wuwang." As a standard procedure it is quoted in the Zuo ... . Here, the founder of Wei, Kangshu, appears to two leading ministers independently in a dream ... . The dreams, we are told, "are in agreement," (xie). But that is not enough. The Zhouyi is consulted, and both hexagrams support the claim ... . "When the reeds [used for Zhouyi divination] duplicated (xi) [the evidence from the] dreams, Wuwang took action." ... Wuwang’s verification technique became a precedent to be followed."

pp. 12-4 matching dream-given physiognomy

p. 12

"A substantial number of imperial dreams are reported in which the dreamer is given a detailed physiognomy of an adviser to be sought or sees the features of a heavenly being to be worshiped. He then writes a protocol or describes that physiognomy, and in many cases a picture will be made. Cases in the early texts most frequently involve looking for {a person to be promoted to become} a minister or high level adviser. The most celebrated example is that of the Shang/Yin king, Wuding. After his accession, he did not speak or act for three years, brooding about way to bring prosperity to the Yin and waiting for a chief aide to show up. Having purified himself in this manner, the Emperor-on-high, di, appeared to him in a dream and gave him an "excellent assistant who would speak for me," and make the proper decisions. Wuding then proceeded to minutely describe this person, a picture was made, and the corresponding person was sought in the empire. He was ... Yue, a humble builder. ... He was made prime minister. The "proof" that

p. 13

the dream originated from the Emperor-on-high lay in the fact that the announced person was found and afterwards proved to be a capable minister."


"Muzi (Shusun Fan) dreamed the "sky came down on him" and in his distress he received help from a man who was "black and hump-backed, had deep-set eyes and a pig’s snout," and whom he called "Niu" in his dream. Much later, when he had become a high minister, a woman with whom he had spent a night come to visit him with their son, who looked exactly like the person in the dream, and was called "Niu.""


"Again, in 498 B.C., Jianzi, the ruler of Zhao, visited di, the Emperor-on-high ... . A few days after this dream he met on the street the very young man whom he had seen standing next to the Emperor-on-high during his dream visit. This identity made the young man a credible interpreter of the dream’s symbolic action.


Emperor Mingdi of the later Han is credited in sources from the 4th century on to have enjoyed in a dream the aspect of a "divine personality with a golden coloured body and bright splendour about the top on his head." ... If the story is spurious, which is probable, it is ... suggestive".

p. 14

"In another instance, Emperor Xuan of the Tang dynasty sees in a "doze" the "true appearance" of the Laozi, who announces to him that the imperial family descends from Laozi himself. ... In the dream Laozi announces to Xuanzong that a statue accurately depicting him, the Laozi, could be found at a specific place outside the capital. When this statue is duly located, the dream receives its external confirmation of authenticity, which implied that all its statements were true. The consequences were dramatic : ... the {book of} Laozi was elevated into the official rank of a classic, and Daoism enjoyed much support from the central government. ... the image of Laozi in the post-Tang literature seems to be based on that vision", whereas in "earlier iconographic depictions ... Laozi always looks different.


A similar case of discovering the authentic appearance of an important god occurs in the dream of Tang Xuanzong who, in a medical dream, saw two demons battling. One stole his yudi, jade flute – probably a sexual metaphor {emblematic of a divine "jade maiden"?} -- and ran away with it. The second restored it and gobbled up the little demon who was appropriately named xuhao, "empty little nothing." The demon gobbler was Zhong Kui. As a result of the dream, Xuanzong had his painter Wu Daozi paint the image. .. this became the authoritative portrayal of the demon gobbler."


"In his dream vision, the Taiping leader Hong Xiuquan saw ... the "old father" ... in heaven ... . ... . ... his hands were on his knees ...; his beard was long ... and moreover it was golden ... . ... When the British official Bowring came near the Taiping capital in 1854, the Taipings were eager to get independent confirmation from the British ... . In their letter they asked their transoceanic brethren what kind of hat God wore, what was the color and length of his beard, etc."

p. 15 music & palace in the divine dream-world

"dreams ... are understood to provide accurate, precise information of various kinds about the nether world. For instance, they tell how heavenly music sounds, and one can imitate it at court; Song Huizong built a park based on the Penglai palace of his dream; Hong Xiuquan built his palace in Nanjing in the 1850s based on his dream encounter with shangdi."

pp. 15-6 matching dream-given names

p. 15

"In dreams, Heaven uses a wide variety of communications devices, among which ... Dreams ... often announce the name of an important minister-to-be ... . ... The Diwang shiji attributes the earliest technique of this kind to Huangdi himself.

Huangdi dreamt that there was a great wind (feng) which made all the empire’s filth (cang hou) disappear; he furthermore dreamt of a man holding a thousand jun bow herding together sheep in the tens of thousands. When [Huan-di] awoke, he sighed : "... Is there someone in the empire whose family name is Feng and whose personal name is Houg? ... Is there someone with the family name Li and the personal name Mu?" Based on these two interpretations (zhan), he looked for them.

And sure enough, both were found."


"In the mid-19th century, the texts Hong Xiuquan learned in heaven and sang during his "illness," Heaven, communicating in the hakka dialect, used linguistic puns to allude to people who eventually became high officials in the Taiping government. ... So

p. 16

heavenly use of linguistic puns is quite frequent. Roberto Ong’s work The Interpretation of Dreams in Ancient China provides many other examples."

p. 16 matching dream-given explications

"The dream ... may ... announce a text which, when later found, explains the dark symbols of the dream. The discovery of the text confirms the dream, and this confirmation in turn makes the text into a heavenly document to be used for guidance ... . A most dramatic ... use of scriptural dream evidence appears in the Taiping movement. ... In Hong Xiuquan’s case, the "old father," shangdi, announced that Hong would find two books ... which would provide an interpretive handbook for his dream. Only six years after the dream, in 1843, he did eventually find Liang Afa’s Quanshi liangyan (Excellent Words to Admonish the Age) which ... helped him identify such mysterious persons in the dream as the "Old Father’s" son, the dragon, and himself. There was no Chinese precedent for a son of shangdi."

"The "Heavenly Letters" (tian shu) of the Song Emperor Zhenzong correspond to this pattern. Zhenzong dreamed that a messenger of Yuhuang shangdi, in the form of his ancestor, appeared and announced that the imperial house, the Zhao, descended from a higher deity, and that Heavenly Letters would be found confirming this. This happened in due time.

... the Heavenly Letters were altogether a hoax, as Confucian writers have later claimed".

p. 17 technical verification

People "pray for a dream in a temple, stating their problem before the divinity. They "frequently sleep beside the idol."

Should they have a dream, they rise and ask by means of ka-pue whether the dream was sent by the god to shed light on their course in answer to their prayer. If an affirmative answer is received, they proceed to study the character of the dream, and endeavour to decide from its teaching what they should do in regard to the subject under consideration, and whether they will be successful. ...

The ka-pue is an instrument to ascertain the will of gods and of the ancestors. It consists of a bamboo-tree root when used in temples, or of wood when used in private homes. It looks like a large closed bud of a tulip. It is sliced lengthwise through the middle, leaving two halves, each with one flat and one round surface. They are held together in front of the divinity over incense, the divinity is informed about the question to be answered, and they are thrown into the air."

landing of halves : on __ side

answer indicated

one flat, the other round


both flat


both round


pp. 17-8 factual verification

p. 17

"The dream of Duke Mu of Qin between 659 [B.Chr.E.] and 656 [B.Chr.E.]" : "The Emperor-on-high, di, predicted the development of Jin and of Qin itself, including the demise of Qin after gaining hegemony. The verification of this dream would come with the advent of the first event predicted in the dream. From this it could be inferred that the rest would be true, for once a part of the dream has been verified, the whole dream has been proven authentic. ...

p. 18

If demonic powers generated the dream, they will be unable to control other avenues of divination.


Their power may be great in one single realm, but never extends to a completely different realm. ...

{According to the Markionites, the power of Iesous is great in the kingdom of heaven, but never extendeth to the sublunary world.}


Thus, if confirmation of the dream is acquired from divination sources outside the dream, like the oracle, or even from other dreams, this is a confirmation, because only the orthodox {universal} forces control the universe of heavenly communications as a whole."

p. 18 dream as an institutional object

"In some cases we are told that someone slept and dreamed;

in other cases, as in the case of Mu of Qin, Jianzi of Zhao, and Hong Xiuquan, the experience may last several days during which they are unable to recognize anyone;

finally there are cases when a dream vision occurs while the luminary "dozes" still fully dressed."

"The standard term in the Shijing and Zuozhuan for the interpretation of dreams is zhan, to divine or prognosticate". "according to the Zhouli there were zhanmeng, dream diviners; Huangdi himself was supposed to have written the Zhanmeng jing (The Classic of Dream Divination) in 11 chapters, a text now entirely lost. Also, according to the Zhouli, in pre-Han times ... There was an office specializing in the interpretation of dreams, a zhanmeng. In a number of sources, the people who actually handled dreams were daren (great men) who worked under the dabu, the great diviner, a sub-office of the zhanmeng dashi."

p. 19 interpretation of a emperor’s dreams in accordance with the halos of the sun

"Zheng Xuan notes in his commentary ... to ... the Zhouli ... :

The emperor is during the day the sun. If he had a dream during the night, then one inspects in the early morning the ether on the sun’s sides to divine whether its import is auspicious or not. Generally speaking what is divined are the ten halos, and each of them has ten mutations."

pp. 19-20 registration of imperial dreams

p. 19

"Duke Mu of Qin between 659 and 656 ... had fallen into a state where he did not recognize anyone, and finally woke up only after seven days. He reported to his ministers a detailed prediction from the Emperor-on-high, di, about his state’s rising to hegemony for a short duration and the eventual ascendancy of another state – a dream covering a period of four hundred years. He had it recorded. That is, ... Mu’s minister Kongsun Shi to whom he had told his dream "noted it down and stored [the protocol].""

p. 20

"The archives on which the Zuozhuan drew for its chronicles must have contained the protocols of these dreams of the various dukes and sometimes others, for they are quoted in great detail."

p. 20 the portentous dream by Hon Xiu-quan

"Hong Xiuquan had his dream in 1837. In 1848 he told it to an American missionary Roberts, and Roberts wrote an enthusiastic letter to the Baptist Banner and Pioneer detailing what Hong Xiuquan had told him. And this occurred before the outbreak of the Taiping Rebellion."

p. 20 ton-yao

"in the wuxing zhi of the earlier dynastic histories ... numerous events and apparitions, all of which are seen as heavenly comments ..., are recorded. This included the tongyao, the boys’ doggerel sung in the streets, which were officially collected, evaluated and interpreted for their wisdom on government decisions. ... The imperial bureaucracy used heavenly portents ... . That is, external, public, heavenly events, such as the tongyao could be used to criticize".

p. 21 political suggestions in legendary dreams

"Yao dreams of a "tall man" who came to discuss government with him, whereupon he abdicated in favor of Shun;

Huangdi finds his ministers through a dream".

p. 21 political suggestions in historical dreams

"Properly the di only speaks to those of the highest rank. ... In matters only involving one state, the di’s rank is too high and the ancestor of the ducal house intervenes. This is the case in the change of the heir in Wei where the ancestor Kangshu intervenes and establishes a new heir and his two chief ministers, who happen to be the grandsons of the two dreamers. On another occasion, Kangshu intervenes in a dream of the Marquis Chen of Wei to tell him that Xiang, the founder of another family, has taken away his offerings, whereupon Cheng orders sacrifices to Xiang. Duke Zhao dreamed before his trip to Chu that his predecessor Duke Xiang made many sacrifices for him, perhaps to encourage him to go.

The concubine of Duke Wu is visited by an angel, tianshi, who is the founder of her clan, and who gives her an orchid, whereupon she is pregnant and eventually has a son, the later Duke Mu of Cheng."

p. 22 medical dreams

"In the case of disease dreams, the dreamer would see the causal agent in the dream and might even be cured. The dreams operate with ... the demon breaking in through the doors of the palace, a metaphor for {viz., an aequivalent in the dream-world for} the doors of the body. The Marquis of Jin dreamed of the founder of the Zhou clan, Dali, coming upon him as a big monster and claiming he [the Marquis of Jin] had killed the monster’s grandson. The monster claims that he had received clearance from di, breaks into the damen (big door) and then pursues the Marquis into his private chambers. The shaman called in to interpret the dream announces that the Marquis will die, which happens in due order.

In another case, the Duke of Jin some years later lay sick for three months, and finally dreamed a yellow bear had broken into his private chambers. Zichan, asked about the meaning of the dream, ... points to a man killed earlier by Emperor Yao, who was then transformed into a yellow bear, to whom the successive dynasties had made some sacrifices. These sacrifices are now resumed and the Duke’s health improved."

p. 23 historic dreams having animal/cosmic/topographic content

"In Jianzi’s dream, the two bears killed by Jianzi on the di’s orders are identified as the ancestors of two high dignitaries of Jin; the dog of the kind held by the di barbarians is the ancestor of the princes of Dai."

"When E of Lu dreamed ... that he had "shot at the moon, hit it, and upon withdrawing got into a mire," ... the problem was who the moon would be, as the archer was to be the dreamer himself."

"Zuyu dreamt that the Heshen, the spirit of the river, asked him for the fawnskin cap he just had made for himself, and offered the area of Mengzhu in exchange. He refused in the dream".

p. 24 Hon Xiu-quan’s dream-detailedness

"The most elaborate scenario ... contained in Hong Xiuquan’s dream ... gave sufficient details of the interior decoration of Heaven to permit an accurate replica in "small Heaven" on earth, from the headgear of the Taiping princes to the localization and architecture of Hong’s palace in Nanjing."


Carolyn T. Brown (editrix) : Psycho-Sinology : the Universe of Dreams in Chinese Culture. Asia Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. University Pr of America, Lanham (MD), 1988.