Wuxing dayi 五行大義 Summary

五行大義Fundamentals of the Five ElementsFive fasc. A compendium of materials and theories related to the five elements 五行 by Sui dynasty author Xiao Ji 蕭吉 (c. 530–610). It systematically arranges concepts and citations from texts ranging from the pre-Qin to Sui eras into twenty-four thematic sections. The text has 681 citations of past works, many of which are no longer extant.


The text's title is not listed in the Sui shu , but appears in the Jiu Tang shu 舊唐書 (fasc. 47) and Xin Tang shu 新唐書 (fasc. 59) as Wu xing ji 五行記 and then the Song shi 宋史 (fasc. 206) as the Wu xing dayi 五行大義, after which time it was lost in China by the Yuan 元朝 dynasty (1279–1368). The Shoku Nihon gi 續日本義 mentions it in year 1 of Tenpyō Hōji 天平寳字 (757) as one of the texts the Onmyōshō 陰陽生 were to study, though it is unknown when it was brought to Japan. It subsequently became a popular text in the Heian 平安 period (794–1185). Three extant historical manuscripts in Japan include the Genkō sōden bon 元弘相傳本, Kōyasan bon 高野山本 and Tenbun shō hon 天文鈔本. The first was printed in 1699 and later included in the Itsuzon sōsho 佚存叢書 collection which reintroduced lost works back to China in 1799. This was subsequently revised in 1804 by Xu Zongyan 許宗彦.


Xiao Ji's biography is in the Sui shu (fasc. 78), though the text is not mentioned there or in any biographical accounts. While this could indicate the text was composed after Xiao Ji and later attributed to him, Nakamura Shōhachi 中村璋八 (1972) provides several points which indicate it was written by him. The Wu xing ji 五行記 is attributed to him in both Tang histories. None of the citations or material in the text are anachronistic, i.e., would postdate Xiao Ji. His biography in the Sui shu states he “evaluated past and present yin-yang works” (考定古今陰陽書), though contemporary catalogs and literature at the time used the terms yin yang 陰陽 and wu xing 五行 interchangeably. Some of the same terms in the text also appear in his reports to the throne. Finally, given his career and intellectual history, it would seem quite likely he wrote the work himself.


Xiao Ji's motivation for writing the work is stated in the preface. He stresses the need for the state to understand the metaphysical system of the five elements as those which do not inevitably perish. He states that after the Jin moved south 南遷 there were insufficient root texts, leading to a flourishing of 'branch studies' and unorthodox practices unable to cope with disasters and omens. His remarks here were made during his time as a minister under the Sui dynasty 隋朝 (581–617) which had recently reunified China under single rule, indicating perhaps a push towards consolidating scholarship, especially after many years of a north-south scholarly divide 南北學. The text displays strong southern influences.


The text seems to have had minimal influence in Chinese Buddhism, though in Japan it is cited in several works of different schools from the Kamakura 鎌倉 period (1185–1333), indicating a degree of popularity. These include the following (for a study of all citations see Nakamura 1960):


Jōdo sanbu kyō ongishū淨土三部經音義集 (T 2207) by Shinzui (1236–1280).

Senchaku dengu ketsugishō 選擇傳弘決疑鈔 (T 2610) by Ryōchū 良忠 in 1254.

Shittan ryakuzu shō 悉曇略圖抄 (T 2709) by Ryōson 了尊 in 1287.

Keiran jūyōshū 溪嵐拾葉集 (T 2410) by Kōshū 光宗 (1276–1350).

Dainichi kyō shoen'ō shō 大日經疏演奧鈔 (T 2216) by Gōhō 杲寶 (1306–1362)


The text was also used and cited in other intellectual fields in Japan, including Shintō 神道 (in particular Yoshida Shintō 吉田神道), Onmyō-dō 陰陽, state divination, literature, medicine and music, whereas in China it never achieved such importance. For extensive research on the text see the works of Nakamura Shōhachi 中村璋八.


The following are available for download at http://ci.nii.ac.jp/.


Nakamura, Shōhachi 中村璋八. “Nihon no butten ni inyō sareta Gogyōtaigi ni tsuite” 日本の仏典に引用された五行大義に就いて. Mikkyō bunka 密教文化 48/49/50 (1960): 41–51.


– –. “Shūkitsu to Gogyōtaigi蕭吉と五行大義. Komazawa Daigaku gaikokugo bu kiyō 駒澤大學外国語部紀要 1 (1972): 26–42.


– –. “Wa ga kuni ni okeru Gogyōtaigi no juyō ni tsuite我が国に於ける五行大義の受容について. Komazawa Daigaku bungaku bu kenkyū kiyō 駒澤大學文學部研究紀要 28 (1970): 10–23.