Date of Graduation

5-2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

History

Advisor

Liang Cai

Committee Member

Rembrandt Wolpert

Second Committee Member

Elizabeth Markham

Abstract

Omen discourse, the investigation of aberrant natural disasters and miraculous celestial phenomena, provided a sophisticated ideological model that could be exploited to expostulate with the sovereign for his transgressions, and to denounce the misgovernment of the imperial bureaucracy. The first of this political model is the personification of the supreme Heaven and the elevation of Heaven’s status. From the perspective of ru 儒 (Confucians) scholars, the establishment of Heaven’s supreme authority upon the human realm and the restriction of the sovereign in power guarantee the rectification of political mistakes as well as an applicable way for ru scholars to actively participate in real politics at court. The rise of omen discourse in the Western Han dynasty 西漢 (202 BCE - 8 AD) unveils the development of a significant political theory that aimed at checking the absolute power of the sovereign through Heaven’s reprimand. However, its theoretical efficacy is questioned by Wang Chong 王充 (27 - 97 AD) in the chapter “Qian Gao” 譴告 in his monograph Balanced Argument (Lun Heng 論衡). The focal point of this paper is the intrinsic logic of Wang Chong’s arguments in his radical rejection of the philosophical ideas of the Han omen discourse. By indicating the false methodology of the principle of Heaven’s reprimand, not only had Wang Chong thoroughly repudiated the Confucian model for punishing, as well as admonishing, the sovereign’s misconduct in politics, but also he undermined the active nature of Heaven as an anthropomorphic deity, eventually reverting to the initiatives of the sages and worthies in the mundane world.

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