In the Beginning Was Observing

Shao Yong on the Sagely Self, Observing and “Poeting”


  • Sophia KATZ Tel-Hai College, Israel



Shao Yong, observing, structure (li), poetry, sageliness


The article explores the connection between observing, poetic creation, and sagely perception of reality, as expressed in the writings of the Song dynasty scholar, Shao Yong 邵雍 (1012–1077). Shao, most famous for his fourfold classification of all existing things, claimed that observing things according to structure (li 理) was the most direct path to cultivating the sagely state of mind. In addition to being a thinker, Shao was a prolific poet. His poetry collection, titled Striking the Earth at the Yi River (Yichuan jirangji 伊川擊壤集), contains approximately 1,500 poems written in a distinct poetic style. Basing my inquiry on the Inner Chapters on Observing Things (Guanwu neipian 觀物內篇) and on the Striking the Earth at the Yi River, two authentic works written by Shao, I describe the procedure of the “mirrored observing” (fanguan 反觀) which, as Shao claimed, allows the observer’s mind to comprehend the object of observing in its wholeness. I further concentrate on the connection between observing and poetic writing, and claim that Shao perceived these activities as mutually connected: Writing poetry assists the process of observing, while gradual development of the right perspective in observing results in a more effortless poetic creation. Both observing and poetic writing assist and sustain one’s search for sageliness. For Shao Yong, poetry was not just a medium for expressing one’s ideas, but also a sagely language enabling one to communicate with the ultimate reality, described by the term “Heaven” (tian 天).


Download data is not yet available.


Arrault, Alain. 2002. Shao Yong (1012–1077), poète et cosmologue. Paris: Collège de France.

Birdwhistell, Anne D. 1989. Transition to Neo-Confucianism: Shao Yung on Knowledge and Symbols of Reality. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Bol, Peter K. 2013. “On Shao Yong’s Method for Observing Things.” Monumenta Serica 61: 287–99.

Chen, Xianzhang. 1987. Chen Xianzhang ji 陳獻章集 (Collected Writings of Chen Xianzhang). Punctuation by Sun Tonghai (孫通海點校), 2 vols. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju (北京: 中華書局).

Chen, Zu-yan. 2006. “Shao Yong’s (1011–77) ‘Great Chant on Observing Weiqi’: An Archetype of Neo-Confucian Poetry.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 126 (2): 199–221.

Cheng, Chung-ying. 1995. “Philosophical Significance of Guan (Comprehensive Observation): On Guan as Onto-Hermeneutical Unity of Methodology and Ontology.” In International Studies on the Classic of Changes 國際易學研究, no. 1, edited by Zhu Bokun朱伯憲, 156–203. Beijing 北京: Huaxia華夏.

Ching, Julia. 1983. “The Mirror Symbol Revisited: Confucian and Taoist Mysticism.” In Mysticism and Religious Traditions, edited by Steven T. Katz, 226–46. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chu, P’ing-tzu. 1998. “Review Article: The Recluse of Loyang: Shao Yung and the Moral Evolution of Early Sung Thought (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996) by Don J. Wyatt.” Journal of Sung Yuan Studies 28: 199–226.

Collins, Michael. 2008. “The Antipanopticon of Etheridge Knight.” PMLA 123 (3): 580–97.

Dardess, John W. 2002. Blood and History in China: The Donglin Faction and Its Repression, 1620–1627. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Deng, Hongmei 鄧紅梅. 2005. “Lun ‘Shao Kangjie ti’ shige tezheng ji qi duiyu Songdai shitan de yiyi 論 “邵康節體” 詩歌特征及其對於宋代詩壇的意義 (Discussing the Characteristics of Poetry in Shao Kangjie’s Style and its Significance for the Poetic Circles of the Song Dynasty).” Shandong shifan daxue xuebao (Journal of Shandong Normal University) 2 (50): 46–49.

Fletcher, Alan. 2006. Picturing and Poeting. London and New York: Phaidon Press.

Grierson, H.J.C. 1937. Milton and Wordsworth. Poets and Prophets. New York: Macmillan.

Kalir, Joseph. 1974. “Of Jewish Prophecy and Mysticism.” Religious Education 69 (4): 451–62.

Katz, Sophia. 2009a. “The Poetry of Unrestrained Sageliness: Shao Yong and a Tradition of Ruist Philosophical Mysticism.” Ph.D. diss., The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

———. 2009b. “The Tradition of Ruist Unrestrainedness: Zeng Dian, Shao Yong and Chen Xianzhang (6th c. BCE–15th c. CE).” In At Home in Many Worlds: Reading, Writing and Translating from Chinese and Jewish Cultures. Essays in Honour of Irene Eber, edited by Raoul David Findeisen et. al, 69–79. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

———. 2013. “From Observing to Listening: The Intellectual/Spiritual Path of Shao Yong as Reflected in the Yichuan Jirangji.” Monumenta Serica 61: 141–82.

———. 2020. “Structure and Numbers: Shao Yong on the Order of Reality.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 81: 16–23.

Knight, Etheridge, and Sanford Pinsker. 2017. “A Conversation with Etheridge Knight.” African American Review 50 (4): 711–14.

Kolb, David. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Legge, James. 1893. Confucian Analects, vol. 1 of The Chinese Classics. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press.

Levine, Michael. 1998. “God Speak.” Religious Studies 34 (1): 1–16.

Nielsen, Bent. 2003. A Companion to Yi Jing Numerology and Cosmology: Chinese Studies of Images and Numbers from the Han (202 BCE–220 CE) to Song (960–1279 CE). London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon.

Patt-Shamir, Galia. 2021. Persons Emerging: Three Neo-Confucian Perspectives on Transcending Self-Boundaries. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Quinn, Philip L. 2001. “Can God Speak? Does God Speak?” Religious Studies 37 (3): 259–69.

Rošker, Jana S. 2012. Traditional Chinese Philosophy and the Paradigm of Structure (Li 理). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Rowland, Ingrid D. 2005. “Poetry and Prophecy in the Encyclopedic System of Athanasius Kircher.” Bruniana e Companelliana 11 (2): 509–17.

Rowley, Harold H. 1956. Prophecy and Religion in Ancient China and Israel. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Shao, Yong 邵雍. 2010. Shao Yong ji 邵雍集 (Collected Writings of Shao Yong). ­Edited by Guo Yu 郭彧. Beijing 北京: Zhonghua shuju 中華書局.

Strickmann, Michel. 2005. Chinese Poetry and Prophecy: The Written Oracle in East Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Taylor, Rodney L. 1998. “The Religious Character of Confucian Tradition.” Philosophy East and West 48 (1): 80–107.

Wang, Limin 王利民. 2003. “Yichuan Jirangji yu xiantian xiangshu xue“伊川擊壤集”與先天象數學 (Yichuan Jirang ji and the Learning of Before-heaven Images and Numbers).” Zhouyi yanjiu 周易研究 (Research of the Book of Changes) 3: 3–10.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. 1995. Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflection on the Claim that God Speaks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wyatt, Don J. 1996. The Recluse of Loyang: Shao Yung and the Moral Evolution of Early Sung Thought. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

———. 2013. “The Transcendence of the Past: Objectivity, Relativism, and Moralism in the Historical Thought of Shao Yong.” Monumenta Serica 61: 203–26.

Yan, Zhonghu. 2009. “Ultimate Reality in Confucianism.” Religion Compass 3 (6): 951–60.

Yao, Xinzhong. 2016. Wisdom in Early Confucian and Israelite Traditions. London, New York: Routledge.

Zheng, Dingguo 鄭定國. 1998. Shao Yong shi xin 邵雍詩心 (Poetic heart/mind of Shao Yong). Taipei: Yunyuan shucheng.




How to Cite

Katz, S. (2022). In the Beginning Was Observing: Shao Yong on the Sagely Self, Observing and “Poeting”. Asian Studies, 10(2), 333–352.