Theories about Local Environment: The Framework of Fenye-Qihou-Zaixiang in the Local Gazetteers

The theoretical framework of correlative thinking and correlative cosmology received much attention in Sinology throughout the twentieth century. According to Michael Puett, the “evolutionary model” and the “cultural-essentialist model” dominated the descriptions of Chinese correlative thinking and cosmology in the previous decades.

1) As the rethinking and breakthrough of these two models, John Henderson opened up a historical method for the investigation of the correlative cosmology throughout Chinese history, and painted a picture of the “decline” of correlative cosmology in the post-Han dynasties. However, compared to the Qing dynasty (in the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries), the criticisms of correlative cosmology in the Song-Yuan-Ming period seemed occasional, with only very few “metaphysic” discussions during this time.

2) Henderson limited his investigation within the opinions of the elites, the “high cultures” in his own term, which means that he overlooked the fact that theories were still in practice long after the Han.

Astrological field allocation (fenye 分野) was one of the most important representatives of correlative cosmology, and experienced a similar process of decline after the Han. However, this fact together with the use of fenye theory in local gazetteers since the Ming Dynasty constitutes a contradiction that needs to be explained. Therefore, our central research interest in this project is to explore the functions of the fenye framework in Chinese local gazetteers. To this end, I will examine whether local use changed fenye culture or the relationship between man and nature in fenye theory, observing  where it is placed in the structure of local gazetteers. Among many possibilities, I focus on the use of fenye as the framework to describe the local “natural” environment, which includes the concepts of qihou 氣候 and zaixiang.

Take, for instance, a record from the sixteenth century. In the Nanan Fuzhi 南安府志, the chapter “fenye” is in the seventh volume, Tianwen zhi 天文志. The other chapter under this title is “Qihou” 氣候. The connection between the two chapters is the theories of zhan 占 : zhan hou 占候 in the chapter “fenye” and zhan feng xiong 佔豐兇 in the chapter “Qihou”. There are other examples in local gazetteers that show different theories about the local environment.


Step 1: Finding the structure that fenye appears in. With the help of LoGaRT, I will analyze the catalogs to see which level is the same and higher than that of fenye, and classify the types of the structure.

Step 2: Focusing on the fenye-qihou-zaixiang framework and examining the proportion of it among different types of the frameworks.

Step 3: Analyzing the contents of the fenye-qihou-zaixiang framework and classifying the types of these frameworks by the functions they claim.

Step 4: Analyzing the relationship of nature and man reflected in the fenye-qihou-zaixiang frameworks, trying to understand the change (or maintenance) of traditional correlative cosmologies in local gazetteers throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties.