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Appendix I. The Tabu on Imperial Personal Names

The tabu on the personal names of emperors seems to have originated in the Chou period. Tso-chuan, Dk. Huan, VI, (Legge, p. 50; Couvreur, I, 93) says, "The people of Chou used [the custom of] tabuing [names] in serving the spirits [of the dead]; after they were dead, their personal names (ming 名) were in the future tabued." K'ung Ying-ta (574-648) accordingly concludes, "Before the Yin [dynasty] had ended, there was no procedure of tabu. Tabu originated with the Chou [dynasty]. The Chou [rulers] used the procedure of tabu in reverencing and serving their ancestral spirits."

Such a tabu did not mean, as is sometimes said, that an emperor's personal name was not supposed to exist for his subjects. The use of such a name seems to have been largely similar to the European lese majesty, and was punished as severely. This danger of punishment made every person who might prepare a memorial or even talk in the presence of officials highly conscious of the tabued names, since such persons had to be continually careful to avoid these names. Punishments were severe: HS 46: 3b says, "When [Shih] Chien was Chief of the Gentlemen-at-the Palace, he memorialized a matter and it was referred back to him. When [Shih] Chien [re]-read it, he was frightened and afraid, and said, `The writing for "horse" should have, together with the tail, five [strokes at the bottom of the character, one for the tail and four dots for the feet]. Now I have, however, [only written] four, one less than enough. If [Emperor Wu] had happened to have been irritated, [I should have been made to] die." Chou Shou-ch'ang, who quotes this passage in a note to HS 8: 13a, concludes that if a mistake in writing one character could have been punished thus severely, how much more a violation of tabu!

He also quotes the T'ang dynastic code as follows: "Whoever presents a memorial, memorializing matters with a mistake which violates the names tabued [by the imperial] ancestral temples, shall be beaten 80 heavy strokes; whoever orally makes a mistake or in writings other [than memo says, "Whoever in his own personal name violates and breaks [a tabu] shall serve three years of penal servitude; [but] if by a homonymn or if by using separately one word of a double [tabued] name, he violates [a tabu], he shall not be sentenced [for crime]." (The latter provision is taken from the Book of Rites, I, i; Legge, I, 93; Couvreur, I, p. 57, 58). Chou Shou-ch'ang adds, "By the aid of these [facts], we can estimate [what were] the Han [dynastic] regulations."

Since it was so important for persons who composed memorials to know exactly what to avoid, tablets with the tabued names were hung up in public places for the guidance of the gentry. The History of the Southern Ch'i Dynasty, 46: 5a ff, in the biography of Wang Tz'u (lived 451-491), recounts that after Wang Tz'u had become a high official, he considered that the practise of placing "in the court and halls a tablet with the tabus [written on it] 朝堂諱榜 was not an ancient or old custom." Emperor Wu thereupon order a discussion concerning the discontinuance of this practise. The Gentleman Division Head of Ritual, Jen Fang, said in the course of the discussion, "The institution of publishing the tabus has, however, come down from Han times to the Chin [period] for successive ages without error. The present tablets of tabus have moreover a clear meaning, and imitate [the first Han tabu, that instead of] the word pang, [meaning `country', the personal name of Emperor Kao, there should be written the word] kuo [meaning `state'], which is really a proof of [how] things [were done in] the past. The importance of the tabu on personal names is that it is the extreme of affection and respectfulness. Hence [such tablets] are hung in the various courts and halls where the gentry gather, in order to bring it about that when they rise and lie down, at morning and evening, [the tabus] may not escape their eyes or ears. [This] way of prohibiting and avoiding [tabus] is most evident and easy to follow." Wang Tz'u's proposal was accordingly dropped. Chou Shou-ch'ang points out that in Han times there must accordingly have been this practise of publishing tabus.

Hsün Yüeh (148-209) probably quotes the statements on these tabu-boards, in his notes to the imperial titles at the beginning of each HS "Annals." For example, for Emperor Hui he writes, "His tabued personal name was Ying, and for this word write man 諱盈之字曰滿" (HS 2: 1a); for the Empress of the Kao-tsu, "Her tabued personal name was Chih, and for this word write yeh-chi 諱雉之字曰野雞" (HS 3: 1a); etc. (In reading these condensed phrases, Hsün Yüeh's comment on the Kao-tsu [HS 1A: 1b] is illuminating, "His tabued personal name was Pang and his style was Chi. For the word pang, write kuo 諱邦字季邦之字曰國.")

Thus it became possible to identify what particular words were being tabued and, when the tabu was dropped, to restore the original word. Because of the tabu on the personal name of Emperor Ming of the Later Han Dynasty, (ruled 58-75 A.D. during and after which period Pan Ku wrote his history), the surname Chuang 莊 was changed to Yen 嚴 and was thus originally written in the HS; it is hence immediately apparent that for Former Han times the surname Yen should be translated Chuang, while for times after Emperor Ming's accession, the same surname has been Yen. In books republished after a tabu had been announced, tabued words were changed; when a book was again republished after a tabu had been lifted, as by a change in the dynasty, the previously tabued words were restored. Sometimes in this procedure, words were mistakenly restored (cf. 6: n. 28.1). The date of a book may sometimes be determined from the tabus found in that edition. When, moreover, the relationship of a previous emperor to the reigning ruler became distant, due to a large number of generations intervening, tabus were relaxed. Thus Pan Ku, writing in the Later Han dynasty, used the tabued names of even the earlier Han rulers, who were ancestors of the Later Han dynasty. This practise of relaxing tabus of distant ancestors may be derived from the practise of increasingly doing away with the temples of distant imperial ancestors and worshipping separately only the five immediately preceding generations, together with the founder of the house (cf. Glossary sub Wei Hsüan-ch'eng). The tabu on the personal name of Emperor Kao, Pang, may however have sometimes been maintained all through this period. In 99 A: 35b, a memorial to Wang Mang tabus this word, which was probably written in the original portent; but the present text of 99 B: 19a uses this word. Shuo-wen, 6 B: 5b, does not mention any tabu on this word, hence it was not always tabued in Later Han times. The mou-tzu (by Mou Tzu-po, fl. 190-3) however tabus pang; cf. Pelliot in T'oung Pao, v. 19, p. 397, n. 321. Han writers were often lax about tabus, while originally tabued words may have been restored by later editors.

Imperial personal names were usually composed of only one character, following the principle enunciated in the Kung-Yang Commentary, in order to avoid troubling the people by many tabus (cf. 99 A: n. 8.7). When an emperor's personal name contained a commonly used word, he often changed it to an unusual word, in order that the people should not fall into crime by violating the tabu. Thus Emperor Hsüan changed his name from the very ordinary words, Ping-yi (meaning, "his illness is over," a magical name for a sick child) to the unusual word Hsün 詢 (cf. 8: 13a, b). Because they were homonyms, the surname of the famous Hsün 荀-tzu was written Sun 孫, and remained so written until Yang Liang corrected it in the ninth century. (The words hsün and sun must therefore have been homonymns in Han times; they are today pronounced exactly alike in some Chinese dialects, e.g., in Hunan, although Karlgren, Grammata Serica, nos. 392o and 434a, gives distinct archaic and T'ang pronunciations for them.) Some later emperors followed Emperor Hsüan's example.

Since the emperor was considered the parent of his people, Confucian sons have similarly tabued the given names of their fathers and close ancestors. The Li-chi, I, i, v, 16 (Couvreur, I, 58) holds that the tabu on ancestral names is primary and that upon the names of rulers is in imitation of it. Confucius, however, taught that the practises of the Chou rulers should be those of an educated gentleman; hence the tabu on ancestral given names may well have first been a practise of the Chou kingly clan and have been spread to the lower orders through Confucian influence; most of this spread may indeed have occurred in the early part of the Former Han period, when the practise of mourning to the third year similarly spread.

As a consequence of its use upon the tabu-boards, the word for tabu (hui 諱) came to have the meaning of "avoided personal name." Chou Shou-ch'ang writes, "Accordingly, when [a person was alive, his personal name] was called his ming; [after] he was dead, it was called his hui (tabu)." But in his edict changing his personal name, Emperor Hsüan speaks of his personal name as his hui while he was still alive. Chou Shou-ch'ang says in explanation, "In Han [times], there was no difference in calling [a personal name] a ming or a hui. Shuo-wen [ca. 100 A.D.; 7 A: 7b, sub] the radical, `Grain', [the word] hsiu 季, says, `The Emperor's hui,' meaning [Emperor] Kuang-wu, [reigned A.D. 25-57 ibid., 1 A: 1b, sub] the radical `Signs 示', [the word] yu 祐, it says, `The Emperor's hui,' [which must] then [mean] Emperor An [reigned 107-125]. Hsü Shen, [the author of the Shuo-wen] died in 121; his son, [Hsü] Ch'ung, in that very year presented the Shuo-wen to the Emperor, while Emperor An was still alive. This [fact proves that] while still alive, [an emperor's personal name] was called his hui.

"[According to] the Record of the Southern Yen [Dynasty], when Mu-yung Tê [reigned 398-404] ascended the imperial throne, he said, `[Emperor] Hsüan of the Han [dynasty] pitied his officials and common people [because] they violated his hui, hence he changed his personal name (ming). We now add the one word Pei 備 to be [Our] second personal name (ming), desiring to open the way whereby [Our] subjects may avoid [Our] hui (tabued name).' This [quotation shows that] Mu-yung [Tê], while alive, himself called [his personal name] his hui and also referred to this act of [Emperor] Hsiao-hsüan."

It is difficult to determine when the motivation of this tabu on personal names was magical and when it was merely a matter of respectfulness. For some persons, it was undoubtedly magical---the use of a personal name put the name, and by sympathy, that person himself, in rapport with the circumstances mentioned in connection with the name, some of which might easily be harmful: the emperor was so important for the well-being of the empire that it would be merely prudent to avoid the use of his name. If the emperor's personal name was used in an inauspicious set of words, that inauspiciousness would be reflected upon him, and through him, upon the empire. The age was, in many respects, deeply superstitious. Divination, auspicious and inauspicious days, and the like were features of the best Confucian teaching. Tung Chung-shu made rain in time of drought by closing the south gates of the city and opening the north gates, to allow the yin influence full entrance and keep the yang influence out (cf. Glossary, sub voce). Before the time of Wang Mang, and after, the emperor, vassal kings, nobles, and officials, including disciples of private schools, all wore "kang-mao amulets," in order to protect themselves against diseases and epidemics (cf. 99: App. III). After Wang Mang had done away with the Han dynasty, he felt compelled to do away with his knife-coins, because the surname of that dynasty, Liu 劉, contains the word knife 刀.

Yet Confucius had doubted the spirits and Hsün-tzu had denied the existence of all spirits; he had explained superstitious beliefs in a purely naturalistic manner (cf. Works of Hsuntze, Bk. XVII). Jen Fang adopted Hsün-tzü's interpretation, and many other intelligent persons undoubtedly did the same. For them this tabu was merely a matter of respect. Thus its significance was an individual matter: to some it was magic and to others merely a matter of respectfulness.

For further discussion, cf. Ch'en Yüan, "The Traditional Omission of Sacred and Imperial Names in Chinese Writings" (in Chinese), Yenching Journal of Chinese Studies, no. 4, Dec. 1928, pp. 537-651; E. Haenisch, "Die Heiligung des Vater- und Fürstennames in China," Berichte über d. Verhandlungen d. Sächischen Akademie d. Wissenschaften, Philolog.-hist. Klasse, 84. Band, 1932, 4. Heft; M. A. Vissière, "Traité des charactères chinoise que l'on évite par respect," Journal Asiatique, vol. IX, 18, 1901, 320-373.

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