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Renwuzhi 人物志 "About Human Character"

The Renwuzhi 人物志 “About human character” is China’s oldest book on psychology. It was written by the Three Kingdoms period 三国 (220-280) scholar Liu Shao 刘卲. The book is 3 juan “scrolls” long and divided into 12 chapters. Human nature is expressed, according to Liu Shao, in two different ways, namely talent and character. These can be rightly applied for specific use after careful analyis. Talent (cai 材 “matter”) can be acquired by learning, yet all humans have also a certain portion of natural talent that is different is each person. Some persons have more of it, others less, some develop it earlier, others later. Human talents can be used for different purposes, and not everyone is able to take over each task. Sparingness, artificial skills, judicial skills, politics, the arts, philosophical talents, literary abilities, rhetorics or a heroic spirit are such talents that are unequally distributed among all people. Character is influenced not only by the five processes五行 of which the cosm is composed and to which it is subject, but also by the physical conditions of the body. There are, accordingly, strong people or weaker ones, audacious or prudent persons, persons with a love for specialized details and others with a broad interest, persons that are lenient and such that are impatient, active and moving people or passive and quiet persons, and people that like opennes and other loving to conceal matters.

Through a careful investigation of human talent and character a ruler will be able to give everyone an appropriate position in the state administration and, in a wider sense, also in society. This is, according to Liu Shao, possible because talent and character can be perceived by certain factors (the jiuzheng 九证 “nine proves”) that appear at the surface, namely spirit, wit, the physical condition, breath, colour of the face, comportment, general appearance, and speech. Yet the author also discusses reasons for an eventual failure of such an analyis and the reasons why talent and character are not necessarily apparent from the physical appearance. These are the seven resemblances (qisi 七似) and the seven errors (qimiu 七谬). The methods for analyis are the eight observations (baguan 八观) and five inspections (wushi 五视).

The method of rating persons and attributing a certain categorical rank to them followed the method during that time to give all important families a certain rank that qualified them for according positions in the state administration. TheConfucian concept of the holy man (shengren 圣人), the perfect noble, is explained by the terms youming 有名 “able to become famous” and wuming 无名 “not able to make oneself a name”, terms going back to Daoist thought of the activation of the “not” that corresponds to the natural way, the Dao, but also to the idea of a destiny posed upon the life of everyone.
There is a commentary written by Liu Bing 刘昞. The Renwuzhi was printed during the Song period 宋 (960-1279) by Ruan Yi 阮逸. For a long time it was categorized as a text of the schools of dialecticians (mingjia 名家), and Ruan Yi was the first to see it as a historiographical book. The compilers of the collectaneum Siku quanshu四库全书 categorized it as a “miscellaneous treatise”. The most common edition is aMing period 明 (1368-1644) print included in the collectaneum Sibu congkan 四部丛刊.

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