Sunday, February 01, 2015

Historical Context: Tui Bei Tu


The tui bei tu is featured in the drama A Change of Destiny, although the poems used in the drama are not in accordance to the actual ones in the book.

The tui bei tu (推背圖) is a prophecy book that predicts the future of China. Its authorship is most often attributed to Li Chunfeng (李淳風) and Yuan Tiangang (袁天罡), who wrote the book at the request of Emperor Taizong of Tang. The tui bei tu is one of the seven famous prophecy books of ancient China.

The book contains 60 drawings, each with a corresponding poem. Each set of drawing and poem (excluding the first and last) is supposed to predict an event in Chinese history. The predictions span two millenniums, from the Tang Dynasty to the present.  Most scholars agree on the interpretations for the first 39 prophecies, but the remaining interpretations are significantly more controversial. By some accounts, 55 of the 58 prophecies have been fulfilled, while other sources have the number at around 47.

Drawing #60
The book's name, which translates to "Back-Pushing Sketch", derives from its last set of poem and drawing. Allegedly, Li got so absorbed with the task that he predicted two millenniums into the future. Eventually, Yuan pushed him in the back and said "There is too much to say. Let's go rest instead."

Inevitably, the authenticity of the prophecies has been questioned. Since the poems and drawings are cryptic in nature, their meanings are open to interpretation. Moreover, the book was banned and ordered to be destroyed numerous times throughout history. There were multiple versions in circulation, thus making it difficult to verify the original contents.

Nonetheless, examining the events contained in the tui bei tu presents a good overview of the history of China from the Tang Dynasty onward.

Tang Dynasty


Five Dynasties Ten Kingdoms


Song Dynasty


Yuan Dynasty


Ming Dynasty


Qing Dynasty


Republic of China


*Prophecies #40 onwards deal with modern China. There is a lack of consensus for the interpretations, thus, I will not provide a translation.

Leave a comment if you want to know more about any of the historical events above.

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