Hun and po
Hun and po are types of souls in Chinese philosophy
Chinese philosophy
Chinese philosophy is philosophy written in the Chinese tradition of thought. The majority of traditional Chinese philosophy originates in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States era, during a period known as the "Hundred Schools of Thought", which was characterized by significant intellectual and...

 and religion
Religion in China
Religion in China has been characterized by pluralism since the beginning of Chinese history. The Chinese religions are family-oriented and do not demand the exclusive adherence of members. Some scholars doubt the use of the term "religion" in reference to Buddhism and Taoism, and suggest "cultural...

. Within this ancient soul dualism
Soul dualism
Soul dualism or a dualistic soul concept is a range of beliefs that a person has two kinds of souls. In many cases, one of the souls is associated with body functions and the other one can leave the body . Sometimes the plethora of soul types can be even more complex...

 tradition, every living human has both a hun spiritual, ethereal, and yang
Yin and yang
In Asian philosophy, the concept of yin yang , which is often referred to in the West as "yin and yang", is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn. Opposites thus only...

 soul that leaves the body after death and a po corporeal, substantive, and yin
Yin and yang
In Asian philosophy, the concept of yin yang , which is often referred to in the West as "yin and yang", is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn. Opposites thus only...

 soul that remains with the corpse. There are controversies over the number of souls in a person, for instance, the sanhunqipo 三魂七魄 "three hun and seven po" in Daoism. The historian Yü Ying-shih
Yu Ying-shih
Yu Ying-shih is a Chinese American historian known for his mastery of sources for Chinese history and philosophy, his ability to synthesize them on a wide range of topics, and for his advocacy for a new Confucianism...

 (1987:363) describes hun and po as "two pivotal concepts that have been, and remain today, the key to understanding Chinese views of the human soul and the afterlife."


The Chinese characters 魂 and 魄 for hun and po typify the most common character classification
Chinese character classification
All Chinese characters are logograms, but there are several derivative types. These include a handful which derive from pictograms and a number which are ideographic in origin, but the vast majority originated as phono-semantic compounds . In older literature, Chinese characters in general may be...

 of "radical-phonetic" or "phono-semantic" graphs, which combine a "radical
Radical (Chinese character)
A Chinese radical is a component of a Chinese character. The term may variously refer to the original semantic element of a character, or to any semantic element, or, loosely, to any element whatever its origin or purpose...

" or "signific" (recurring graphic elements that roughly provide semantic information) with a "phonetic" (suggesting ancient pronunciation
Pronunciation refers to the way a word or a language is spoken, or the manner in which someone utters a word. If one is said to have "correct pronunciation", then it refers to both within a particular dialect....

). Hun 魂 (or 䰟) and po 魄  have the "ghost radical" gui 鬼 "ghost; devil" and phonetics of yun 云 "cloud; cloudy" and bai 白 "white; clear; pure".

Besides the common meaning of "a soul", po 魄 was a variant Chinese character
Variant Chinese character
Variant Chinese characters are Chinese characters that are homophones and synonyms. Almost all variants are allographs in most circumstances, such as casual handwriting...

 for po 霸 "a lunar phase
Lunar phase
A lunar phase or phase of the moon is the appearance of the illuminated portion of the Moon as seen by an observer, usually on Earth. The lunar phases change cyclically as the Moon orbits the Earth, according to the changing relative positions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun...

" and po 粕 "dregs". The Shujing "Book of History" used po 魄 as a graphic variant for po 霸 "dark aspect of the moon" – this character usually means ba 霸 "overlord; hegemon". For example, "On the third month, when [生魄] the moon began to wane, the duke of Chow [i.e., Duke of Zhou
Duke of Zhou
The Duke of Zhou played a major role in consolidating the newly-founded Zhou Dynasty . He was the brother of King Wu of Zhou, the first king of the ancient Chinese Zhou Dynasty...

] commenced the foundations, and proceeded to build the new great city of Lǒ." (tr. Legge 1865:434). The Zhuangzi
Zhuangzi (book)
The Taoist book Zhuangzi was named after its purported author Zhuangzi, the philosopher. Since 742 CE, when Emperor Xuanzong of Tang mandated honorific titles for Taoist texts, it has also been known as the Nánhuá Zhēnjīng , literally meaning "True Classic of Southern Florescence," alluding to...

"[Writings of] Master Zhuang" wrote zaopo 糟粕 (lit. "rotten dregs") "worthless; unwanted; waste matter" with a po 魄 variant. A wheelwright sees Duke Huan of Qi with books by dead sages and says, "what you are reading there is nothing but the [糟魄] chaff and dregs of the men of old!" (tr. Watson 1968:152).

In the history of Chinese writing, characters for po 魄/霸 "lunar brightness" appeared before those for hun 魂 "soul; spirit". The spiritual hun 魂 and po 魄 "dual souls" are first recorded in Warring States Period
Warring States Period
The Warring States Period , also known as the Era of Warring States, or the Warring Kingdoms period, covers the Iron Age period from about 475 BC to the reunification of China under the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC...

 (475-221 BCE) Seal Script
Seal script
Seal script is an ancient style of Chinese calligraphy. It evolved organically out of the Zhōu dynasty script , arising in the Warring State of Qin...

 characters. The lunar po 魄 or 霸 "moon's brightness" appears in both Zhou Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
The Zhou Dynasty was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang Dynasty and preceded the Qin Dynasty. Although the Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history, the actual political and military control of China by the Ji family lasted only until 771 BC, a period known as...

 (1045-256 BCE) Bronzeware script
Bronzeware script
Chinese Bronze inscriptions are writing in a variety of Chinese scripts on Chinese bronze artifacts such as zhōng bells and dǐng tripodal cauldrons from the Shāng dynasty to the Zhōu dynasty and even later...

 and Oracle bone script
Oracle bone script
Oracle bone script refers to incised ancient Chinese characters found on oracle bones, which are animal bones or turtle shells used in divination in Bronze Age China...

, but not in Shang Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
The Shang Dynasty or Yin Dynasty was, according to traditional sources, the second Chinese dynasty, after the Xia. They ruled in the northeastern regions of the area known as "China proper" in the Yellow River valley...

 (ca. 1600-1046 BCE) oracle inscriptions. The earliest form of this "lunar brightness" character was found on a (ca. 11th century BCE) Zhou oracle bone inscription (Yü 1987:370).


The po soul's etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

  is better understood than the hun soul's. Schuessler (2007:290, 417) reconstructs hun 魂 "'spiritual soul' which makes a human personality" and po 魄 "vegetative or animal soul … which accounts for growth and physiological functions" as Middle Chinese
Middle Chinese
Middle Chinese , also called Ancient Chinese by the linguist Bernhard Karlgren, refers to the Chinese language spoken during Southern and Northern Dynasties and the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties...

 γuən and pʰak from Old Chinese
Old Chinese
The earliest known written records of the Chinese language were found at a site near modern Anyang identified as Yin, the last capital of the Shang dynasty, and date from about 1200 BC....

 *wûn and *phrâk.

The (ca. 80 CE) Baihu Tang 白虎堂 gave pseudo-etymologies for hun and po through Chinese character puns. It explains hun 魂 with zhuan 傳 "deliver; pass on; impart; spread" and yun 芸 "rue
Rue is a genus of strongly scented evergreen subshrubs 20–60 cm tall, in the family Rutaceae, native to the Mediterranean region, Macaronesia and southwest Asia. There are perhaps 8 to 40 species in the genus...

 (used to keep insects out of books); to weed", and po 魄 with po 迫 " compel; force; coerce; urgent" and bai 白 "white; bright".
What do the words hun and [po] mean? Hun expresses the idea of continuous propagation ([zhuan] 傳), unresting flight; it is the qi
In traditional Chinese culture, qì is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as life energy, lifeforce, or energy flow. Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts...

of the Lesser Yang, working in man in an external direction, and it governs the nature (or the instincts, [xing] 性). [Po] expresses the idea of a continuous pressing urge ([po] 迫) on man; it is the [qi] of the Lesser Yin, and works in him, governing the emotions ([qing] 情). Hun is connected with the idea of weeding ([yun] 芸), for with the instincts the evil weeds (in man's nature) are removed. [Po] is connected with the idea of brightening ([bai] 白), for with the emotions the interior (of the personality) is governed. (tr. Needham and Lu 1974:87)

Etymologically, Schuessler says 魄 "animal soul" "is the same word as" 霸 "a lunar phase
Lunar phase
A lunar phase or phase of the moon is the appearance of the illuminated portion of the Moon as seen by an observer, usually on Earth. The lunar phases change cyclically as the Moon orbits the Earth, according to the changing relative positions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun...

". He cites the Zuozhuan (534 BCE, see below) using the lunar jishengpo 既生魄 to mean "With the first development of a fetus grows the vegetative soul".
, the soul responsible for growth, is the same as the waxing and waning of the moon". The meaning 'soul' has probably been transferred from the moon since men must have been aware of lunar phases long before they had developed theories on the soul. This is supported by the etymology 'bright', and by the inverted word order which can only have originated with meteorological expressions … The association with the moon explains perhaps why the soul is classified as Yin … in spite of the etymology 'bright' (which should be Yang), hun's Yang classificiation may be due to the association with clouds and by extension sky, even though the word invokes 'dark'. 'Soul' and 'moon' are related in other cultures, by cognation or convergence, as in Tibeto-Burman
Tibeto-Burman languages
The Tibeto-Burman languages are the non-Chinese members of the Sino-Tibetan language family, over 400 of which are spoken thoughout the highlands of southeast Asia, as well as lowland areas in Burma ....

 and Proto-Lolo–Burmese *s/ʼ-la "moon; soul; spirit", Written Tibetan
Classical Tibetan
Classical Tibetan refers to the language of any text written in Tibetan after the Old Tibetan period and before the modern period, but in particular refers to the language of early canonical texts translated from other languages, especially Sanskrit...

 cognates bla "soul" and zla "moon", and Proto-Miao–Yao *bla "spirit; soul; moon". (2007:417)

Lunar associations of po are evident in the Classical Chinese
Classical Chinese
Classical Chinese or Literary Chinese is a traditional style of written Chinese based on the grammar and vocabulary of ancient Chinese, making it different from any modern spoken form of Chinese...

 terms chanpo 蟾魄 "the moon" (with "toad; toad in the moon; moon") and haopo 皓魄 "moon; moonlight" (with "white; bright; luminous").

The semantics of po 魄 "white soul" probably originated with 霸 "lunar whiteness". Zhou bronze inscriptions commonly recorded lunar phases with the terms jishengpo 既生魄 "after the brightness has grown" and jisipo 既死魄 "after the brightness has died", which Schuessler explains as "second quarter of the lunar month" and "last quarter of the lunar month". Chinese scholars have variously interpreted these two terms as lunar quarters or fixed days, and (Shaughnessy 1992:136-145) Wang Guowei
Wang Guowei
Wang Guowei , courtesy name Jing'an or Baiyu , was a Chinese scholar, writer and poet...

's lunar-quarter analysis the most likely. Thus, jishengpo is from the 7th/8th to the 14th/15th days of the lunar month and jisipo is from the 23rd/24th to the end of the month. Yü (1987:370) translates them as "after the birth of the crescent" and "after the death of the crescent". Etymologically, lunar and spiritual po < pʰak < *phrâk 魄 are cognate with bai < bɐk < *brâk 白 "white" (Matisoff 1980, Yü 1981, Carr 1985). According to Hu Shih
Hu Shih
Hu Shih , born Hu Hung-hsing , was a Chinese philosopher, essayist and diplomat. His courtesy name was Shih-chih . Hu is widely recognized today as a key contributor to Chinese liberalism and language reform in his advocacy for the use of written vernacular Chinese...

 (1946:30), "The primitive Chinese seem to have regarded the changing phases of the moon as periodic birth and death of its p'o, its 'white light' or soul." Yü (1981:83) says this ancient association between the po soul and the "growing light of the new moon is of tremendous importance to our understanding of certain myths related to the seventh day of the months." Two celebrated examples in Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology is a collection of cultural history, folktales, and religions that have been passed down in oral or written tradition. These include creation myths and legends and myths concerning the founding of Chinese culture and the Chinese state...

 are Xi Wangmu and Emperor Wu meeting on the seventh day of the first lunar month and The Princess and the Cowherd or Qixi Festival held on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

The etymology of hun < γuən < *wûn 魂 is comparatively less certain. Schuessler cites two possibilities.
Since is the 'bright' soul, hún is the 'dark' soul and therefore cognate to yún 雲 'cloud' [Carr 1985:62], perhaps in the sense of 'shadowy' because some believe that the hún soul will live after death in a world of shadows [Eberhard 1967:17]. (2007:290)


The correlative "soul" words hun 魂 and po 魄 have several meanings in Chinese plus many translations and explanations in English. The table below shows translation equivalents from some major Chinese-English dictionaries.
Chinese-English dictionary translations of hun and po
Dictionary Hun Po
Herbert Giles
Herbert Allen Giles was a British diplomat and sinologist, educated at Charterhouse. He modified a Mandarin Chinese Romanization system earlier established by Thomas Wade, resulting in the widely known Wade-Giles Chinese transliteration system...

The soul, that part of the soul (as opp. to 魄) which goes to heaven and is able to leave the body, carrying with it an appearance of physical form; the subliminal self, expl. as 人陽神. The mind; wits; faculties. The soul; that part of the soul (as opposed to 魂) which is indissolubly attached to the body, and goes down to earth with it at death; the supraliminal self, expl. as 人陰神. Form; shape. The disc or substance of the moon from the time it begins to wane to new moon.
Robert Henry Mathews
Robert Henry Mathews was an Australian missionary and Sinologist, best known for his 1931 Chinese-English Dictionary . Revised American edition . Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674123502.-References:...

The soul, the spiritual part of man that ascends to heaven, as contrasted with 魄. The wits; the spiritual faculties. The animal or inferior soul; the animal or sentient life which inheres in the body – the body in this sense; the animals spirits; this soul goes to the earth with the body.
Chao and Yang (1947) the soul (of a living person or of the dead) the physical side of the soul
Karlgren (1957) spiritual soul (as opp. to 魄) the animal soul of man (as opp. to 魂)
Lin Yutang
Lin Yutang was a Chinese writer and inventor. His informal but polished style in both Chinese and English made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, and his compilations and translations of classic Chinese texts into English were bestsellers in the West.-Youth:Lin was born in...

Soul; the finer spirits of man as dist. 魄, the baser spirits or animal forces (Taoism) the baser animal spirits of man, contrasted with finer elements 魂 (三魂七魄 three finer spirits and seven animal spirits), the two together conceived as animating the human body
Liang Shih-Chiu
Liang Shih-chiu , a renowned educator, writer, translator, literary theorist and lexicographer.-Biography:Liang was born in Beijing in 1903. His father, Liang Xianxi , was a Xiucai in the Qing Dynasty. He was educated at Tsinghua College in Beijing from 1915 to 1923...

a soul; a spirit. 1. (Taoism) vigor; animation; life. 2. form; shape; body. 3. the dark part of the moon.
Wu (1993) ① soul ② mood; spirit ③ the lofty spirit of a nation ① soul ② vigour; spirit
Ling et al. (2002) ① same as 靈魂 … soul; believed by the superstitious to be an immaterial spiritual entity distinguished from but coexistent with the physical body of a person and a dominant spiritual force, and which leaves upon the person's death. ② spirit; mood. ③ lofty spirit. ① soul; spiritual matter believed by religious people as dependent on human's body. ② vigour; spirit.
John DeFrancis
John DeFrancis was an American linguist, sinologist, author of Chinese language textbooks, lexicographer of Chinese dictionaries, and Professor Emeritus of Chinese Studies at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa....

soul, spirit; mood ① soul; ② vigor; spirit

Both Chinese hun and po are translatable as English "soul
A soul in certain spiritual, philosophical, and psychological traditions is the incorporeal essence of a person or living thing or object. Many philosophical and spiritual systems teach that humans have souls, and others teach that all living things and even inanimate objects have souls. The...

" or "spirit
The English word spirit has many differing meanings and connotations, most of them relating to a non-corporeal substance contrasted with the material body.The spirit of a living thing usually refers to or explains its consciousness.The notions of a person's "spirit" and "soul" often also overlap,...

", and both are basic components in "soul" compounds
Compound (linguistics)
In linguistics, a compound is a lexeme that consists of more than one stem. Compounding or composition is the word formation that creates compound lexemes...

. In the following examples, all Chinese-English translation equivalents are from DeFrancis (2003).
  • hunpo 魂魄 "soul; psyche"
  • linghun 靈魂 "soul; spirit"
  • hunling 魂靈 "(colloquial) soul; ghost"
  • yinhun 陰魂 "soul; spirit; apparition"
  • sanhunqipo 三魂七魄 "soul; three finer spirits and several baser instincts that motivate a human being"
  • xinpo 心魄 "soul"

Hunpo and linghun are the most frequently used among these "soul" words.

Joseph Needham
Joseph Needham
Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham, CH, FRS, FBA , also known as Li Yuese , was a British scientist, historian and sinologist known for his scientific research and writing on the history of Chinese science. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1941, and as a fellow of the British...

 and Lu Gwei-djen
Lu Gwei-djen
Lu Gwei-Djen was an expert on the History of science and technology in China, doctor of nutriology. She was an important researcher and co-author of the project Science and Civilization in China series led by Joseph Needham...

, eminent historians of science and technology in China
History of science and technology in China
The history of science and technology in China is both long and rich with many contributions to science and technology. In antiquity, independently of other civilizations, ancient Chinese philosophers made significant advances in science, technology, mathematics, and astronomy...

, (1974:88) define hun and po in modern terms. "Peering as far as one can into these ancient psycho-physiological ideas, one gains the impression that the distinction was something like that between what we would call motor and sensory activity on the one hand, and also voluntary as against vegetative processes on the other."

Farzeen Baldrian-Hussein (2008:521) cautions about hun and po translations: "Although the term "souls" is often used to refer to them, they are better seen as two types of vital entities, the source of life in every individual. The hun is Yang, luminous, and volatile, while the po is Yin, somber, and heavy."


Based on Zuozhuan usages of hun and po in four historical contexts, Yü (1987:370) extrapolates that po was the original name for a human soul, and the dualistic conception of hun and po "began to gain currency in the middle of the sixth century" BCE.

Two earlier 6th century contexts used the po soul alone. Both describe Tian
Tian is one of the oldest Chinese terms for the cosmos and a key concept in Chinese mythology, philosophy, and religion. During the Shang Dynasty the Chinese called god Shangdi or Di , and during the Zhou Dynasty Tian "heaven; god" became synonymous with Shangdi...

天 "heaven; god" duo 奪 "seizing; taking away" a person's po, which resulted in a loss of mental faculties. In 593 BCE (Duke Xuan 15th year, tr. Legge 1872:329), after Zhao Tong 趙同 behaved inappropriately at the Zhou court, an observer predicted: "In less than ten years [Zhao Tong] will be sure to meet with great calamity. Heaven has taken his [魄] wits away from him." In 543 BCE (Duke Xiang 29th year, tr. Legge 1872:551), Boyou 伯有 from Zheng (state)
Zheng (state)
Zheng () was a vassal state in China during the Zhou Dynasty located in the centre of ancient China in modern day Henan Province on the North China Plain about east of the royal capital at Luoyang. It was the most powerful of the vassal states at the beginning of the Eastern Zhou...

 acted irrationally, which an official interpreted as: "Heaven is destroying [Boyou], and has taken away his [魄] reason." Boyou's political enemies subsequently arranged to take away his hereditary position and assassinate him.

Two later 6th century Zuozhuan contexts used po together with the hun soul. In 534 BCE (Duke Zhao 7th year, tr. Legge 1872:618), the ghost of Boyou 伯有 (above) was seeking revenge on his murderers, and terrifying the people of Zheng. The philosopher and statesman Zi Chan
Zi Chan
Zi Chan , also known as Gongsun Qiao , was a statesman of the State of Zheng in ancient China during the Spring and Autumn Period. Born in Zheng to an aristocratic family, Zi Chan was a statesman of Zheng from 544 BC until his death. Under Zi Chan, Zheng even managed to expand its territory, a...

, realizing that Boyou's loss of hereditary office had caused his spirit to be deprived of sacrifices, reinstated his son to the family position, and the ghost disappeared. When a friend asked Zi Chan to explain ghosts, he gave what Yu (1972:372) calls "the locus classicus on the subject of the human soul in the Chinese tradition."
When a man is born, (we see) in his first movements what is called the [魄] animal soul. [既生魄] After this has been produced, it is developed into what is called the [魂] spirit. By the use of things the subtle elements are multiplied, and the [魂魄] soul and spirit become strong. They go on in this way, growing in etherealness and brightness, till they become (thoroughly) spiritual and intelligent. When an ordinary man or woman dies a violent death, the [魂魄] soul and spirit are still able to keep hanging about men in the shape of an evil apparition; how much more might this be expected in the case of [Boyou]. … Belonging to a family which had held for three generations the handle of government, his use of things had been extensive, the subtle essences which he had imbibed had been many. His clan also was a great one, and his connexions [sic] were distinguished. Is it not entirely reasonable that, having died a violent death, he should be a [鬼] ghost?

Compare the translation of Needham and Lu (1974:86), who interpret this as an early Chinese discourse on embryology.
When a foetus begins to develop, it is (due to) the [po]. (When this soul has given it a form) then comes the Yang part, called hun. The essences ([qing] 情) of many things (wu 物) then give strength to these (two souls), and so they acquire the vitality, animation and good cheer (shuang 爽) of these essences. Thus eventually there arises spirituality and intelligence (shen ming 神明)."

In 516 BCE (Duke Zhao 20th year, tr. Legge 1872:708), the Duke of Song (state)
Song (state)
Sòng was a state during the Eastern Zhou Spring and Autumn Period . Its capital was Shangqiu . In 701 BC, a political marriage between Lady Yong of Song and Duke Zhuang of Zheng empowered Song to manipulate the management of Zheng.- Origin :After King Wu of Zhou overthrew King Zhou of Shang,...

 and a guest named Shusun 叔孫 were both seen weeping during a supposedly joyful gathering. Yue Qi 樂祁, a Song court official, said: "This year both our ruler and [Shusun] are likely to die. I have heard that joy in the midst of grief and grief in the midst of joy are signs of a loss of [xin 心] mind. The essential vigor and brightness of the mind is what we call the [hun] and the [po]. When these leave it, how can the man continue long?"
Hun and po souls, explains Yu (1987:371), "are regarded as the very essence of the mind, the source of knowledge and intelligence. Death is thought to follow inevitably when the hun and the p'o leave the body. We have reason to believe that around this time the idea of hun was still relatively new."

Soon after death, it was believed that a person's hun and po could be temporarily reunited through a ritual called the fu 復 "recall; return", zhaohun 招魂 "summon the hun soul", or zhaohun fupo 招魂復魄 "to summon the hun-soul to reunite with the po-soul". The earliest known account of this ritual is found in the (3rd century BCE) Chu Ci
Chu Ci
Chu Ci , also known as Songs of the South or Songs of Chu, is an anthology of Chinese verse traditionally attributed to Qu Yuan and Song Yu from the Warring States Period, though about half of the poems seem to have been composed several centuries later, during the Han Dynasty...

poems Zhaohun 招魂 "Summons of the Soul" and Dazhao 大招 "The Great Summons" (Csikszentmihalyi 2006:140-141). For example, Wu/Shaman
Wu (shaman)
Wu are spirit mediums who have practiced divination, prayer, sacrifice, rainmaking, and healing in Chinese traditions dating back over 3,000 years.-The word wu:...

 Yang 巫陽 summons a man's soul in Zhaohun.
O soul, come back! Why have you left your old abode and sped to the earth's far corners, deserting the place of your delight to meet all those things of evil omen?

O soul, come back! In the east you cannot abide. There are giants there a thousand fathoms tall, who seek only for souls to catch, and ten suns that come out together, melting metal, dissolving stone …

0 soul, come back! In the south you cannot stay. There the people have tattooed faces and blackened teeth, they sacrifice flesh of men, and pound their bones to paste …

0 soul, come back! For the west holds many perils: The Moving Sands stretch on for a hundred leagues. You will be swept into the Thunder's Chasm and dashed in pieces, unable to help yourself ...

O soul, come back! In the north you may not stay. There the layered ice rises high, and the snowflakes fly for a hundred leagues and more…

0 soul, come back! Climb not to heaven above. For tigers and leopards guard the gates, with jaws ever ready to rend up mortal men …

0 soul, come back! Go not down to the Land of Darkness, where the Earth God lies, nine-coiled, with dreadful horns on his forehead, and a great humped back and bloody thumbs, pursuing men, swift-footed ... (tr. Hawkes 1985:244-5)

Hu (1946:31-32) proposed the hun concept originated in the south of China and then spread to the north sometime during the sixth century BCE. Calling this southern hypothesis "quite possible", Yu (1987:373) cites the Chuci (associated with the southern state of Chu
Chu (state)
The State of Chu was a Zhou Dynasty vassal state in present-day central and southern China during the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States Period . Its ruling house had the surname Nai , and clan name Yan , later evolved to surname Mi , and clan name Xiong...

) demonstrating "there can be little doubt that in the southern tradition the hun was regarded as a more active and vital soul than the p'o. The Chuci uses hun 65 times and po 5 times (4 in hunpo, which the Chuci uses interchangeably with hun, Brashier 1996:131).

The identification of the yin-yang principle with the hun and po souls evidently occurred in the late fourth and early third centuries BCE (Yü 1987:374), and by "the second century at the latest, the Chinese dualistic conception of soul had reached its definitive formulation." The Liji (11, tr. Legge 1885:444) compounds hun and po with qi
In traditional Chinese culture, qì is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as life energy, lifeforce, or energy flow. Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts...

"breath; life force" and xing "form; shape; body" in hunqi 魂氣 and xingpo 形魄. "The [魂氣] intelligent spirit returns to heaven the [形魄] body and the animal soul return to the earth; and hence arose the idea of seeking (for the deceased) in sacrifice in the unseen darkness and in the bright region above." Compare this modern translation (Yü 1987:374), "The breath-soul (hun-ch'I 魂氣) returns to heaven; the bodily soul (hsing-p'o 形魄) returns to earth. Therefore, in sacrificial-offering one should seek the meaning in the yin-yang 陰陽 principle." Yü summarizes hun/po dualism.
Ancient Chinese generally believed that the individual human life consists of a bodily part as well as a spiritual part. The physical body relies for its existence on food and drink produced by the earth. The spirit depends for its existence on the invisible life force called ch'i, which comes into the body from heaven. In other words, breathing and eating are the two basic activities by which a man continually maintains his life. But the body and the spirit are each governed by a soul, namely, the p'o and the hun. It is for this reason that they are referred to in the passage just quoted above as the bodily-soul (hsing-p'o) and the breath-soul (hun-ch'i) respectively. (Yü 1987:376)

Loewe (1979:9) explains with a candle metaphor; the physical xing is the "wick and substance of a candle", the spiritual po and hun are the "force that keeps the candle alight" and "light that emanates from the candle".

The Yin po and Yang hun were correlated with Chinese spiritual and medical beliefs. Hun 魂 is associated with shen
Shen (Chinese religion)
Shen is a keyword in Chinese philosophy, Chinese religion, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.-Pronunciation:Shén is the Modern Standard Chinese pronunciation of 神 "spirit; god, deity; spiritual, supernatural; awareness, consciousness etc". Reconstructions of shén in Middle Chinese Shen is a...

神 "spirit; god" and po 魄with gui 鬼 "ghost; demon; devil" (Carr 1985:62). The (ca. 1st century BCE) Lingshu Jing
Lingshu Jing
Lingshu Jing , also known as Divine Pivot, Spiritual Pivot, or Numinous Pivot, is an ancient Chinese medical text whose earliest version was probably compiled in the 1st century BCE on the basis of earlier texts...

medical text spiritually applies Wu Xing "Five Phase" theory to the Zang-fu "organs", associating the hun soul with liver (Chinese medicine) and blood, and the po soul with lung (Chinese medicine) and breath.
The liver stores the blood, and the blood houses the hun. When the vital energies of the liver are depleted, this results in fear; when repleted, this results in anger. … The lungs store the breath, and the breath houses the po. When the vital energies of the lungs are depleted, then the nose becomes blocked and useless, and so there is diminished breath; when they are repleted, there is panting, a full chest, and one must elevate the head to breathe. (tr. Brashier 1996:141)

The Lingshu (Brashier 1996:142) also records that the hun and po souls taking flight can cause restless dreaming, and eye disorders can scatter the souls causing mental confusion. Han medical texts reveal that hun and po departing from the body does not necessarily cause death but rather distress and sickness. Brashier (1996:145-6) parallels the translation of hun and po, "If one were to put an English word to them, they are our "wits", our ability to demarcate clearly, and like the English concept of "wits," they can be scared out of us or can dissipate in old age."
During the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

, the belief in hun and po remained prominent, although there was a great diversity of different, sometimes contradictory, beliefs about the afterlife (Hansen 2000:119; Csikszentmihalyi 2006:116-117, 140-142). Han burial customs provided nourishment and comfort for the po with the placement of grave goods
Grave goods
Grave goods, in archaeology and anthropology, are the items buried along with the body.They are usually personal possessions, supplies to smooth the deceased's journey into the afterlife or offerings to the gods. Grave goods are a type of votive deposit...

, including food, commodities, and even money within the tomb of the deceased (Hansen 2000:119). Chinese jade
Chinese jade
Chinese jade is any of the carved-jade objects produced in China from the Neolithic Period onward. The Chinese regarded carved-jade objects as intrinsically valuable...

 was believed to delay the decomposition of a body. Pieces of jade were commonly placed in bodily orifices, or rarely crafted into jade burial suits.

Generations of sinologists have repeatedly asserted that Han-era people commonly believed the heavenly hun and earthly po souls separated at death, but recent scholarship and archeology suggest that hunpo dualism was more an academic theory than a popular faith. Anna Seidel
Anna Seidel
Anna Katharina Seidel was a German Sinologist who was regarded as an authority in the study of Taoism. During her 22 years at the Institut du Hobogirin of the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient in Kyoto, Seidel had become the centre of gravity for the many Western scholars of East Asian studies who...

 analyzed funerary texts discovered in Han tombs, which mention not only po souls but also hun remaining with entombed corpses, and wrote (1982:107), "Indeed, a clear separation of a p'o, appeased with the wealth included in the tomb, from a hun departed to heavenly realms is not possible." Seidel later (1987:227) called for reappraising Han abstract notions of hun and po, which "do not seem to have had as wide a currency as we assumed up to now." Pu Muzhou surveyed usages of the words hun and po on Han Dynasty bei 碑 "stele
A stele , also stela , is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief , or painted onto the slab...

" erected at graves and shrines, and concluded (1993:216, tr. Brashier 1996126), "The thinking of ordinary people seems to have been quite hazy on the matter of what distinguished the hun from the po." These stele texts contrasted souls between a corporeal hun or hunpo at the cemetery and a spiritual shen at the family shrine. Kenneth Brashier (1996:158) reexamined the evidence for hunpo dualism and relegated it "to the realm of scholasticism rather than general beliefs on death." Brashier (1996:136-137) cited several Han sources (grave deeds, Houhanshu, and Jiaoshi Yilin
Jiaoshi Yilin
Jiaoshi Yilin is a Chinese book of divination composed during the Western Han Dynasty. Modeled on the I Ching, the work was attributed to Jiao Yanshou , though not much is known about the author....

) attesting beliefs that "the hun remains in the grave instead of flying up to heaven", and suggested it "was sealed into the grave to prevent its escape." Another Han text, the Fengsu Tongyi
Fengsu TongYi
Fengsu Tongyi , or "Penetrating Customs", is a book written in about 195AD, by author Ying Shao, who lived during the later Eastern Han period...

says, "The vital energy of the hun of a dead person floats away; therefore a mask is made in order to retain it."


Hun 魂 and po 魄 spiritual concepts were important in several Daoist traditions. For instance (Baldrian-Hussein 2008:522), "Since the volatile hun is fond of wandering and leaving the body during sleep, techniques were devised to restrain it, one of which entailed a method of staying constantly awake."

The sanhunqipo 三魂七魄 "three hun and seven po" were anthropomorphized and visualized. Ge Hong
Ge Hong
Ge Hong , courtesy name Zhichuan , was a minor southern official during the Jìn Dynasty of China, best known for his interest in Daoism, alchemy, and techniques of longevity...

's (ca. 320 CE) Baopuzi
The Baopuzi , written by the Jin Dynasty scholar Ge Hong 葛洪 , is divided into esoteric Neipian 內篇 "Inner Chapters" and exoteric Waipian 外篇 "Outer Chapters". The Daoist Inner Chapters discuss topics such as techniques for xian 仙 "immortality; transcendence", Chinese alchemy, elixirs, and demonology...

frequently mentions the hun and po "ethereal and gross souls". The "Genii" Chapter argues that these dual souls cause illness and death.
All men, wise or foolish, know that their bodies contain ethereal as well as gross breaths, and that when some of them quit the body, illness ensues; when they all leave him, a man dies. In the former case, the magicians have amulets for restraining them; in the latter case, The Rites [i.e., Yili] provide ceremonials for summoning them back. These breaths are most intimately bound up with us, for they are born when we are, but over a whole lifetime probably nobody actually hears or sees them. Would one conclude that they do not exist because they are neither seen nor heard? (2, tr. Ware 1966:49-50)

This "magicians" translates fangshi
Fangshi was a category of Chinese technical specialists that flourished from the third century BCE to the fifth century CE. English translations of fangshi encompass alchemist, astrologer, diviner, exorcist, geomancer, doctor, magician, mountebank, monk, mystic, necromancer, occultist,...

 方士 "doctor; diviner' magician". Both fangshi and daoshi 道士 "Daoist priests" developed methods and rituals to summon hun and po back into a person's body. The "Gold and Cinnabar" chapter records a Daoist alchemical
Chinese alchemy
Chinese alchemy, a part of the larger tradition of Taoism, centers on the tradition of body-spirit cultivation that developed through the Chinese understandings of medicine and the body. These Chinese traditions were developed into a system of energy practices...

 reanimation pill that can return the hun and po souls to a recent corpse: Taiyi zhaohunpo dan fa 太乙招魂魄丹法 "The Great One's Elixir Method for Summoning Souls".
In T'ai-i's elixir for Summoning Gross and Ethereal Breaths the five minerals [i.e., cinnabar
Cinnabar or cinnabarite , is the common ore of mercury.-Word origin:The name comes from κινναβαρι , a Greek word most likely applied by Theophrastus to several distinct substances...

, realgar
Realgar, α-As4S4, is an arsenic sulfide mineral, also known as "ruby sulphur" or "ruby of arsenic". It is a soft, sectile mineral occurring in monoclinic crystals, or in granular, compact, or powdery form, often in association with the related mineral, orpiment . It is orange-red in colour, melts...

, arsenolite
Arsenolite is an arsenic mineral, chemical formula As2O3. It is formed as an oxidation product of arsenic sulfides. Commonly found as small octahedra it is white, but impurities of realgar or orpiment may give it a pink or yellow hue...

, malachite
Malachite is a copper carbonate mineral, with the formula Cu2CO32. This green-colored mineral crystallizes in the monoclinic crystal system, and most often forms botryoidal, fibrous, or stalagmitic masses. Individual crystals are rare but do occur as slender to acicular prisms...

, and magnetite
Magnetite is a ferrimagnetic mineral with chemical formula Fe3O4, one of several iron oxides and a member of the spinel group. The chemical IUPAC name is iron oxide and the common chemical name is ferrous-ferric oxide. The formula for magnetite may also be written as FeO·Fe2O3, which is one part...

] are used and sealed with Six-One lute as in the Nine-crucible cinnabars. It is particularly effective for raising those who have died of a stroke. In cases where the corpse has been dead less than four days, force open the corpse's mouth and insert a pill of this elixir and one of sulphur, washing them down its gullet with water. The corpse will immediately come to life. In every case the resurrected remark that they have seen a messenger with a baton of authority summoning them. (4, tr. Ware 1966:87)

For visualizing the ten souls, the Baopuzi "Truth on Earth" chapter recommends taking dayao 大藥 "great medicines" and practicing a fenxing 分形 "divide/multiply the body" multilocation technique.
My teacher used to say that to preserve Unity was to practice jointly Bright Mirror, and that on becoming successful in the mirror procedure a man would be able to multiply his body to several dozen all with the same dress and facial expression. My teacher also used to say that you should take the great medicines diligently if you wished to enjoy Fullness of Life, and that you should use metal solutions and a multiplication of your person if you wished to communicate with the gods. By multiplying the body, the three Hun and the seven Po are automatically seen within the body, and in addition it becomes possible to meet and visit the powers of heaven and the deities of earth and to have all the gods of the mountains and rivers in one's service. (18, tr. Ware 1966:306)

The Daoist Shangqing School
Shangqing School
The Shangqing School or Supreme Clarity is a Daoist movement that began during the aristocracy of the Western Jin dynasty. Shangqing can be translated as either 'Supreme Clarity' or 'Highest Clarity.' The first leader of the school was Wei Huacun , but Tao Hongjing, who structured the theory and...

 has several meditation techniques for visualizing the hun and po. In Shangqing Neidan
Neidan, or internal alchemy, spiritual alchemy is a concept in Taoist Chinese alchemy. It is a series of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines intended to prolong the life of the body and create an immortal spiritual body that would survive after death.In Neidan the human body becomes a...

 "Internal Alchemy", Baldrian-Hussein says,
the po plays a particularly somber role as it represents the passions that dominate the hun. This causes the vital force to decay, especially during sexual activity, and eventually leads to death. The inner alchemical practice seeks to concentrate the vital forces within the body by reversing the respective roles of hun and po, so that the hun (Yang) controls the po (Yin). (2008:533)

Number of souls

The number of human "souls" has been a long-standing source of controversy among Chinese religious traditions. Stevan Harrell (1979:521) concludes, "Almost every number from one to a dozen has at one time or another been proposed as the correct one." The most commonly believed numbers of "souls" in a person are one, two, three, and ten.

One "soul" or linghun 靈魂 is the simplest idea. Harrell gives a fieldwork example.
When rural Taiwanese perform ancestral sacrifices at home, they naturally think of the ling-hun in the tablet; when they take offerings to the cemetery, they think of it in the grave; and when they go on shamanistic trips, they think of it in the yin world. Because the contexts are separate, there is little conflict and little need for abstract reasoning about a nonexistent problem. (1979:523)

Two "souls" is a common folk belief, and reinforced by yin-yang theory. These paired souls can be called hun and po, hunpo and shen, or linghun and shen.

Three "souls"
Three Treasures (traditional Chinese medicine)
The Three Treasures or Three Jewels are theoretical cornerstones in traditional Chinese medicine and practices such as Neidan, Qigong, and T'ai chi. They are also known as Jing Qi Shen . Despeux summarizes....

 comes from widespread beliefs that the soul of a dead person can exist in the multiple locations. The missionary Justus Doolittle
Justus Doolittle
Justus Doolittle was an American Board missionary to China.-Life:Justus Doolittle was born in Rutland, New York on June 23, 1824. In 1846 he graduated from Hamilton College, and in 1849 from Auburn Theological Seminary. Having deliberately chosen China as his field of labor, he sailed for Fuhchau...

 recorded that Chinese people in Fuzhou
Fuzhou is the capital and one of the largest cities in Fujian Province, People's Republic of China. Along with the many counties of Ningde, those of Fuzhou are considered to constitute the Mindong linguistic and cultural area....

believe each person has three distinct souls while living. These souls separate at the death of the adult to whom they belong. One resides in the ancestral tablet erected to his memory, if the head of a family; another lurks in the coffin or the grave, and the third departs to the infernal regions to undergo its merited punishment. (1865 II:401-2)

Ten "souls" of sanhunqipo 三魂七魄 "three hun and seven po" is not only Daoist; "Some authorities would maintain that the three-seven "soul" is basic to all Chinese religion" (Harrell 1979:522). During the Later Han period, Daoists fixed the number of hun souls at three and the number of po souls at seven. A newly deceased person may return (回魂) to his home at some nights, sometimes one week (頭七) after his death and the seven po would disappear one by one every 7 days after death. According to Needham and Lu (1974:88), "It is a little difficult to ascertain the reason for this, since fives and sixes (if they corresponded to the viscera) would have rather been expected." Three hun may stand for the sangang 三綱 "three principles of social order: relationships between ruler-subject, father-child, and husband-wife" (Needham 1974:89). Seven po may stand for the qiqiao 七竅 "seven apertures (in the head, eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth)" or the qiqing 七情 "seven emotions (joy, anger, sorrow, fear, worry, grief, fright)" in traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine refers to a broad range of medicine practices sharing common theoretical concepts which have been developed in China and are based on a tradition of more than 2,000 years, including various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage , exercise , and dietary therapy...

 (Baldrian-Hussein 2008:522). Sanhunqipo also stand for other names.

External links

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