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I. Le récit de rêve, entre vision et divination

Divining Political Legitimacy in a Late Ming Dream Encyclopedia The Encyclopedia and its Historical Context

Dire la légitimié politique selon une encyclopédie oniromantique de la fin des Ming
Brigid E. Vance
p. 15-42


This paper explores the relationship between dreams and political legitimacy through the lens of the late Ming dream encyclopedia Guidelines for Dreams and Dream Divination (Meng zhan yi zhi). It argues that one way in which rulers communicated their legitimacy was through dreams, interpreted accordingly and documented in textual records. Dream interpreters used multiple modes of dream interpretation techniques—symbolism, homophonic resonances, and glyphomancy—to grant legitimacy and expose disloyalty. Dream interpretations were central to a shared understanding of the past, the then-unfolding present, and the future. The dream interpreter helped bind symbolic reality to political reality and as such wielded considerable political power.

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Homophonic Resonances

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The following entry in the 1562 Ming encyclopedia Guidelines for Dreams and Dream Divination (Meng zhan yi zhi; hereafter Guidelines for Dreams) demonstrated that the right to rule could be communicated through a dream: “Emperor Guangwu of the Eastern Han dreamed he rode a red dragon up to heaven. Consequently, Feng Yi and the other generals urged him to establish himself as ruler.” The encyclopedia also included earlier extant versions, including one from Han Records of the Eastern Tower (Dong guan han ji), visually set off from the entry, which provided further details about the dream and the context:

“Emperor Guangwu summoned Feng Yi and said, ‘I dreamed I rode a dragon to heaven. When I awoke, I realized that my heart trembled with fear.’ Feng Yi bowed and congratulated him, ‘Thus is heaven’s mandate expressed through the spirit. Your heart trembling demonstrates you have the vigilant and serious nature of a ruler.’ Therefore, he [Feng Yi] and the other generals discussed [the dr...

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Electronic reference

Brigid E. Vance, « Divining Political Legitimacy in a Late Ming Dream Encyclopedia The Encyclopedia and its Historical Context », Extrême-Orient Extrême-Occident [Online], 42 | 2018, Online since 01 December 2020, connection on 02 April 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Brigid E. Vance

(fr) Professeur adjoint d’histoire de l’Asie de l’Est à Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin). Ses recherches portent sur l’histoire intellectuelle et socioculturelle des rêves et l’oniromancie au début de la Chine moderne. Elle a publié sur les techniques d’interprétation des rêves et les méthodes pour soulager des cauchemars.
(en) Assistant professor of East Asian history at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Her research focuses on the intellectual and sociocultural history of dreams and dream divination in early modern China. She has published on dream interpretation techniques and methods for alleviating nightmares.

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