Vol. 72 No. 1 (2024): NAMES: A Journal of Onomastics

Chinese Onomasticons of Posthumous Names: Between Ritual Practice and Historical Exegesis

Yegor Grebnev
BNU-HKBU United International College

Published 2024-03-12


  • posthumous names,
  • China,
  • history,
  • anthroponymy,
  • onomasticon


This paper provides a brief introduction to Chinese posthumous names. This name system is based on the opposition between positive and negative evaluations of the deceased. It was employed as a means for negotiating legitimacy and shaping the historical record. This article also provides information on the “Order of Posthumous Names Explained”, a chapter of the Neglected Zhou Scriptures. This chapter is a canonical source for the study of Chinese posthumous names. It is commonly seen by scholars as an ancient onomasticon used to assign posthumous names. This paper argues that, in its present form, this chapter is a complex medieval compilation of multiple earlier sources. This paper counters the narrow interpretation of onomasticons of Chinese posthumous names as manuals for assigning names to the deceased. Instead, it postulates that onomasticons of posthumous names were also used as aids in the interpretation of history. They provided meaningful moralistic interpretations for the posthumous names attested in historical sources.


  1. Dong Changbao 董常保. 2013. Chunqiu Zuozhuan Shifa Yanjiu 春秋左傳謚號研究. [A Study of Posthumous Names in the Zuo Tradition of the Spring and Autumn Annals] Chengdu: Sichuan Daxue Chubanshe.
  2. Ess, Hans van. 2008. “The Origin of Posthumous Names in ‘Shih-Chi’ 14”. Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR) 30: 133–144. doi:10.2307/25478430.
  3. Falkenhausen, Lothar von. 1996. “The Concept of Wen in the Ancient Chinese Ancestral Cult”. Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR) 18: 1–22. https://doi.org/10.2307/495623.
  4. Fan Xiangyong. 2011. Guben Zhushu Jinian Jijiao Dingbu 古本竹書紀年輯校訂補. [A Critically Reconstituted and Supplemented Edition of the Bamboo Annals] Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe.
  5. Grebnev, G. A. 2013. “Formirovanie Sistemy Posmertnykh Imën v Drevnem Kitae po Dannym Pisʹmennykh Istochnikov”. [Formation of the System of Posthumous Names in Ancient China According to Written Sources] Sinologi Mira k I͡ubilei͡u Stanislava Kuchery. Moscow: Institut Vostokovedenii͡a RAN, 182–235.
  6. Grebnev, Yegor. 2022a. “The Structure of the Yi Zhou shu and Its Formation History”. Mediation of Legitimacy in Early China: A Study of the Neglected Zhou Scriptures and the Grand Duke Traditions. New York: Columbia University Press, 20¬¬–57.
  7. Grebnev, Yegor. 2022b. “Permutations of the Chapter(s) “Shifa” (Order of Posthumous Names)”. Mediation of Legitimacy in Early China: A Study of the Neglected Zhou Scriptures and the Grand Duke Traditions. New York: Columbia University Press, 245–52.
  8. Grebnev, Yegor. 2024. “‘Order of Posthumous Names’ (Shifa 謚法)”. Yi Zhou Shu Translations. Accessed January 13, 2024. https://yizhoushu.phoenixterrace.com/53chapter.html
  9. Guo Moruo. 1954. “Shifa zhi Qiyuan” 謚法之起源. [Origin of Posthumous Names] Jinwen Congkao [Collected Studies on the Bronze Inscriptions]. Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 89a–101b.
  10. Hanshu 漢書. [History of Han] 1962. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju.
  11. Jinshu 晉書. [History of Jin] 1974. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju.
  12. Lou Jin 樓勁. 2005. “Yuhai Wusi Yiwenzhi suo Cun Shen Yue Shili Xu Wen Jianjie” 玉海五四藝文志所存沈約謚例序文箋解. [Explanatory Analysis of the Extracts from the “Preface to the Precedents of Posthumous Names” Preserved in Juan 54 of the Yuhai] Wenshi 70, no. 1: 33–55.
  13. Nienhauser, William H., Jr., ed. 1994. The Grand Scribe’s Records. Vol. I. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  14. Pan Min 潘敏 and Sun Quanman 孫全滿. 1995. “Shang Wang Miaohao ji Shangdai Shifa de Tuice” 商王廟號及商代謚法的推測. [Some Suggestions Concerning the Temple Names of the Shang Kings and the System of Posthumous Names During the Shang Period] Hebei Xuekan, no. 1, 85–91.
  15. Peng Yushang 彭裕商. 1999. “Shifa Tanyuan” 謚法探源. [Inquiry into the Origins of the System of Posthumous Names] Zhongguo Shi Yanjiu, no. 1, 3–11.
  16. Pines, Yuri and Chen Minzhen. 2018. “Where Is King Ping? History and Historiography of Zhou’s Relocation to the East”. Asia Major 31, no. 1: 1–27.
  17. Shiji 史記. [Grand Scribe’s Records] 1959. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju.
  18. Shaughnessy, Edward L. 2006a. “The Discovery and Editing of the Ji Zhong Texts”. Rewriting Early Chinese Texts. Albany: SUNY Press, 131–84.
  19. Shaughnessy, Edward L. 2006a. “The Editing and Editions of the Bamboo Annals”. Rewriting Early Chinese Texts. Albany: SUNY Press, 185–256.
  20. Sima Guang 司馬光. 1956. Zizhi Tongjian 資治通鑑. [Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Governance] Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju.
  21. Su Xun 蘇洵. n.d. Shifa 謚法. [Order of Posthumous Names] Congshu Jicheng ed.
  22. Takigawa Sukenobu 瀧川資言. 1955. Shiki Kaichū Kōshō 史記會注考證. [A Critical Edition of the Grand Scribe’s Records with Collected Commentaries] Beijing: Wenxue Guji Kanxingshe.
  23. Van Auken, Newell Ann. 2023. Spring and Autumn Historiography: Form and Hierarchy in Ancient Chinese Annals. New York: Columbia University Press.
  24. Wang Shoukuan 汪受寬. 1995. Shifa Yanjiu 謚法研究. [Study on Posthumous Names] Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe.
  25. Wang Yinglin 王應麟. 1987. “Jiayou Bianding Shifa; Qijia Shifa” 嘉祐編定謚法;七家謚法. Yuhai 玉海. [Jade Sea] Nanjing-Shanghai: Jiangsu Guji Chubanshe; Shanghai Shudian: 54.1033–35.
  26. Wilkinson, Endymion Porter. 2022a. “Imperial Posthumous Titles”. Chinese History: A New Manual. 6th ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 503–504.
  27. Wilkinson, Endymion Porter. 2022b. “Bad Last Rulers”. Chinese History: A New Manual. 6th ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 504–505.
  28. Yu Keping 俞可平. 2019. “‘Siren de Zhengzhi’ Haishi ‘Huoren de Zhengzhi’—Chuantong Shifa de Zhengzhixue Yiyi” “死人的政治”还是“ 活人的政治”—傳統謚法的政治學意義. [“Politics of the Dead” or “Politics of the Living”: The Political Meaning of the Traditional System of Posthumous Names] Wenshizhe, no. 1: 40–50.