Published on 2022.12.13

A pioneer of coaching for personal development

Compared to The Art of War, Guiguzi 鬼谷子is the lesser-known book, probably because of the mysterious name of the author Guiguzi, whose life story is not well-documented. It is said that he is Wang Xu 王詡 of the state of Chu 楚, while someone believe that he might be the master of military generals Sun Bin 孫臏and Pang Juan 龐涓, who were active in the first half of 400 B.C as well as politicians Su Qin 蘇秦and Zhang Yi 張儀, who were active in the latter half of 400 B.C. However, given the large time gap among the active periods of his students, it is possible that Guiguzi was not only a single person, but also represented a training school founded by Guiguzi. The true identity of Guiquzi is yet to be revealed by further findings from academic or archaeological studies.

Different from the famous The Art of War, Guiguzi did not cover topics in military strategy, but described techniques utilized by the school of diplomacy, which goal was to train lobbyists engaging in diplomatic affairs and even espionage. Thus, the major concerns throughout Guiguzi are to build interpersonal networks, develop communication skills, analyse personality types, and how to understand and soothe others’ emotions. In addition, the book is enclosed with a practical guide to character building. These are topics that were not covered in The Art of War. Due to the massive use of terminologies like Yin, Yang, Spirit and Qi, Guiguzi is commonly perceived to be related to Taoism. However, in Guiguzi, “Yin” and “Yang” is a kind of methodology of analysing verbal contents, while “Spirit” and “Qi” refer to concentration training and vocal techniques. Thus, the contents of Guiguzi are distinct from the aims and essence of Taoism.

Ben Jing (本經 The main text), the first half of Guiguzi, mentioned various types of core skills that a successful lobbyist should learn. These practical skills include when to speak and when to stay silent (“Bi-he” 捭闔, when to open and close the mouth), how to identify the loopholes of lies with mnemonic (“fan-ying” 反應, how to trace back the memory and give response), how to create interpersonal networks successfully (“nei-jian”, 內揵, inner connection), how to make sense of emotional complex (“chuan”, 揣, understanding motivation), how to comfort others verbally (“Mo”, 摩, soothing), how to grasp different kinds of debate opponents and respond to them (“Mou”, 謀, strategy), and how to make decisions (“jue” 決, decision-making) etc. Surprisingly, Ben Jing Yin Fu (本經陰符, Secret code of the main text), the latter half of Guiguzi, is an exercise book that is in accord with Ben Jing. The latter half of the book, which is based on the goals of Ben Jing above, aims to cultivate personal qualities. These qualities are represented by seven auspicious beasts and animals including ‘Dragon’ (training in vocal delivery using the diaphragm), ‘Turtle’ (concentration training by means of gazing designated objects), ‘Snake’ (visual mental imagery training), ‘Bear’ (training in acting skills and the use of facial expressions), ‘Bird’ (humour skills training), ‘Tiger’ (debate training) and ‘Fish’ (emergency evacuation training). Among them, ‘Snake’ (visual mental imagery training) aims at strengthening apprentices’ iconic memory imagery with a series of topics in guided imagery, for example, “Imagine the formation of the sky and the earth, try to understand the transformation of things in the world” (以觀天地開闢,知萬物所造化) refers to meditation on the birth of universe, while “Meditate upon human relations and ways to manage people, upon a state that you could stay at home and understand the world, not looking through the window and could see the heaven” 原人事之政理…不出戶而知天下,不窺牖而見天道) means that not only deep reflection upon interpersonal relationships and politics in our daily life with our eyes closed, but also imagination of outdoor scenery with strengthened mental imagery allow us to understand the world. These techniques have something in common with Mindfulness Intervention advocated by positive psychology in recent years.

Nevertheless, Guiguzi concerned about memory of mental imagery, not only for enhancing resilience, but also for practising mnemonic. In the chapter titled Fan Ying (how to trace back the memory and give response), Guiguzi categorized contents of conversations into different images as memories and linked them with numbers (original quote: “assign an image to a phrase, align various events in order, from the order of images, one could observe the whole picture” 言有象,事有比;其有象比,以觀其次). Therefore, the contradictory parts in long conversations can be memorized to achieve outcomes of detecting lies.

Guiguzi is the earliest personnel training course in the Chinese history. Much of techniques covered in this book are echoing skills adopted in modern psychology. In addition, this book emphasizes the necessity to make sense of others’ emotional complex (understanding motivation), adjust strategies based on others’ personalities (strategy), and soothe others’ emotions through active listening and paraphrasing the contents of their conversations, so as to arouse others’ motivation to communicate. These techniques are still commonly adopted in modern counselling. Thus, Guiguzi must be one of the most significant ancient texts in the history of applied psychology.

Dr. Fu Wai

Dr. Fu Wai is an Associate Professor of Department of Counselling and Psychology, Hong Kong Shue Yan University, the Director of Positive Technology and Virtual Reality Laboratory, and Research Coordinator of Master of Social Sciences in Counselling Psychology and Doctor of Psychology in Counselling Psychology programs in Hong Kong Shue Yan University.
Dr. Fu is interested in research on history of psychology in ancient China, particularly the interaction among Moism, the School of Names, and the School of Diplomats In Warring States Period.
Dr. Fu is also interested in the development of hypnotism in Shanghai between 1900s-1940s.
Dr. Fu has completed the project funded by Hong Kong Research Grants Council, titled The missing link: An investigation of Moism, the School of Names, and the School of Diplomats, and their place in the history of ancient Chinese psychology (UGC/FDS15/H07/14)

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Chi Seng Pun

04-02-2023 10:08:19