The Huainanzi

The Huainanzi

Liu An
John S. Major
Sarah A. Queen
Andrew Seth Meyer
Harold D. Roth
Michael Puett
Judson Murray
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 1016
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  • Book Info
    The Huainanzi
    Book Description:

    Compiled by scholars at the court of Liu An, king of Huainan, in the second century B.C.E, The Huainanzi is a tightly organized, sophisticated articulation of Western Han philosophy and statecraft. Outlining "all that a modern monarch needs to know," the text emphasizes rigorous self-cultivation and mental discipline, brilliantly synthesizing for readers past and present the full spectrum of early Chinese thought.

    The Huainanzi locates the key to successful rule in a balance of broad knowledge, diligent application, and the penetrating wisdom of a sage. It is a unique and creative synthesis of Daoist classics, such as the Laozi and the Zhuangzi; works associated with the Confucian tradition, such as the Changes, the Odes, and the Documents; and a wide range of other foundational philosophical and literary texts from the Mozi to the Hanfeizi.

    The product of twelve years of scholarship, this remarkable translation preserves The Huainanzi's special rhetorical features, such as parallel prose and verse, and showcases a compositional technique that conveys the work's powerful philosophical appeal. This path-breaking volume will have a transformative impact on the field of early Chinese intellectual history and will be of great interest to scholars and students alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52085-0
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-40)

    This book is the first complete English translation of the Huainanzi, a work from the early Han dynasty that is of fundamental importance to the intellectual history of early China. With this translation, we hope to acquaint specialists and general readers alike, to a degree that heretofore was not possible, with the philosophical richness of the text, its careful and deliberate organization and presentation of a great range of material, and the sophistication of its literary style and rhetorical techniques.

    In 139 b.c.e., the imperial kinsman Liu An, king of Huainan, presented to the young Emperor Wu of the Han...

    (pp. 41-76)
    Harold D. Roth

    “Originating in the Way” (Yuan dao 原 道), the first of the eight foundational or “root” chapters of the text, is significant because it provides the cosmological basis for the entire Huainanzi collection. It opens with a beautiful poetic rhapsody on the cosmology of the Way (dao 道) and its Potency (de 德) in the tradition of the Laozi 老子, certainly one of the canonical sources for this particular essay and for the book as a whole. In it we see a detailed examination of how these cosmic foundations are manifested in the world and an in-depth description of how...

    (pp. 77-108)
    Harold D. Roth

    “Activating the Genuine” is the second of the eight “root” or foundational chapters of the text and serves as a companion to chapter 1, “Originating in the Way,” in its overarching cosmology and self-cultivation themes. While “Originating in the Way” is very much indebted to the Laozi, “Activating the Genuine” is thoroughly steeped in the Zhuangzi, three of whose authorial voices recognized by A. C. Graham are powerfully represented in its pages¹.

    All the principal themes of chapter 2 are found in the Zhuangzi, although they are not, in all cases, intended to be understood in the same way as...

    (pp. 109-148)
    John S. Major

    “Celestial patterns” introduces readers to astronomy and related subjects, including cosmology, positional astronomy, calendrics, mathematical harmonics, and astrology. Although some passages may strike modern readers as both obscure and highly technical, from the point of view of Han intellectual history this chapter treats its topics in rather general terms, omitting the sorts of technical detail that would be the province of specialists. Readers of this chapter would be able to understand a situation in which these topics arose (such as a discussion at court of astrologically based policy) but not themselves be practicing astrologers. The principal message of the chapter...

    (pp. 149-172)
    John S. Major

    “Terrestrial forms” is an account of world geography from the point of view of the Western Han dynasty. It ignores political geography (such as the states of the Warring States period or the kingdoms, provinces, and counties of the Han Empire) in favor of the postdeluge geography of Yu the Great and the wider world beyond China’s borders, with an emphasis on the mythical, the magical, the distant, and the strange. The chapter emphasizes that physical features of terrain interact in important ways with plants, animals, and people.

    “Di xing” 墜形 can be understood correctly in either of two grammatical...

    (pp. 173-206)
    John S. Major

    “Seasonal rules” is the third part of a trilogy with chapters 3 and 4. Having established, in those chapters, the patterns of Heaven (and their astrological significance) and the shape of Earth (and how creatures interact with topography), the Huainanzi’s authors turn here to the role of monthly and seasonal ritual time in the proper governing of the empire. Reflecting the annual waxing and waning of the powers of yin and yang and the successive seasonal potency of each of the Five Phases (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water), the chapter prescribes ritual behavior, colors of vestments, and actions of...

    (pp. 207-232)
    John S. Major

    The first five chapters of this book established the characteristics of the Way and its primacy in cosmogony and in the cosmological realms of Heaven, Earth, and Time. In chapter 6, “Surveying Obscurities,” the Huainan masters turn to a phenomenon the existence of which they are certain but cannot fully explain. This is “resonance” (ganying 感應), thought of as a kind of sympathetic vibration in the force field of qi that pervades the cosmos¹. Resonance acts not only on physical objects but on emotions and intentions as well; thus the actions of humans have clear and predictable effects in the...

    (pp. 233-260)
    Harold D. Roth and John S. Major

    “Quintessential spirit” is the first chapter of the Huainanzi to introduce human beings systematically into the grand scheme of things. The text continues its methodical explication of the underlying powers, patterns, and forces of the cosmos and its creatures before turning, in the later chapters of the work, to illustrations and amplifications of the workings of the Way in the world of affairs. Chapters 1 and 2 introduced cosmology and ontology; chapters 3 through 5 explored the various dimensions of Heaven, Earth, and Time; and chapter 6 explained the mysterious operations of ganying resonance by which things in the world...

  12. Eight THE BASIC WARP
    (pp. 261-288)
    John S. Major

    “The basic Warp” uses several different but generally complementary descriptions of an imagined historical past to raise questions about the nature of sage-rulership and to criticize government in the present era. In all these scenarios, an archaic era of agrarian primitivism is idealized as a time when sages, embodying the Way and its Potency, could govern almost invisibly by means of non-action. Both the human and the natural worlds responded resonantly to the sages’ superior qualities. Qualities like Humaneness and Music were intrinsic to the sage and were not (as they later became) mere expedients to control the populace in...

    (pp. 289-340)
    Sarah A. Queen and John S. Major

    “The ruler’s Techniques” begins by stating: “The ruler’s techniques [consist of] establishing non-active management and carrying out wordless instructions.” This serves notice that the chapter is not a handbook of tips and tricks for an energetic bureaucrat but a comprehensive plan for achieving the kind of effective self-cultivation, charismatic appeal, and radiant moral force required for a person to be a true universal monarch, a “Son of Heaven.” The ruler’s non-active orientation is made possible by time-tested techniques that have proved efficacious in creating a harmonious and just society in which the common people flourish and officials support their ruler...

    (pp. 341-390)
    Sarah A. Queen and John S. Major

    “Profound precepts” poses a question: How is the ideal ruler to bring order and harmony to society? The chapter’s answer is that the ruler must follow the promptings of his inner heart and honor his innermost feelings as the basis of his rule, rather than relying on laws, rituals, institutions, or the advice of worthies. “Profound Precepts” thus evinces a deep commitment to concepts of moral autonomy and moral agency that echo the radical optimism of Mencius, who centuries earlier argued passionately for the potential and power of human emotions to uplift the world. Thus the ideal ruler seeks goodness...

    (pp. 391-428)
    Andrew Meyer

    “Integrating customs” is an extensive treatise on the subject of ritual. “Ritual,” in the context of both ancient Chinese thought and the text of the Huainanzi, encompassed all forms of symbolic action from the most austere to the most mundane, ranging from the grand sacrifices of the imperial cult to the small courtesies (such as bowing) that transpired between people at a chance meeting. “Integrating Customs” explores the origins of ritual in cosmic and human history and discourses on how the current sage-ruler should establish the rituals appropriate to his age.

    Like many of the chapter titles of the Huainanzi,...

    (pp. 429-482)
    Sarah A. Queen

    “Responses of the Way” is summarized in chapter 21 of the Huainanzi as follows:

    [It] picks out and draws together the relics of past affairs,

    pursues and surveys the traces of bygone antiquity,

    and investigates the reversals of bad and good fortune, benefit and harm.

    It tests and verifies them according to the techniques of Lao and Zhuang,

    thus matching them to the trajectories of gain and loss. (21.2)

    Thus the qualities of the ideal ruler unfold through negative and positive examples from the past. This comprehensive vision of rulership is expressed through fifty-six anecdotes, each capped with a citation...

    (pp. 483-526)
    Sarah A. Queen and John S. Major

    Using numerous examples, “Boundless Discourses” shows that change has always been a part of human history, from remote antiquity to the present day. It argues that successful rulers do not resist change in a futile attempt to uphold the policies and standards of the past but instead modify their actions to suit changing customs and circumstances. Sages, on whom rulers are urged to model themselves, are portrayed as having a unique insight that allows them to see the enduring reality behind superficial qualities. That in turn enables them to adapt to change and innovate while following diverse strategies to realize...

    (pp. 527-572)
    Sarah A. Queen

    “Sayings explained” is a collection of gnomic sayings (yan 言), most of which are further expanded or explicated to clarify their significance. Although at first glance, the sayings and explications seem to be merely a congeries of received wisdom, on more careful perusal they can be seen to recapitulate and reinforce important concepts and themes addressed elsewhere in the Huainanzi: What are the essential attributes of the sage? How does the sage bring order to his intrinsic self and, by extension, to the world? The sayings collected in this chapter address these central concerns, and the truths they are intended...

    (pp. 573-616)
    Andrew Meyer

    As the title makes clear, “An Overview of the Military” is devoted to military affairs in a very broad sense. Its purpose is to instruct the ruler in all aspects of this subject, from tactics and strategy to the role of the military in state and society at large. Although it is highly derivative of earlier military literature of the Warring States, it is a unique synthesis of these materials that is in keeping with the broader perspective of the Huainanzi as a whole. In its treatment of the normatively correct principles guiding the monarch’s use of the military, the...

    (pp. 617-712)
    Sarah A. Queen and John S. Major

    As their similar titles suggest, chapter 16, “A Mountain of Persuasions,” and chapter 17, “A Forest of Persuasions,” are collections of brief, persuasive utterances that share the same literary form and didactic function in the text. Given these similarities, we have chosen to treat these chapters together as a pair and to follow chapter 21 of the Huainanzi, “An Overview of the Essentials,” which similarly summarizes these chapters together. Their purpose seems to be to provide a kind of repository of aphorisms that could be used in a variety of settings where the performative aspects of language were crucial, such...

  21. Eighteen AMONG OTHERS
    (pp. 713-756)
    Andrew Meyer

    “Among others” explores the vagaries of human affairs and the paradoxical impulses that constantly change the patterns of human society. This chapter is essentially an extended exercise in persuasive prose, using symmetrically arranged anecdotes to demonstrate that radically divergent principles and forces direct events from situation to situation and from moment to moment. The overarching theme of the chapter is that only a sage can hope to navigate the turbid waters of human politics and social intercourse.

    Chapter 18 of the Huainanzi shares its title—“Ren jian” 人間—with chapter 4 of the Zhuangzi, and although stylistically they differ, the...

    (pp. 757-788)
    Sarah A. Queen and John S. Major

    According to the summary in chapter 21, “Cultivating Effort” was written for those “whose entry into the Way is not yet profound, and whose appetite for debate is not yet deep.” Substantively, chapter 19 provides arguments that can be used to challenge a number of political and philosophical views that seem to have been in vogue at the time the Huainanzi was created. Together, these arguments support the general theme of the chapter, that cultivating effort is necessary in a wide variety of contexts and among a wide variety of people, from the sage who tries to bring benefit to...

    (pp. 789-840)
    Sarah A. Queen and John S. Major

    With nineteen chapters behind him and his royal curriculum nearly complete, the young monarch who is the ideal reader of the Huainanzi is now invited to “knot the net of the Way of Governance and weave the web of the True King,” thus rounding off his education. This chapter, “The Exalted Lineage,” reminds the monarch, who has been trained to aspire to sagely rule, that the “Moral Potency that takes shape within is the great foundation of governance.”¹ Moreover, this chapter makes clear that such internally generated Moral Potency has far-reaching cosmo-political implications affecting both Heaven above and the people...

    (pp. 841-868)
    Sarah A. Queen, Judson Murray and John S. Major

    “Yao lüe,” or “An Overview of the Essentials,” brings the Huainanzi to its close. Although “Yao lüe” appears at the end of the work (following the established convention of Chinese works of the late Warring States and early Han periods),¹ it is in effect an introduction because it orients readers to the contents of the text. We believe that the chapter was originally written by Liu An himself for oral recitation at the imperial court as a way of introducing the Huainanzi when it was first presented to Emperor Wu.² Having been recited at court, the “overview” would then have...

    (pp. 869-920)
    Andrew Meyer
    (pp. 921-934)
    John S. Major
    (pp. 935-952)
    Harold D. Roth and Matthew Duperon
  28. INDEX
    (pp. 953-986)
  29. Back Matter
    (pp. 987-988)