Law and Morality in Ancient China: The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao

By R. P. Peerenboom | Go to book overview

I. Introduction

December 1973, Hunan province, near Changsha, ancient state of Chu. Working on a site known as Mawangdui Han Tomb Three, archaeologists make a discovery that promises to dramatically alter and enrich our understanding of the life and philosophy of ancient China. They excavate from the tomb of a prince—the son of Li Cang, prime minister of Changsha—over 300 pieces of lacquerware, some 100 wooden figurines, bamboo containers of food, silk paintings, and most important for students of intellectual history, silk scrolls dating back to the early Han. In addition to charts, maps, and diagrams, the scrolls contain more than 120,000 characters, including the two oldest known versions of the Lao Zi (called Lao Zi A and B) plus many previously lost essays on a wide variety of topics: yin yang, five phases, medicine, Daoist yoga, astronomy and astrology. Perhaps of greatest concern for philosophers, however, are the four silk manuscripts of the Huang-Lao school that precede the Lao Zi B. 1


1. The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao

Prior to the Mawangdui discovery, sinologists were more confused than clear about the school of thought known as Huang-Lao. In the absence of extant texts, knowledge of the school, gleaned from a handful of citations in historical records and other classical works, was fragmented and contradictory. 2 One knew that the Huang (

) refers to Huang Di, the mythical Yellow Emperor; the Lao ( ) to Lao Zi, the alleged founder of Daoism. One knew that Huang-Lao doctrines dominated both the worlds of politics and thought in the early Han: Sima Qian notes in the Shi Ji that in addition to Han Emperors Wen and Jing and the Empress Dowager Dou, many prominent political figures—including Cao Can, Chen Ping, and Tian Shu—favor Huang-Lao and take it as the basis of their policies. 3 Intellectually, several important philosophers such as Shen Buhai, Shen Dao, and Han Fei are, according to Sima, former students of Huang-Lao thought. 4

Prior to this find, one also knew that the Huang-Lao school lost favor

-1-

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Law and Morality in Ancient China: The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Law and Morality in Ancient China *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • I - Introduction 1
  • II - The Natural Way of Huang-Lao 27
  • III - The Socical and Political Philosophy of Huang-Lao 75
  • IV - The Anthropocentric Pragmatism of Confucius 103
  • V - The Pragmatic Statesmanship of Han Fei 139
  • VI - The Daoist Ways of Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi 171
  • VII - The Evolution of Huang-Lao Thought 217
  • VIII - Epilogue 263
  • Appendix - He Guan Zi and Huang-Lao Thought 273
  • Notes 285
  • Bibliography 355
  • Index 375
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