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

By R. P. Peerenboom | Go to book overview
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Appendix: He Guan Zi and
Huang-Lao Thought

I have argued that foundational naturalism and its corollary natural law constitute two of the defining characteristics of the Boshu, and by extension of Huang-Lao thought in general. Although I have discussed other texts that espouse one or more of the Boshu's central tenets, none presents as complete a synthesis, particularly of foundational naturalism and natural law as does the Boshu. As a consequence, one might ask whether the synthesis of foundational naturalism and natural law is characteristic of the Huang-Lao school as a whole or simply of the Boshu. That no other Huang-Lao text maintains such a position might suggest that the Boshu constitutes an anomaly within the Huang-Lao tradition. 1 Fortunately, there exists another text that evinces a similar view—the He Guan Zi.

The Mawangdui discovery has rekindled interest in the He Guan Zi. The occurrence of numerous parallel passages between the He Guan Zi and the Boshu has forced sinologists to rethink the long-accepted view of the former as a post-Han apocryphal work. The emerging consensus is that, although the work may be a composite of the writings of multiple authors representing various schools of thought, much if not all of it belongs to the late Warring States to Han periods, though external evidence is only firm from about 500 A.D.2

The relation between Huang-Lao and He Guan Zi has long been suspected. Lu Dian of the northern Song (1042-1102) traced the text to Huang-Lao and the doctrine of xing ming. 3 A host of modern commentators, struck by the many parallel passages and the similarity of ideas found in the He Guan Zi and the Boshu, have followed Lu in characterizing the He Guan Zi as a Huang-Lao work. 4

Yet despite the renewed interest, problems remain. Opinions differ as to what parts are authentic. 5 Authorship—both the immediate question of which chapters are written by whom and the ancillary issue of the relation of authorship to thought—remains problematic. Neugebauer divides

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