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

By R. P. Peerenboom | Go to book overview

III. The Socical and
Political Philosophy of
Huang-Lao

The demonstration that Huang-Lao philosophy is best characterized as foundational naturalism required a sounding of its metaphysical depths. Yet, as is true of most classical Chinese philosophy, the Boshu is concerned primarily with the normative questions of how to live and, more important, how to govern. In this chapter therefore I turn to Huang-Lao's social and political thought.

I focus first on Huang-Lao's philosophy of law, arguing that Huang‐ Lao promotes a natural law theory in which laws are grounded in the objective natural order. The reasons for this are twofold. First, my thesis challenges a popular view that pre-Han Chinese philosophers did not, indeed could not given certain features of the "Chinese" world-view, hold such a theory. 1 Second, philosophy of law is one area where the differences between Huang-Lao and other pre-Han schools of thought become most apparent. The Boshu is a syncretic text. The author freely borrows concepts and terminology from other schools. This has led many commentators to overemphasize the similarities between Huang-Lao and other schools in general and between the author of the Boshu and other thinkers in particular. To demonstrate that the philosophies differ despite the shared terminology, one must show that the terminology is being put to a different use. Examining the contrasts in a key area of social and political thought such as jurisprudence permits this.

Having narrowed the focus in the first section, I then widen it in the following to consider the nature of the Huang-Lao state. I demonstrate that the author envisions a centralized feudal bureaucracy that although not a government by the people is very much a government for the people. This accounts for the "Huang" in Huang-Lao because Huang-Di, the Yellow Emperor, is a symbol of a centralized state unified through military conquest by a worthy ruler.

-75-

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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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