Political Philosophy of
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.