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  • 《文子》著作年代新證(The new evidence pointingto the date of the Wenzi)
  • Paul van Els (bio)
Ho Che Wah 何志華. 《文子》著作年代新證(The new evidence pointingto the date of the Wenzi). Hong Kong: CHANT, Institute of ChineseStudies, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2004. xii, 207 pp. Paperback U.S. $12.00, ISBN 962-633-028-7.

The Wenzi (Master Wen) purports to be the creation of a disciple of Laozi, the alleged founder of Daoism. Since the Tang dynasty, scholars have noted elements in the text that could not have been written at the time when Laozi and Wenzi were supposed to have lived. Hence, they have rejected the traditional account of its creation and branded the text a forgery. The Wenzi was thenceforth transmitted at the periphery of the Chinese politico-philosophical discourse, appreciated by no more than a handful of scholars who still believed in its authenticity. The discovery of a fragmentary bamboo Wenzi manuscript in a Han dynasty tomb near Dingzhou (Hebei Province) in 1973 refueled interest in the Wenzi, leading to a deluge of publications, mainly in Chinese. The work under review is the latest book-length publication in Wenzi studies and a controversial yet important contribution to the field.

Ho Che Wah, the author of this new book, is a professor of Chinese language and literature at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Project Officer of the popular Ancient Chinese Text Concordance Series, published by the same university. With five articles on the Wenzi to his name, he is also one of the most active scholars in the field of Wenzi studies. Based in Hong Kong, Ho is not bound by the parameters of the two major Wenzi discourses, in China and Taiwan. In his book, he displays a thorough awareness of Wenzi-related publications from both sides of the Taiwan Strait, but takes issue with dominant opinions.

This book, an edited collection of articles previously published in various academic journals, mainly discusses the dating of the Wenzi. This has been a controversial topic since the Tang dynasty, when scholars first questioned the authenticity of the text, and even more so since the Dingzhou discovery in 1973. Most scholars nowadays agree that there exist two versions of the text: an Ancient Wenzi and a Received Wenzi. There is a growing consensus among scholars for seeing the two versions as distinct texts, but no agreement on their respective dates.

The Ancient Wenzi, with the Dingzhou manuscript as its only known copy to date, is the Urtext of the Wenzi. Dates now given for its original creation range from the mid-Warring States era to the Former Han dynasty. In the whirl of excitement following the Dingzhou discovery, some scholars saw evidence in the bamboo manuscript for the authenticity of the Wenzi. They labeled it an "authentic pre-Qin work that already circulated at the beginning of the Han"—a label that has been parroted in numerous publications since, though no one has offered [End Page 121] convincing evidence for it. Following publication of the bamboo manuscript's transcript in the journal Wenwu (Cultural Relics) in 1995, a growing number of scholars became convinced that the text is not older than the Han dynasty. Based on textual evidence, they claim that the Wenzi was created during the early stages of the Former Han, perhaps under Emperor Gaozu (r. 202-195 B.C.E.) and no later than Emperor Jing (r. 157-141 B.C.E.). Ho proposes another scenario. Textual links that he discovered between some Dingzhou Wenzi bamboo strips and the Huainanzi lead him to suggest that the Wenzi's provenance possibly postdates the latter, which was presented to Emperor Wu in 139 B.C.E. Ho also notes a textual variation between the Dingzhou manuscript and the received Wenzi, perhaps the result of a taboo observance. One bamboo strip contains the graph bu 不, where the received text writes fu 弗 instead. This potentially indicates that the text was conceived during or after the reign of Emperor Zhao (r. 87-74 B.C.E.), whose personal name, Liu Fuling 劉弗陵, is avoided. Ho therefore concludes that the text may have been created close to the time when the manuscript was consigned...


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