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  • The Craft of a Chinese Commentator: Wang Bi on the Laozi, and: A Chinese Reading of the Daodejing: Wang Bi’s Commentary on the Laozi with Critical Text and Translation, and: Language, Ontology, and Political Philosophy in China: Wang Bi’s Scholarly Exploration of the Dark (Xuanxue)
  • Jay Goulding (bio)
Rudolf G. Wagner. The Craft of a Chinese Commentator: Wang Bi on the Laozi. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. ix, 361 pp. Hardcover $66.50, ISBN 0–7914–4395–7. Paperback $27.50, ISBN 0–7914–4396–5.
Rudolf G. Wagner. A Chinese Reading of the Daodejing: Wang Bi’s Commentary on the Laozi with Critical Text and Translation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003. viii, 531 pp. Hardcover $98.50, ISBN 0–7914–5181–X. Paperback $34.95, ISBN 0–7914–5182–8.
Rudolf G. Wagner. Language, Ontology, and Political Philosophy in China: Wang Bi’s Scholarly Exploration of the Dark (Xuanxue). Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003. viii, 261 pp. Hardcover $81.50, ISBN 0–7914–5331–6. Paperback $29.95, ISBN 0–9714–5332–4.

Over a twenty-three-year span—the same duration as Wang Bi’s life (226–249 c.e.)—Rudolf G. Wagner composed three separate but intimately linked volumes: The Craft of a Chinese Commentator: Wang Bi on the Laozi (hereafter vol. 1); A Chinese Reading of the Daodejing: Wang Bi’s Commentary on the Laozi with Critical Text and Translation (hereafter vol. 2); and Language, Ontology, and Political Philosophy in China: Wang Bi’s Scholarly Exploration of the Dark (Xuanxue) (hereafter vol. 3). Taken together, these three volumes represent one of the most provocative and intriguing explorations of the Laozi commentaries to date. These volumes are not for the faint of heart but rather are designed for specialists and scholars of Chinese philosophy who are willing to engage in close textual analysis. What is most outstanding and unique is Wagner’s use of hermeneutics in his analysis and reconstruction of texts and commentaries. In this regard, he was influenced by Rudolf Bultmann’s philological and interpretative work on religious texts as well as Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutics. For several years, Wagner studied with Gadamer at the University of Heidelberg. Wagner sets out to rectify a European Reformation and Renaissance prejudice that led to the privileging of the Ur-text (the original manuscript and the author’s original views) over and above exegetical commentaries that were often dismissed as self-serving and subjectivist (vol. 1, p. 2). Yet Wagner reminds the reader that since the second century c.e., classical Chinese texts were read through commentaries. While some texts were upheld as those of Sages, others were revered because “. . . the interpretation of their coded messages became the privileged access to truth” (vol. 1, p. 3). As a public act, reading was responsible to a community of exegetical inquirers. With the destruction of manuscripts under the Qin , there were no more “original” texts, hence the reliance on state-directed [End Page 61] commentaries. With the collapse of the Han , the new Zhengshi (240–249 c.e.) era emerged as an “interstice” whereby scholars could explore philosophical nuances of texts. Wang Bi was the brightest light of this time period.

In an immaculately detailed chapter on Wang Bi’s biography, Wagner begins with a story about Martin Heidegger’s response to students’ queries concerning Aristotle’s life. In response, Heidegger began the following lecture with “Aristotle was born, worked, and died” (quoted in vol. 1, p. 9). Heidegger then carried on with an analysis of Aristotle’s ideas. Wagner points out that this seemingly flippant action held some merit: “Heidegger’s attitude talks back to a fashion of reducing intellectual to social history and philosophical pursuits to higher register articulations of particular economic, political, or personal interests” (vol. 1, p. 9). Heidegger’s insistence that in a philosopher only the philosophy counts is an important point. A philosopher’s thought should not be reduced to a particular school or to certain political or economic conditions of history. Thence, Wagner explains succinctly that Wang Bi “was born, worked, and died very young” (vol...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 61-67
Launched on MUSE
2008-10-04
Open Access
No
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