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  • A Reassessment of Early Confucianism in Light of Newly Excavated Manuscripts
  • Shirley Chan (bio)
Liang Tao . Guodian Zhujian Yu Simeng Xuepai (The Guodian bamboo manuscripts and the Zisi-Mencian lineage) (Guoxue Yanjiu Wenku). Beijing: Zhongguo Renmin Daxue Chubanshe, 2008. 560 pp. Paperback 78.00 RMB, ISBN 978-7-300-09354-3.

The Guodian bamboo manuscripts, dated to the fourth century b.c.e. were discovered in 1993 in Hubei Province, China. The discovery of these texts has provided fresh material for re-examining early Chinese thought and history. Because of their significant status as original texts, providing a new understanding of the evolution of the Chinese philosophical tradition and the history of Chinese philosophy in general, the Guodian bamboo texts have attracted scholarly attention from many different countries.

Scholars continue to debate the possible affiliation of the excavated Guodian texts. Many in mainland China hold that at least some of the texts are from the Zisi-Mencian school of thought, whereas others argue they are closer to Gaozi’s or Xunzi’s ideas. One recent contribution is Liang Tao’s Guodian Zhujian Yu Simeng Xuepai (The Guodian bamboo manuscripts and the Zisi-Mencian [End Page 304] school of thought). As the title suggests, this is a study of the relationship of the Guodian texts to the development of the Zisi-Mencian school. What are the associations of the Guodian texts? How are the texts related to the received texts? Who is likely to be the author(s) of the texts? How do we recognize the Zisi-Mencian school and its association with the Guodian texts? By answering these questions, Liang proposes that some of the Confucian texts in the Guodian corpus have emerged from the Zisi-Mencian school. Liang starts by defining the “School of Zisi and Mencius.” He gives a succinct account of the historical formation, transformation, and development of the school of Zisi and Mencius (pp. 34–42) before pointing out the coherent and consistent nature of this line of thought. After Confucius’s death, the Confucian school, Liang says, went through a process of “diversification” (fenhua ) (pp. 85–101), “deepening” (shenhua ), and “narrowing down” (zhaihua ) in terms of intellectual discourse. The Zisi Mencian school—formed by the key figures of Zengzi , Ziyou , Zisi , and Mencius —should not be understood in a linear fashion, as has been traditionally done. Rather, the camps represented by Zengzi and Ziyou, and by Zisi and Mencius could have been horizontally related. In establishing this background of transformation, Liang has drawn many of the texts together, placing the school of thought in a coherent perspective. He discusses the composition and interpretation of various texts, such as Daxue (The great learning), Liyun , Zhong Yong (The doctrine of the means), Biao Ji and Fang Ji , which are traditionally attributed to the Zisi-Mencian school.

Liang arrives at the following conclusion: Ziyi (The black robe), Wuxing (The five conducts), Lu Mu Gong Wen Zisi (Duke Mu of Lu makes enquiries from Zisi), and Qiong Da yi Shi (Poverty and achievement depending on timeliness) are associated with Zisi or are part of the text of Zisizi . The Xing Zi Ming Chu (Nature derives from the mandate) is most likely from Ziyou or his associates. In other word, Liang is well aware that not all of the Confucian texts in the corpus can be attributed to the Zisi-Mencian lineage. Instead, he carefully distinguishes the Guodian texts from the rest of the corpus by articulating the key concepts and philosophical debates presented in these texts and the relevant received texts in order to demonstrate the possible affiliations.

Liang has included in his discussions key Chinese philosophical concepts such as sheng , xing , xin , and qi . The interpretations of scholars of these terms have influenced their views of the affiliations of the texts concerned. Liang emphasizes that xing, typically translated in English as “human nature,” should be understood in the early Chinese context as the human being’s potential for developing the patterns endowed by Nature; such potentialities, when related to qi, are an active process of growth and development inherently unique to human beings. Thus, he stresses the view that human development is a process [End Page 305] and...


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