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  • Order in Early Chinese Excavated Texts: Natural, Supernatural, and Legal Approaches by Zhongjiang Wang
  • Thomas Michael (bio)
Order in Early Chinese Excavated Texts: Natural, Supernatural, and Legal Approaches. By Zhongjiang Wang. Misha Tadd. London: Palgrave Macmillian, 2016. Pp. 240. Hardcover $84.99, ISBN 978-1-349-56819-2.

Order in Early Chinese Excavated Texts represents a selection of essays composed by Wang Zhongjiang of Beijing University, edited and translated by Misha Tadd. Its appearance comes on the heels of a separate book-length selection of various other of Wang's essays translated by Livia Kohn, entitled Daoism Excavated: Cosmos and Humanity in Early Manuscripts (St. Petersburg, FL: Three Pines Press, 2015). The proximity of the publications of these two English-language works is important to note. It demonstrates the growing international renown of Wang, a foremost expert on the reading and interpretation of early Chinese excavated texts. Both works handily display his erudite mastery in placing the content of excavated texts within the philosophical discourse of early Chinese received writings, thereby shedding new light on the growth and development of early Chinese religion and philosophy.

In 2011, Wang published 简帛文明与古代思想世界 Civilization of Bamboo-Silk and the World of Ancient Thought (Beijing: Beijing Daxue Chubanshe, 2011), with twenty chapters in nearly 600 pages. Wang later revised many of these chapters that were then published as independent articles. Order in Early Chinese Manuscripts and Daoism Excavated get their primary material either from this original publication or revised articles from it. Daoism Excavated discusses four excavated texts: The Primordial Constant (Hengxian), The Great One Birthed Water (Taiyi shengshui), All Things Are Forms in Flux (Fanwu liuxing), and The Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi sijing), concluding with three chapters on the Laozi Daodejing. It is accompanied by Wang's Preface that acknowledges the previous publication information (without providing the Chinese titles) either from the original 2011 work or the revised articles.

Order in Early Chinese Excavated Texts also takes its primary material from Wang's 2011 work, with a Prolegomenon adapted from an otherwise independent article of Wang's that provides an initial orientation to the chapters and the theme that unites them (natural, supernatural, and legal orders) as selected by the editor/translator. Tadd does not, strictly speaking, give a direct word for word translation of Wang's original work, but injects a balanced dose of editorial control based on discussion and consultation with Wang that effectively [End Page 654] clarifies the original essays. This is especially helpful because they rely on Wang's readings and interpretations of the modern transcriptions of the excavated texts that he judiciously questions, modifies, and advances. Tadd's editorial work was called for since, unlike the more philosophical writings in Daoism Excavated, these essays are more attuned to a sinological treatment of the excavated texts.

There is a consensus that those excavated texts that speak most directly to the development of early Daoist thought concern The Primordial Constant, The Great One Birthed Water, All Things Are Forms in Flux, and The Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor. Three of the five chapters of Order in Early Chinese Excavated Texts deal with The Great One Birthed Water (chapter 1), All Things Are Forms in Flux (chapter 2), and The Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor (chapter 5), but there is no chapter on The Primordial Constant. Although this creates something of an unexpected lacuna in the book, it is explained by the fact that, of the 20 chapters of Wang's 2011 work, only one was devoted to The Primordial Constant, and not only was this chapter included in Daoism Excavated, but it also had an entirely separate English translation (Frontiers of Philosophy in China 4:493-510, 2009, tr. Kuang Zhao). The two remaining chapters examine two lesser known texts, The Divine Insight of Spirits and Gods (Guishen zhi ming) (chapter 3) and The Three Virtues (San de) (chapter 4).

The analyses of The Great One Birthed Water and All Things Are Forms in Flux directly speak to the earliest developments of Daoist thought, and are models of sinological research. Wang avoids conjecture on the sociological possibilities of early Daoism, firmly remaining within the...


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