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Reviewed by:
  • Reading Through Recovered Ancient Chinese Manuscripts ed. by Shirley Chan
  • James Sellmann (bio)
Reading Through Recovered Ancient Chinese Manuscripts. Edited by Shirley Chan. Sydney: The Oriental Society of Australia, Inc., 2020. Pp. xvii + 362.

Shirley Chan and twelve other established scholars prepared fourteen insightful, detailed textual analyses of several of the recovered ancient Chinese manuscripts. The book consists of a Preface, Acknowledgements, fourteen chapters, and a list of contributors. The five chapter titles that begin with Chinese are written in Chinese, with English abstracts.

In the Preface Shirley Chan notes the diversity in unity of the essays. The authors use their respective areas of specialization and different disciplinary methods to explicate the philosophical, philological, historical, and literary contents and contexts of the recovered texts. Their unifying focus is "how do these recovered texts shed new light on important aspects of ancient China, from text-thought interactions, mythology and philosophy to theoretical construction and philological analysis, scholastic lineages and their evolution pertaining to a particular genre of literature?" (pp. vii-viii). Most of the chapters are based on papers the authors had presented at a conference held at Macquarie University on "Reading the Old in the Light of the Newly Discovered: An International Symposium on Chinese Philosophy and Ancient Chinese Texts" in December 2014. The authors analyze several of the texts discovered over the past century that date to the pre-Qin, Han, and Tang dynasties, respectively.

Cai Xianjin authored chapter 1, "上古宇宙生成論的創世文化思維Ancient Chinese Creation Myths and Cosmogony." It is often noted that early Greek mythology influenced the development of Greek philosophy. Sinologists who only focus on the Confucian classics tend to play down the role of mythology in the development of Pre-Qin (Chinese) philosophy. Cai compares two received texts, the Book of Changes and the Laozi, with four excavated texts, namely the Warring States Chu Silk Manuscript: Section 1 from Zidanku in Changsha, The "Great One Generates Water" (Taiyi sheng shui 太一生水) in the Guodian Bamboo Slips, the "Constancy, at the Outset" (Hengxian 恆 先) in the Shanghai Museum, and The Yellow Emperor's Four Classics: "Fundamentals of Dao" (Huangdi sijing: Daoyuan 黄帝四经:道原) in the Mawangdui Silk Manuscripts, and proceeds to argue that mythological genesis stories influenced the development of cosmogony and ontology in early Chinese philosophy. [End Page 1]

Chapter 2 is by Shirley Chan, "From Nothing to Something: Reading the Shanghai Museum's Hengxian 恆 先 (Constancy, at the Outset)." After a concise review of how "constancy" (heng) is used in other pre-Qin works, Chan makes a strong case for her interpretation of the work's title, which underlies the interpretation she presents in the rest of the essay. She argues that the Hengxian develops a political philosophy and offers advice for the ruler and ministers to model the constancy of nature's cosmic patterns so as to maintain an orderly society and state.

Chapter 3 is an English translation of a previously published article in Chinese by Li Rui. "The Early Chinese Concept of de 德 "explicates early uses of the character de to establish its fundamental meaning and how this meaning changed over time. Analyzing received and excavated texts to explore the meaning of de, qi, and dao, he builds a case that the Laozi further developed various connotations of these key concepts. Li argues that the development of an anthropocentric focus on efficacious praxis led to the promotion of de over the cosmic dao in Daoism. Hence, the HuangLao philosophers were moved to set the de chapters before the dao chapters of the Laozi as is seen in the arrangement of the Mawangdui Laozi. As dao studies continued to develop in the Han, scholars, likely Liu Xiang, rearranged the Laozi into its received order with the dao chapters preceding the de chapters.

Ding Sixin authored "馬王堆帛書《易傳》的哲學思想 Philosophical Thinking in the Mawangdui Silk Manuscripts Yizhuan 易傳." Chapter 4 makes the case that the silk manuscript Yizhuan influenced the received edition.

Chapter 5, entitled "Reading Laozi 老 子 Section 54," by Barbara Hendrischke, offers a comparative analysis of poem 54 by examining the various versions of the Laozi from Mawangdui and Guodian with the received Laozi, and comparing the text of poem 54 with the Great Learning, and especially the Hanfeizi's commentarial chapters...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Pages
pp. 1-4
Launched on MUSE
2020-10-28
Open Access
No
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