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  • The Unification of Ancient Chinese Philosophy:Fischer on the Shizi
  • James D. Sellmann (bio)
Paul Fischer. Shizi: China’s First Syncretist. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. 248 pp. Hardcover $45.00, isbn 978-0-231-15906-7.

Paul Fischer’s translation and commentary on the remnant fragments of Master Shi’s work are welcome additions to the pre-Qin corpus in translation. Now with the complete English translations of the Shizi 尸子, the Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋, and the Huainanzi 淮南子 available, students can begin to gain a deeper understanding of the leading texts that are classified as syncretic or zajia (雜家) in the Hanshu Yiwenzhi bibliography. Fischer has completed an excellent job of reconstructing the history behind the life and times of Master Shi and the transmission of the extant fragments. His translation is fluid and easy to read. His comments help to illuminate obscurity, and his new arrangement of the sentence fragments helps to tie them together into a more coherent presentation. The book contains an introduction, an explanation about the content of the work, and the transmission [End Page 521] of the fragments, key terms employed, and a brief note on the annotated translation. A complete translation of each of the fifteen fragmented chapters comprises the body of the book. Paul Fischer also provides translations for the 194 brief fragment passages that are attributed to the Shizi that have been extracted by Chinese scholars from various histories, encyclopedias, and other works written over the centuries. The translations are accompanied by the Chinese text punctuated by Fisher. The book concludes with extensive endnotes, a bibliography, and a helpful index.

In the introduction, Paul Fisher distinguishes between syncretism, as a conscious choice to borrow from different teaching traditions, and eclecticism, as an unconscious borrowing from different traditions. He provides numerous examples of spontaneous eclecticism in the history of China and other examples of intentional syncretism. His position could be bolstered by pointing out that the dragon as a mascot symbol for China is a syncretic creature constituted from the parts of other creatures, and that even the early Chinese Communist Party syncretically amalgamated Western and Chinese ideas. I note that the ancient Book of Poetry (Shijing 詩經) is also a syncretic text containing opposing views on a moral universe responsive to human needs and a unresponsive natural world, and opposing views on whether human actions influence the course of nature, assuming that the editor of the collection of poems was aware of what he was compiling. Otherwise, it becomes another example of unconscious eclecticism. Fisher reviews some of the various masters throughout the history of Chinese philosophy, especially from the Han and Song dynasties, who consciously and unconsciously borrowed from various traditions. For the continuity of this review, I will discuss the transmission of the text before its content.

In the transmission section, Paul Fischer explains the historical background behind the transmission of the original twenty-chapter (juan 卷) text compiled by Master Shi Jiao (尸佼, a. 390–330 b.c.e.) after he fled to the state of Shu 蜀 from the state of Qin 秦 when, his sponsor, Wei Yang 衛鞅, Lord of Shang (aka Shang Yang, d. 338 b.c.e.), was removed from office and executed in battle. The conclusion to the biography of Xunzi in the Shiji (Grand historian’s records, 91 b.c.e.) contains the earliest extant reference to Shizi, claiming that he was from Chu and that his work was so well known that it need not be discussed. Liu Xiang’s Bielu (8 b.c.e.) and his son Liu Xin’s Qilüe (6 b.c.e.) recorded comments about Shi Jiao and his work that are preserved in Pan Gu’s “Literature Records” in the Hanshu (92 c.e.), stating: “Shizi in twenty sections. [sic] (His) given name was Jiao, and (he was) from Lu; the Qin chief minister, the Shang Lord, took him as a teacher (and when Shang) Yang died, Jiao fled to Shu” (p. 35). Some four hundred years later, Pei Yin comments in his Shiji jijie (Collected explanations of the Shiji, c. 438 c.e.):

Liu Xiang’s Bielu says: “(The Shiji says ‘Chu had Shizi …’ (but I) suspect (it should have) said...


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