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Huangdi sijing 黃帝四經 "The Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor"

The Huangdi sijing 黃帝四經 "Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor", also called Huanglao boshu 黃老帛書 "Silk texts on Huang-Lao thought", is a collection of early texts that were discovered in 1973 in the early Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) tomb of Mawangdui 馬王堆 (tomb 3) near Changsha 長沙, Hunan. The author of these texts is unknown, but Tang Lan 唐蘭 believes the author might have been a Daoist master from the region of Zheng 鄭, probably with the name of Anqi sheng 安期生. The text must have been completed during the middle or late Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). The modern transcription of the text was first published by the magazine Wenwu 文物 (1974/10), the part Jingfa 經法 was published two years later by the Wenwu press 文物出版社. In 1980 the whole text corpus was published by the same editor with the title of Mawangdui Hanmu boshu 馬王堆漢墓帛書.
The texts discovered in the tomb library of Mawangdui included two versions (jiaben 甲本, yiben 乙本) of the book Laozi 老子 (Daodejing 道德經). The four chapters of the Huangdi sijing were positioned before the yiben version of the Laozi. The name Huangdi sijing does not appear in the originals, where only the names of the four chapters are noted down, which are: Jingfa 經法 "The constancy of laws", Shidajing 十大經 "The ten great classics" (some scholars read Shiliujing 十六經 "Sixteen classics"), Cheng 稱 "Aphorisms", and Yuandao 道原 "On Dao the fundamental" (translation by R. Yates). Tang Lan is of the opinion that these four chapters are identical to the Huangdi sijing that are listed among the Daoist writings in the imperial bibliography Yiwenzhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書. His main arguments supporting this thesis are the structure of part of the text which is composed as a kind of dialogue between the mythological Yellow Emperor and his ministers, and the main theme of penal law and the relation between form (reality) and designation (xingming 形名) is penetrating all four texts. The four chapters therefore must be one coherent text to be put into relationship with a political theory attributed to the Yellow Emperor. The Former Han period historian Sima Qian 司馬遷 said that the legalist master Shenzi 申子, who was the main theoretician of the penal law, had studied the teachings of the Huang-Lao school. The same is true for Han Fei 韓非, the great master of legalism. Theories about the use of the penal law must be derived from the side of the Yellow Emperor, because the Daoist school, initiated by the semi-historical master Laozi, does not care at all about politics. The relation of the Huangdi sijing to Daoism is nevertheless seen in the fact that they were written on the same piece of silk as the yiben text of the Laozi. Although the chapters Cheng and Yuandao are not called "classics" (jing 經), they have nevertheless the structure of such, and are therefore an integral part of the canon of the "Four Classics". The authenticity of the Huangdi sijing with the Mawangdui findings is not acknowledged by all scholars because the four chapters can be seen as texts standing in the tradition of legalist writings or the school of military writings, thoughts of which are very prominent in the four chapters.
The Huangdi sijing of Mawangdui must have been written before 169 BCE. At that time, the political theory of Huang-Lao thought was flourishing in the Han empire. This philosophical school said that a ruler must exert a civilian government and to use military power simultaneously. He has to make use of rewards and punishment, to use standards and laws as a token of his rule. His politics has to follow a style of non-activity, he has to protect the people, to love it and to care for its welfare. The only way to achieve this is austerity in willful spending and the reduction of luxury at the court. War has to be waged only if it is justified and righteous, and in such a way that victory will be safe at all means.
The Jingfa consists of nine parts, the Sidajing of fifteen parts. The text is written in verses or at least in many parallel sentences. The first chapter explains how to rule a country, the Shiliujing speak of politics and military strategy, the Cheng deals with particular question of rulership, and the chapter Daoyuan explains the worldview of Huang-Lao thought.
The four chapters are based on the philosophical worldview of Laozi and extend it to a more coherent theory. The Huangdi sijing are in fact much closer to the Daoist writing Wenzi 文子 than to the more famous Daoist texts Laozi or Zhuangzi 莊子. It is said that before the objects in the universe were created, the Dao 道 "Way" was already existing. The Dao is eternal and has no beginning, and has therefore an eternal dimension (taixu 太虛 "greatest space") in time and space. The matter (qi 氣 "breath" or "energy") of the universe was still unshaped at that time and formed a kind of chaos. This chaos was then divided into two energetic statuses, called Yin and Yang 陰陽. These reached a further structure in the different phenomena of the four seasons, in which Yin and Yang mutually expand and shrink. The ten thousand being (wanwu 萬物) came then into being, but similarly to Yin and Yang, they are constantly changing and have no eternal status. The ten thousand being are not only creatures and material objects (which also come and go, grow and fade), but also include Heaven and Earth, sun and moon, the stars, or the six energies (liuqi 六氣). The eternal Dao is inherent in all these objects and phenomena. It is the source of spirit and wisdom, and functions as a kind of natural law. It functions without a clear goal, but incites an ever-lasting stream of spontaneous changes. Transferred to human society, the Dao is the basic foundation of standards and models (fa 法). Laws can therefore be led back to the "Heavenly way" (tiandao 天道) and therefore correspond to the character of Heaven. The latter is therefore also a model for the eight correct matters (bazheng 八正) and the seven standards (qifa 七法). The society that follows these natural laws of Heaven, will flourish, while those acting against it will vanish. Acting against Heaven means to disobey natural laws. Although Heaven is only defined as part of nature, it therefore still retains some spiritual force, as found in the Confucian philosophy of Mengzi 孟子. Nature, or the Dao, respectively, also defines a clear order in society and rules for social behaviour.
The Huangdi sijing follow the proposition of Laozi that there are many dual (Marxist term: dialectic) relations in the universe that correspond to each other, influence each other and may also change from one aspect to its contrary. Yin and Yang are such pairs, or punishment and reward, growing and vanishing, obtaining and losing, success and failure, but also the Daoist pair of weak and strong, of which the first is preferred because it is thought to be more flexible in certain situations. In a social context, weakness (might also be called adaptability or mercy) will lead to a better relationship between the ruler and his people, and therefore bring profit to both. A ruler governing in calmness instead of activity will profit his country more than a belligerent emperor of a tyrant. A person accumulating positive effects will be bright (de ji zhe chang 德積者昌). Receding instead of advancing is a way to foresee good or bad results. Returning to the shapelessness (wuxing 無形) of the Dao will enable the ruler as well as the common man to understand the natural laws and to act accordingly, in order to destroy the strong, to attack death, and to avoid harm. The factors to be controlled for success in any respect are adaption (yin 因) to the circumstances of time and space, the correct timing (shi 時) in the development of affairs, and the right assessment (du 度) of situations.
The duality of shape and designation (xing ming 形名) is very important in social and political life. While the shape of objects or matters is given by nature, only the correct designation in a social context makes it complete and useful. Name and reality (ming shi 名實) have to correspond to each other, unless chaos might result. In order to care for social order punishment and rewards have to be applied by the ruler. He has to make clear the standards for punishment and reward and the consequences of human behaviour. There can be no exemption from such rules, so that a fair public administration is possible, without adhering to private preferences. Only then the people will produce trust towards the government. At the same time it is necessary that the ruler is benevolent and his ministers are loyal (zhu hui chen zhong 主惠臣忠). The ruler has to approach his people (qin min 親民) and to exert propriety (wei yi 爲義). In this way punishment and reward will mutually nourish each other (xing de xiang yang 刑德相養), and [the treatment of] disobedience and obedience will result in unity (ni shun jie he 逆順結合). Yet reward (de 德), as an expression of brightness and Yang, is in any case to be preferred to punishment, which corresponds to darkness and Yin. Preferring reward to punishment (xian de hou xing 先德後刑) will nourish life and follow the sense of Heaven.
Aspects of Huang-Lao thought are to be found in the writings of all different philosophical schools, like Guanzi 管子, Shenzi 慎子, Heguanzi 鶡冠子, Zhuangzi, Shen Buhai 申不害 (Shenzi 申子), Shizi 尸子, Guiguzi 鬼谷子, Xunzi 荀子, Hanfeizi 韓非子, Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋, Taigong jingui 太公金匱, Huangdi neijing 黃帝內經, Xici 繫辭 (a commentary part of the Yijing 易經) or the history Zhanguoce 戰國策. In the early Han period Huang-Lao writings were read by all important philosophers, like Lu Jia 陸賈, Liu An 劉安 or Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒, even by writers and politicians that are rather known as Confucians, like Sima Qian, Huo Guang 霍光, Liu Xiang 劉向, Yi Feng 翼奉, Huang Qiong 黃瓊, Li You 李尤 or Yang Lun 楊倫. During the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE) Confucianism became firmly established as the state doctrine, and the popularity of Huang-Lao thought began to decline.
The most important studies to the Huangdi sijing are Tang Lan's Mawangdui chutu Laozi yiben juan qian gu yishu de yanjiu 馬王堆出土〈老子〉乙本卷前古佚書的研究 and Huangdi sijing chutan 黃帝四經初探, Guo Yuanxing's 郭元興 Du Jingfa 讀經法 and Yu Guangming's 余光明 Huangdi sijing yu Huang-Lao sixiang 黃帝四經與黃老思想.
There are two translations of the Four Huang-Lao Classics into English, namely Robin Yates (1997), Five Lost Classics: Tao, Huang-Lao, and Yin-Yang in Han China, N.Y.: Ballantine Books, 1997), and Leo S. Chang and Yu Feng (1998), The Four Political Treatises of the Yellow Emperor. Original Mawangdui Texts with Complete English Translations, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

He Shengdi 賀聖迪 (1992). "Huangdi sijing 黃帝四經", in: Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Zhexue 哲學, p. 100. Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe.
Li Binghai 李炳海 (1996). "Huangdi sijing 黃帝四經", in: Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典, ed by Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, p. 361. Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe.

1.Jingfa 經法 The Constancy of laws
1.1.Daofa 道法 Dao and law
1.2.Guoci 國次 The order of a nation
1.3.Junzheng 君正 Correct rulership
1.4.Liufen 六分 The great dividing lines (between to-dos and not-to-dos for a ruler)
1.5.Sidu 四度 The four principles (quietude, rectitude, cultured-ness, and martiality)
1.6.Lun 論 Discourse (about the human order to obtain the Heavenly Mandate)
1.7.Wanglun 亡論 On the ruin of a country
1.8.Lunyue 論約 On the quintessential (the synthesis of the way)
1.9.Mingli 名理 Names and principles
2. Shi Da Jing 十大經 The Ten Great Classics:
2.1.Liming 立命 Establishment of the mandate of Heaven
2.2.Guan 觀 Investigation (by Limo or Lihei)
2.3.Wuzheng 五正 The five kinds of rulers
2.4.Guotong 果童 Guotong (about human abilities)
2.5.Zhengluan 正亂 Ending the uprising (of Chiyou)
2.6.Xingzheng 姓爭 The natural contention of clans
2.7.Xixiongjie 雌雄節 Paradigms of feminine and masculine conduct
2.8.Bingrong 兵容 The function of an army
2.9.Chengfa 成法 The completion of methods
2.10.Sanjin 三禁 The three prohibitions
2.11.Benfa 本伐 Bases for military expeditions
2.12.Qiandao 前道 The primary way to governing
2.13.Xingshou 行守 The principle of behaviour
2.14.Shundao 順道 Following the Way
2.15.Mingxing 名刑 Titles and punishment (or Shida 十大 Ten great)
3. Cheng 稱 Aphorisms
4. Yuandao 原道 On Dao the Fundamental
Chinese literature according to the four-category system

July 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail