The Textual Transmission and Development of the Laozi in the Western Han Dynasty:In Light of the Peking University Bamboo Slip Manuscripts Laozi

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TitleThe Textual Transmission and Development of the Laozi in the Western Han Dynasty:In Light of the Peking University Bamboo Slip Manuscripts Laozi
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsCui, X.
Conference NameDaoist Studies Boston 2014
Abstract

Abstract

This paper presents a preliminary observation of the recently published Western Han period bamboo-slip Laozi, which is now in the collection of Peking University. I also make comparisons among the Peking University manuscripts Laozi (the Beida Laozi), Mawangdui silk-manuscript copies A and B of the Laozi (the Mawangdui Laozi), the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui道德真經指歸, and the received Laozi. In order to shed some light on the textual transmission and the development of the Laozi in the Western Han period, I mainly focus on the following issues: the textual formation, including the titles, chapter divisions and sequences of the Laozi in the Western Han Dynasty; the relationship of the Beida Laozi to the Mawangdui Laozi, Daode Zhenjing Zhigui and the received Laozi; the analysis of graphic variations and some particular concepts.

Full Text

The Textual Transmission and Development of the Laozi in the Western Han DynastyIn Light of the Peking University Bamboo Slip Manuscripts Laozi

 

Cui Xiaojiao 崔曉姣

Peking University/ Dartmouth College

xiaojiaode@gmail.com

                                                                                           

Abstract

This paper presents a preliminary observation of the recently published Western Han period bamboo-slip Laozi, which is now in the collection of Peking University. I also make comparisons among the Peking University manuscripts Laozi (the Beida Laozi), Mawangdui silk-manuscript copies A and B of the Laozi (the Mawangdui Laozi), the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui道德真經指歸, and the received Laozi. In order to shed some light on the textual transmission and the development of the Laozi in the Western Han period, I mainly focus on the following issues: the textual formation, including the titles, chapter divisions and sequences of the Laozi in the Western Han Dynasty; the relationship of the Beida Laozi to the Mawangdui Laozi, Daode Zhenjing Zhigui and the received Laozi; the analysis of graphic variations and some particular concepts.

Keywords: The Peking University bamboo slips manuscripts Laozi(the Beida Laozi); The Mawangdui Laozi; The Daode Zhenjing Zhigui; The Received Laozi; The textual transmission and the development of the Laozi in the Western Han Dynasty

 

In early 2009, Peking University acquired a collection of about 3346 bamboo slips. Comparing the scripts with those of Zhangjiashan Tomb Number 247, of Dingzhou Bajiaolang定州八角廊 Tomb, and of Mawangdui silk manuscripts, the editorial team conjectures that the bamboo slips may be dated between the late Emperor Wu (156-87 BC) period and the Emperor Xuan (91-49 BC) period of the Western Han.

 

The Peking University bamboo-slip manuscripts in total encompass approximately twenty different texts, which include the Laozi. It is estimated that the bamboo-slip Laozi text might be written in the early period of Emperor Wu, which is a little bit earlier than other texts. In contrast with the Guodian Laozi and the Mawangdui Laozi, the Beida Laozi is more intact, with legible and neat script, which greatly facilitates our study on the redaction and transmission of the Laozi text.

 

Briefly speaking, the Beida Laozi is comprised of Shangjing上經 and Xiajing下經 and has seventy seven chapters. The Shangjing of the Beida Laozi is the counterpart of the Dejing德經, while the Xiajing corresponds to the Daojing道經. The words“老子上經” were written on the back of slip 1829, which is the second slip of the Shangjing. Similarly, the back of the first slip (slip 2592) of the Xiajing has the words “老子下經”. Apart from some differences in characters and the divisions of some chapters, the majority of the contents of the Beida Laozi are similar to those of the Mawangdui Laozi and of the received Laozi. 

 

As known, most extant Laozi editions were transcribed after the Wei and Jin dynasties. According to the Hanshu Yiwenzhi 漢書藝文志, there were the Linshi Laozijingzhuan鄰氏老子經傳, the Fushi Laozijingshuo傅氏老子經說, the Xushi Laozijingshuo徐氏老子經說, and the Liuxiang Shuolaozi劉向說老子 in the Han Dynasty. Unfortunately, none of them survive. However, due to its inclusion in the Daozang道藏, the Dejing section of the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui道德真經指歸, which is attributed to Yan Zun嚴遵(86-10BC), survives. Besides, the Mawangdui silk-manuscript copies A and B are also dated from the Western Han period. The Copy A, which observes no Han taboos, is considered to be written before the death of the first Han Emperor in 195 BC. The Copy B is considered to be written in the early second century BC. Therefore, I will take the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui, the Mangwangdui Copies A and B, and the recently published Beida Laozi as the foundation sources for studying the transmission and development of the Laozi texts in the Western Han period.

 

In the following part, I will present a preliminary observation of the Beida Laozi and compare the different versions of the Laozi that have been mentioned above from several accounts. By doing so, I hope to illustrate its textual transmission and development in the Western Han period.

 

The titles of the Laozi in the Western Han Dynasty

 

As mentioned above, the Beida Laozi is divided into Laozi Shangjing老子上經 and Laozi Xiajing老子下經. The titles “Laozi Shangjing” and “Laozi Xiajing” were written in the back of Slip 1829 and Slip 2592 respectively, the writing style of which is similar to that of the manuscripts. Thus, it is reasonable to conjecture that the titles were written by the transcriber(s). If we look closer at the titles, there are three things to note. First, the Laozi had already been entitled “Jing” during the period of Emperor Wu, the same period that the Beida Laozi is considered to have been written. Second, by the time of the production of the Beida Laozi, the “Laozi” text had already been referred to as "Laozi" in certain editions. Third, the two sections of the Beida Laozi were entitled Shangjing上經 and Xiajing下經 rather than Dejing德經 and Daojing道經.  Consequently several questions can be raised by the titles of the Beida Laoz. For example: What does it mean for the Laozi to be entitled “Jing”? How does it differ from the five classic doctorates五經博士 established by Emperor Wu? When did the “Laozi” text begin to be entitled Laozi? What is the relationship between the person of Laozi, reputed author of the Laozi, and the work named Laozi? What is the relation between the two versions, “Shangjing”/“Xiajing” and “Dejing”/“Daojing”? In the following, I will try to answer some of them.

                                                       

a. When did the “Laozi” text begin to be entitled Laozi

 

On the basis of the different shapes of the slips and the distance between the binding marks, the Guodian compliers divide the Guodian Laozi into three groups, none of which has a title. As for the Mawangdui manuscripts, no title can be found in the Copy A, while the two sections of the Laozi are labeled “De” and “Dao” in the Copy B, which might indicate the titles for the book. In the Beida Laozi, as mentioned above, the titles “Laozi Shangjing” and “Laozi Xiajing” are written in the back of the slip 1829 and the slip 2592 respectively. Moreover, the Huainanzi淮南子, cites the Laozi text by name at least a dozen times, in passages nearly identical with the received Laozi text. In the Huainanzi, the citations of the Laozi text are always introduced with a formulaic expression as “therefore Laozi says”(故老子曰). According to the date of the Huainanzi and that of the Beida Laozi, it is clear that the “Laozi” text was referred to as the “Laozi” during the early Han period.

 

Could it be even earlier when the “Laozi” text began to be entitled “Laozi”? The following materials will help us to answer the question. In Chapter 17 of the Xunzi荀子, “A Discussion of Heaven”(天論), the Shenzi慎子, the Laozi, the Mozi墨子, and the Songzi宋子 are criticized by Xunzi respectively. It seems very easy to assume that the “Laozi” text has already been referred to as “laozi” as early as the period of Xunzi. However, the conclusion can not be simply drawn here. As we know, in ancient China, the works are usually named after the persons to whom they are attributed. Hence, some confusion might be caused. What does Xunzi mean by “Shenzi”, “Laozi”, “Mozi”, and “Songzi”, the works or the persons? Comparing to another passage that also gives criticism to Mozi, Shenzi, and Songzi, it seems reasonable to say that, in the Chapter 17, those mentioned above may probably represent the works. Specifically, in the Chapter 6, “Contra Twelve Philosophers(非十二子), Xunzi directly refers to the persons as Mo Di墨翟, Shen Dao慎到, and Song Xing宋鈃. According to the title of the Chapter 6, Xunzi wants to criticize those philosophers, not their books, and thus he specifies their names in order to distinguish them from the book titles.

 

Additionally, in the Han Feizi韓非子, there are two sections known as “Explicating Lao” (解老) and “Illustrating Lao” (喻老), which give exegetic notes to numerous lines from the Laozi. In the Explicating Lao, several instances explicitly refer to a book in the expression “this is what the book calls”(書之所謂). According to the title, “Explicating Lao”, the book mentioned by it should be the Laozi without a doubt. Another example can be found in Chapter 38, “Nansan難三, where there is a saying attributed to the Laozi explicitly, expressed as “Laozi Yue”老子曰. Thus, we can conclude that the “Laozi” text has already been known as the “Laozi” during the Warring States period.

 

However, there is something that needs to be clarified. As the Mawangdui Laozi and the Guodian Laozi have been excavated, scholars have begun to realize that the Laozi has variant versions with distinctive contents as well as with different chapter divisions and sequences. Comparing the citations preserved in the Explicating Lao” and “Illustrating Lao” to their counterparts in the received Laozi, it is obvious that though the citations correspond to a big portion of the received Laozi parallels, the chapter sequences are, as in the Guodian Laozi, totally different from those of the received Laozi. Moreover, what would have appeared in Chapter 64 of the received Laozi appears in different places in the Guodian Laozi A and C, and similarly apart in two places in the “Illustrating Lao”. Thus, it does not necessarily indicate, as many scholars have assumed, that the Explicating Lao” and “Illustrating Lao” are selecting specific passages from a complete Laozi text that approximate the received Laozi text. Rather, it may demonstrate that the Laozi quoted by the Han Feizi is indeed a different edition, which represents a textual form of the Laozi during the process of its transmission. That is to say, though the “Laozi” text has already been entitled “Laozi” during the period of Han Fei, the version might be in a fluid state and different from the received Laozi.

 

b. What is the relation between the two versions, the “Shangjing”/“Xiajing” and the “Dejing”/“Daojing

 

In the Mawangdui Laozi, the two sections of the Laozi are referred to as De and Dao, while the Beida Laozi labels them as Laozi Shangjing and Laozi Xiajing. As for the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui, in the preface, which is known as Junping Shuo Erjingmu君平說二經目, Yan Zun specifically mentions Shangjing and Xiajing. Besides, according to the Hunyuan Shengji混元圣紀, the Laozi text redacted by Liu Xiang劉向 encompasses Shangjing and Xiajing. The aforementioned materials suggest that either there are two versions of the Laozi in the Western Han period, the Shangjing/Xiajing and the Dejing/Daojing. Questions thus arise: what is the relation between the two versions? Do they represent two distinctive lineages, just as some scholars assumed ?

 

In Sima Qian’s biography of Laozi, Laozi is said to have written a book with two sections, Shang/Xia pian(上下篇), which illustrates the meaning of Dao and De with approximately five thousand characters(言道德之意五千余言). Obviously, the Shang/Xia Pian is different from the Shangjing/Xiajing, and can be understood as a “section”. Shang/Xia Pian means no more than that the Laozi text encompasses two sections. However, Sima Qian puts it explicitly that the central themes of the Shang/Xia Pian are Dao and De. It is not surprising for a work to be named based upon its central theme. Therefore, it is reasonable to conjecture that the characters “Shang” and “Xia” were firstly served as the signs of sectional divisions, rather than the titles of the two sections. The Shangjing and the Xiajing, needless to say, were entitled after the Laozi text had been referred to as “Jing”. The Shangjing and the Xiajing, thus, could be considered as either the titles or the signs of section divisions. Regarding when the Laozi began to be divided into Shangjing and Xiajing, the surviving evidence is insufficient to arrive at a definitive conclusion. However, dividing into the two sections may suggest that to some extent the Laozi text had already been standardized at that time. The Guodian Laozi, the Explicating Lao” and the “Illustrating Lao” do not have indications of section divisions, and the contents of the chapters are not totally fixed, which indicates that the Laozi text was still in a state of fluidity. All these factors lead to the conjecture that the division of Shang Pian and Xia Pian would not have been earlier than the late Warring States period, and the Shangjing and the Xiajing were entitled during the early Western Han period when the Laozi was entitled Jing.

 

The titles “De” and “Dao”, similarly, are unlikely to appear in the Pre-Qin period. Investigating the Pre-Qin materials related to the Laozi text, we find no reference to a text entitled “Dao” or “De”. There is one possibility that the titles “Dao” and “De” might be given after the standardization of the Laozi text. At that stage, the two sections are fixed and each of them has a central theme that is relatively easy to be abstracted. If this is the case, we may also assume that the Laozi was called Dao De after it had been named Shang Xia.

 

As for the relationship between the two versions, the “Shangjing”/“Xiajing” and the “Dejing”/“Daojing”, they do not necessarily represent two distinctive textual lineages. Both the Beida Laozi and the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui encompass Shangjing and Xiajing, however, they have some dramatic differences between each other, which I will present in the following parts. In contrast, though the titles of the Beida Laozi differ from those of the Mawangdui Laozi, there are many similarities between the two versions. That is to say, the textual lineage can not be easily distinguished from the titles of the two sections. Other factors must be taken into account as well.

 

Additionally, just as I have previously mentioned, the “Shang” and “Xia” could be the signs for section divisions. In some works, the Shang/Xia and Dao/De are combined into one title. For instance, in the Daozang Taixuanbu道藏太玄部, there are works named Laozi Daziben Daojing Shang老子大字本道經上, Laozi Daziben Dejing Xia老子大字本德經下, Laojun Daojing Shang Xiangerxun老君道經上想爾訓, Laojun Dejing Xia Xiangerxun老君德經下想爾訓, etc.. Judging from the date of the production of these works, it is very likely that such combined titles have appeared during the period from the Northern and Southern Dynasties to the Sui-Tang Dynasty.

 

Also, judging from the Junping Shuo Erjingmu君平說二經目, there is a possibility that the “Dao/De” version and the “De/Dao” version coexist in Yan Zun’s period. The Junping Shuo Erjingmu says “Shangjing moves lower, Xiajing turns higher, they run back and forth, henceforth they are unified.” 上經覆來,下經反往,反復相遇,淪為一形. In other words, the sequences of the Shangjing and the Xiajing are interchangeable. This may indicate that the “Dao/De” version and the “De/Dao” version have existed concurrently up to Yan Zun’s period. However, without further evidence, this is another conjecture.

 

The chapter divisions and sequences of the Laozi in the Western Han Dynasty

 

  1. The chapter divisions

     

    The chapter divisions in the Beida Laozi are somewhat different from those of other Laozi texts, with forty four chapters in the Shangjing and thirty three chapters in the Xiajing. There is a black dot “·” in front of each chapter, which is apparently used to mark chapter divisions. And each chapter starts with a separate paragraph. By contrast, in the Mawangdui text B, there are no signs of chapter divisions, and all the chapters are written continuously. The Mawangdui text A, however, has eighteen black dots in the De section and one in the Dao section. It seems that many of the black dots in the De section are used to divide the chapters, and the divisions are similar to the received Laozi. As for the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui, some of the chapter divisions are also differ from those of other Laozi texts, with seventy two chapters in total. The case of the Guodian Laozi is even more complicated, because not only the chapter divisions differ considerably, but also some materials correspond only to short sections of the received Laozi. What do the differences tell us about the textual development of the Laozi, especially in the Western Han dynasty? In the following part, I am going to answer the question in several respects, by comparing some specific chapters of the aforementioned versions.

     

    First, there are altogether seven different divisions of chapters among the Beida Laozi and other Laozi versions, two of them suggest that the chapter divisions in the Beida Laozi may have an earlier origin. Chapter 60 of the Beida Laozi encompasses contents equivalent to Chapters 17, 18, and 19 of the received Laozi. In the received Laozi, the first sentence of Chapter 18 is “when the great Way is neglected there arises benevolence and justice”大道廢, 有仁義, whereas a conjunction “therefore” is used to cohere the first sentence of Chapter 18 with the former chapter in the Beida Laozi. The cases of the Guodian Laozi and the Mawangdui Laozi are similar to the Beida Laozi, which may indicate that Chapter 17 and 18 are joined as one chapter at an early stage and are divided when the eighty one chapters become fixed. Besides, same as the Guodian Laozi, Chapter 64 of the received Laozi is divided into two chapters in the Beida Laozi. In the Illustrating Lao”, Han Fei also quotes Chapter 64 as if it had been divided into two sections. The similarity among them gives us reasons to conjecture that the chapter divisions in the Beida Laozi may have a quite early textual origin.

     

    Second, comparing the chapter divisions in the Beida Laozi with those of other Laozi versions, it is clear that the Laozi has several variant versions that are affiliated with different lineages during the Western Han period. These pedigrees, however, interact with each other and eventually assimilate into the received Laozi. This point can be illustrated by the following examples. Chapter 58 of the received Laozi ends with the sentence “Therefore the sage is square-edged but does not scrape, has corners but does not jab, extends himself but does not at the expense of others, shines but does not dazzle.”是以聖人方而不割,廉而不劌,直而不肆,光而不耀. This sentence is defective in the Mawangdui Text A. While in the Text B, neither “sage” nor any other subject can be found in this sentence, which is written as “Hence square-edged but dose not scrape, having corners but does not jab, spread out but does not encroach on others, shining but does not dazzle.”是以方而不割,廉而不劌,直而不肆,光而不耀. The Beida Laozi and the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui, by contrast, attribute this sentence to the next chapter, as the beginning of Chapter 59, without such conjunctions as “hence”. But the meaning of Chapter 58 and 59 suggest that it would be better to put the sentence in the end of Chapter 58. The Beida Laozi and the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui may represent textual pedigrees different from the received Laozi and the Mawangdui Laozi. Moreover, Chapter 78 and 79 of the received Laozi appear as one single chapter both in the Beida Laozi and in the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui. The similarities between the two versions may imply textual connections between them. It is possible that Yan Zun might have had accessed to the Beida Laozi or to a Laozi version that resembles the Beida Laozi. However, some important distinctions between the Beida Laozi and the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui can not be neglected. Regarding chapter divisions, the Beida Laozi and the received Laozi have in total seven differences, among which only two are the same to those in the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui. Some of the differences may be the outcome of textual transmission, but others may indicate that the Beida Laozi and the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui belong to different version lineages. Besides the differences of chapter divisions, some characters in the Beida Laozi are closer to those in the Guodian and the Mawangdui Laozi. By contrast, in the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui, the characters closely resemble those in the received Laozi. It could suggest that though the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui has something in common with the Beida Laozi, it is fairly close to the received Laozi. In short, concerning the similarities and differences among the versions, these versions may have influenced each other, and finally assimilate into the received text.

     

    Third, the chapter divisions in the aforementioned versions suggest that the development of the Laozi text is bidirectional. Some short units come to form long chapters, while some long chapters are divided into shorter units. Since the excavation of the Guodian Laozi, scholars have paid close attention to the chapter divisions and sequences in the Laozi text. Some assert that the Laozi had circulated as short sections at first, and was put together to form a relatively longer text. If this were the case, these short sections would be counted as chapters, even if they are shorter than their counterparts in the received Laozi. Besides, in the Laozi text, it is quite normal for a single chapter to encompass several different themes, which also implies the circulation of shorter units during the early stage of the textual transmission of the Laozi. The issue of chapter divisions arises in the process of redacting the short units and chapters into a whole work, and it becomes more noticeable when people attempt to standardize and illustrate the work. As mentioned above, one of the two directions is that some long chapters might be divided into several shorter ones. This is particularly evident in the chapter divisions in the received Laozi. Specifically, in the Guodian, Mawangdui and Beida Laozi texts, some short units are connected by conjunctions “therefore”, which, however, are omitted in the received Laozi so that the units become independent chapters. This is exactly what happens, for example, in Chapter17, 18, 19 and Chapter 32, 33 of the received Laozi. Qiu Xigui裘錫圭 suggests that the general trend of the development of the Laozi text is to combine short units into longer chapters, rather than to divide them. His idea is largely correct, but among the seven differences of chapter divisions between the Beida Laozi and the received Laozi, five cases are the opposite, where one chapter in the Beida Laozi would be divided into two or three chapters in the received Laozi. Thus, we can say that the development of the Laozi text is bidirectional, with both combinations and divisions existing in the process.

     

    Additionally, the majority of chapter divisions in the Beida Laozi, the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui and the received Laozi are similar, which allows us to conjecture that the chapter divisions in the Laozi are primarily fixed when the Beida Laozi is written. Based on the continuous writing of the Mawangdui Laozi, Robert Henricks conjectures that the chapter divisions in the Laozi are not yet firmly determined when the Mawangdui texts are copied, the present eighty one chapters are fixed around 50BC. According to the Hunyuanshengji混元圣紀, the Laozi redacted by Liu Xiang already encompassed eighty one chapters. Hence, there is a possibility that the eighty-one-chapter version had existed before Liu Xiang’s period. That is to say, the present eighty one chapters could be fixed earlier that Henricks’ estimates.

     

  2. The chapter sequences

     

    The editor team of the Beida Laozi noticed that scratches on the back of the Beida bamboo slips running obliquely across all of them. All these scratches are relatively smooth and straight and as thin as human hair. They were probably carved by very sharp, metal tools. According to the editor team, almost all Beida slips have a single scratch across their back, except that nineteen slips contain a pair of scratches, the upper one close to the top, and the lower one close to the center. Only two slips have no scratches at all (Number 84 and 187). Practically all the scratches can be connected to form continuous, oblique lines across the bamboo slips once they are re-assembled based on the lines of scratches. The majority of these oblique lines start from the top left, run across the slips toward the lower right direction, and terminate near the center of the slips, near the second binding cord from the top. (There are three binding cords for each stalk of the slips.) Such scratches are also found on the back of the Qinghua University bamboo slips, the Guodian bamboo slips and the Shanghai Museum bamboo slips.

     

    The scratches are regarded as the marks that illustrate the chapter sequences of the texts. The editor team of the Beida Laozi sequences the bamboo slips according to the oblique lines formed by the scratches, and finds that the chapter sequences agree with that of the received Laozi. It is also worthwhile to point out that both the sequences of the Daode Zhenjing Zhigui and of the Mawangdui Laozi agree well in general with the received Laozi. By contrast, the chapter sequences of the Guodian Laozi texts dramatically differ from those of subsequent versions. If we take the Guodian Laozi texts as the early versions of the Laozi, rather than the selections of a pre-existing Laozi text, it is easy to find that the contents in the chapters are relatively more stable than their sequences. As the previous passages suggest, the chapters and short units circulate separately in the early stage due to the compact and concise form of the contents undergone relatively little changes during the circulation. The sequences of them, however, are not as stable as the contents. As Rudolf Wagner puts it, the chapters are like the “bricks” that can be organized in many different ways. Hence, it is not strange for the early Laozi texts to have sequences that differ significantly from the received Laozi. The chapter sequences of the received Laozi, as shown in the Mawangdui and the Beida Laozi, are fixed in the early Han period when the Laozi text is standardized.

     

    The previous discussion brings up another question: while the overall sequences of chapters in the Beida Laozi agree so well with that of the received Laozi, plus the fact the contents of chapters are relatively more stable, why do the chapter divisions between the two Laozi texts have noticeable differences? The answer is simple. The received Laozi is divided into eighty one chapters intentionally. As is known, eight-one is a special number in the Daoist tradition. To divide the Laozi text into eighty one chapters would inevitably change some original divisions of the chapters and short units. It does not necessarily mean that in the early time the contents of the chapters are not as stable as we have suggested.

     

    Particular Characters and Concepts

     

    Generally speaking, the Beida Laozi encompasses many ancient Chinese characters that are much closer to the Mawangdui Laozi than those of the received Laozi. Nevertheless, characters are tightly related to the meaning and interpretation of the text. The nuances in characters may lead to significant differences, or even opposite interpretations, in meaning—this is particularly noticeable in the Laozi, since the wording of which is noted for abstruse and paradoxical.

    In the following, I will take Chapter 8 for example. By comparing them among the different versions, I hope to illustrate that since the wording in the Laozi is so ambiguous that it may lead to misinterpretations. In the course of transmission, some controversial characters and sentences are modified by the compilers or commentators to reflect their particular preferences in the interpretations of the text, or to render some particular sentences easier to understand. In the end, those modifications replace the original characters and sentences and become the most widely accepted versions of the Laozi.

    Chapter 8

    The Beida Laozi: The highest good is like water. Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of contention. It dwells in places the masses of people detest. Therefore it is close to the way… It is because it does not contend [in the usual way] that it is without misfortune.

    上善若水,水善利萬物而有爭。眾人之所惡,故幾於道矣……夫唯不爭,故無尤。

     

    The Mawangdui Text A: The highest good is like water. Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of tranquility/contention. It dwells in places the masses of people detest. Therefore it is close to the way…It is because it is not tranquil/does not contend that it is without misfortune.

    上善治水,水善利萬物而有靜(爭)。居眾人之所惡,故幾於道矣……夫惟不靜(爭),故無尤。

     

    The Mawangdui Text B: The highest good is like water. Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of contention. It dwells in places the masses of people detest. Therefore it is close to the way…It is because it does not contend [in the usual way] that it is without misfortune.

    上善如水,水善利萬物而有爭。居眾人之所亞,故幾於道矣……夫唯不爭,故無尤。

     

    The received Laozi: The highest good is like water. Water benefits the myriad living things and yet it does not contend with them. It dwells in places the masses of people detest. Therefore it is close to the way…It is because it does not contend that it is without misfortune.

    上善若水,水善利萬物而不爭。居眾人之所惡,故幾於道……夫唯不爭,故無尤。

     

    In the Beida Laozi and the Mawangdui Text B, the previous sentence is “The highest good is like water. Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of contention.”上善若水, 水善利萬物而有爭, while the Mawangdui Text A and the received Laozi, the text is “The highest good is like water. Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of tranquility.”上善若水, 水善利萬物而有靜 and “The highest good is like water. Water benefits the myriad living things and yet it does not contend with them.”上善若水, 水善利萬物而不爭 respectively.

     

    a. Is “contention” (you zheng 有爭) miswritten?

     

    The editor team of the Mawangdui Laozi thinks that “contention” (you zheng有爭) and “tranquility” (you jing有靜) are mistakenly transcribed, otherwise the meaning of “Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of contention/tranquility” 水善利萬物而有爭/有靜 would contradict the last sentence in the paragraph “It is because it does not contend that it is without misfortune.” 夫唯不爭,故無尤. Also the editor team argues that the received text makes better sense than the Mawangdui Laozi, and it is very likely that “Water benefits the myriad living things and yet it does not contend with them” 水善利萬物而不爭 was what originally appeared in the Laozi. However, dissenting opinion also exists. In his book Boshu Laozi Jiaozhu帛書老子校注, Gao Ming高明 takes an opposite position. He thinks that we should follow the Mawangdui Text A, the character “contention” (zheng ) in the Mawangdui Text B is a phonetic loan for “tranquility” (jing ), and the meaning of the sentence is that water benefits the myriad living things and attains tranquility.

     

    However, the publication of the Beida Laozi provides clues to this enigma. Like that of the Mawangdui Text B, the first sentence of this chapter in the Beida Laozi is “Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of contention.” 水善利萬物而有爭. If we agree to the opinion of the editor team of the Mangwangdui Laozi that both “contention” and “tranquility” are miswritten, it would be highly unlikely that all of the three early versions are mistakenly transcribed. Moreover, the Beida Laozi is known to have substantially fewer omissions and wrong words than the Mawangdui Laozi. Therefore, considering “contention” and “tranquility” as mistakes for “does not contend” (bu zheng 不爭) seems to oversimplify the issue.

     

    Additionally, since the literal meanings of “contention” and “does not contend” are flatly opposed to each other, it is unlikely to be due to a transcription error.

     

    From the above considerations, it is difficult to assert that “contention” is simply wrongly written.

     

    b. Is “contention” (zheng ) a phonetic loan for “tranquility” (jing )?

     

    As stated above, Gao Ming thinks that “contention” in the Mawangdui Text B is a phonetic loan for “tranquility” in the Mawangdui Text A, the meaning of which is that the water attains peace. However, if we make a careful analysis of the Beida Laozi, we may reach a different conclusion.

     

    From Gao’s viewpoint, the character “contention” in the Beida Laozi should also be a loan for “tranquility” by the same token. However, except the first sentence in Chapter 16, all instances of the character “tranquility” in the Beida Laozi are written in its original form without using loans. The first sentence in Chapter 16 is “Take emptiness to the limit. Maintain a consistently neutral stance.”(zhi xu ji, ji zheng du 至虛極, 積正督), while its counterparts in the received Laozi and the Guodian Laozi are “Take emptiness to the limit. Maintain tranquility in the center” (zhi xu ji, shou jing du 至虛極, 守靜篤) and “Take emptiness to the limit. Maintain a consistently neutral stance” (zhi xu heng ye, shou zhong du ye 至虛亙也,獸中䈞也) respectively. Both characters “zheng ” and “zhong ” refer to neutral, rather than tranquility. Apparently, according to the distinctive meanings, “neutral” (zheng ) is not a loan for “tranquility” (jing ). In this case, the characters “neutral” and “tranquility” simply are different. That is to say, in the Beida Laozi, we can not find a case which “tranquility” has been represented by a variant form.

     

    Thus, if we consider “contention” as a loan for “tranquility”, a question will arise: in all instances where “tranquility” is consistently used in its original form, why a loan word is used only in “contention”? Therefore, we conclude that “contention” is not a loan for “tranquility”, and the original text should be “Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of contention”.

     

    c. What is the meaning of “Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of contention”?

     

    On the surface, the literal meanings of “Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of contention” and “Water benefits the myriad living things and yet it does not contend with them” are polar opposites. Moreover, the former one seems to contradict the main idea of the Laozi. Thus we have every reason to believe that the transcriber mistakenly writes “contention” for “tranquility” or “does not contend”.

     

    However, as we have argued in the first two parts that “contention” may neither be a mistake for “does not contend”, nor a loan for “tranquility”. It is worthwhile to take a new perspective in our interpretation of the situation and inspect whether the meaning of the text is consistent with the central philosophy of the Laozi. 

     

    The wording in the Laozi is deliberately ambiguous and paradoxical. Chapter 22 has the sentence “it is only because he does not compete that, therefore, under heaven there is none who can compete with him.”夫唯不爭,故天下莫能與之爭. “Not compete” could be regarded as an effective means to attain the ultimate aim that no one can compete with him. In this sense, “not compete” can be deemed as the foremost way of competing at the highest level. “Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of contention” can be interpreted in the same way. “Water benefits the myriad living things” is comparable with “not compete”, and “contention” is comparable with “no one can compete with him”.

     

    Moreover, Chapter 68 gives a clear explanation of “the virtue of not competing”不爭之德. It says that “A good officer is no warmonger; a good warrior is not wrathful. Those good at overcoming enemies do not fight them; those good at deploying men put themselves beneath them. This is called ‘the virtue of not competing’.” Apparently, the purposes of “do not fight them” and “put themselves beneath them” are “overcoming enemies” and “deploying men”, which are in practice the foremost way of competing.

     

    Besides Chapter 22 and 68, instances of this sort can also be found in many other chapters in the Laozi. All these instances give us evidences to conjecture that “contention” in the Beida Laozi and the Mawangdui Text B may not be miswritten. Rather, the sentence “Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of contention” makes sense and its meaning is consistent with the main idea of the Laozi.

     

    Additionally, as Gao Ming puts it, the characters “tranquility” (jing) and “contention” (zheng) can be interchanged with each other, because they have the same phonetic element “zheng. However, in the Mawangdui Text A, “tranquility” (jing) might be a phonetic loan for “contention” (zheng), not vice versa. If we assume that the character “tranquility” (jing) is the original character, the last sentence of Chapter 8 would be “It is because it’s not tranquil that it is without misfortune” (fu wei bu jing, gu wu you 夫惟不靜,故無尤), which significantly contradicts the meaning of the previous sentence that water has the quality of tranquility. By contrast, regarding “tranquility” (jing) as a phonetic loan for “contention” (zheng) will reconcile the contradiction and make better sense of this chapter. Specifically, in the Mawangdui Text A, if “tranquility” (jing) is a phonetic loan for “contention” (zheng), the last sentence of this chapter would be “It is because it does not contend that it is without misfortune”, which means that water does not contend with myriad living things in the usual way, rather, it applies the foremost way of contention. As mentioned above, it does not fight myriad living things, and put itself beneath them, which appears to be “does no contend” but is in practice the foremost way of contention. From this point of view, the meaning of the last sentence is identical with that of the previous sentence. Thus, we can say that like the Beida Laozi and the Mawangdui Text B, the original text of the Mawangdui Text A should be “Water benefits the myriad living things and has the quality of contention… It is because it does not contend [in the usual way] that it is without misfortune.”

     

    Nevertheless, as mentioned above, water has the quality of contention seems to contradict the Laozi superficially. It is quite possible that during the transmission of the Laozi text, it is modified to “Water benefits the myriad living things and yet it does not contend with them”, the literal meaning of which is comparatively easier to understand and more consistent with the general perception of the philosophy of the Laozi.

     

    Bibliography

    Chen Zhi, ed. 2013, Jianbo Jingdian Gushi. Shanghai: Shanghaiguji.

    D.C Lau, 1989, Tao Te Ching. Hong Kong: the Chinese University Press.

    Ding Sixin, 2000, Guodian Chumu Zhujian Sixiang Yanjiu. Beijing: Dongfang Press.

    Edmund Ryden, 2008, Laozi Daodejing. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Gao Ming, 1996, Boshu Laozi Jiaozhu. Beijing: Zhonghuashuju.

    Han Wei, “Xihan Zhushu Laozi De Wenben Tezheng He Xueshu Jizhi”, in 2012, Beijing Daxue Cang Xihan Zhushu. Shanghai: Shanghai Guji.

    Harold Roth, 1990, Original Tao. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Li Ling, 2007,Guodian Chujian Jiaoduji. Beijing: Renmin University Press.

    Liu Xiaogan, 2006, Laozi Gujin. Beijing: Zhongguoshehuikexue Press.

    Paul R. Goldin, ed., 2012, Dao Companion to the Philosophy of Han Fei. New York: Springer.

    Qiu Xigui, 2008, Zhongguo Chutu Guwenxianxue Shijiang. Shanghai: the Fudan University Press.

    Robert Henricks, 1989, Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching. London: The Bodley Head.

    Sarah Allan, Crispin Williams, ed., 2000, The Guodian Laozi: Proceedings of the International Conference, Dartmouth College, 1998. SSEC and IEAS.

    Sun Peiyang, “Jiance Beihuaxian Chutan”簡冊背劃線初探, in 2012, Chutuwenxian Yu Guwenzi Yanjiu 4. Shanghai: Shanghaiguji.

    Wang Ka, ed,.1993, Laozi Daodejing Heshanggong Zhangju. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju.

Wang Zhongjiang, “Beida Cang Hanjian Laozi De Mouxie Tezheng”, Zhexue Yanjiu, 2013-05.


See Hanwei韓巍, “Xihan Zhushu Laozi De Wenben Tezheng He Xueshu Jiazhi西漢竹書《老子》的文本特征和學術價值”, Beijing Daxue Cang Xihan Zhushu北京大學藏西漢竹書, (Shanghai: Shanghai Guji, 2012), 209.

Harold Roth thinks that Xunzi may encounter the Laozi at Chi-hsia稷下 by about 275 B.C. See Harold Roth, Original Tao, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 198.

In his article “Beida Cang Hanjian Laozi De Mouxie Tezheng”北大藏漢簡老子的某些特征, Wang Zhongjiang王中江 also illustrates the point by some evidences in the Historical Records. See Wang Zhongjiang, “Beida Cang Hanjian Laozi De Mouxie Tezheng”, Zhexue Yanjiu哲學研究, 2013-05.

See Sarah Queen, “Han Feizi and the Old Master: A Comparative Analysis and Translation of Han Feizi Chapter 20, ‘Jie Lao’, and Chapter 21, ‘Yu Lao’”, in Paul R. Goldin, ed., Dao Companion to the Philosophy of Han Fei. (New York: Springer, 2012), 197-256. In this article, she discussed the problem in details.

See Xie Shouhao謝守灝, Hunyuan Shengji混元圣紀, Zhengtong Daozang 正統道藏, vol.17. (Taipei: Yiwen Yinshuguan, 1977), 814.

See Han Wei, “Beijing Daxue Cang Xihan Zhushu Laozi De Wenxianxue Jiazhi”,北京大學藏西漢竹書老子的文獻學價值, Zhongguo Zhexueshi中國哲學史, 2010-04. In his article, Han Wei conjecture that the “Shangjing/Xiajing” and the “Dejing/Daojing” might be two distinctive textual lineages that both circulated ever since the late Warring States period.

Li Ling李零 asserts that the Guodian Laozi A might be an early draft version, which was subsequently developed into the Laozi in two sections. See Li Ling, Guodian Chujian Jiaoduji郭店楚簡校讀記, (Beijing: Renmin University Press, 2007), 4.

Han Wei, the editor of the Beida Laozi, conjectures that both the “De/Dao” version and the “Shang/Xia” version may have been existent since the late Warring States period, but he doesn’t give any convincing evidence. See Han Wei, “Beijing Daxue Cang Xihan Zhushu Laozi De Wenxianxue Jiazhi”,北京大學藏西漢竹書老子的文獻學價值.  Zhongguo Zhexueshi中國哲學史, 2010-04.

See Wang Ka王卡, ed,. Laozi Daodejing Heshanggong Zhangju老子道德經河上公章句, (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1993), 6.

There are altogether seven differences. In his article “Beijing Daxue Cang Xihan Zhushu Laozi De Wenxianxue Jiazhi”,北京大學藏西漢竹書老子的文獻學價值, Han Wei makes a detailed summary of the differences.

For instance, the black dots occur at the start of line 1 in chapter 46, at the start of line 1 in chapter 51, 53, 57, 63, 64, 80, 69, 73, 75, 76, and 1. But the functions of other black dots are unclear.

In his book “Guodian Chumu Zhujian Sixiang Yanjiu郭店楚墓竹簡思想研究, Ding Sixin丁四新takes an opposite position and suggests that the Laozi texts have a direct inheritable relationship during the Western Han period. The Mawangdui Laozi texts turn into the four versions which are recorded in Hanshu Yiwenzhi, and the received Laozi is transmitted from the four versions. See Ding Sixin, Guodian Chumu Zhujian Sixiang Yanjiu, (Beijing: Dongfang Press, 2000), 40-51.

In the “Laozi Gujin”老子古今, Liu Xiaogan劉笑敢 defines such phenomenon as “textual assimilation”, see Liu Xiaogan, Laozi Gujin, (Beijing: Zhongguoshehuikexue Press, 2006), 10-12.

See D.C Lau, Tao Te Ching, (Hong Kong: the Chinese University Press, 1989), 85.

See D.C. Lau, Tao Te Ching, 223.

Examples could be found in Chapter 39, 41,42, etc.

See Sarah Allan, Crispin Williams, ed., The Guodian Laozi: Proceedings of the International Conference, Dartmouth College, 1998, (SSEC and IEAS, 2000), 135-6. Also, in her article “Cong Chujian Fajue Kan Zhongguo Wenxian De QIyuan He Zaoqi Fazhan”從楚簡發掘看中國文獻的起源和早期發展, she summaries the development of the Laozi text into five stages. Firstly, some chapters circulated independently by oral. Secondly, he chapters were written on the bamboo slips individually or multiply. Thirdly, several chapters are organized and transcribed on the slips that tied together into Juan and Ce later. The Guodian Laozi forms in this stage. Fourth, the Dao and De are still two separate sections; hence, there are no sequences between them. Finally, in the Han Dynasty, the Daodejing is fixed. See Sarah Allan, “Cong Chujian Fajue Kan Zhongguo Wenxian De QIyuan He Zaoqi Fazhan”, in Chen Zhi陳致, ed. Jianbo Jingdian Gushi簡帛·經典·古史, (Shanghai: Shanghaiguji, 2013), 62-64.

See Qiu Xigui裘錫圭, Zhongguo Chutu Guwenxianxue Shijiang中國出土古文獻學十講”, (Shanghai: the Fudan University Press, 2008), 204.

See Robert G. Henricks, Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching, (London: The Bodley Head, 1990), xvii.

See Xie Shouhao謝守灝, Hunyuan Shengji混元圣紀, Zhengtong Daozang 正統道藏, vol.17. 814.

See Han Wei, “Xihan Zhushu Laozi Jianbei Huanhen De Chubu Fenxi”西漢竹書<老子>簡背劃痕的初步分析, Beijing Daxue Cang Xihan Zhushu, 227-28.

See Sun Peiyang孫沛陽, “Jiance Beihuaxian Chutan”簡冊背劃線初探, Chutuwenxian Yu Guwenzi Yanjiu 4, 出土文獻與古文字研究第四輯,(Shanghai: Shanghaiguji, 2011, 449-62.

See Sarah Allan, “Cong Chujian Fajue Kan Zhongguo Wenxian De QIyuan He Zaoqi Fazhan”, in Chen Zhi陳致, ed. Jianbo Jingdian Gushi簡帛·經典·古史, (Shanghai: Shanghaiguji, 2013), 62-64.

See Gao Ming高明, Boshu Laozi Jiaozhu帛書老子校注, (Beijing: Zhonghuashuju, 1996), 253-54.

See Edmund Ryden, “Laozi Daodejing”, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 47.

See Edmund Ryden, “Laozi Daodejing”, 141.

Shuo wen jie zi說文解字 explains that “Jing” is from Qing, with the phonetic zheng.