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Literal meaning[The Writings of] the Huainan Masters

The Huainanzi is an ancient Chinese text that consists of a collection of essays that resulted from a series of scholarly debates held at the court of Liu An, Prince of Huainan, sometime before 139 BC. The Huainanzi blends Daoist, Confucianist, and Legalist concepts, including theories such as yin and yang and Wu Xing theories.

The Huainanzis essays are all connected to one primary goal: attempting to define the necessary conditions for perfect socio-political order.[1] It concludes that perfect societal order derives mainly from a perfect ruler, and the essays are compiled in such a way as to serve as a handbook for an enlightened sovereign and his court.[1]

The book

The date of composition for the Huainanzi is more certain than for most early Chinese texts. Both the Book of Han and Records of the Grand Historian record that when Liu An paid a state visit to his nephew the Emperor Wu of Han in 139 BC, he presented a copy of his "recently completed" book in twenty-one chapters.

The Huainanzi is an eclectic compilation of chapters or essays that range across topics of mythology, history, astronomy, geography, philosophy, science, metaphysics, nature, and politics. It discusses many pre-Han schools of thought, especially the Huang-Lao form of religious Daoism, and contains more than 800 quotations from Chinese classics. The textual diversity is apparent from the chapter titles (tr. Le Blanc, 1985, 15-16):

Number Name Reading Meaning
1 Yuandao Searching out Dao (Tao)
2 Chuzhen Beginning of Reality
3 Tianwen Patterns of Heaven
4 Zhuixing Forms of Earth
5 Shize Seasonal Regulations
6 Lanming Peering into the Obscure
7 Jingshen Seminal Breath and Spirit
8 Benjing Fundamental Norm
9 Zhushu Craft of the Ruler
10 Miucheng On Erroneous Designations
11 Qisu Placing Customs on a Par
12 Daoying Responses of Dao
13 Fanlun A Compendious Essay
14 Quanyan An Explanatory Discourse
15 Binglue On Military Strategy
16 Shuoshan Discourse on Mountains
17 Shuolin Discourse on Forests
18 Renjian In the World of Man
19 Youwu Necessity of Training
20 Taizu Grand Reunion
21 Yaolue Outline of the Essentials

Some Huainanzi passages are philosophically significant, for instance, this combination of Five Phases and Daoist themes.

When the lute-tuner strikes the kung note [on one instrument], the kung note [on the other instrument] responds: when he plucks the chiao note [on one instrument], the chiao note [on the other instrument] vibrates. This results from having corresponding musical notes in mutual harmony. Now, [let us assume that] someone changes the tuning of one string in such a way that it does not match any of the five notes, and by striking it sets all twenty-five strings resonating. In this case there has as yet been no differentiation as regards sound; it just happens that that [sound] which governs all musical notes has been evoked.

Thus, he who is merged with Supreme Harmony is beclouded as if dead-drunk, and drifts about in its midst in sweet contentment, unaware how he came there; engulfed in pure delight as he sinks to the depths; benumbed as he reaches the end, he is as if he had not yet begun to emerge from his origin. This is called the Great Merging. (chapter 6, tr. Le Blanc 1985:138)

Notable translations

Most Huainanzi translations deal with only one chapter, and no complete Huainanzi translation in a Western language existed prior to 2003.

  • Balfour, Frederic H. (1884). Taoist Texts, Ethical, Political, and Speculative. London: Trübner, and Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh.
  • Morgan, Evan (1933). Tao, the Great Luminant: Essays from the Huai-nan-tzu. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.
  • Wallacker, Benjamin (1962). The Huai-nan-tzu, Book Eleven: Behavior Culture and the Cosmos. New Haven: American Oriental Society.
  • (in Japanese) Kusuyama, Haruki ? (1979-88). E-nan-ji [Huainanzi]. Shinshaku kanbun taikei 54, 55, 62.
  • (in French) Larre, Claude (1982). "Le Traité VIIe du Houai nan tseu: Les esprits légers et subtils animateurs de l'essence" ["Huainanzi Chapter 7 Translation: Light Spirits and Subtle Animators of Essence"]. Variétés sinologiques 67.
  • Ames, Roger T. (1983). The Art of Rulership: A Study in Ancient Chinese Political Thought. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Le Blanc, Charles (1985). Huai nan tzu; Philosophical Synthesis in Early Han Thought: The Idea of Resonance (Kan-ying) With a Translation and Analysis of Chapter Six. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Major, John S. (1993). Heaven and Earth in Early Han Thought: Chapters Three, Four and Five of the Huainanzi. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Ames, Roger T. and D.C. Lau (1998). Yuan Dao: Tracing Dao to Its Source. New York: Ballantine Books.
  • (in French) Le Blanc, Charles and Mathieu, Rémi (2003). Philosophes Taoïstes II: Huainan zi. Paris: Gallimard.
  • ------; Queen, Sarah; Meyer, Andrew; Roth, Harold (2010). The Huainanzi: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Government in Early Han China, by Liu An, King of Huainan. New York: Columbia University Press.



  1. ^ a b Le Blanc (1993), p. 189.


  • Le Blanc, Charles (1993). "Huai nan tzu ". In Loewe, Michael (ed.). Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China; Institute for East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. pp. 189-95. ISBN 1-55729-043-1.

External links

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