|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. 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.
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):
|1||Yuandao||Searching out Dao (Tao)|
|2||Chuzhen||Beginning of Reality|
|3||Tianwen||Patterns of Heaven|
|4||Zhuixing||Forms of Earth|
|6||Lanming||Peering into the Obscure|
|7||Jingshen||Seminal Breath and Spirit|
|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|
|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)
Most Huainanzi translations deal with only one chapter, and no complete Huainanzi translation in a Western language existed prior to 2003.