Law and Morality in Ancient China,The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao by R.P.Peerenboom

Law and Morality in Ancient China,The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao

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  • Book Name Law and Morality in Ancient China,The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao
  • Author R.P.Peerenboom
  • Language, Pages Engish, 396 Pgs. (HB)
  • Last Updated 2024 / 02 / 03
  • ISBN 9788170304296,8170304296

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Law and Morality in Ancient China,The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao
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“The main contributions of this work are threefold. First, making use of the recently discovered Mawangdui silk manuscripts, Peerenboom provides a thorough-going and persuasive account of the philosophical and political import of the previously undocumented Huang-Lao school. His is the first detailed treatment of this material in English.

“Secondly, the author uses the new material to reexamine classical schools of Chinese thought and to clarify relations between them. By taking account of advances in contemporary Anglo- American jurisprudence, Peerenboom is able to provide a coherent analysis of the shortcomings and doctrinal disputes of the various schools which led to the development and dominance of Huang-Lao in the late Warring States and early Han.

“Thirdly, Peerenboom addresses the pressing need to give classical Chinese jurisprudence the attention due to it. Focusing on the differences in pre-Qin legal philosophies not only calls attention to the richness of classical jurisprudence but allows Peerenboom to offer revisions to the standard readings of Confucius, Lao Zi, Zhuang Zi and Han Fei.” -—Angus Graham.

Huang-Lao thought, a unique and sophisticated political philosophy which combines elements of Daoism and Legalism, dominated the intellectual life of late Warring States and Early Han China, providing the ideological foundation for post-Qin reforms. In the absence of extant texts, however, scholars of classical Chinese philosophy remained in the dark about this important school for over 2000 years. Finally, in 1973, archaeologists unearthed four ancient scrolls: the Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao. This work is the first detailed, book-length treatment in English of these lost treasures.



The 1973 archeological discovery of important documents of classical thought known as the Huang-Lao Boshu (Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao) coupled with advancements in contemporary jurisprudence make possible a reassessment of the (legal) philosophies of pre-Qin and early Han China. This study attempts to elucidate the importance of the Huang-Lao school within the intellectual tradition of China through a comparison of the Boshu’s philosophical position, particularly its understanding of the relation between law and morality, with the respective views of major thinkers of the period—Confucius, Han Fei. Lao Zi, Zhuang Zi, and to a lesser extent, Shen Dao, Shen Buhai and the authors of the Guan Zi and He Guan Zi. So doing reveals Huang-Lao to be a unique and sophisticated social and political philosophy that, until its expulsion from court by Emperor Wu and subsequent adoption by Daoist religion, served as the ideological foundation for the post-Qin reforms of the early Han.

Chapter I consists of two sections. In the first, I review the current state of Huang-Lao studies, summarizing the efforts of leading sinologists to clarify textual issues such as the title, date, and authorship of the lost work. In the second, I present a methodological overview in which I develop the distinctions in contemporary philosophy of law that will provide the conceptual apparatus, the hermeneutic framework as it were, for sorting out the relation of Huang-Lao to other schools of classical Chinese thought. Chapters II and III explicate Huang-Lao thought as exemplified in the Boshu. The former treats the general character of Huang-Lao, with special attention to metaphysics, philosophy of language, and epistemology; the latter treats Huang-Lao social and political philosophy, with special attention to jurisprudence.

Chapters IV to VII examine the intellectual, historical, and political context. In Chapter IV, I examine the relation of Huang-Lao to the Confucianism of Confucius; in V, to the Legalism of Han Fei; in VI, to the Daoism of Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi. Chapter VII sketches a wider portrait of the evolution of Huang-Lao thought. After exploring the intellectual importance of the Jixia Academy (Zou Yan, Shen Dao, the authors of the Guan Zi) and Shen Buhai for Huang-Lao, I consider the political influence of Huang-Lao in the early Han. Finally, I offer potential explanations for the demise of Huang-Lao during the reign of Emperor Wu and reflect on its transformation and adoption by Han dynasty religious Daoists.

In Chapter VIII, the epilogue, I ask what contributions, if any, Huang-Lao can make to contemporary philosophy or jurisprudence. In the Appendix, I take up the relation between the He Guan Zi and Huang-Lao. Since the Mawangdui discovery of the Boshu, many texts have been declared Huang-Lao works. Of these, the He Guan Zi, long considered to be an eclectic, post-Han apochryphal work, is the best candidate. However, because of its eclectic, multi-author character, determining which parts belong to Huang-Lao and which to other schools requires careful analysis. Further, there is no clear evidence as to whether the Boshu preceded the He Guan Zi or vice versa. Thus, rather than attempting to integrate the He Guan Zi into the historical narrative of the main text, I have chosen to append a separate discussion.


Citations of the Mawangdui silk manuscripts of Huang-Lao will be of the following form: page number of 1980 Wen Wu (volume 1) edition:line number of original text. Citations of Confucius follow the numbering in D. C. Lau’s Confucius: The Analects (New York: Penguin Books, 1979). Citations of Lao Zi are to chapter number of the Dao De Jing. I have found Chen Guying’s edition (translated by Young and Ames) useful in that it presents in one handy volume the original Chinese, a translation, and commentary. Citations of Xun Zi, Zhuang Zi, and Han Fei Zi follow Concordance to Philosophers (Nan Yu Press, n.d.), volumes 1, 2, and 5, respectively. For Xun Zi and Zhuang Zi, they are of the following form: page number/chapter number line number; for Han Fei, page number/line number. Citations to the Chun Qiu Fan Lu are of the following form: chapter number/juan/line of the Sibu beiyao, Zhonghua press edition. Citations to the Huai Nan Zi are of the form chapter/page/line of Yang Jiage (Taibei: Shijie Press, 1985) edition. Citations to Shen Dao are according to the fragments as numbered in Thompson’s The Shen Tzu Fragments. Citations of the Guan Zi are to the Sibu beiyao edition. Citations to the Shi Ji are to the Dingwen edition and of the form juan:page number of Dingwen text. Citations to the Han Shu follow Dubs. Citations to He Guan Zi are to the Sibu beiyao edition, chapter number/page number/line number. I abbreviate the Shi Ji as SJ and the Han Shu as HS.

In addition, I cite (if available) an English translation, using the following abbreviations for the translators:

C: Chan
D: Duyvendak
Ds: Dubs
F: Bodde’s translation of Feng’s History of Chinese Philosophy.
G: Graham
L: Liao
R: Rickett
T: Thompson
W: Watson

I am responsible for all translations. Where necessary, I have retranslated passages or modified existing translations to reflect advances in sinology and to ensure consistency in the rendering of key terms. A corollary of the coherence approach to hermeneutics advanced in this book is that translation is itself interpretation. How one translates a term depends on one’s reading of the ideas and philosophy of the text. Ultimately, the adequacy of one’s translation can only be assessed in light of the overall coherence of the textual interpretations to which it gives rise. As our philosophical interpretations change, so must our translations.

Brackets, [ ] indicate elaboration interjected by me to render the translation intelligible. Brances, { }, indicate lacunae in the text, for which the enclosed word(s) are interpolated for reasons explained in an accompanying note. Leaders, . . . , indicate common ellipsis. Bold face leaders, . . . , indicate lacunae in the original text. I give the number of missing characters in an accompanying note.

Romanizations are in Pinyin, with the exception of citations of works using Wade-Giles and proper names of authors who use other systems.



Many persons and institutions have contributed to this project. I would like to thank the East-West Center and the Pacific Cultural Foundation, Republic of China, for funding the preliminary research in Asia and the subsequent writing.

I have been aided in the translation of the Mawangdui Huang-Lao manuscripts by Yang Youwei, Roger T. Ames, Angus Graham, and Russell McLeod, all of whom provided detailed, line by line commentary. In addition, I benefited from the clarifying responses of Qiu Xigui and Zhu Dexi to several of my questions.

Roger Ames, Carine Deform, Angus Graham, Kenneth Kipnis, Victor Hao Li, Steve Odin, Graham Parks, and James Selman all made valuable suggestions for improving the content, organization and style of this work. For this I am most thankful. I would also like to thank Tim Angstrom for opening up the world of pragmatism and contemporary Continental thought, and Henry Skaja for pointing out and elucidating the relevance of Pierce for my interpretation of classical Daoism. In addition, I have made use of the philosophical, jurisprudential, arid serological efforts of others too numerous to mention here. Their appearance in the bibliography and notes marks my gratitude.

Without the support of all the preceding, the quality of this work would have been considerably lessened. I owe a special debt of gratitude, however, to Professors Yang Youwei and Roger T. Ames. Both have transmitted much more than the ancient grammar and arcane ideas of a distant civilization. In embodying the living tradition of classical Chinese thought, each in his own way exemplifies a world-view compelling in the quality of life it makes possible. My life has been enriched through knowing them.

Parts of this book were published in various journals. Passages from chapters II and III are from “Natural Law in the Huang-Lao Boshu,” Philosophy East and West 40, no. 3 (1990). Much of Chapter IV is drawn from “Confucian Justice: Achieving a Humane Society,” International Philosophical Quarterly 30, no. 1 (1990). Passages from “Beyond Naturalism:

A Reconstruction of Daoist Environmental Ethics” (Environmental Ethics 13, 1 [1991]), appears in Chapter VI. Passages from Chapter VII are drawn from “Han Dynasty Cosmology: The Emergence of Naturalism,” Asian Culture Quarterly 16 (1988), and “Naturalism and Immortality in the Han: The Antecedents of Religious Daoism,” Chinese Culture 29, no. 3. A slightly edited version of the appendix appears in Early China 16 (1991).




Preface xi
Acknowledgments xv
Chapter I : Introduction
1 The Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao 1
1.1 Text 6
1.2 Title 7
1.3 Authorship 9
1.4 Dating 12
2 Methodology 19
2.1 Philosophy of Law: A Hermeneutical Framework 20
Chapter II: The Natural Way Of Huang- Lao 27
1 Foundational Naturalism 27
1.1 Huang-Lao Naturalism 28
1.2 Huang-Lao Foundationalism 31
2 The Nature of Nature 41
2.1 Nature as Impersonal 42
2.2 Nature as Constant 43
2.3 Nature as Rule Governed 43
3 The Place of Humans Within the Natural Order 51
3.1 Dao 51
3.2 Xing Ming: Forms and Names 55
3.3 Li: Principle 61
3.4 Fa: Law 61
4 Following the Way 62
4.1 Naturalist Foundations of Social Institutions 62
4.2 Metaphors of Compliance 64
4.3 Huang-Lao Epistemology 70
Chapter III: The Social And Political Philosophy Of Huang-Lao 75
1 Huang-Lao Natural Law Jurisprudence 76
1.1 RuleofLaw 76
1.2 Rule of Natural Law 79
2 The Huang-Lao State 84
2.1 Yellow Emperor as Symbol 84
2.2 Centralized Feudal Bureaucracy 92
2.3 Government for the People 98
Chapter IV: The Anthropocentric Pragmatism Of Confucius 103
1 General Character of Confucius’s Philosophy 105
1.1 Pragmatic Coherence versus Foundational Correspondence 105
1.2 Pragmatic Coherence and the Logical- Aesthetic Distinction 113
2 Confucius’s Social and Political Philosophy 118
2.1 Jurisprudence 118
2.2 Politics of Harmony 126
2.3 A Huang-Lao Critique 133
Chapter V : The Pragmatic Statesmanship Of Han Fei 139
1 Han Fei’s Legal Positivism 140
1.1 Rule by Law 140
1.2 Rule by Positive Law 142
2 Han Fei’s Pragmatic Arts of Rulership 153
2.1 The Practical Way of Han Fei 154
2.2 Han Fei’s Legalist State 161
Chapter VI: The Daoist Ways Of Lao Zi And Zhuang Zi 171
1 Lao Zi’sWay 172
1.1 Zhi as Discovery 177
1.2 Dao as Emergent Order 191
2 Zhuang Zi’s Way 197
2.1 Zhi Dao: Realizing an Emergent Order 197
2.2 Zhuang Zi’s Politics of Harmony 205
Chapter VII : The Evolution Of Huang-Lao Thought 217
1 Antecedents 218
1.1 Emergence of Naturalism 218
1.2 Jixia Academy 224
2 Ascendence in the Early Han 242
2.1 Huang-Lao: A Response to the Times 242
2.2 Huang-Lao Policies and Early Han Politics 244
3 The Fall from Power 249
3.1 Court Intrigue 249
3.2 Explaining the Fall 251
4 Denouement 256
4.1 Huang-.Lao and Religious Daoism 256
4.2 Naturalism and Immortality 257
5 Chapter VIII: Epilogue 263
1 Huang-Lao and Contemporary Philosophy 265
2 Huang-Lao and Contemporary Jurisprudence in the PRC 266
Appendix: He Guan Zi And Huang-Lao Thought
Notes 285
Notes Bibliography 355
Index 375

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