The Wenzi in the Context of Early Chinese Philosophy and Politics

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    The main objective of the current project is the publication of a monograph dealing with the philosophy of the early Chinese treatise Wenzi 文子 or Master Wen. This objective is laid out as a continuation and further elaboration of the PI’s PhD project, which addressed the main linguistic and thematic features of the fragments of the text excavated in Dingzhou 定州 (1973). The main difference from the PI’s previous work on this subject will be the examination of the text’s standpoint in the broader context of Chinese philosophy and politics from the late Zhanguo to early Han times. To this end, it will be compared to transmitted and newly discovered writings of the period with similar philosophical tenets. As previous studies have shown, only the passages of the transmitted Wenzi with parallels in the Dingzhou fragments, particularly the “dialogic” sections of chapter 5, “The Way and Virtue” (Dao de 道德), can be, with some caveats, regarded as authentic (Le Blanc 2000: 83-84; van Els 2018: 82-87). Therefore, all other parts of the textus receptus will be excluded from the analysis. The Wenzi’s connection to other works will be scrutinized from different perspectives. Firstly, I take into consideration the text’s use and interpretation of the Laozi 老子. Here, a comparison will be made to the earliest examples of the Laozi exegesis, such as the Hanfeizi 韓非子, Huangdi sijing 黃帝四經, Huainanzi 淮南子 and others. Secondly, the text’s main philosophical precept, highlighting the notion of wen 文 (civility) as functioning of the Way (dao 道) on the phenomenal level, will be examined in the context of writings with a similar philosophical message, above all, the Huainanzi and the works attributed to Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒. Thirdly, I will also compare the Wenzi to the works featuring Xin Jiran 辛計然, given his identification as the Wenzi’s alleged author, Master Wen. To this end, I focus on extant fragments of the Fanzi Jiran 范子計然, as well as the Yuejue shu 越絕書 and Wu Yue chunqiu 吳越春秋.

    The current study aims to shed light not only on the early developments of the Daoist intellectual tradition, but also on the interrelation between different philosophical schools in Early China.
    Effective start/end date1/01/2130/06/23


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