An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Guiguzi 鬼谷子

Jul 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Guiguzi 鬼谷子 "Master of the Ghost Valley", also called Xuanweizi 玄微子 "Master of Obscure Minimum" is a philosophical treatise attributed to a master of the same name. The identity of the author is not clear.

He is said to have lived in the Ghost Valley (Guigu 鬼谷) in the region of Yinchuan 潁川 (today's Yuzhou 禹州, Henan) during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). The Tang-period 唐 (618-907) Daoist writer Du Guangting 杜光庭 (850-933), author of the collection Luyiji 錄異記, alleges that the author was called Wang Xu 王詡 and that he had lived as an "immortal" (xianren 仙人) since the times of the Yellow Emperor 黃帝. Some philosophers and thinkers of the regional state of Qi 齊 visited Wang and are said to have studied under his tutelage, for example, the coalition advisors Su Qin 蘇秦 or Zhang Yi 張儀. As an historical person, Master Guigu seems to have lived during the reign of Duke Ping 晉平公 (r. 557-532 BCE of Jin, at least according to a statement in the book Xianzhuan shiyi 仙傳拾遺 that is quoted in the encyclopaedia Taiping yulan 太平御覽. The personal name of Master Guigu was thus Wang Li 王利, and the Ghost Valley was located in the region of Mt. Qingxi 清溪山. Master Guigu was able to "solidify the spirit" and to preserve the cosmic unity so that he was able to live a life of extreme austerity for hundreds of years. It is not known what later became of him.

The book Guiguzi is not listed in the imperial bibliography Yiwen zhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書, which means that, if such a book had indeed existed in the pre-Han era, it was already lost. In the imperial bibliography Jingji zhi 經濟志 of the Suishu, a book Guiguzi with a length of 3 juan is listed in the section of coalition advisors (zonghengjia 縱橫家). The Song-period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Wang Yinglin 王應麟 (1223-1296), author of the encyclopaedia Yuhai 玉海, states that the real name of Master Guigu was not known. He lived a life in retirement in the Ghost valley and was occasionally visited by disciples. Yet there were also two separate books in the same catalogue called Su Qin, in 31 chapters, and Zhang Yi, in 10 chapters, which show that disciples of Master Guigu also produced writings of their own that belonged to the genre of strategic advices.

Recent findings of original writings of the coalition advisors have demonstrated that the book Guiguzi is indeed a forgery of later date, presumably the Southern and Northern Dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600). Sometimes, the Guiguzi is listed among the military treatises.

The Guiguzi emphasized that it was, in a time of permanent change, extremely important to constantly survey the actual conditions. In the field of military strategy, the author explains the art of conjecture, the art of political advice, that of secret planning, and that of and occasional easing and restraining (feiqian 飛箝 "flying and pinching"). Gathering information about the enemy, while keeping secret the own plans, is the best method for successful campaigning.

The chapter Baihe 捭闔 (also written 捭合) "Opening and closing the gate" speaks of the art of political coalitions. It is a kind of summary of the political teachings of Master Guigu. Political activities were seen as a natural process of opening (summer) and closing (winter). According to the actual circumstances, a ruler or a commander has to apply an appropriate strategy. The chapter Fanying 反應 "Reciprocal reaction" explains that between humans, conversation and mutual understanding is important for the advancement of each part. If the counterpart is speaking, oneself was mute and listened in order to profit. The result of what one had heard was to be locked inside the heart by the "inner door bolt" (neijian 內犍), and had to be preserved and profitably used. A coalition advisor travelling from state to state had therefore first to look what the person he wanted to convince deemed as profitable for himself before adjusting his convincing speech to these wishes. Concerning the enemies, an advisor had to "hit the rifts" (dixi 抵巇). He had to block what was complete, to fend off what came from outside, to rest what was gone down, to cover what was in emergence, and to occupy what could otherwise not be dealt with. "Letting fly and restrict" (feiqian) was a method of a ruler to gain competent advisors: promote the good and prevent them from leaving. The control of the own inner feelings was important to gain an objective picture. Plans had to be carefully considered before "refusing or adopting" them (wuhe 忤合). Pros and cons had to be "assessed" (chuai 揣) according to the outer circumstances and following the inner situation. Circumstances had to be "fathomed" (mo 摩) and feelings to be "weighed" (quan 權) before plans could be "conceptualised" (mou 謀) and "decisions" be reached (jue 決).

The chapter Fuyan 符言 "Adjusted speech" can be seen as a conclusion to the earlier chapters. The parts Zhuanwan 轉丸 and Quluan 胠亂 (or Quqie 胠篋) are lost. The last chapters, Benjing yinfu qishu 本經陰符七術, Chishu 持樞 and Zhongjing 中經 contain Daoist thought, for example, on longevity, the cultivation of spirit, essence and mind, and the completion of the self as a perfect man, and seem to have been compiled at a later date.

The teachings assembled in the book Guiguzi are rated as of far minor quality than that of other masters of the Warring States period. At least the language has a certain level that makes the books worth studying.

There were commentaries by the Jin-period 晉 (265-420) scholars Huangfu Mi 皇甫謐 (215-282) and Yue Yi 樂壹, by Tao Hongjing 陶弘景 (456-536) from the Liang period 梁 (502-557), and Yin Zhizhang 尹知章 (c. 669-c. 718) from the Tang period 唐 (618-907). Only the commentary of the Daoist master Tao Hongjing has survived. Tao was responsible for the Daoist reinterpretation of the Guiguzi, the incorporation of the three last chapters, and the inclusion of the Guiguzi into the Daoist Canon Daozang 道藏.

The most important editions of the Guiguzi are the series Zihui 子彙, Shierzi 十二子, Mianmiaoge congshu 綿眇閣叢書, Shoushange congshu 守山閣叢書, Zishu baizhong 子書百種, Sibu congkan 四部叢刊, Gushu congkan 古書叢刊 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書. Other important versions are that of the Chongde Academy 崇德書院 and the manuscript version of Qian Zunwang 錢遵王 (Qian Zeng 錢曾, 1629-1701), as well as the version in the Daoist Canon Daozang (section Taixuanbu 太玄部), that of Master Gao 高氏 from Lin'an 臨安, and the revised edition of Bao Yiwen 鮑以文 from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). Important Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) editions are that of Master Qin 秦氏 from Jiangdu 江都 (original 1789, reprint 1805, with a commentary by Tao Hongjing). There is a series including modern commentaries to the Guiguzi, namely the Guiguzi congshu 鬼谷子叢書, edited by Fang Zhongli 房中立 in 1993 (Shumu Wenxian Press 書目文獻出版社).

Table 1. Contents of the Guiguzi 鬼谷子
1. 捭闔 Baihe Opening and closing the gate
2. 反應 Fanying Reciprocal reaction
3. 內揵 Neijian The inner door bolt
4. 抵巇 Dixi Hitting the rifts
5. 飛箝 Feiqian Letting fly and restrict
6. 忤合 Wuhe Refusing and adopting
7. 揣篇 Chuai Assessing
8. 摩篇 Mo Fathoming
9. 權篇 Quan Weighing
10. 謀篇 Mou Conceptualizing
11. 決篇 Jue Deciding
12. 符言 Fuxin Adjusted speech
轉丸 Zhuanwan Turning the pill (lost)
胠亂 (胠篋) Quluan (Quaqie) Obstruction in the Right Wing or Opening the Box (lost)
本經陰符七術 Benjing yinfu qishu The seven arts of the secret adjustments of this book
持樞 Chishu On holding the pivot
中經 Zhongjing The writing on the centre
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