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Chinese Literature
Liezi 列子 "Master Lie"


The Liezi 列子 "Master Lie" is a Daoist book attributed to Lie Yukou 列御寇 (also written 列圄寇 or 列圉寇, also called Lie Zhoukou 列周寇) from the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). He is said to have been from the state of Zheng 鄭. His thoughts are very similar to that in the book Zhuangzi 莊子, which often mentiones him. He is said to have been able to ride the wind (yu feng er xing 御風而行) in perfect non-action (wuwei 無爲). His first teacher was a certain Huqiuzi 壺丘子, later Bogaozi 伯高子. For Liezi the bad kings of antiquity had lost their realms because they dispised the true way and only esteemed richness and their own profit (zhong li, shi yi wang 重利,是以亡). During the Tang period 唐 (618-907), in 742, Liezi was elevated to a Daoist saint and was given the honorific title of Chongxu zhenren 沖虛真人 "Perfect Man of Serene Tranquillity". During the Song period 宋 (960-1279), in 1007, he was even further elevated to one of the four great Daoist Masters (the others being Zhuangzi, Wenzi 文子 and Kangcangzi 亢倉子) and bestowed the title of Chongxu zhide zhenren 沖虛至德真人 "Perfect Man of Serene Tranquillity and Highest Virtue".
The book contains a lot of parables and popular stories of immortals or Daoist adepts trying to achieve longevity. A lot of those stories have become standard popular tales, as Yugong yishan 愚公移山 "The foolish old man moves a mountain"; Qiren youtian 杞人憂天 "A man from Qi worried that the sky might fall down"; the journey of King Mu 周穆王 (10th cent. BCE) to visit the Queen Mother of the West 西王母. The literary quality of the Liezi is, like that of the Zhuangzi, of a very high standard, which was the reason for the wide readership the Liezi has attracted. Some stories are taken from the Zhuangzi and have been expanded by the author of the Liezi. The Liezi vividly describes types of persons and their character, like Han E 韓娥 or Pian Que 扁鵲 in the chapter Tangwen 湯問. The patterns of some stories were used by later writers, like the transformation of the heart in the novel collection Liaozhai zhiyi 聊齋誌異. The seventh chapter contains stories and sayings by the sophist and hedonist Yang Zhu 楊朱.
The eight chapters long book Liezi seems to have been very widespread during the early Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE), as the imperial librarian Liu Xiang 劉向 said, but gradually lost popularity. Liu Xiang rearranged the original 20 "inner" and "outer" chapters (neishu 内書, waishu 外書) into eight chapters, the same number as in the received version. Part of the chapters seems to have consisted of redundant paragraphs that could be abolished without any loss. During the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) Zhang Zhan 張湛 wrote a commentary, the Liezi zhu 列子注. There is a Song period print of Zhang Zhan's commentary with the title Chongxu zhide zhenjing zhu 沖虛至德真經注. A lot of commentaries are included in the Daoist canon Daozang 道藏, namely Lin Xiyi's 林希逸 Chongxu zhide zhenjing lizhai kouyi 沖虛至德真經鬳齋口義, Jiang Yu's 江遹 Chongxu zhide zhenjing jie 沖虛至德真經解, Zhao Ji's 趙佶 (i. e. emperor Song Huizong 宋徽宗, r. 1100-1125) Chongxu zhide zhenjing yijie 沖虛至德真經義解, Gao Shouyuan's 高守元 Chongxu zhide zhenjing sijie 沖虛至德真經四解 (a collection of the commentaries of Zhang Zhan, Lu Chongxuan 盧重玄, Song Zhenghe 宋政和 and Fan Zhixu 范致虛), and Yin Jingshun's 殷敬順 Liezi chongxu zhide zhenjing shiwen 列子沖虛至德真經釋文 (with a supplement by Chen Jingyuan 陳景元). A modern commentary was written by Yang Bojun 楊伯峻, the Liezi jishi 列子集釋.
There is a full English translation by A. C. Graham (1990). The Book of Lieh-Tzu: A Classic of the Tao. New York: Columbia University Press.


Sources:
Hong Zhanhou 洪湛侯 (1986). "Liezi 列子", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學, vol. 1, p. 429. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Qing Xitai (1994) 卿希泰. Zhongguo daojiao 中國道教, vol. 2, p. nnn. Shanghai: Zhishi chubanshe.


Contents
1. 天瑞 Tianrui Heavenly portents
2. 黃帝 Huangdi The Yellow Emperor
3. 周穆王 Zhou Muwang King Mu of Zhou
4. 仲尼 Zhongni Confucius
5. 湯問 Tang wen Tang asked
6. 力命 Liming Enforced mandate
7. 楊朱 Yang Zhu Yang Zhu
8. 說符 Shuofu Explaining omina
Chinese literature according to the four-category system

July 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail