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Chinese Literature
Wunengzi 無能子 "The Master of the Potency by Non-Being"


The Wunengzi 無能子 "Master of the Potency by Non-Being" is a Daoist writing compiled by an unknown author during the late Tang period 唐 (618-907). According to the preface, the "Master of the Non-Potency" had learned to live a live of austerity and to perfect all his physical and mental forces to enhance his health and prolong his life. He normally lived in recluse but in 887 he used his time to write down what he knew about the perfection of the life. The book he compiled included 34 chapters arranged in 3 juan "scrolls". This is still the case in the received version. The compiler might yet be another person that Master Wunengzi, probably a disciple.
In the first part, the book Wunengzi describes how Heaven and Earth came into being, and how the ten thousand things on earth are coming from nature. The middle part explains the raise and downfall of dynasties and how worthies and wise men could fail in politics. The third part is a quite miscellaneous arrangement of questions and answers, hearsay reports and parables. Master Wuneng criticises the effects of the Confucian "holy man", a concept which, with an activist politics, disturbs the peace of society. Instead, one should cultivate one's naturally endowed character (xiulian xingming 修煉性命) and live a live of non-action (wuwei 無爲) and without desires. Words should be used with caution, strict social rituals and orthodox teachings were to be abandoned, and the true method of cultivation is nourishing one's vital breath (qi 氣) and by meditation (zuowang 坐忘 "sitting in forgetfulness"). Persons perfecting these methods will be able to become immortals. The book was highly estimated by contemporary scholars and well into the Song period 宋 (960-1279). It is listed in all important bibliographies of that time and often quoted in the historiographical encyclopedia Wenxian tongkao 文獻通考. It is also included in the Daoist Canon Daozang 道藏 and the collectaneum Siku quanshu 四庫全書.
The arrangement of the Wunengzi is different is some versions. Chao Gongwu's 晁公武 Junzhai dushu zhi 郡齋讀書志 speaks of 30 chapters, while the received version contains 34 chapters, which is also the number mentioned in the preface. In the table of contents of the received version, some chapters are indicated as missing, and some paragraphs or chapters included in the book are not mentioned in the table of contents. The compilers of the Siku quanshu, as well as the modern scholar Ren Jiyu 任繼俞, compiler of a scholarly resummé to the Daoist Canon (Daozang tiyao 道藏提要), tried to find out reasons for these inconsistencies. The Wunengzi was not really appreciated as a Daoist book of high quality because the influence of Buddhist thinking seemed to strong for ancient scholars.


Source: Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 2310. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.
Chinese literature according to the four-category system

March 26, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail