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Daodejing lunbing yaoyi 道德經論兵要義 "Essential Meanings of the Discussions on War in the Daodejing"


The Daodejing lunbing yaoyi 道德經論兵要義 "Essential meanings of the discussions on war in the Daodejing", also called Daode zhenjing lunbing yaoyi shu 道德真經論兵要義述 or Daodejing lunbing yaoyi shu 道德經論兵要義述, is a treatise on warfare written by the Tang period 唐 (618-907) scholar Wang Zhen 王真 who lived during the reign of Emperor Dezong 唐德宗 (779-804) and occupied the post of court gentleman for consultation (yilang 議郎) and was then appointed regional inspector (cishi 刺史) of Hanzhou 漢州 and concurrently commissioner of the military prefecture of Weisheng 威勝軍. In 809 he submitted a memorial to the throne with suggestions for curtailing the power of the military commissioners in the provinces. His 4 juan "scrolls" long book on military strategy is a military interpretation of the Daoist classic Laozi 老子 (Daodejing 道德經), and stands in contrast to the comprehensive commentaries of Heshang Gong 河上公 (Laozi zhu 老子注, Han period 漢, 206 BCE-220 CE), Yan Zun 嚴遵 (Daode zhigui lun 道德指歸論, Han period) and Li Longji 李隆基 (i.e. Emperor Taizong 唐玄宗; Yuzhu Daode zhenjing 御注道德真經, Tang period). Wang's commentary is not wholly based on the Laozi, but also includes Confucian thought and theories of the military writers. He stresses, for instance, the importance of the virtues of exemplarious behaviour (de 德), kindheartedness (ren 仁), appropriate conduct (yi 義) and propriety (li 禮), a missing of which can be a reason to wage war against. Warfare is a way (dao 道) of danger, and weaponry is an inauspicious instrument to bring order into the world. On the other hand, civilian rule and martial activity can be seen as two handles (liang bing 兩柄) of which a ruler might make use of. Civil rule is master over warfare, and the latter only serves as a complement for civilian rule. In the end, the one can not exist without the other. Neglicence of the military will endanger the existence of a state, yet overindulgence in warfare will ruin a dynasty. Warfare is to be a instrument, not a passion.
The literary quality of Wang Zhen's book is rated as relatively good among Tang period writings. It is included in the Daoist Canon Daozang 道藏, and the collectanea Wanwei biecang 宛委別藏 and Zhihai 指海.


Source: Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 1618. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.

Chinese literature according to the four-category system

March 20, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail