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Chinese Literature and Philosophy
Huang-Lao xuepai 黃老學派 "Adherents of Huang-Lao thought"


The Huang-Lao thought was a belief prospering during the late Warring States 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) and the Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) periods. It is named after the two most important deities venerated, the "Yellow Emperor" Huangdi 黃帝 and Laozi 老子.The Yellow Emperor was a mythical ruler of antiquity and was venerated as a demigod with a strong sense for inventions and supernatural forces. He is also venerated as the ancestor of the Huaxia people 華夏, the Chinese. The encomion (zan 贊) of the biography of Yue Yi 樂毅 in the official dynastic history Shiji 史記 lists several teachers of Huang-Lao thought: Heshang Zhangren 河上丈人, Master An Qi 安期生, Master Yue Jia 樂瑕公, Master Yue Chen 樂臣公, and Master Shan 善公. The Shiji also called legalist philosophers like Han Fei 韓非 or Jixia academicians 稷下 like Shen Dao 慎到, Tian Pian 田騈, Huan Yuan 環淵 or Jiezi 接子 adherents of Huang-Lao thought. Many important politicians and thinkers of the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) were adherents of the Huang-Lao religion, like Xiao He 蕭何, Cao Shen 曹參, Chen Ping 陳平, Sima Jizhu 司馬季主, or Empress Dowager Dou 竇太后. There were also Master An Qiu 安丘生, Master Wang 王生 and Master Huang 黃生. The imperial bibliography Yiwenzhi 藝文志 of the dynastic history Hanshu 漢書 mentions 21 books on Huang-Lao thought. Except the medical classic Huangdi neijing 黃帝內經, all are lost. In 1973, some Huang-Lao books on silk inscriptions were discovered in the early Former Han period tomb of Mawangdui 馬王堆, Hunan: the so-called B version of the Laozi (Laozi yi ben 老子乙本), Jingfa 經法 "The constancy of laws", Shidajing 十大經 "The ten great classics", Cheng 稱 "Aphorisms" and Daoyuan 道原 "On Dao the fundamental". These are knwon as the "Yellow Emperor's four books" (Huangdi sijing 黃帝四經) or as Huang-Lao boshu 黃老帛書 "The silk books of Huang-Lao thought".
The content of Huang-Lao philosophy is derived from Daoist and legalist sources. The legalist "standard" or "law" (fa 法) is derived from the natural "Way" (dao 道). Penal law (xing 刑) and virtuous government (de 德) play an important role to express authority and benevolence by a superior. There are also traces of Yin-Yang theory (accordance with the seasons, complementary pairs of qualities), Confucian (social order), and Mohist (sparingness in state expenditure) thought and some influences of the dialecticians (identity of designation and reality).
The natural Way is seen as an objective principle existing throughout the universe and governing Heaven, Earth and all beings, including man and the structure of human society. Although not visible and without extension, the Way influences all matters of life. In human society, the Dao is called li 理 "natural order", in politics it is called fa "law". The unity of action with the Way will lead to a unity with the universe. Such a situation will unite the largest and the smallest, the apogee and the withering away of life and state. A ruler hast o seek the unity with the Dao and to rule with reward (shang 賞) and punishment (fa 罰). His ministers have to fulfill the duties of their posts, so that no contradictions arise between designation (ming 名) and reality (shi 實). Such a state will be in a pure and tranquil (qingjing 清靜) situation so that the lord can rule even by non-action (wuwei er zhi 無為而治) and could afford "folding his hands and letting drop down his gowns" (chuigong 垂拱). Punishment has to be without exaggeration, and the population has not to be burdened with high taxes, and laws should, as far as possible, not be altered (yinxun 因循 "continuance"). Once the empire is united under a central government, peace and virtue have to prevail and strife has to be avoided (hao de bu zheng 好德不爭). Historians interprete the rule of the early Han emperors Wen 漢文帝 (r. 180-157) and Jing 漢景帝 (r. 157-141) as guided by these ideals, so that they speak of the Golden Age of Wen and Jing (Wen Jing zhi zhi 文景之治), when relief was brought to the people and the national economy was able to recover.
During the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE), Huang-Lao thought was quasi invaded by the belief in immortals and experienced a more religious aspect with incantations, the exorcism of ghosts, sacrifices to spirits and the belief in omina and portents as expressed in the apocryphal classics (chenwei 讖緯) and the talismanic (fulu 符箓) writings of Daoism. Magicians (fangshi 方士) played and important role in everyday life. The Huang-Lao thought merged at that time with the early Daoist schools.


Sources:
Chen Zhefu 陳哲夫 (1992). "Huang-Lao zhi xue 黃老之學", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhengzhixue 政治學, p. 158. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Gu Jian 古鑒 (1997). "Han chu Huang-Lao xuepai 漢初黃老學派", in: Zhonghua guocui da cidian 中華國粹大辭典, p. 468. Beijing: Guoji wenhua chuban gongsi.
Gu Jian 古鑒 (1997). "Huang-Lao boshu 黄老帛書", in: Zhonghua guocui da cidian 中華國粹大辭典, p. 490. Beijing: Guoji wenhua chuban gongsi.
Zhang Zhaopeng 鐘肇鵬 (1992). "Huang-Lao zhi xue 黄老之學", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學, vol. 1, p. 317. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.

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August 26, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail