An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Shizi 尸子

Jul 17, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Shizi 尸子 "Master Shi" is a philosophical treatise attributed to a certain Shi Jiao 尸佼 (ca. 390-330 BCE) from the state of Lu 魯 who lived during the early Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). He is said to have been a teacher to the legalist thinker and politician Shang Yang 商鞅. After Shang Yang's death Shi Jiao retired to Shu 蜀, the modern province of Sichuan. The book attributed to him consisted originally of 20 chapters of which 9 were already lost in the 3rd cent. CE but somehow experts managed to supplement the lost parts, although the content is certainly not identical to the original version, which depreciates the value of the transmitted text. During the Song period 宋 (960-1279) therefore only one single "scroll" was left from the whole book. The collection Qunshu zhiyao 群書治要 contains 13 chapters of fragments. The versions available today contain a lot of different thoughts that can attributed to many different schools. It is virtually impossible to tell which of the chapters contain original parts.
The philosophy of Shizi was similar to that of the legalist master Li Kui 李悝. Both masters renounced the idea to follow the "way of the ancient kings" (of the Western Zhou period 西周, 11th cent.-770 BCE) and the ideas of Confucius. From the surviving fragments of the book Shizi it can hardly be confirmed that the author was a legalist. The book discusses general terms of social philosophy, like the "Way" and its power of virtue (dao de 道德), and also the Confucian moral principles of benevolence and righteousness (ren yi 仁義).
During the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) a lot of scholars studied the Shizi fragments. The following editions of Shizi collections are available: Xinzhai shi zhong 心齋十種 by Hui Dong 惠棟, with supplements by Ren Zhaolin 任兆麟; Pingjinguan congshu 平津館叢書 by Zhang Zongyuan 章宗源, supplemented by Sun Xingyan 孫星衍; the Wenjingtang congshu 問經堂叢書 edition, the Huhailou congshu 湖海樓叢書 by Wang Jipei 汪繼培, and the version in the series Ershierzi 二十二子.

Extant chapter titles
勸學 Quanxue
貴言 Guiyan
四儀 Siyi
明堂 Mingtang
發蒙 Fameng
治天下 Zhi tianxia
仁意 Renyi
廣〔澤〕 Guangze
綽子 Chuozi
處道 Chudao
神明 Shenming
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 1878.
Zhong Zhaopeng 鍾肇鵬 (1992). "Shizi 尸子", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史, vol. 2, p. 920. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Paul Fischer (2012), Shizi: China's First Syncretist (New York: Columbia University Press).