Library of Chinese Classics:Yellow Emperor's Four Canons


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Author: Feng Yu
Language: Chinese and English bilingual
ISBN/ISSN: 7806656715
Published on: 2006-01

The Huangdi sijing (traditional Chinese: 皇帝四經; simplified Chinese: 黄帝四经; pinyin: Huángdì sìjīng; lit. "The Yellow Emperor's Four Classics") are long-lost Chinese manuscripts that were discovered among the Mawangdui Silk Texts. They are also known as the Huang-Lao boshu (traditional Chinese: 皇老帛書; simplified Chinese: 黄老帛书; pinyin: Huáng-Lǎo bóshū; lit. "Huang-Lao Silk Texts"), in association with the "Huang-Lao" philosophy named after the legendary Huangdi (黃帝 "The Yellow Emperor") and Laozi (老子 "Master Lao").
Mawangdui is an archeological site, comprised of three Han-era tombs, found near Changsha in modern Hunan Province (ancient state of Chu). In December 1973, archeologists excavating "Tomb Number 3" (dated at 168 BCE) discovered an edifying trove of silk paintings and silk scrolls with manuscripts, charts, and maps. These polymathic texts discussed philosophy, politics, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Daoist yoga, Yin and Yang, and astronomy; ranging from the familiar (Huangdi Neijing medical classic also attributed to the Yellow Emperor) to the unknown (Book of Silk that lists three centuries of comet sightings).
The Mawangdui manuscripts included two silk copies of the Daodejing, eponymously titled "Laozi". Both add other texts and both reverse the received chapter arrangement, giving the Dejing chapters before the Daojing. The so-called "B Version" included four previously unknown works, each appended with a title and number of characters (字):
1. Jingfa (經法 "The Constancy of Laws"), 5000 characters
2. Shiliu jing (十六經 "The Sixteen Classics"), 4564
3. Cheng (稱 "Aphorisms"), 1600
4. Yuandao (原道 "On Dao the Fundamental"), 464
Owing to holes (literally lacuna) in the ancient silk fragments, the original numbers of characters are uncertain.
The two longest texts are subdivided into sections. "The Constancy of Laws" has nine: 1. Dao fa (道法 "The Dao and the Law"), 2. Guo ci (國次 "The Priorities of the State"), 3. Jun zheng (君正 "The Ruler's Government").... "The Sixteen Classics", which some scholars read as Shi da jing (十大經 "The Ten Great Classics"), has fifteen [sic]: 1. Li ming (立命 "Establishing the Mandate"), 2. Guan (觀 "Observation"), 3. Wu zheng (五正 "The Five Norms")….
In the decades since 1973, scholars have published many Mawangdui manuscript studies (see Carrozza 2002). In 1974, the Chinese journal Wenwu (文物 "Cultural objects/relics") presented a preliminary transcription into modern characters. Tang Lan's influential article (1975) gave photocopies with transcriptions, analyzed the textual origins and contents, and cited paralleling passages from Chinese classic texts. Tang was first to identify these texts as the "Huangdi sijing", a no-longer extant text attributed to the Yellow Emperor, which the Hanshu's Yiwenzhi (藝文志) bibliographical section lists as a Daoist text in four pian (篇 "sections"). The "Huangdi sijing" was lost and is only known by name, and thus the Daoist Canon excluded it. While most scholars agree with Tang's evidence, some disagree and call the texts the Huang-Lao boshu or the Huangdi shu (黃帝書 "The Yellow Emperor's books").
The first complete English translation of the Huangdi sijing was produced by Leo S. Chang (appended in Yu 1993:211-326). Subsequent translations include scholarly versions by Yates (1997) and by Chang and Feng (1998), as well as some selected versions. Ryden (1997) provides an informative examination of "The Yellow Emperor's Four Canons".

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