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The Bamboo Texts of Guodian: A Study and Complete Translation, Volume 2 (Honorable Mention Joseph Levenson Prize 2014)

Scott COOK
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For the interview between Scott Cook and Carla Nappi of New Books in East Asian Studies, please click here.

The cache of bamboo texts recently unearthed (in 1993) from the village of Guodian, Hubei Province, is without doubt a rare and unique find in the history of Chinese philosophy and literature. As the only archaeologically excavated corpus of philosophical manuscripts to emerge from a Warring States–period tomb, the Guodian texts provide us with a wealth of reliable information for gaining new insights into the textual and intellectual history of pre-imperial China. In this respect, one may reasonably claim that they are the most exciting thing to happen to the study of early China since the third century ad, the last time a pre-imperial textual cache of similar import was unearthed. More than a few scholars have even gone so far as to suggest that their discovery necessitates that the entire history of early Chinese intellectual history will have to be rewritten. The importance of these texts is manifold. First, given the prominence of Confucian works in the corpus, they serve to fill out much of the intellectual historical picture for the doctrines of roughly three generations of Confucian disciples who fell between the times of Confucius 孔子 (551–479 BC) and Mencius孟子 (ca. 390–305 BC). Next, the discovery of three different texts that each parallel portions of the Daodejing 道德經 (aka. Laozi 老子), along with a possibly related cosmogonic work, the “Taiyi sheng shui”太一生水, is helping us better understand the formation and early transmission of the Laozi and the nature of its relationship to early Confucian thought and even popular beliefs. Moreover, the dating of the tomb serves to dispel serious doubts about the early temporal provenance of both the Laozi and many of the chapters from the Li ji 禮記 (Book of Ritual), as well as giving us a number of clues to help us reconstruct the history of the early Chinese canonical “classics” that are cited in some of the texts. And written as they are in the local Chu 楚 script, the manuscripts hold great significance for the study of early Chinese paleography and phonology, giving us tangible examples of “ancient script” forms hitherto seen mainly in early character dictionaries and a limited array of technical manuscripts previously excavated from the region.

Volume I contains a general introduction to the Guodian tomb, the manuscript contents, and a discussion of the various problems of reading and interpretation that the manuscripts involve, along with their place within the larger context of early Chinese intellectual history. It also contains introductions to and annotated translations of the “Laozi” and “Taiyi sheng shui” manuscripts, along with those of “Ziyi,” “Lu Mu Gongwen Zisi,” “Qiongda yi shi,” “Wu xing,” “Tang Yu zhidao,”and “Zhongxin zhi dao.| 636 pages

Volume II offers introductions to and annotated translations of the manuscripts "Cheng zhi," "Zun deyi," "Xing zi ming chu," "Liu de," and "Yucong" 1-4, along with various appendices. These include Collation Tables of Witnesses to the Guodian "Laozi" Passages and a Running Translation of all the Guodian texts. | 612 pages


Acknowledgments xxi

Volume I: Introduction 1 A. Nature of the Find and Dating of the Tomb 3 Guodian Tomb #1 3 Tomb Occupant 7 B. Recovery of the Strips and Their Textual Contents 10 Sorting and Arranging 10 Contents of the Texts and the Issue of Completeness 13 A Note on the Shanghai Museum and Qinghua University Manuscripts 23 C. The Chu Script and Calligraphic Features 26 The Chu Script 26 Chu Scribal Peculiarities 40 Calligraphic Divisions 47 Implications for Strip Reassignment and Internal Reordering 54Markers for Punctuation, Division, Combination, Repetition, and Insertion 60 D. Reading the Texts: Problems and Principles 64 Transcribing and Interpreting the Graphs 65 Determining the Reading of Characters 68 A Note on Modes of Textual Transmission 76 Loan Words: Phonological Considerations 82 Rhyme in the Guodian Texts 92 E. The Guodian Manuscripts in the Context of Warring States Intellectual History 97 The Guodian Texts as a Coherent Group 97 Affiliations with Intellectual Lineages 108 a. The "School of Zisi and Meng Zi" 110 b. Connections to Other Figures or Lineages 121 Guodian and the "Six Classics" 128 Shared Philosophical Doctrines in the Guodian Texts 139 a. Heaven and Human Endowment 139 b. The Paths to Virtuous Cultivation 145 c. Education, Moral Suasion, and the Role of Tradition 152 d. Musical Harmony and the Symphony of Virtues 167 F. Final Considerations 175 An Overview of Prior Scholarship 176

Volume II: Texts and Translations 187 Transcription and Translation Conventions 189 1. "Laozi" jia, yi, bing〈老子〉甲、乙、丙: "Laozi" A, B, and C 195 Introduction 195 The Nature of the Texts: Precursors, Selections, Or? 199 Themes and Other Considerations 206 Forms of Textual Disparity and Their Significance 210 Textual Notes 216 "Laozi A" 〈老子〉甲 Text and Translation 225 "Laozi B" 〈老子〉乙 Text and Translation 285 "Laozi C" 〈老子〉丙 Text and Translation 309 2. "Taiyi sheng shui"〈太一生水〉: "The Great Unity Gives Birth to Water" (a.k.a. "Laozi" C, Part Two) 323 Introduction 323 Taiyi and the Role of Water 324 Relationship to Other Early Cosmogonies 328 Relationship to the "Laozi" Texts 335 Textual Notes 340 Text and Translation 343 3. "Ziyi"〈緇衣〉: "Black Robes" 355 Introduction 355 Disparities in the Configuration and Ordering of Passages 358  1. Inconsistencies and Traces of Elaboration in the Received Text 358  2. Divergent Orderings of the Passages 361 Textual Notes 371 Text and Translation 375 4. "Lu Mu Gong wen Zisi"〈魯穆公問子思〉: "Lord Mu of Lu Asked Zisi" 419 Introduction 419 Text and Translation 425 5. "Qiongda yi shi"〈窮達以時〉: "Poverty or Success Is a Matter of Timing" 429 Introduction 429 Timing, Chance Encounters, and Moral Constancy 429 Parallels with Other Early Texts 431 Relation to Xun Zi's "Tian lun" 439 Textual Notes 449 Text and Translation 453 6. "Wu xing"〈五行〉: "The Five Conducts" 465 Introduction 465 Philosophy of the "Wu xing" and Its Place in the Early Confucian Tradition 466 Relation to the Mawangdui "Wu xing" 478   1. Absence of the Commentarial Text in Guodian 478   2. Differences in the Order of Passages 480 Textual Notes 482 Text and Translation 485 7. "Tang Yu zhi dao"〈唐虞之道〉: "The Way of Tang and Yu" 521 Introduction 521 Changing Views on Abdication in the Warring States 526 Zisi Connections 539 Textual Notes 541 Text and Translation 545 8. "Zhongxin zhi dao"〈忠信之道〉: "The Way of Loyalty and Trustworthiness" 565 Introduction 565 Zhong and xin in Relation to Other Works 566 Textual Notes 572 Text and Translation 575 9. "Cheng zhi"〈成之〉: "Bringing Things to Completion" 583 Introduction 583 Authenticity, Persistence, Urgency, and Completion 583 Connections with Received Texts 586 Textual Notes: Rearrangements in Strip Order 590   1. Internal Reordering 590   2. External Reassignment 596 Text and Translation 599 10. "Zun deyi"〈尊德義〉: "Honoring Virtue and Propriety" 627 Introduction 627 The Virtues of Governing through Ritual and Music 627 Rhyme and Parallelism 631 Textual Notes: Rearrangements in Strip Order and the Issue of Strip Numbers 633 Text and Translation 639 11. "Xing zi ming chu"〈性自命出〉: "Human Nature Comes via Mandate" 667 Introduction 667 Human Nature and Its Affections 668 Music and Authenticity 671 Some Conclusions 674 Intellectual Affiliation 678 Textual Notes 686 Text and Translation 697 12. "Liu de" 〈六德〉: "The Six Virtues" 751 Introduction 751 Relations, Duties, and Virtues 751 The Priorities of Internal and External 757 Unity through Filial Piety 762 Textual Notes: Rearrangements in Strip Order 764 Text and Translation 771 13. "Yucong, yi" 〈語叢一〉: "Thicket of Sayings 1" 799 Introduction 799 On the Nature of "Yucong" 1-3 799 Themes of "Yucong 1" 804 Textual Notes 809 Text and Translation 811 14. "Yucong, er" 〈語叢二〉: "Thicket of Sayings 2" 845 Introduction 845 Themes of "Yucong 2" 845 Text and Translation 849 15. "Yucong, san" 〈語叢三〉: "Thicket of Sayings 3" 865 Introduction 865 Themes of "Yucong 3" 866 Textual Notes   1. Calligraphic Hands 869   2. Maxims in Divided Columns 872 Text and Translation 875 16. "Yucong, si" 〈語叢四〉: "Thicket of Sayings 4" 903 Introduction 903 On the Nature of "Yucong 4" 904 Themes and Intellectual Affiliation 908 Textual Notes: Rhyme and Strip Order 913 Text and Translation 919

Fragments 竹簡殘片 939 Introduction 939 Text and "Translation" 941 Appendices Appendix A: Collation Tables of Witnesses to the Guodian "Laozi" Passages 951 "Laozi A" tables 953 "Laozi B" tables 985 "Laozi C" tables 997 Appendix B: Table of Strip Orders 1003 Appendix C: Running Translation of the Guodian Texts 1005 List of Ancient Texts Cited 1105 References 1109


  • "The long-awaited publication of this magnum opus by Scott Cook, one of the leading scholars in the fields of early Chinese philosophy and the study of excavated manuscripts, is a major event in the study of early China and a cause for celebration. Cook, in Asia better known under his Chinese name Gu Shikao 顧史考, which also appears on the book cover, presents us with a comprehensive study and translation of the entire corpus of the Guodian 郭店 manuscripts. The great significance of this work is owing not only to its scholarly quality but also to the special importance of its subject matter. ... " To read the rest of the review, please download the attachment.


To hear the interview between Scott Cook and Carla Nappi of New Books on East Asian Studies, please copy and paste the following URL:

  • Scott COOK 顧史考 received his Ph.D. in Chinese from the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan in 1995 and was recently Professor of Chinese and Cowles-Kruidenier Chair of Chinese Studies at Grinnell College, where he has been teaching since 1996. He specializes in pre-Qin textual studies and early Chinese intellectual history. He is the author of Guodian Chujian xian-Qin rushu hongweiguan 郭店楚簡先秦儒書宏微觀 (The Pre-Imperial Confucian Texts of Guodian: Broad and Focused Perspectives) (Taipei: Xuesheng shuju, 2006), editor of Hiding the World in the World: Uneven Discourses on the Zhuangzi (Albany: SUNY Press, 2003), and the author of around fifty articles in English and Chinese. Professor Cook is currently on the faculty of Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

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