The Huainanzi is an ancient Chinese text that consists of a collection of essays that resulted from a series of scholarly debates held at the court of Liu An, Prince of Huainan, sometime before 139 BC. The Huainanzi blends Daoist, Confucianist, and Legalist concepts, including theories such as yin and yang and Wu Xing theories.
|Literal meaning||[The Writings of] the Huainan Masters|
The Huainanzi's essays are all connected to one primary goal: attempting to define the necessary conditions for perfect socio-political order. It concludes that perfect societal order derives mainly from a perfect ruler, and the essays are compiled in such a way as to serve as a handbook for an enlightened sovereign and his court.
The date of composition for the Huainanzi is more certain than for most early Chinese texts. Both the Book of Han and Records of the Grand Historian record that when Liu An paid a state visit to his nephew the Emperor Wu of Han in 139 BC, he presented a copy of his "recently completed" book in twenty-one chapters. Recent research shows that Chapters 1, 2, and 21 of the Huainanzi were performed at the imperial court.
The Huainanzi is an eclectic compilation of chapters or essays that range across topics of religion, history, astronomy, geography, philosophy, science, metaphysics, nature, and politics. It discusses many pre-Han schools of thought, especially the Huang–Lao form of religious Daoism, and contains more than 800 quotations from Chinese classics. The textual diversity is apparent from the chapter titles (tr. Le Blanc, 1985, 15–16):
|1||原道訓||Yuandao||Searching out Dao (Tao)|
|2||俶真訓||Chuzhen||Beginning of Reality|
|3||天文訓||Tianwen||Patterns of Heaven|
|4||墜形訓||Zhuixing||Forms of Earth|
|6||覽冥訓||Lanming||Peering into the Obscure|
|7||精神訓||Jingshen||Seminal Breath and Spirit|
|9||主術訓||Zhushu||Craft of the Ruler|
|10||繆稱訓||Miucheng||On Erroneous Designations|
|11||齊俗訓||Qisu||Placing Customs on a Par|
|12||道應訓||Daoying||Responses of Dao|
|13||氾論訓||Fanlun||A Compendious Essay|
|14||詮言訓||Quanyan||An Explanatory Discourse|
|15||兵略訓||Binglue||On Military Strategy|
|16||說山訓||Shuoshan||Discourse on Mountains|
|17||說林訓||Shuolin||Discourse on Forests|
|18||人間訓||Renjian||In the World of Man|
|19||脩務訓||Youwu||Necessity of Training|
|21||要略||Yaolue||Outline of the Essentials|
Some Huainanzi passages are philosophically significant, for instance, this combination of Five Phases and Daoist themes.
When the lute-tuner strikes the kung note [on one instrument], the kung note [on the other instrument] responds: when he plucks the chiao note [on one instrument], the chiao note [on the other instrument] vibrates. This results from having corresponding musical notes in mutual harmony. Now, [let us assume that] someone changes the tuning of one string in such a way that it does not match any of the five notes, and by striking it sets all twenty-five strings resonating. In this case there has as yet been no differentiation as regards sound; it just happens that that [sound] which governs all musical notes has been evoked. Thus, he who is merged with Supreme Harmony is beclouded as if dead-drunk, and drifts about in its midst in sweet contentment, unaware how he came there; engulfed in pure delight as he sinks to the depths; benumbed as he reaches the end, he is as if he had not yet begun to emerge from his origin. This is called the Great Merging. (chapter 6, tr. Le Blanc 1985:138)
Translations that focus on individual chapters include: