An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Heguanzi 鶡冠子

Jul 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Heguanzi 鶡冠子 "Master Pheasant Cap", also written 鶴冠子, is a collection of philosophical treatises from the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). In the imperial bibliography Yiwen zhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書, it is referred to as a Daoist writing, yet it is sometimes also called a military classic. Seen from the content, the book covers a wide range of topics and actually lives from many different philosophical sources, like Huang-Lao thought 黃老, the theories of Yin-Yang 陰陽 and the Five Agents 五行, Daoism, legalism, and military strategists. Because of its miscellaneous character it is therefore mostly included in the group of miscellaneous writings.

The real name of the author is not known. He is said to have lived in the regional state of Chu 楚 and used to wear a cap of pheasant (feathers?) which gave him his name. In fact the book contains a series of official titles typically used in the state of Chu. Master Pheasant Cap was also a teacher of Pang Nuan 龐煖, a general of the state of Zhao 趙, and served as advisor to several kings of this regional state. He thus must have lived in the early 3rd cent. BCE.

The text was apparently arranged in different chapters in ancient times. The transmitted version is that of the commentary by the Song-period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Lu Xi 陸細, in 19 chapters in 3 juan. Since the Qing period 清 (1644-1911), scholars are quite sure that the text is composed of two different sources, namely a Daoist text, and a military treatise called Pang Nuan. This argument was brought forward by Wu Shigong 吳世拱 Heguanzi Wuzhu 鶴冠子吳注 from 1929.

The authenticity of the text was doubted by many scholars who believed Liu Zongyuan's 柳宗元 (773-819) statement that the Heguanzi was a forgery. The Qing-period scholar Yao Jiheng 姚際恒 (1647-1715) still followed this tradition. Yet among the books discovered during the 1970s in the Former-Han-period 前漢 (206 BC-8 AD) tomb of Yinqueshan 銀雀山, Shandong, was no Heguanzi text, but the discovered texts included many sentences showing that thoughts and theories very similar to that found in the Heguanzi were very widespread during the early Han period. Very characteristically for the so-called Huang-Lao thought is that it has it links virtually all fields of human activities and defines a relation between those field, which are united in an all-embracing cosmology. The book Heguanzi is therefore of enormous importance for the study of the Huang-Lao religion of which we still do not know a lot.

The received Heguanzi is arranged in 3 fascicles and includes between 16 and 19 chapters. There are a lot of different editions and prints of the Heguanzi. It is included in the series Shizi quanshu 十子全書, Zhuzi huihan 諸子彙函, Zishu baijia 子書百家, Sibu congkan 四部叢刊, Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書.

There is a translation into English by Carine Defoort (1997). The Pheasant Cap Master: a Rhetorical Reading. Albany: State Unversity of New York Press.

Table 1. Contents of the Heguanzi 鶡冠子
1. 博選 Boxuan Broad selection
2. 著希 Zhuxi Calling attention to the rare
3. 夜行 Yexing Procedure by night
4. 天則 Tianze Heaven's model
5. 環流 Huanliu Circular flow
6. 道端 Daoduan Starting point of the Way
7. 近佚 Jinyi Surpassed from the nearby
8. 度萬 Duwan Measuring the myriad things
9. 王鈇 Wangfu Royal blade
10. 泰鴻 Taihong Supreme flood
11. 泰錄 Tailu Supreme indistinctness
12. 世兵 Shibing Arms of the age
13. 備知 Beizhi Complete knowledge
14. 兵政 Bingzheng Military policy
15. 學問 Xuewen Learning
16. 世賢 Shixian Worthies of the age
17. 天權 Tianquan Heavenly assessment
18. 能天 Nengtian Able to [be supported by] Heaven
19. 武靈王 Wulingwang King Wuling [of Zhao]
Li Xueqin 李學勤 (1992). "Heguanzi 鶴冠子", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 362.
Knechtges, David R. (1993). “Ho kuan tzu”, in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China/Institute of East Asian Studies), 137-140.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1876.