The Huainanzi 淮南子 "Master(s) from Huainan" is a collection of various philosophical treatises compiled under the mentorship of Liu An (179-122), Prince of Huainan 淮南, during the mid-Former Han period. The book was originally called Huainan honglie 淮南鴻烈 "Grand illumination from Huainan", the surviving part of the book also Huainan neipian 淮南內篇 "Inner chapters from Huainan". The name Huainanzi came up during the Sui period 隋 (581-618). According to the imperial biography Yiwenzhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書, the Huainanzi consisted of 21 "inner chapters" (neipian 內篇) and 33 "outer chapters" (waipian 外篇). The outer chapters have not survived. There were also 8 "inner chapters" (zhongpian 中篇) containing information about magical arts. They are lost, too. The received version of the Huainanzi has a length of 21 juan "scrolls". The content of the Huainanzi is very comprehensive and explains the cosm from the viewpoint of the School of Yin and Yang 陰陽, Confucianism and legalism, but the basic tendency of the book is Daoist and the greatest part of its content is shaped by thinkers of the school of Huang-Lao thought 黃老. The most important but otherwise unknown authors were Su Fei 蘇飛, Li Shang 李尚, Zuo Wu 左吳, Tian You 田由, Lei Bei 雷被, Mao Pi 毛披, Wu Bei 伍被 and Jin Chang 晉昌.|
The core concept of the Huainanzi is that there is a primordial dao 道 "Way" in the universe that can either be identified with a homogenous yet uncharactrerised unity at the beginning of time and space or with an formless and physically not perceivable principle underlying all material beings. The dao was there before the primordial chaos (xuguo 虛霩, often called hundun 混沌) from which the cosm came into being. During that process, the primary energy (qi 氣), often also translateable as "matter" evolved and permeated all things. The substance of the ten thousand beings (wanwu 萬物) is influenced by Yin and Yang. These two bring Heaven and Earth into harmony and give shape to the body of all things. There is no predefined direction into which all things go, but Yin and Yang keep on influencing the beings so that all are subject to a permanent change.
Many parts of the Huainanzi are influenced by the Daoist book Zhuangzi 莊子. The chapter Qisu xun 齊俗訓, for instance, inherits the thoughts of the chapter Qiwulun 齊物論 in the Zhuangzi, but gives them a new direction from relativism to objectivism. The chapter Chuzhen xu 俶真訓 derives its view of the cosm also from the Qiwulun. The human character has to be geared to the ten thousand things of nature and to keep down desires surpassing what is really necessary. Life has to be nourished from the side of the mind, and not from the side of the body.
The chapter Zhushu xun 主術訓 stresses the importance that a ruler has to cultivate himself (xiushen 修身) and to adhere to the Confucian virtues of kindheartedness (ren 仁) and righteousness (yi 義). While the enlightened perfect man (junzi 君子) displays these virtues, the mean man (xiaoren 小人) only seeks for his own profit (li 利), as the chapter Miucheng xun 繆稱訓 tells. A ruler has therefore to select and promote capable talents. Learning is the best method to come back to the natural way. In the chapter Xiuwu xun 修務訓 the Confucian concept of learning is so tied to the Daoist search for the dao. The legalist notion of change according to the circumstances of time is set against the Confucian trend to preserve.
Thoughts of Yin and Yang and the mutual respondance of Heaven and man are to be found in the chapters Lanming xun 覽冥訓, Benjing xun 本經訓, Taizu xun 泰族訓, Tianwen xun 天文訓 and Jingshen xun 精神訓. The chapter Shuolin xun 說林訓 speaks about the Five Processes 五行. Some methods of the Mohists are to be found in the chapter Zhushu xun 主術訓, where the relation between name and reality is discussed and sparingness for burials is recommended.
According to the cosmology explained in the Huainanzi, all things are born out of nothing, and the real comes out of the void. The five colours are born in colourlessness, and the five musical notes come out of quietness. They are perfect because the are the product of the natural forces Yin and Yang and are naturally endowed with the objectively positive dao. Except this cosmic dao, the dao can also be found in human relationships. The ruler of a state has to be the first to seek and perform the natural dao by way of non-activity (wuwei 無為). Yet this does not mean that he is not concerned with politics at all ("laissez-faire" in the literally meaning). Quite contrary, he has actively to find out what the underlying natural Way of things is, and use it for his political decisions. The Way is thus a kind of natural law that predefines the conditions of human life. The main factor showing a ruler what the dao is, are the wishes of his people. A Daoist ruler has to care for his subjects, he has to unify his own heart with theirs and to bring peace to the people. The root of this peace is this is to care for their food, not to exploit them by high taxes and corvée labour. Such a government can only exist if the state does not spend excessive money and labour on construction work or wars. Such a sparingness will suffice if the ruler returns to his natural character and to a kind of natural quietness and non-activity corresponding tot he cosmic Way. If the people have enough to eat, any surplus shall be left to the peasants, and if there is shortness in food, the ruler had to do what he can to feed them. Full granaries are therefore necessary to prevent disasters and to keep society at peace.
Unlike the Confucians, the philosophers writing the Huainanzi clearly saw that times change and require different methods in government. It is therefore not possible to return to the old standards oft he past. In the last chapter, Yaolüe 要略, the Huainanzi gives short abstracts about all various schools of thought that flourished during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE).
The spirit of the dao thus controlls all things, so that all things on earth can be traced back to one positive "noble" original (junxingzhe 君形者), like the face of the beauty Xi Shi 西施 or the eye of ferocious Meng Ben 孟賁. The Huainanzi is one of the first Chinese books speaking of aesthetics at all.
The Huainanzi contains a lot of stories of mythological content and is therefore a rich source for ancient folk beliefs. Some of them are very famous, like Nü Wa repairing Heaven (Nü Wa bu tian 女媧補天), Hou Yi shooting down superfluous suns endangering the earth (Hou Yi she ri 后羿射日), Chang E's ascension to the moon (Chang E beng yue 姮(嫦)娥奔月), or how Yu the Great tamed the floos (Xia Yu zhi shui 夏禹治水).
There were several commentaries written during the Han period, all with the title of Huainanzi zhu 淮南子注. The authors were Ma Rong 馬融, Sima Biao 司馬彪, Xu Shen 許慎 and Gao You 高誘. The commentary of Ma Rong is totally lost, of Xu Shen's commentary, some fragments have survived (collected by the Qing period 清, 1644-1911, scholar Sun Fengyi 孫馮翼.), and only Gao You's commentary survived in full. The most important Ming period 明 (1368-1644) commentaries are that of Gui Youguang 歸有光 and Jiao Hong 焦竑, Qing period commentators are Liu Taigong 劉臺拱 and Yu Yue 俞樾. A very good modern edition of the Huainanzi and its commentaries is Liu Wendian's 劉文典 Huainanzi jijie 淮南子集解 from 1923. Fang Yuan 方元 has written the Huainanzi yaolüe pianshi 淮南子要略篇釋 from 1928. In 1953 the Zhongguo kexueyuan 中國科學院 published a commentary by Yang Shuda 楊樹達, the Huainanzi zhengwen 淮南子證聞. The Huainanzi is included in the collectanea Zhuzi huihan 諸子彙函, Wenjingtang congshu 問經堂叢書 and the Daoist Canon Daozang 道藏.
There are partial translations by John S. Major (1993). Heaven and Earth in Early Chinese Thoguht: Chapters Three, Four and Five of the Huainanzi. Albany: State University of New York Press. Evan Morgan (1969). Tao, the Great Luminant: Essays from Huai Nan Tzu. New York: Paragon. Charles Le Blanc (1985). Huai-Nan-Tzu, Philosophical Synthesis in Early Han Thought. The Idea of Resonance. [Ch. 6]. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Unversity Press.
Fu Zhengang 費振剛 (1992). "Huainanzi 淮南子", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學, vol. 1, p. 275. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Wang Guoxuan 王國軒 (1987). "Huainanzi 淮南子", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學, vol. 1, p. 314. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 1880. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.
1. 原道訓 Yuandao
2. 俶真訓 Chuzhen
3. 天文訓 Tianwen
4. 墬形訓 Zhuixing
5. 時則訓 Shize
6. 覽冥訓 Lanming
7. 精神訓 Jingshen
8. 本經訓 Benjing
9. 主術訓 Zhushu
10. 繆稱訓 Miucheng
11. 齊俗訓 Qisu
12. 道應訓 Daoying
13. 氾論訓 Fanlun
14. 詮言訓 Quanyan
15. 兵略訓 Binglüe
16. 說山訓 Shuoshan
17. 說林訓 Shuolin
18. 人間訓 Renjian
19. 脩務訓 Youwu
20. 泰族訓 Taizu
21. 要略 Yaolüe