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ui i×1iiiic1U.i uis1ovv of a culture abides as the theoretical
framework that informs the many facets of that culture. Chinese cul-
ture is a conservative one in that it maintains a deep regard for the schol-
arly paragons of its past. Even afer the thoroughgoing political, social, and
cultural revolutions of the mid-twentieth century, Chinese people still ofen
refer to the old masters and Chinese bookstores still stock new editions and
new translations of all the old classics. Te Chinese understand their history
as a continuous thread and are socialized to be mindful of their ancestors. A
great deal of scholarship has been produced over the centuries that both ex-
amines and reinforces this continuity. Today, China’s burgeoning higher ed-
ucation and increasing integration into a globalized world has resulted in a
renewed interest in Chinese intellectual history. Tat its past continues ob-
viously to infuence its present is why learning about early China remains an
interesting and topical pursuit for scholar and student alike.
One salient aspect of Chinese intellectual history is its innovative syncre-
tism. Tis syncretism, broadly defned, is like cooking: many of the basic in-
gredients stay the same, but they are forever being brought together in new
ways. Such creativity is evident in several contexts. One is the well-known
tendency of Chinese people, over the last several centuries, to give simul-
taneous credence to the ideologies of Ruism, Daoism, and Buddhism.
concurrence of these schools of thought extends even further back in time,
when their mutual infuence ofen went unacknowledged by those within
these traditions. Another kind of conspicuous assimilation is the continu-
ous interplay between these main creeds and that ever-present undercur-
rent of localized theory and practice known as “popular religion.” Observers
in China have always been much more keenly aware of this than scholars
abroad working solely with the texts of one or more particular tradition. A
third kind of syncretism is the integration of ideas from several of the early
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Chinese masters who lived in the centuries before the unifcation of China
into one empire in ii1 nci . Sometimes this weaving together of ostensibly
separable traditions is deliberate and sometimes it is simply an unconscious
adaptation. I refer to the unintentional mixing of ideologies as “eclecticism,”
while their conscious blending I call “syncretism.” Te employment of the
latter by one early Chinese author of intellectual history is the subject of the
present monograph. I will introduce, describe, analyze, trace the transmis-
sion of, and translate the earliest known work of obviously syncretic nature.
Tis book has two aims. Te frst is to describe the content and history
of the Shizi 尸子 (Master Shi; c. ¡¡o nci ), a remarkable yet rarely studied
early Chinese philosophical text.
Te second is to present an annotated
translation of it. I hope it will be useful to sinologists interested in Masters
studies (子學), the study of the many intellectuals active in the four or fve
centuries prior to the common era, and particularly to those inquiring into
early Syncretist (雜家) writings, a technical category explained later in this
introduction. I am also writing for students of early Chinese history, es-
pecially those who want a single-volume introduction to a variety of early
philosophical thought. As I will explain, the content and structure of the
Shizi lend themselves to an appreciation of the composite and fractured
nature of early Chinese texts.
Tis book has three introductory sections followed by the translation.
Tis frst section contextualizes the Shizi within its intellectual milieu and
elucidates its relevance to modern academia. Te next section analyzes the
main themes in the text and briefy describes each of its chapters. Te third
section traces the transmission of the text from its earliest attestation down
through the last of its several reconstructions. Finally, the second half of the
book is an annotated translation of the Shizi .
Te Shizi is a good introduction to early Chinese thought. Its explicit
syncretism is plainly representative of the latent eclecticism that has always
been normative in China. It is the earliest Syncretist text still extant today.
And it is the only one conceived during the same time of intellectual fer-
ment as other works representative of the major schools of thought, such as
Ruism, Daoism, Legalism, and so on.
Bringing disparate ideas together is the inescapable essence of intellec-
tual evolution. Tere is nothing unusual in this. Eclecticism and syncretism
however, when used as technical terms, refer to bringing together ideas from
existing, recognized traditions. Because conscious efort distinguishes these
terms, a tradition can therefore only be precisely characterized as eclectic,
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while an author can be either. Unless an author volunteers the information
that he is explicitly combining ideas from more than one tradition, denot-
ing him as eclectic or syncretic is a judgment that can only be made by later
All major ideologies are eclectic to some extent. Te three dominant
ideologies of the West and the three of the East, however, cohabitate in
strikingly diferent manners. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are geneti-
cally related traditions whose followers exhibit a kind of incest revulsion
when confronted with the idea of combining their doctrines. No one ever
claims to be Jewish, Christian, and Muslim simultaneously. Meanwhile, on
the other side of Asia, Ruism, Daoism, and Buddhism are quite diferent
species, yet there has long been a concerted efort to unify their consider-
ably disparate worldviews. Consequently, many in East Asia do self- identify
as Ruist, Daoist, and Buddhist simultaneously. For at least six hundred
years they have been routinely integrated as “three teachings united as one”
While this fascinating phenomenon is demonstrably apparent from a
distance, upon closer inspection we fnd that all these individual traditions
are themselves eclectic. Judaism borrowed from the Babylonian tradition,
Christianity from the Greek, and Islam mixed Jewish eschatology with
Arabian djinn lore. Similarly, Ruism in the Han dynasty (ioi nci –iio ci )
brought together a revered ethical system with Yin-Yang cosmology, and
Celestial Master Daoism radically reinterpreted Lao Zi 老子 (c. ¡oo nci )
with Taiping jing 太平經 apocalypticism,
just as Chinese Pure Land Bud-
dhists later did with the early schools of Mahayana that had migrated there
from across the Himalayas.
Of these six major traditions, Ruism and Daoism are most relevant to
our discussion of the Shizi because both, in some form, precede it. Te texts
that later became the Five Classics and the social rituals that were ostensibly
followed during the dynasty in which they took shape were revered by Kong
Zi 孔子 (,,1–¡,µ nci), a conservative teacher of social and political ethics.
His successors were called Ruists and although they soon split into several
camps, their primary concerns of social and political ethics remained fo-
cused on the human world. A willful heaven somewhat interested in hu-
man afairs, a range of nature spirits, and dead ancestors that retained some
sort of consciousness were certainly present in early Ruism, but their pres-
ence, and the revelations they might provide, were largely overshadowed by
a kind of rational humanism. Te transmission of the classic texts and the
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experience of living an ethical life exemplifed in those texts was the defn-
ing feature of Ruism in its frst few centuries.
Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (1,µ–1o¡ nci ) was a Ruist scholar credited
with shifing the focus to the latent cosmological implications of his tra-
dition. He did this primarily by adopting ideas that would be, in his own
day, assigned to an ideology called Yin-Yang. In Dong Zhongshu’s syncretic
Ruism, heaven was perceived as much more interested in human afairs
than Ruists previously thought. It made its will known through a variety of
natural omens and other portents, but these revelations were usually only
decipherable with the aid of precedents recorded in the classic Ruist texts.
Heaven in Yin-Yang writings is the motive force for earthly activity in gen-
eral. Te Ruist heaven of Dong Zhongshu and Ruists afer him, meanwhile,
is primarily concerned with the personal and political behavior of the ruler.
Tus, the conservation of the textual and ethical facets of the tradition were
maintained, and even buttressed, by the new attention paid to Providence
and its mandates.
“Daoism” is of course a Western misnomer that confates the two quite
distinct, albeit tenuously related, traditions of philosophical Daoism (道家)
and religious Daoism (道教).
Te philosophical Daoism of Shizi’s day, typi-
fed by the Lao Zi , ofered advice on cosmology, ethics, and politics that
clearly difered from their Ruist brethren. While the distinctions between
these two camps are ofen overstated, early Ruists did appeal more ofen
to historical precedent and traditional cultural norms, while early Daoists
found their justifcation for social spontaneity and political detachment in a
mysterious, cosmic Way (道). Te texts they authored and transmitted were
frabjous treatises expostulating a return to a more natural and arcadian way
of life. Like Ruism, however, later authors would incorporate more super-
natural elements from other established traditions.
Zhang Ling 張陵 (d. 1,o ci ) is the frst religious Daoist of whom we
know; he is said to have received his wonder-working revelation from a
“heavenly person” (天人) that turned out to be none other than Lao Zi.
His grandson Zhang Lu 張魯 (f. 18,–i1,) is credited with writing the Lao
Zi x iang ’ er zhu 老子想爾注 (“Tinking of You” Commentary to the Lao
Tis commentary presents us with a kind of textual syncretism insofar
as it takes ideas present in popular apocalyptic literature like the Taiping
jing and reads them into the earlier text. Or, as insiders would have it, the
commentary fnally apprehends the true esoteric meaning in the previously
misunderstood Lao Zi .
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However, I fnd Zhang Lu’s attempt to harmonize Daoist philosophy and
Taiping jing soteriology to be an example of failed syncretism. Tis is be-
cause syncretism, as I use it, must not only bring together ideas from dispa-
rate traditions into a new, third narrative (even if that narrative retains the
name of one of the original traditions, as with Dong Zhongshu’s syncretic
Ruism), but must also remain more or less true to the original ideas that
were unifed. Although religious Daoists past and present will certainly dis-
agree with me, I fnd Zhang Lu’s handling of the Lao Zi to have turned that
text into a mere cipher for Zhang’s own message. Tat is, from a modern
sinologist’s point of view, religious Daoism appropriated the Lao Zi , disre-
garding its original intentions. It did not faithfully harmonize itself with it
or with the tradition of philosophical Daoism it represents. Of course, this
appropriation was presumably carried out under orders from the highest
Tese examples of successful and unsuccessful syncretism were yet cen-
turies away when the Shizi , China’s frst overtly syncretic text, was written.
Te Shizi succeeds in bringing together not just two disparate traditions, but
in integrating several nascent, but nevertheless quite discernable, ideolo-
gies. However, then, as is ofen the case still today, sectarian forces eventu-
ally marginalized the work.
Te Shizi is a mid-Warring States 戰國 (¡81–ii1 nci ) Masters text.
was authored by Shi Jiao 尸佼 (c. ¡µo–¡¡o nci ) who, prior to writing the
text, was an advisor to a minister of a ruler of one of the several states into
which China was then divided. We know very little about Shizi (“Master
Shi”), but the extant, eponymous text consists largely of advice for such rul-
ers. We do not know how infuential the text was during the two centu-
ries from the death of Shi Jiao until the mid-Western Han 西漢 dynasty
(ioi nci –8 ci ), but it was well known during the millennium from around
1oo nci until 11oo ci . It was lost in the mid-Song 宋 (µoo–1i,µ), but ap-
proximately 1, percent of it was reconstructed from over seventy sources
by several scholars during the Ming 明 (1¡o8–1o¡¡) and Qing 清 (1o¡¡–
1µ11) dynasties. Tough only a fraction of its original length, at more than
ten thousand graphs the extant Shizi is still as long as many other Warring
States Masters texts.
Early Chinese intellectual history is dominated by about three dozen
texts that have come down to us over the past two and a half millennia. Te
Five Classics, the Analects , the Dao de jing , and the Art of War are some of
the best known of these. In the earliest extant library catalog from China,
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o i × 1 v o u U c 1 i o ×
several hundred such texts were listed, but time has culled them down to
the received canon. Most of these texts were written in the scrum of interne-
cine intrigue that characterized the Warring States period. Tey touch on a
broad spectrum of interests, but a primary theme of Masters texts is advice
on how best to rule a country. When this plethora of writings crossed the
desks of some early librarians, they naturally sought to construct categories
that would organize the jumble of competing narratives. Te Shizi is the
earliest extant example of a type of Masters text that was classifed as Syn-
cretist (雜); that is, as a type of text that sought to bring together the ideas
of all the other categories.
By the Tang 唐 dynasty (o18–µo,), this technical
Syncretist category for library catalogs had evolved into a mere miscellany
but the early Syncretist texts had already set the stage for the long history of
syncretism in China.
Because Ruism became the frst state ideology afer the unifcation of the
warring states in ii1 nci , and because it more or less retained that status
until the last imperial dynasty fell in 1µ11, the Ruist category of Masters
texts held pride of place in the frst and all subsequent imperial library cata-
logs. Retrospectively, many people have construed Daoist and Legalist texts
as Ruist competitors: the laissez-faire Daoists on the lef and the authoritar-
ian Legalists on the right. Eventually, ideas in the texts of other categories
were thereby either subsumed into a broader Han Ruism or simply became
irrelevant. Tus, the intellectual history of the Warring States period, which
is sometimes described as a period when “a hundred authors contended to
be heard” (百家爭鳴), ofen becomes a story of three schools of thought.
Te intellectual ferment prior to political unifcation and its subsequent ho-
mogenization however, was much more complex and interesting.
As the Zhou 周 dynasty (1o¡,–i,o nci ) gradually lost political power,
punctuated by the forced move of the capital in ,,1 nci and the exchange
of royal and noble “hostages” in ,io nci , the area it ruled fragmented into
hundreds of “warring states.”
Each of these states, some only as large as a
single settlement, was ruled by a relatively powerful family. Over the course
of several centuries, these states fought, conquered, and annexed one an-
other until only about a dozen remained.
As the number of states declined,
so too did the number of ruling families, along with their courts and the
educated ministers they employed. Te rising number of unemployed edu-
cated people who were once employed by royal or ministerial families led to
an increase of an om cer/om cial (士) class, the members of which competed
for work that would keep them in the kind of living situation to which they
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had grown accustomed. Some of them sought to give advice—on domestic
and foreign policy, and personal and public morality, among other topics—
at the courts of the remaining ruling families. Kong Zi famously traveled
around for fourteen years trying to fnd someone to listen to his advice.
Encountering only polite rejection, he eventually decided instead to become
a public teacher. Tose, like Kong Zi, who succeeded in attracting the at-
tention of enough students to pass on their teachings, were called “masters”
(子). As mentioned earlier, history has preserved the names of a great many
of these masters, but the teachings of only a few dozen have been transmit-
ted down to the present day. Te eight most popular schools of these mas-
ters may be characterized as follows.
Early Ruist masters (儒家) were conservative scholars who thought,
perhaps naturally enough, that the way for a ruler to maintain or increase
his power was to emulate the policies of previous sage-rulers. Specifcally,
they thought the way to lead was by example: if a good (仁) ruler were to
act properly (義) and display ritual courtesy (禮) to both dead ancestors
and living contemporaries, each according to their various station, then the
people would spontaneously follow him.
Mohist masters (墨家) did not yearn for a return to a single dynastic
state, but were rather content to keep the multistate status quo. Tey em-
phasized a meritocracy in which rulers should employ worthy ministers
(尚賢), regardless of their social status. Tis would have been a breach of
protocol for Kong Zi who, despite being open-minded enough to teach stu-
dents from all walks of life, nevertheless revered the old-fashioned social
hierarchy. Mohists were also motivated by practical beneft for the people
(利民), and undertook to treat everyone equally (兼愛). Tese doctrines
led to a repudiation of both the warfare (非攻) that others thought neces-
sary to unite the warring states and the various elaborate ceremonies that
Ruists assiduously transmitted. Tey therefore emphasized frugality (節用)
in traditional Ruist endeavors such as funerals for parents and sacrifcial
Designative masters (名家) were interested in the relationship between
names and the realities they designate. Tey pursued and expanded an idea
attributed to Kong Zi whereby a ruler could rule more efectively if only he
would “rectify names” (正名).
However, both the precise scope of these
names and the means for their “rectifcation” was never clearly identifed.
For example, was Kong Zi only referring to the names of court om ces, or
might he have included the names of standards for weights and measures
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throughout society: Or did he envision the ruler “correctly naming” even
things like seasons and constellations: Several Designative masters went on
to pursue matters of logic and rhetoric, which led them far afeld from this
goal, but the correlation between a real artifact and its predicate in human
speech continued to fascinate them.
Yin-Yang masters (陰陽家) believed that the cosmos is made of an en-
ergy-substance called qi 氣, operates in regular and predictable cycles, and
responds to the actions of people (感應). Terefore humans should always
take into consideration the current workings of heaven and earth before
doing anything. Subsequently, the Chinese have for two thousand years op-
erated with the notion of “lucky and unlucky days” for undertaking certain
tasks. Tis notion, however, has changed greatly as science and pseudo-
science coevolved over time. Yin-Yang thought also lends itself quite easily
to the more secular idea of timely action found in a variety of early Military,
Diplomatic, and Daoist texts.
Daoist masters (道家) advocated efortlessness (無為), humility, and
knowing contentment (知足) for both the ruler and the people. Tis Way
(道) they describe as both completely natural (自然) and easy to follow,
despite being deeply mysterious (妙) and conceptually empty (無). Tey
imagined a number of otherworldly paragons, such as the “spiritous person”
(神人), who embodied this Way to various degrees.
Legalist masters (法家) were the progenitors of the idea of rule by
law (法), encouraged and enforced by rewards and punishments (賞罰).
In China at the time, as in many early societies, the usual way to resolve
disputes was via recourse to a wise elder, such as a Ruist “noble person”
(君子), but Legalists thought such people were in prohibitively short supply.
Instead of pinning all hopes for efective government on the personalities of
a vanishingly few moral exemplars, Legalists proposed elevating the myste-
rious authority (勢) of the ruler as the “Son of heaven” for maximum efect,
while simultaneously expanding the role of a professional bureaucracy (術)
to carry out the myriad practical duties of his government.
Diplomatic advisors (縱橫家) were famous for their powers of persua-
sion, particularly upon rulers. Te most famous of these would later argue
for either “vertical” (縱) multistate alliances against the western state of Qin
or “horizontal” (橫) multistate alliances against the southern state of Chu.
Little remains of the writings of early Diplomatic masters, but Pang Xuan
龐煖 (c. iµ,–i¡, nci ), who lived a few decades afer Shizi, is noted for his
emphasis on “spiritous” (i.e., timely) action.
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Agriculturalist masters (農家) have few texts that are still extant, possibly
because the agricultural methods they describe were outgrown. Outside of
writing farmer’s almanacs, Agriculturalists wanted the ruler to participate
in the activities of the common people, just as their hero, Shen Nong 神農
(the “Spiritous Farmer”) did in remote antiquity.
Such brief descriptions of these eight schools of thought naturally belie
the complexity of Warring States intellectual history.
But while there was
certainly a broad “marketplace of ideas” that was actively discussed in this
period, these authors and their texts were dealing in a generally coherent
spectrum of goods. Early Chinese masters were in fundamental accord far
more than they disagreed. In fact, there was a great deal of overlap, much
borrowing, and very few signs of competing schools. It is largely because of
the retrospective “schools of thought” categorizations that their diferences
have been magnifed at the expense of their congruity. Everyone was in fa-
vor of virtuous rulers, competent ministers, a harmonious society, placated
ancestors, flial children, and personal self-cultivation. Indeed, these ideals
are all still very much alive in China today. Even the defnitions of these
ideals were not usually in serious dispute. Te unanswered questions lay
primarily in the means by which to attain these goals. Syncretist masters
(雜家) sought to ameliorate the diferences in these means. But the syncretic
method of Syncretist masters was a natural, almost obvious, route to pursue,
given the eclecticism of their peers.
One indicator that eclecticism was normative in early China is that early
authors all made similar use of a limited number of culture heroes, par-
ticularly the Tree Sovereigns and Five Tearchs (三皇五帝), who will be
discussed shortly. Another is their willingness to make use of a shared body
of stories, aphorisms, and sayings, which are noted in my translation. Te
result of this tendency to employ recognizable but unattributed sayings that
were ofen reformulated to ft a new context is called intertextuality.
there were acrimonious divisions among masters, we might guess that dif-
ferent factions would claim certain heroes and certain stories as their own,
while their rivals, looking to distance themselves from those with whom
they disagreed, would also have sought a diferent set of human exemplars
with their own narratives. But this is not the case.
Recent scholarship has recognized this eclecticism and has begun to
adjust its focus from the diferences between the early schools of thought
to their similarities.
It has emphasized that ostensible membership in
such a school ofen obscures more than it reveals about the breadth and
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details of a particular text.
Furthermore, the schools that might be said
to have existed were ofen fractious and far from ideologically homoge-
More evidence that early Chinese intellectuals were doctrinally open-
minded comes from recently excavated tomb libraries dating from the late
Zhou and Han dynasties. Te collections of writings discovered since the
1µ,os at Yinqueshan 銀雀山, Dingzhou 定州, Mawangdui 馬王堆, Shui-
hudi 睡虎地, Shuanggudui 雙古堆, Zhangjiashan 張家山, and Guodian
郭店 all display a typological variety of texts rather than a collection that
adheres to one of the well-known philosophical schools. On the contrary,
these early tombs with signifcant libraries portray a number of individuals
with a diversity of philosophical interests.
Noting this eclecticism is not to aver that it is impervious to analysis.
School classifcations are useful analytical concepts and, at any rate, have
long become irrevocably part of the very fber of Chinese intellectual his-
tory. But it should be clear that the various schools were both retrospective
library classifcations of which the masters in question were wholly unaware
and primarily highlight variations on a few themes in which similarities far
outweighed diferences. Te “contending schools of thought” were more like
a kitchen full of chefs each jostling to prepare a perfect meal from the same
shelf of ingredients than competing rivals harboring enmity, like the war-
ring state rulers they sought to advise.
Early Chinese masters were not only eclectic in their teachings, but the
writings they generated were transmitted in such a way that these writings
soon became eclectic in a diferent sense. Tat is, early Chinese Masters
texts are not homogeneous, single-author texts, like books today, but are
rather edited compilations in which a variety of sources were redacted to-
gether. Tese sources may have derived from the ostensible author’s peers,
students, descendents, and editors, all of whom would have felt no com-
punction about revising, adding to, or taking away from the teachings of
Tis type of authorship may be quite alien to us now, but was
very much the norm in the ancient world.
My aim in the preceding paragraphs is to show that most early Chi-
nese thinkers were, consciously or not, ideological eclectics and not close-
minded dogmatists. But one type of author built upon the prevalent practice
of sharing heroes, stories, and political, social, and personal aims to con-
sciously weave together ideas of diferent thinkers that others had construed
as irreconcilable. Tese were the Syncretists.
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Shizi was a successful Syncretist. His writings were popular for many
centuries. He paved the way for the comprehensive Syncretist compendi-
ums Lü shi chunqiu 呂氏春秋 (Mr. Lü’s Annals; c. i¡µ nci ) and the Huainan
Zi 淮南子 (Te Huainan Master; c. 1¡µ nci ).
His syncretic method would
radically transform Ruism in the Han dynasty when Dong Zhongshu appro-
priated Yin-Yang and Legalist thought into a new Ruist state ideology. But
perhaps most of all, he was a man of his times. His syncretism made explicit
the eclecticism of other authors of his day and demonstrated that many of
their ideas were not necessarily incompatible.
Master Shi uses Ruist ideals of self-cultivation, proper moral conduct,
considerateness toward other people, and a ruler whose goodness naturally
inspires loyalty and harmony in the people.
He cites Kong Zi more than
any other person in the text, and while the Ruist infuence is unmistakable,
it is equally clear that Shizi is no Ruist.
He uses the Mohist idea of having a ruler pursue worthy ministers, re-
gardless of their social station, a revolutionary course of action in any so-
cially stratifed society. In chapter i, a ruler delights in the advice of a lowly
boatman, and in chapters ¡ and 8, Shizi clearly advises the ruler to pursue
worthy ministers, even if it means humbling himself before them. He also
tells a popular story about how Mo Zi 墨子 (c. ¡o8–¡,o nci ), the founder of
Mohism, convinced the ruler of a stronger state not to attack a weaker state.
He follows Designative masters with a key doctrine intimately linked to
the idea of the rectifcation of names. Chapter ,, titled “Allocation” (分), is
a logical extension of the Mohist doctrine of pursuing worthy ministers. In
it he describes the importance of correctly and efectively making use of
worthies once their employment has been procured. Rather than rely on
advice from an amorphous “council of elders” or conclave of worthies, Shizi
proposes unambiguously allocating tasks and assigning clear responsibili-
ties to specifc ministers. Tis involves both a “rectifcation” of ministerial
titles and an “allocation” of the duties that accompany any given position.
He makes use of Yin-Yang ideology by elucidating the idea that the cos-
mos responds to the morality of a ruler. In chapters µ and 1¡ he describes
a utopian realm where heaven and earth, and the winds and rain between
them, conspire to bring health and happiness to the realm of the good ruler.
It is an idea that has persisted in China for thousands of years and even
today informs a popular brand of “correlative cosmology.”
He borrows the Daoist paradigm of a mysterious cosmic Way in chap-
ter1 and in fragments ¡1, ,i, and ,µ. In chapter o he describes the efortless
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rule of a ruler who delegates sum cient responsibility to his ministers. In
chapter i he speaks of a “spiritous person” that follows the Way of heaven
and earth. He also refers to the equanimity of Tian Zi 田子, Lie Zi’s 列子
pursuit of emptiness, and the noble reclusiveness of Lao Lai Zi 老萊子, all
three of whom came to be categorized as Daoist masters.
Shizi was actually once a retainer for the famous Legalist, Shang Yang
商鞅 (d. ¡¡8 nci ). Given this, one might expect the role of law to be fairly
prominent in his text, yet it is only mentioned once, in chapter ,.
ity of rewards and punishments is described in somewhat more detail in
chapters , and o, where Shizi also subtly distinguishes between the “spirit of
the law” and the “letter of the law” with regard to the ruler’s duties toward
his subjects. Te Legalist Han Fei 韓非 (c. i8o–i¡¡ nci ) later criticized
Shang Yang’s reliance on law-making ministers for having no way for the
ruler to ensure their competence. Shizi’s emphasis on demonstrable proof
as an indicator of competence in chapters , and o efectively ameliorates
Shi Jiao’s text does not address a specifc ruler and therefore has no spe-
cifc diplomatic advice to dispense. However, the persuasive skills of Mo Zi
with regard to a particular item of foreign policy are described in chapter1¡.
And if we take Pang Xuan’s emphasis on timely action to be representative
of the Diplomatic tradition, then Shizi’s insistence on timely “spiritous” ac-
tion in chapter i is clearly in that tradition.
Finally, Shizi might be said to use Agriculturalist rhetoric by emphasiz-
ing the role of their ultimate guide: Shen Nong, an early sage-king in Chi-
nese cultural history. Shen Nong appears fve times in the Shizi , more than
usual for contemporary writings.
Shizi, as far as we can tell, was China’s frst Syncretist. As with the texts
in all early schools of thought, most works in this category have been lost.
Fortunately, two later Syncretist texts, the Lü shi chunqiu and Huainan Zi ,
mentioned earlier, have been transmitted and have been recently translated
into English. Tese works, respectively written one hundred and two hun-
dred years afer the Shizi , provide insight into how later Syncretist authors
continued Shizi’s mission. But because Syncretism, like the other schools,
was not a homogeneous ideological lineage, they cannot be read as provid-
ing clues for any linear “evolution” of Syncretist thought. As argued earlier,
all early Chinese masters were eclectic; Syncretist authors were just more so,
and deliberately so.
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Tis translation of the Shizi presents an early form of Syncretism, a simple
blending of philosophies that were current c. ¡oo nci . As such, it presents
a good picture of several themes that probably enjoyed a broad consensus
during this watershed period in China’s intellectual history. It is quite unlike
the later Syncretist attempts to describe comprehensively the universe and
how humans should relate to it, which are considerably broader and more
ambitious in scope.
Nevertheless, the Shizi engages topics as diverse as the
cosmic order, man’s place in it, and how the two are mutually responsive;
the importance of learning, the diligence it requires, and the transformative
efects it has upon the learner; the utility of timeliness, the broad outlook
one needs in order to act early, and the probable thanklessness of diverting
misfortune before it manifests; the examples of sage-rulers, their various
exploits, and the lessons that rulers might learn from them; and the logic of
results-based practicality, its egalitarian basis, and how these may be applied
to the employment of ministers. Tus, the Shizi is both quite unique yet still
genuinely representative of contemporary philosophical writings. Among
early Masters texts, it is undoubtedly the best single work for exploring the
variety of mid-Warring States thought.
Tis translation of the Shizi marks a new addition to a growing body of
recently translated works of early Chinese philosophy that had either never
before been translated into English or whose translations had long been out
of print. Tese include the Mo Zi 墨子, Guan Zi 管子, and Xun Zi 荀子,
as well as the Lü shi chunqiu and Huainan Zi .
Many important texts still
remain to be translated, but I trust the Shizi will highlight the place of early
Syncretism within early Chinese intellectual history.
Early Chinese philosophy, and most Chinese philosophy since, is cen-
tered on the twin aims of how best to rule a state and how best to culti-
vate oneself, that is, how to induce both state and self to realize their full-
est potential. Tese two also may act as metaphors for one another. Ruists
took their cues from an idealized and ritual-laden past; Mohists from
what is now called utilitarianism; Designatives from the power of linguis-
tics, logic, and rhetoric; Yin-Yangists from a proto-science of nature; Dao-
ists from a mysterious and elusive Nature; Legalists from a bureaucratic
legal system; Diplomats from delicate foreign policy; and Agricultural-
ists from a farm-centered and folksy self-reliance. Clearly, some of these
groups were more interested in statecraf while others primarily pursued
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In the long run, Ruists and Daoists remained most prominent, with
Ruism focusing on statecraf and Daoism on self-cultivation, though each
tradition underwent great changes over time. Mohism, Yin-Yang, and Le-
galism were efectively appropriated by and subsumed into Ruism during
the Han dynasty. Designatism became more a means than an end, just as
early Greek Sophists dissolved into practitioners of rhetoric. Foreign-afair
diplomats and Agriculturalists became obsolete afer the warring states
were united in ii1 nci and the realm became too large and diverse for
Agriculturalists to credibly make their case.
Early Syncretism, as embodied in the Shizi , is a remarkable refection of
most of the concerns of the separate schools. Tus, in the following transla-
tion, we will encounter the importance of a ruler’s correct comportment,
a meritocratic bureaucracy, clearly defned job titles and job descriptions
for that bureaucracy, specifc responses of natural phenomena to human
agency, the inefable mystery of the Way of heaven and earth, a cogent law
and penal code, good relations with neighboring states, and self-reliance in
one’s education. Many early authors, when arguing the merits of their case,
appealed to the examples of a few mytho-historical personages. Te Shizi is
All cultures venerate their history to some degree and China likewise
celebrates its origin myths. Te Shizi cites the exemplary actions of many
people, starting with the Tree Sovereigns and Five Tearchs. Tese begin
with Sui Ren 燧人, the tamer of fre; Fu Xi 伏羲, who domesticated animals;
and Shen Nong 神農, who developed agriculture. As even a casual reader
will notice, these three present a neat evolution of protohistory. Te Five
Tearchs, in turn, start with Huang Di 黃帝, who instituted government;
Zhuan Xu 顓頊, whose monster-fghting exploits led to China’s version
of a Flood story; Di Ku 帝嚳, father of the patriarchs of both the Shang
and Zhou dynasties; Yao 堯, the moral exemplar who, rather than pass the
crown to his own son, sought out the best man in the realm and abdicated
to him, thereby ensuring a peaceful transfer of power that depended on
neither death nor warfare; and Shun 舜, the paragon of fliality, who also
abdicated to a worthy man, Yu 禹, the frst emperor of the Xia 夏 dynasty
(iioo–1,,o nci ). As myth fades into history, the cast of characters grows
apace, and the Shizi makes reference to a great many of them. Diferent
kinds of people from all walks of life are mentioned, each one a patch in the
great quilt of the early shared culture of China.
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I have argued that the Shizi is a uniquely representative work of early
Chinese thought in its content, but have only alluded to its somewhat frag-
mented form as also being representative of early Chinese texts. Early Chi-
nese text formation was ofen a complex afair and no single model can act
as a paradigm for all texts. I mentioned earlier that later emendations and
additions were once common. More specifcally, scholars have speculated
that some received texts are confations of two or more works that were ini-
tially separate, that some are heterogeneous mixtures of writings, that some
are abridgements of prior texts, and that some are “accreted” texts, with an
authentic “core” to which have been added later “layers.”
Subsuming all of these possibilities is the “polymorphous text” paradigm,
the most widely applicable paradigm for pre-Qin Masters texts, which pos-
its simply that early texts probably went through many revisions by several
people before they began to be transmitted as relatively stable texts.
newer paradigm, in turn, derives partly from the study of early Chinese texts
excavated from tombs in the last ffy years and partly from advances in re-
cent text criticism in general.
One likely scenario is a teacher who taught
orally, changed his teachings over the course of his teaching career, had
several students who took notes, had later editors who redacted those notes,
possibly in diferent ways for diferent audiences, and had later transmitters
who changed the narrative to ft new developments in politics, society, or
the group that was interested in passing on the text. Tis evolution of the
text is not haphazard, any more than is natural selection in biology. Tings
change to ft new environments. But the multiplicity of such texts over time
is refected in the partial state of the reconstructed Shizi insofar as it reads
like a work under construction, a work evolving. A student encountering for
the frst time an early work like the Mo Zi or Zhuang Zi 莊子 may very well
get the impression that he is reading a defnitive work by a single author.
But this would be a misleading conclusion by which much later scholarship
has been misled.
Yet while the polymorphous text paradigm is the best model for imagining
how early Chinese texts were formed, the Shizi presents itself as something
of an anomaly. Tis is because, unlike most early texts, for which we have
only an implied author in the title and no real bibliographical information,
the Shizi is accompanied by an early claim that Shi Jiao was the sole author.
Te challenge of reading a reconstructed text with a sizeable number
of appended fragments, such as the Shizi , is partially ameliorated by the
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abundance of backnotes and a relatively faithful translation. Te backnotes
ofen specify the intertextuality mentioned earlier, which I hope will facili-
tate comparative pursuits among early texts. Tere are many themes that a
reader may wish to compare and pursue, and the notes will provide a much
more focused starting point than, for example, a web search. For students
who are learning Chinese, I have translated the text as strictly as possible,
while still keeping to the rules of English grammar. Parenthetical words are
not represented in the Chinese, but are necessary either for a smooth trans-
lation or for better understanding.
Finally, transposing names with titles from Chinese to English is an ongo-
ing issue in sinology and probably will not be settled for a few more decades.
In particular, the zi 子 at the end of so many names can mean “Master” or
“Viscount” or simply be part of a person’s name. In this text, it nearly always
means “Master” or “Teacher”. But writing “Shi Zi” invites many Western
readers to assume that “Zi” is a last name, rather than his title. On the other
hand, writing “Shizi” makes it appear that his title is simply part of his name.
In this volume, we have always kept the title separate from the name, as in
“Mo Zi” and “Lao Zi”, with the single exception of Shizi, which we have
written as one word. Tis was done to avoid confusion in the keyword and
database searches that are today so important to scholarship
C5842.indb 16 4/20/12 8:06 AM
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