Warring States “Echoes” of the Past


A review of Warring States “Echoes” of the Past, by Kuan-yun Huang.

In Warring States “Echoes” of the Past, Kuan-yun Huang sets out to establish “a methodology for the study of quotations” (p. vi) through an examination of ancient Chinese practice as it emerges in multiple received and excavated sources. Although primarily interested in the intertextuality of the Guodian 郭店 manuscript corpus, a collection of bamboo strips discovered outside of Jingmen 荊門, Hubei province, in 1994, Huang takes the reader on a wide-ranging tour of the early Chinese textual record in his effort to compare those quotations with parallels elsewhere. In the course of his study, the quotations that dot Warring States literature are revealed to be textual icebergs of a sort, the surface manifestations of various “shared discourse[s]” consisting of certain “assumptions, vocabulary, rhetorical patterns, and even conclusions” (p. 233). Quotation was not simply a matter of borrowing material from a well-known text. As Huang demonstrates, quoting authors’ experience of quotable texts was mediated by a wealth of interpretive traditions, material which is crucial to understanding the nature of early Chinese intertextuality.

Huang opens his introduction with a useful summary of the various sources one finds cited in Warring States texts. He then situates his own study against the work of Mark Edward Lewis (Writing and Authority in Early China. Albany: SUNY Press, 1999) and Martin Kern (various articles). Instead of starting “with a certain conception of the Odes or Documents and then proceed[ing] to survey all the quotations related to those two sources” (p. 14), Huang considers all of the various attestations of a given quotation to determine how it was deployed by early authors. The introduction concludes with a useful rubric for the analysis of a quotation: clarify the relationship between the quotation and its source; examine how the quotation is identified; compare it to other attestations in the extant literature; determine its local context; finally, ask whether the quotation confirms or departs from theories of quotation as attested in contemporaneous sources.

Chapters 1 through 3 consist of case studies of quotations in the Guodian manuscript corpus and elsewhere. Chapter 1 focuses on quotations of a single Ode, “Shi jiu” 鳲鳩 (“The Cuckoo,” #12) in the two “Wu xing” 五行 (“Five Activities”) manuscripts as well as in the manuscript and received versions of “Zi yi” 緇衣 (“Black Robe”). Huang considers each of these attestations in turn to conclude that the interpretation of “Shi jiu” evolved over time “as a response to the challenges of other intellectual traditions” (p. 85). The “Wu xing” tradition came to interpret “Shi jiu” as a statement about “putting aside the body” after seeing it originally as a statement about “minding one’s innermost self,” whereas the “Zi yi” tradition evolved from seeing it as a statement about learning to one about respecting authority. Chapter 2 examines the various quotations of the Documents in a single manuscript, the (mis-labeled) “Cheng zhi wen zhi 成之聞之.” Huang devotes the bulk of the chapter to analyzing a handful of troublesome characters within those quotations, the proper understanding of which shows that the “Cheng zhi wen zhi” author used the Documents to craft a coherent argument about the need for rulers to “work diligently in their concern for the people, and… recognize that they have certain insufficiencies which could only be overcome with the aid of those around them” (p. 137). In Chapter 3, Huang turns to the problem of allusion through an analysis of two parallel passages from the “Wu xing” and “Liu de” 六德 (“Six Virtues”) manuscripts. He finds that both passages reflect a kind of wordplay whereby a monosyllabic word is glossed with reduplicative binomes, binomes which, in this case, are to be found in two different Odes. Huang hypothesizes that these shared word glosses “point to a common source, perhaps a body of teachings concerning King Wen or a shared set of vocabulary for discussing him” (pp. 170–171).

Chapter 4 takes up early descriptions of the Odes, Documents, and other named sources in an effort to understand how early authors perceived of “inherited words.” Here his discussion focuses on the “Xing zi ming chu” 性自命出 manuscript while weaving in positive and negative accounts of the classical traditions from the Zhuangzi, Han “Yiwen zhi” 藝文志 (“Record of Arts and Letters”), Sima Tan’s 司馬談 “Lun liu jia zhi yaozhi” 六家之要 (“Discussing the essentials of the six schools”),  Xunzi, and several other texts. Huang concludes that the “Xing zi ming chu” was part of a much larger debate in the early period over the nature and value of the classical traditions, with some texts (e.g., the Zhuangzi) denying their utility, others praising them (e.g., the “Yiwen zhi”), and the Xunzi adopting a middle position of assigning canonical learning an important role without treating it as an end in and of itself. He also finds that the unique contribution of the “Xing zi ming chu” to this debate was to locate the source of the canonical traditions in “the people” (ren 人). In this way, it “defines several roles vis-à-vis those ancient traditions and offers its own take on the very legitimacy of political power” (p. 225). In a conclusion, Huang suggests a few avenues for future research and also proposes a shift in the study of early quotation practice. Instead of focusing on the relationship between the quotation and its source, scholars must ask “what is the discourse surrounding this reference, how does a particular author participate in that discourse, and ultimately, what innovations does one introduce within the scope of that discourse?” (p. 234). To facilitate such study, in several appendices Huang lists all of the quoted sources to be found in certain received and excavated texts in addition to the correspondences between the various extant versions of “Zi yi,” “Wu xing,” and “Xing zi ming chu” / “Xingqing lun” 性情論.

Huang’s approach to the study of early quotation practice is a useful model for anyone with an interest in intertextuality, ancient or modern. For those of us interested in early Chinese quotation practice in particular, Huang’s dissertation stands as a valuable reminder of both the challenges and the payoff of taking quotations seriously. One hopes that in the future Huang will apply his approach to even more problems in early China studies, including processes of textual formation, textual chronology, intellectual filiation, canonization, and scholarly culture.

Michael Hunter
Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures
Yale University

Primary Sources

The Guodian and Mawangdui “Wu xing”  五行 manuscripts
The Guodian and Shanghai Museum “Zi yi”  緇衣 manuscripts
The Guodian “Cheng zhi wen zhi”  成之聞之 manuscript
The Guodian “Liu de”  六德 manuscript
The Guodian “Xing zi ming chu”  性自命出 manuscript
The Shanghai Museum “Xingqing lun”  性情論 manuscript
The Odes  詩經
The Documents 

Dissertation Information

University of Chicago. 2010. 273 pp. Primary Advisor: Donald Harper.


Image: Image by Kuan-yun Huang. From Liu Zuxin 劉祖信 and Long Yongfang 龍永芳, Guodian Chujian zonglan 郭店楚簡縱覽 [A General Overview of the Chu Bamboo Slips from Guodian] (Taibei: Wanjuan lou, 2005).

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