Barnwell on Classical Daoism Part 4.1

Long-time friend of the blog, Scott Barnwell, has posted his fourth installment exploring the question of whether there really is such a thing as “classical Daoism,” over on his blog, Bao Pu. Here are a couple of paragraphs; go over and check it out. Discuss there or here, as you wish — if here, please address all comments to Scott.

The purpose of this 4th essay is to explore these two texts to see what similarities and differences exist. If we understand a “school of thought” (modern Chinese: Xuepai ??) to refer to a system or complex of beliefs, ideas, values and methods, would the various authors of the Laozi and Zhuangzi constitute such a school, as is commonly believed? Or were they two different schools of thought with only slight overlap, perhaps a Laoist school and a Zhuangist school? Is there a “family resemblance” that exists between these two texts that does not between them and others, such as the Mengzi, Mozi, Hanfeizi or Yijing? Jia ?, which commonly meant “house” or “family,” has suggested to Harold Roth that Sima Tan’s use of it “implies that he thought of his six groups as having an important lineage dimension in which masters and disciples functioned according to a family model.”[7] By positing a lineage of masters and disciples (= teachers and students) we come close to the idea of a school (of thought) as well, although whether the contributors to the Laozi and Zhuangzi were two branches of one lineage remains to be seen.

We’ve already explored the nature of ancient Chinese texts and some possible scenarios of how the texts came to be in the earlier essays, especially the 3rd one on Zhuangzi. We have hypothesized that the existence of the Laozi and Zhuangzi required some sort of lineage or group that had compiled and preserved (and added to) these texts, at least until the Han dynasty period where texts were sought out by regional rulers and the imperial government in order to preserve the classical legacy in various libraries. These groups need not have been large, and, further, we do not know if this lineage was unbroken, or whether decades went by where the texts sat neglected in boxes in people’s homes.


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