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The structure and interpretation of Chuang tzŭ: two notes on Hsiao yao yu

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2009


It is a commonplace in the study of pre-Han texts to acknowledge that the received version of a given text cannot be assumed to reflect with any significant degree of fidelity its original form. A text is, as the literal sense of the English word implies, something woven, something stitched together (cf. Skt. sūtra, Ch. ching), and once woven, it may ravel. It would then be subject to re-weaving, either in its entirety alone, or together with other, originally distinct texts. In the former case individual phrases or lines might be introduced throughout the piece for reasons for euphony, stylistic balance, or perhaps because of a misunderstanding of the original sense on the part of a later scribe. In the latter case wholly independent accounts might become interwoven, begetting a new, hybrid document. Such re-weaving with its gratuitous additions of new material might occur several times, further distorting the primary content on each occurrence. The end result of such a process of textual alterations would be a composite and thoroughly heterogeneous work of diverse provenances, and of uncertain internal uniformity.

Copyright © School of Oriental and African Studies 1980

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1 This is not to say that a given text was continuously subject to the same degree of alteration and conniption from the time of its composition down to the present. The early Han Ma wang tui manuscripts of the Lao tzŭ, while differing from the received versions of the text in many particulars, testify on the whole to a surprising faithfulness in the transmission of the text from the Former Han on. The manuscripts conform overall very closely to the content of the present editions of the Lao tzŭ. What we are suggesting here is that the ‘pre-history’ of a text, that is, the textual background and circumstances of a work's composition, might include the integration of parts of various earlier, independent texts that never achieved their own final form, as well as other kinds of additions, interpolations, omissions, and assorted alterations. These are all features of the formative stage of the text.

In the case of the Hsiao ya yu chapter of Chuang tzu the kinds of textual alterations we will suggest below would have been part and parcel of its first composition out of a reservoir of previously existing texts and materials to which the author must have had access, and which lie must have used to supplement his own original writing. In this sense we are trying to reconstruct parts of some of the j>re-Hsiao yao yu source materials that the author of Hsiao yao yu must have woven into his work.

2 The character is given only one reading in the Kuang yün, and that is which ought to yield Mandarin kun (unaspirated), not k'un. Such a Mandarin reading is in fact attested, but the prevailing sentiment seems to favour the historically unverified aspirated reading k'un.

3 The 110-character figure is suggestive. One of the commonest line lengths for pre-Han and Han texts was 22 characters. This 110-character passage would, then, equal exactly five such lines. At a time when these texts were written on bamboo slips, one column of text per slip, the introduction of five 22-character lines means the introduction of five complete bamboo slips of 22 characters each, a comparatively easy kind of interpolation to imagine.

4 Ku Chieh-kang indicated in a letter to Hu Shih that he had some misgivings about the reliability of the Hsiao yao yu text in connexion with the repetition in these accounts. See his ‘Lun Chu po shan fang ts'ung shu chi Chiiang tzŭ nei p'ien shuKu shih Pien I, 9, 17.

5 Reconstructions of Old Chinese are given in large part according to the scheme outlined by F. K. Li in his Shang ku yin yen chiu (Studies on archaic Chinese phonology). Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies, n.s. IX, 1–2, 1971, 1–61; English translation by Mattos, G. L., Monumenta Serica, XXXI, 19741975, 219–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Li has published revisions of his initial consonant sj'stem in Chi Ico shang ku sheng mu wen t'i in Tsung t'ungChiang kung shih shih chou nien chi nien lun wen chi , Taipei, 1976, 1143–50. Reconstructions preceded by a double asterisk are my own.

6 Li, 1976.

7 Legge, James, The texts of Taoism: the Too Te Ching and the writings of Chuang Tzu, with an Introduction by Suzuki, D. T., New York: The Julian Press, 1959, 213Google Scholar.

8 Watson, Burton, The, complete works of Chuang Tzu, Xew York and London: Columbia University Press, 1968, 29Google Scholar.

9 Compare the Biblical references to the ‘mustard seed’ as an extreme of minuteness: Matthew 13: 31–2 ‘…a grain of mustard seed…which indeed is the least of all seeds…’ (see also Mark 4: 31–2, and Luke 13: 19), and Matthew 17: 20 (King James version, 17: 19) ‘…if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed…’ (also Luke 17: 6). In all of these cases the Greek word translated as ‘mustard seed’ is alvam, generally identified as the ordinary black mustard, Brassica nigra. See Moldenke, H. N., Plants of the Bible, Waltham (Mass.): Chronica Botanica Co., 1952, 59Google Scholar. Moldenke points out that the mustard seed was, in fact, most probably the tiniest seed known to the ancients. While some flower seeds are actually much smaller, notably those of the orchid, appearing virtually like a powder, they would in all likelihood, because of their tiny size, not have been recognized as ‘seeds’ at all (p. 61).

10 Biot, Edouard, Le Tcheou Li, Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1851Google Scholar; reprinted Taipei: Ch'eng wen Pub. Co., 1969, II, 14.

11 Cf. also yu homophonous with yu, and defined as the black canthus of an ox, clearly also characterized by a vitreous quality. (Chi yün E49.)

12 Cf. the first line of the ch'a wei section of the Lit shih ch'un ch'iu where the vitreous lustre of black lacquer () is contrasted with white plaster () which must, by implication, be dull and flat. While the text does not use either yu or yao , it does emphasize the glossy nature of the black member of the pair ‘lacquer’. ~ ‘plaster’, and in this way is consistent with the sense of the Chou li and the Li chi texts cited above, and with our interpretation of yao in Chuanq tzu. (Lü shih ch'un ch'iu 16.6, Tapei, 1975, 719.)

13 While t'ang is, of course, basically a ‘hall’, the emphasis on the floor of the hall is unmistakeable. A t'ang was not just any kind of hall, but was especially an open, raised floor hall, a kind of arena on which ceremonies and sacrifices were performed. The most famous example is the ming t'ang of the Chou, described variously in the K'ao kung chi, the Yüeh ling, and the Ta tai li chi, among other early texts. In spite of the differing descriptions given, two important features stand out. First, the t'ang is raised, and second, it is generally open, that is, wall-less at least on two or three sides, if not on all four. Looked at from this perspective the t'ang actually constitutes a raised floor, covered, but without solid walls. Thus, the important part of the t'ang is the floor, and this is the part that must be black-lacquered in preparation for any ceremony.

Hsü Shen defines t'ang in the Shuo wen as lien yeh , emphasizing the ‘foundation’, that is, the ‘raised floor’ part of the structure (SWKL 6113). Lexicologically, t'ang is perhaps related to such words as ch'ang denned in the Shwo wen as p'ing chih kao t'u k'o yi yüan wang yeh ‘high, level land enabling one to gaze into the distance’ (SWKL 1337), that is, a ‘plateau’, or ‘mesa’; and to ch'ang ‘arena; raised, level land’. particularly that used for ceremonial or sacrificial performances (see SWKL 6166). The ‘open, wall-less’ feature of the t'ang is reflected in ch'ang) described in the Chi yün as ‘a building without walls’, i.e. a kind of ‘hangar’. Cf. also t'ang ‘raised earth, dike’, and ch'ang ‘id.’.

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