A Chinese Reading of the Daodejing

Wang Bi's Commentary on the Laozi with Critical Text and Translation

By Rudolf G. Wagner

Subjects: Chinese Religion And Philosophy, Asian Religion And Philosophy, Taoism, Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791451823, 540 pages, October 2003
Hardcover : 9780791451816, 540 pages, October 2003

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Table of contents



1. The Wang Bi Recension of the Laozi

The Problem
Wang Bi's Original Recension of the Laozi
The Division into zhang and pian
Appendix A: Differences between Wang Bi Laozi Receptus and Laozi Text Used in Wang Bi Commentary
Appendix B: Differences between Wang Bi Laozi Receptus and Places Where Fan Yingyuan's Laozi Daode jing guben jizhu Comments That Wang Bi's Manuscript Coincided with the "Old Manuscript[s]"

2. Patronage and the Transmission of the Wang Bi Commentary: Foundations for a Critical Edition

The Problem
A History of Wang Bi's Commentary on the Laozi: the Evidence

3. Wang Bi: "The Structure of the Laozi's Subtle Pointers," Laozi weizhi lueli, a Philological Study and Translation Together with the Text

The Authenticity of the Laozi weizhi lueli (LZWLL)
Wang Bi's LZWLL and the Transmitted Text
The Genre of the LZWLL
The Laozi's Structure according to the LZWLL
The Basis for the Edition of the Text
Wang Bi: The Structure of the Laozi's Pointers

4. A Reconstruction and Critical Edition of the Laozi Text Used by Wang Bi; a Reconstruction and Critical Edition of Wang Bi's Commentary on the Laozi; an Extrapolative Translation of the Laozi through Wang Bi's Commentary; and a Translation of Wang Bi's Commentary on the Laozi

A Note on the Edition
A Note on the Extrapolative Translation
A Note on the Previous Translations
Wang Bi, Commentary on the Laozi




Presenting the commentary of the third-century sage Wang Bi, this book provides a Chinese way of reading the Daodejing, one which will surprise Western readers.


Many of the brightest Chinese minds have used the form of the commentary to open the terse and poetic chapters of the Laozi to their readers and also to develop a philosophy of their own. None has been more sophisticated, philosophically probing, and influential in the endeavor than a young genius of the third century C.E., Wang Bi (226–249). In this book, Rudolf G. Wagner provides a full translation of the Laozi that extracts from Wang Bi's Commentary the manner in which he read the text, as well as a full translation of Wang Bi's Commentary and his essay on the "subtle pointers" of the Laozi. The result is a Chinese reading of the Laozi that will surprise and delight Western readers familiar with some of the many translations of the work.

A Chinese Reading of the Daodejing is part of Rudolf Wagner's trilogy on Wang Bi's philosophy and classical studies, which also includes The Craft of a Chinese Commentator: Wang Bi on the Laozi and Language, Ontology, and Political Philosophy in China: Wang Bi's Scholarly Exploration of the Dark (Xuanxue), both published by SUNY Press.

Rudolf G. Wagner is Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Heidelberg.


"I highly recommend this remarkable book and strongly encourage readers to do a critical reading themselves." — Xing Wen, Dao

"…a painstaking effort … that merits praise and serious attention." — Journal of Chinese Religions

"Perhaps the most meticulous and ambitious English-language 'philological study and translation' of a Chinese 'philosophical' text ever published." — Religious Studies Review

"I like this book's identification and solution of a critical problem in our understanding of Wang Bi's Commentary on the Laozi, namely that the received text of the Laozi that has accompanied Wang Bi's Commentary for centuries is clearly not the version of the text that Wang Bi actually used. Given the tremendous influence that this important commentary has exerted for well over a millennium, the necessity of reconstructing the Laozi text that Wang Bi used is obvious. This book will provide a tremendous service to the field." — Joseph A. Adler, coauthor of Sung Dynasty Uses of the I Ching