Buried Ideas

Legends of Abdication and Ideal Government in Early Chinese Bamboo-Slip Manuscripts

By Sarah Allan

Subjects: Asian Studies, Confucianism, Religion, Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9781438457789, 386 pages, July 2016
Hardcover : 9781438457772, 386 pages, November 2015

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
1. Introduction
2. History and Historical Legend
3. The Chu-script Bamboo-Slip Manuscripts
4. Advocating Abdication: Tang Yú zhi dao 唐虞之道, “The Way of TangYao 唐堯 and YúShun 虞䑞”
Tang Yú zhi dao 唐虞之道: Translation and Chinese Edition
5. The Zigao 子羔 and the Nature of Early Confucianism
Zigao 子羔: Translation and Chinese Edition
6. Rongchengshi 容成氏: Abdication and Utopian Vision
Rongchengshi 容成氏: Translation and Chinese Edition
7. The Bao xun 保訓: Obtaining the Center to Become King
Bao xun 保訓: Translation and Chinese Edition
8. Afterthoughts

Four Warring States texts discovered during recent decades challenge longstanding understandings of Chinese intellectual history.


The discovery of previously unknown philosophical texts from the Axial Age is revolutionizing our understanding of Chinese intellectual history. Buried Ideas presents and discusses four texts found on brush-written slips of bamboo and their seemingly unprecedented political philosophy. Written in the regional script of Chu during the Warring States period (475–221 BCE), all of the works discuss Yao's abdication to Shun and are related to but differ significantly from the core texts of the classical period, such as the Mencius and Zhuangzi. Notably, these works evince an unusually meritocratic stance, and two even advocate abdication over hereditary succession as a political ideal. Sarah Allan includes full English translations and her own modern-character editions of the four works examined: Tang Yú zhi dao, Zigao, Rongchengshi, and Bao xun. In addition, she provides an introduction to Chu-script bamboo-slip manuscripts and the complex issues inherent in deciphering them.

Sarah Allan is Burlington Northern Foundation Professor of Asian Studies in honor of Richard M. Bressler at Dartmouth College. She is the author of The Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue and The Shape of the Turtle: Myth, Art, and Cosmos in Early China, both also published by SUNY Press.


"…Allan's new book bears the fruit of a long, successful career in early China studies. It is of broad interest to scholars in the humanities and required reading for students of Chinese philosophy and intellectual history." — Journal of Chinese Humanities

"[A] bold new book … The implications of these unearthed texts are so profound that they will take decades to digest." — New York Review of Books

"Buried Ideas, an illuminating work of great scholarly rigour, is the fruit of Allan's many years of dedicated labour on these manuscripts and a must-read for anyone interested in the textual, political, and intellectual history of early China." — Journal of Chinese Studies

"This monograph makes an important contribution to the study of early China by using newly excavated texts to reexamine disagreements about abdication … Allan's book will greatly benefit those who study the philosophy and history of early China, and her rigorous and thorough approach to analyzing newly unearthed sources, especially in light of transmitted texts, is a great model for any scholar engaged in historiography using excavated materials." — Religious Studies Review