The Heir and the Sage, Revised and Expanded Edition

Dynastic Legend in Early China

By Sarah Allan

Subjects: Asian Studies, Chinese Studies, History, Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9781438462240, 218 pages, July 2017
Hardcover : 9781438462257, 218 pages, October 2016

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

Preface To The Revised and Expanded Edition
Preface to the Original Edition

1. Problem and Theory

2. Legend Set 1: Tang Yao to Yú Shun

3. Legend Sets 2 and 3: Yú Shun to Xia Yu and the Foundation of the Xia Dynasty

4. Legend Set 4: The Foundation of the Shang Dynasty

5. Legend Set 5: The Foundation of the Zhou Dynasty

6. The Philosophers

7. Conclusion

Appendix 1

Appendix 2
The Identities of Taigong Wang in Zhou and Han Literature

Index of Chinese Names, Places, and Important Terms

A comprehensive analysis of the transformations of ancient history in early Chinese texts.


This book presents a comprehensive analysis of the accounts of change of rule in Chinese texts from 600 to 100 BC, including the core philosophical works of the Chinese tradition attributed to Confucius, Mozi, Mencius, Xunzi, Hanfeizi, and Zhuangzi. Drawing from the early structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Sarah Allan demonstrates that similar motifs repeat in every period, and argues that they serve, like myth, to mediate the inherent social conflict between kinship relations and that of the larger community. This conflict is embodied in the idea of a dynastic cycle, founded by a virtuous sage king and passed down hereditarily until a last evil ruler is again replaced, and played out at regular intervals in legends of kings and ministers, heirs and sages, ministers and recluses, regents and rebels. Each philosophical text transforms the legends in a systematic manner to reflect its own understanding of the patterns of history that inform the present.

In this revised and expanded edition, Allan has added translations and original Chinese texts, as well as a new introduction further analyzing structuralism and discussing how the book remains relevant to ongoing sinological arguments. An earlier article by Allan, with supporting evidence for this book's thesis, is included as an appendix.

Sarah Allan is Burlington Northern Foundation Professor of Asian Studies in Honor of Richard M. Bressler at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Buried Ideas: Legends of Abdication and Ideal Government in Early Chinese Bamboo-Slip Manuscripts; The Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue; and The Shape of the Turtle: Myth, Art, and Cosmos in Early China, all published by SUNY Press.