The Huainanzi and Liu An's Claim to Moral Authority

By Griet Vankeerberghen

Subjects: Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791451489, 233 pages, October 2001
Hardcover : 9780791451472, 233 pages, October 2001

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Table of contents




Introduction to Part I


1. Conflicting Views of Morality


The Intellectual Climate at the Beginning of Emperor Wu's Reign
The King of Huainan's Place in the Intellectual Scene
Moral Conflict
Gongsun Hong, Zhang Tang, and Events in Huainan after 124 B.C.
Contemporaries' Reactions to the Huainan Trial
Terror after 122 B.C.


2. The Triangle of Power: Emperor, Kings, and Officials


The Kings: A Political History
The Kings: An Alternative History
Relations between Emperor Wu and the King of Huainan before 123 B.C.
The Events of 123-122 B.C. Revisited


3. The Official Representation of the 123-122 B.C. Events


Cycles in Emperor Wu's Reign: The Capture of the Unicorn
The Transition from "Old" to "New"
Liu An's Biography in Shi ji and Han shu

Introduction to Part 2


4. The Goals of Human Action


The Archer
Adjusting the Scale
Roots and Branches


5. Following Nature


On Xing
Sages and Nonsages
Humans' Tranforming Power
The Virtues
Who Should Become a Sage?
The Huainanzi and Dong Zhongshu's Memorials


6. Evaluating the Sage: Fate, History, and Human Responsibility


The First Model: "Heaven Has No Favorites"
The Second Model: The Case of Bo Yi
Conclusion: Evaluations of Liu An and the Huainanzi


Table 1. Chronology of Main Events in the Life of Liu An
Table 2. The Liu Kings, 202-120 B.C.
Appendix 1. A Comparison of Liu An's Biographies in Shi ji 118 and Han shu 44 with a Preposed Reconstruction of Two Layers of Text


An innovative analysis both of the Huainanzi, a text from China's Han period, and of the events that surrounded this work.


This innovative study explores both the Huainanzi, the text written at the court of Liu An, king of Huainan, and presented to Emperor Wu in 139 B.C.E., and the events that led up to the death of Liu An in 122 B.C.E. Author Griet Vankeerberghen provides a fresh treatment of the Huainanzi, which she establishes as a unified work with a coherent moral philosophy. She shows that rather than defending any particular school of thought, as is often claimed, the Huainanzi was the primary means by which Liu An displayed his vision of the good and advertised his readiness to be a ruler. By 123 B.C.E. Liu An was accused of plotting rebellion and was forced to commit suicide a year later, but the disloyalty he was accused of may have had more to do with his independent intellectual stance than with a military plot. The book goes on to explore the relationship of moral, intellectual, and political authority in the first century of the Han dynasty, a period when the regime sought to monopolize all moral and intellectual authority.

Griet Vankeerberghen is Assistant Professor in the History Department at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.


"The topic is significant and central to the continuing debate over the nature of Han texts and the geopolitical context of their creation. Vankeerberghen's unpacking of Liu An's moral philosophy and the symbolism used in its structure will be helpful in further understanding the nature of the Huainanzi. Vankeerberghen's analysis of Liu An's relationship to the Han emperor is particularly interesting in the context of the changing structure of Han government." — Constance A. Cook, coeditor of Defining Chu: Image and Reality in Ancient China