Saturday, December 03, 2005

Liu An and Huainanzi 8

Instead of talking here alone, at times one visits blogs and forums of interest to read what is written by deep thinkers and to make some comments where appropriate. It is a good exercise for the mind and to learn a bit more along the way. Just the other day, one dropped by Taospeaks and read a discussion thread on Master Kung and Li where a scholarly chap quoted Huainanzi 8 together with relevant chapters from Tao Te Ching, Zhuangzi and Wenzi to explore the necessity to cultivate Li (propriety/mores). Just in case you are unaware, Master Kung refers to Confucius.

Compared to the other three quotes, Huainanzi 8 made no sense which was why one commented there that it was gibberish. And invited him to read the entry on the history of Prince Liu An of Huainan and whether the prince actually understood humanity (ren) and justice (yi). After kindly spending the time to read the entry, he referred me to a book with an in depth study done which actually tells the truth about the prince and differs from the account recorded by Sima Qian. Also according to him, the author’s justification to refute the account given by Sima Qian was by comparing the Book of Han (Han Shu) with the Records of the Historian (Shiji). He further added that many learned scholars over the past two thousand years have disagreed with the account presented in the Shiji.

The book in question is The Huainanzi and Liu An's Claim to Moral Authority by Griet Vankeerberghen (2001). Griet Vankeerberghen is Assistant Professor in the History Department at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. At the back cover, there was a summary on the book available at Amazon. Here is what it says:
"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 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."

When one decides to rely on an author or a book for authority, it is important to know whether the author is an honest professional, the work is detailed and indeed reliable. Certainly it calls for further examination when someone casts aspersion on the integrity of a book, especially a historical reference book as important as the Records of the Historian. Although one is not learned and scholarly, perhaps one can do a simple analysis and see whether the account on Liu An was false.

Firstly some background. The aspersion that the Grand Historian, Sima Qian may have been restricted in the writing of the truth on Liu An did cross my mind when making the recent blog entry on the prince. The plot to revolt was recorded in great detail. The translated record on the Princes of Huainan runs into 22 pages. One had only named some officials and not others to make the entry brief, yet accurate and fair to Liu An, the readers and translators.

Of the forty three nobles ordered by the emperor to discuss the matter to serve justice, there were actually two princes and a marquis mentioned by name who declared Liu An guilty of high treason and of his plot to revolt. Also present were the prime minister and Chang Tang, the chief justice at the time. Surely these princes and righteous high officials would have objected to the recorded inaccuracies, if any, or at the very least do so after Emperor Wu had passed away. Although Emperor Wu very much favored the legalist system, they would not have colluded to penalize one of their own kin or superior or to let Liu An be known as a villain down the ages. Several thousand men were involved and many together with their families including those of Liu An’s were executed. Surely this was not a show of force by the emperor or the Han Court against Liu An’s independent intellectual stance, as suggested by Vankeerberghen, (probably leading to his perceived persecution stated in a website) which involved the loss of so many guilty or innocent lives?

Do note that Sima Qian was in his twenties in 123 BC and his father Sima Tan was the Grand Historian at the time of the event. He was appointed Grand Historian in 107 BC, three years after his father’s death. Sima Qian was known for his strong sense of right and wrong and wrote frankly about the ugly conduct of rulers including some of the Han emperors. He described their vices truthfully and made his condemnation clear. When he dared to write the truth about emperors and kings, would he have made an exception about prince Liu An to ruin his reputation on purpose?

As I understand it, The Book of Han or Han Shu was started by Ban Biao (3 – 54 AD) with the intention to supplement the Records of the Historian (Shiji). Ban Biao was said to be a Han Court historian. The work was continued by his son and later by his daughter who eventually completed the Han Shu by AD 82. That would be about 204 years after the death of Prince Liu An in 122 BC.

It looks rather weak and presumptuous to use a later works to reverse or cast aspersions on detailed eye-witnessed accounts, records, comments of the Han emperor, princes and high court officials as recorded in the Shiji (completed in 91 BC) by Sima Qian. Sometimes scholars can outdo lawyers arguing a case with or without factual evidence or original documents. One has seen one too many ‘scholars’ and/or history professors willing to twist facts or attempt to rewrite Chinese history to sensationalize their own books; to emphasize their slanted versions; or to support a belief of theirs. This invariably misleads students and can be widespread because of the ease of access in the World Wide Web. It is sad but true and happens occasionally.

Lastly we have a look at Huainanzi 8:
“When humanity and righteousness are established and fixed and the Li and music are cultivated, De departs and only artifice remains.”

If Huainanzi was where Liu An has learned his humanity (ren) and justice (yi) and his other virtues (De) to display his supposedly ‘goodness’, no wonder he did not know his seeds and lost his roots. Perhaps his De had already departed (sic) and only artifice remains. Nah, the loss of several thousands of innocent or guilty lives remained unimportant; it was supposed to be part of the game. Heaven, Earth and Sages are supposed to be inhumane (Bu Ren). And justice had been served to all because he lost the plot.

However if readers have seen any humanity and justice displayed by Liu An as suggested by assistant professor Vankeerberghen, perhaps they can take some time to enlighten me?


Bao Pu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Allan said...

Thank you, Bao Pu. You are correct; it was indeed Emperor Wu. One had not spotted the reign changed to Chienyuan in 140 BC. Corrections have been made to both entries where Emperor Ching had been mentioned.

To cultivate Tao, one tries to learn from the ancient sages, immortals and adepts. Both the Huainanzi and Prince Liu An, the man behind its compilation, fall short of those standards.

Whether Huainanzi 8 follows ancient thoughts closely maybe subjective and depends on the interpretation of TTC 38. By the way, music is a non virtue and not mentioned in TTC 38. TTC 38 seems to say that when humanity, righteousness and propriety have been cultivated, the wise and sincere will keep De (virtues). If Huainanzi 8 were deliberated by Han ‘scholars’ and crafted to interpret TTC 38, it falls short of the mark.

After the founding of Han, there were records of rebellion and revolts by various princes from the reigns of Kao Tzu down to Emperor Wu. It is hardly surprising that feudal states were brought to an end when it was found no longer practical to follow this antiquated way.

Allan said...

The following is Bao Pu's original comments on 3/12/05 11.30AM. His previous post was deleted because the lengthy link to Vankeerberghen's book provided by him distorts the opening page of this blog.

Bao Pu said...

Hi Allan

I can only suggest that you read Vankeerberghen's book to judge her story. (The emperor was not Ching, but Wu, BTW.) The central government, related or not, was in the long process of eliminating the power (and lives, if necessary) of all the 'feudal'states. There were deep ulterior motives of many of the players. You can read some of the book here:

Regarding humanity, justice, ceremony, etc - the attitude/opinion presented in Huainanzi 8 is identical to that presented in the Daodejing and Zhuangzi.

3/12/05 11:30 AM