The Guodian manuscripts are a cache of literary and philosophical texts from the fourth century BCE, discovered in a Warring States–period tomb in China’s Hubei Province. Through detailed decipherment and textual analysis, Kuan-yun Huang investigates the historical and philosophical contexts of these texts and convincingly proposes their association with Zisi, the grandson of Confucius. Huang not only offers an in-depth portrait of this famous scion from excavated texts and transmitted literary records, but also reveals the connection of the Guodian texts with early intellectual tradition in China, including the teachings of Xunzi, Mencius, Confucius, and the legendary Laozi, as well as the effort of rewriting that transformed Zisi’s original teachings into a conformist line of thinking, which defined and constituted the Confucian tradition of a later time.
In Kuan-yun Huang’s The Lost Texts of Confucius’ Grandson, the shadowy figure of Zisi comes to life as an antinomian thinker whose works fill the lacuna between Confucius and Mencius. What is most compelling about this book is its insistence that in scholarship we must respect the interpretive context. The new putative Zisi materials have to be read in such a way that they are correlated with and situated clearly within what Huang calls “the literary record.” Huang’s synoptic understanding of the literature allows for much “abduction” in his presentation, a kind of academic sleuthing in his best efforts to connect the dots. While an exciting read for those scholars who know the texts and specialize in ancient philosophical literature, at the same time, the story it tells will be of interest to all scholars who work in the field of Chinese studies.
—Roger T. Ames
Humanities Chair Professor, Peking University
Huang carefully explicates what the newly discovered manuscripts teach us about fate, moral cultivation, familial love and obligation, and service in government, as well as other concepts that were originally meant to provide social order in the Warring States kingdoms during the time of Zisi and the generations of thinkers subsequent to him. Through close textual analysis and with each explanation of these ideas, Huang shows that we must shake ourselves loose from earlier assumptions about their significance and embrace what the recently recovered sources tell us.
Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
The Guodian corpus has transformed our understanding of early Chinese thought. Huang does a masterful job of situating these texts in their historical and philosophical context, relying on the most current scholarly literature as well as insights gained from more recent discoveries, all in a very accessible style. Highly recommended.
Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia
KUAN-YUN HUANG received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and is now Research Fellow and Director of the Research Center in Taiwan, Oriental Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences. Focusing on newly excavated texts and ancient Chinese intellectual history, his works have appeared in Early China, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Journal of Chinese Studies, and Journal of Oriental Studies. He is the author of A Walk in the Night with Zhuangzi: Musings on an Ancient Chinese Manuscript (State University of New York Press, 2023).