The Wenzi

Creativity and Intertextuality in Early Chinese Philosophy


The Wenzi is a Chinese philosophical text that enjoyed considerable prestige in the centuries following its creation, over two-thousand years ago. When questions regarding its authenticity arose, the text was branded a forgery and consigned to near oblivion. The discovery of an age-old Wenzi manuscript, inked on strips of bamboo, refueled interest in the text. In this combined study of the bamboo manuscript and the received text, Van Els argues that they belong to two distinct text traditions as he studies the date, authorship, and philosophy of each tradition, as well as the reception history of the received text. This study sheds light on text production and reception in Chinese history, with its changing views on authorship, originality, authenticity, and forgery, both past and present.

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Paul van Els, Ph.D. (2006), is University Lecturer of China Studies at Leiden University. He authored Van orakelbot tot weblog, a two-volume textbook of Classical Chinese (Leiden University Press, 2011, 2015), and he co-edited, with Sarah A. Queen, Between History and Philosophy: Anecdotes in Early China (State University of New York Press, 2017).
"To sum up, this book provides a rigorous account of the evolution of the received Wenzi, presents the complexity of its textual nature, and proposes a novel approach to investigate its philosophy. Paul van Els has broken new ground on which not only the philosophy of the Wenzi can receive more detailed and systematic studies, but also the philosophies in other early texts can now be better reexamined, reinterpreted, and reconstructed." - Fan He, Dao 20 (2021).

List of Figures and Tables

1 The Dingzhou Discovery
2 The Dingzhou Wenzi
3 The Proto-Wenzi: Date, Protagonists, Author
4 The Proto-Wenzi: Philosophy
5 A New Wenzi
6 The Received Wenzi: Date and Editor
7 The Received Wenzi: Philosophy
8 Wenzi Reception

All interested in the Wenzi, Daoism, and Chinese philosophy at large, as well as anyone interested in excavated manuscripts and text production and reception in China.
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