Huo 或 in Heng Xian of the Shanghai Museum’s Edition of Chu Bamboo Slips

In: Journal of Chinese Philosophy
Author: Sixin Ding1
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  • 1 Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

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Huo” 或 in “Heng Xian” 恆先 of the Chu bamboo slips in the Shanghai Museum is a significant concept in cosmology and cosmogony. “Huo,” as a cosmogonic period, is after “heng” 恆 (the permanent), but prior to qi 氣 (material force), hence it is relatively important. This term in the manuscript is used as an indefinite pronoun, meaning “something”, rather than “exist” (as a verb), “indefinitely/ maybe” (as an adverb) or “a state between being and nothingness”. However, in the cosmogonic sequence, it is indeed intermediate between nothingness (“heng xian”, the permanent beginning) and being (qi, or you 有, being/to be). That “huo,” as an indefinite pronoun, can be used as a philosophical concept is testified by “Bai Xin” 白心(Purifying the Heart-mind) in the Book of Guanzi 管子 and “Ze yang” 則陽 in the Book of Zhuangzi, in which the term “huo” also means “something.” “Heng Xian” uses an indefinite pronoun “huo” to refer to a stage in the genesis of the cosmos. This shows, on the one hand, that its author has contemplated cosmology more profoundly; on the other hand, it shows that the author’s knowledge about the structure of cosmogony has not yet been fully developed. Moreover, the concepts “huo” and “heng xian” both develop the notion implicit in the concept of “heng.”

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