Philology in an Old Key: Lord Shang Revisited

E Bruce Brooks, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
WSWG 17, Leiden University, 17 Sept 2003 (Opening Lecture)

E Bruce Brooks


The most tremendous event of the Chinese classical period is the 0221 Chin conquest of the other Warring States, which unified them politically and brought all theoretical debates, and the classical period itself, to an end. The most pervasive theme of the classical writings, while they were still being written, is precisely the basis for this achievement; the statecraft arts of conquest and rule. Among all the classical theories of statecraft, it is obviously Chin statecraft theory that will most insistently claim the attention of posterity. And the book which claims to represent that winning tradition is the Shang-jywn Shu (SJS), the Book of Lord Shang. By any reasonable measure, then, SJS is arguably the most important of all the classical texts.

J J L Duyvendak's study of that text (The Book of Lord Shang, 1928) is a foundation work of Dutch Sinology, and a classic of Western Sinology at large. In it, Duyvendak applied the philological methods of the time to the study of a problematic text, and sought to reach conclusions about the date and authenticity of that text. In its own terms, however, the study failed to separate the text into fully homogeneous layers, some of which are described, for example, as "late, but containing early material." And in the silent judgement of posterity, Duyvendak's work has not given later scholars confident access to Lord Shang, or to the Chin tradition of statecraft. If such scholars consider the Legalist aspect of Chinese thought at all, they tend to ignore both SJS and the Gwandz (presumably reflecting eastern, or Chi, statecraft theory) in favor of the later Han Feidz. Despite Duyvendak's labors, then, the SJS is still generally neglected. And philology, the art which Duyvendak sought to apply to the SJS, itself suffered an eclipse from about 1937 onward, not only within Sinology, but also in history at large. Is this seemingly negative judgement of Duyvendak's work, and of the tradition in which it was done, after all justified?

I think not. In my presentation I will return to the Shang-jywn Shu (SJS), in order to show how much of Duyvendak's work remains sound, but also what might now be done with the text, using his tools, along with other techniques which were not available to him in 1928, to reach a hopefully more cogent solution. And, in the process, I may hope to contribute in a small way to the art of philology itself.

I will attempt to show (1) that Duyvendak's subdivision of SJS 20 was correct, but that subdividing certain other chapters will yield a still better basis for other procedures; (2) that the removal from SJS 10 of interpolations unnoticed by Duyvendak transforms its character, and reveals more fully a relationship between the early SJS and the early Gwandz which has been sensed by later scholars; (3) that a more sensitive test of stylistic affinity than the Karlgren word tests used by Duyvendak, if applied to this cleaned-up material, will give useful hints about the relations between the SJS chapters; (4) that acceptance of Duyvendak's conclusions will lead us to consider other possibilities than simple authorship for the creation and preservation of the classical texts in general, thus resolving a crux which has long hampered text criticism in Sinology, and is something of a problem in New Testament studies also; and (5) that recent results on the chronology of the Lw-shr Chun/Chyou and Han Feidz texts, which were unavailable to Duyvendak, can help to relate the SJS scenario to events in real time, thus locating the work more precisely within the history of Chin political theory.

These conclusions, while falling short of a complete account of the text, will hopefully suggest that there are better things to do with old methods than to abandon them, and that there are other channels than archæology which may improve our understanding of the classical age of China. It may suggest that the philological Way which we associate with Duyvendak still leads somewhere, and is after all worth following further.

Street named for J J L Duyvendak (click for larger view)

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