The Present State and Future Prospects of Pre-Han Text Studies
E Bruce Brooks
Sino-Platonic Papers
#46 (July 1994), 1-74

This article, in form a review of Michael Loewe (ed), Early Chinese Texts (1993), suggests that the international scholarly consensus reported by Loewe may not be final, and proposes that something better is now within reach. In some details its specific proposals have been modified by later research, but its general program remains valid as something like a mission statement for the Warring States Project:

"In general, [the Loewe book's] verdicts on dating can be described as on the antique end of responsible. The traditional ascription of the Yi to Jou Wvn-wang is dismissed by Shaughnessy as unsupported by modern criticism . . . All this is most admirable. But whenever reputable opinion gives a range, Loewe's contributors tend to opt for the early end of it. Examples would include Dzwo Jwan, placed by Cheng (contra Hung and Kamata) in the late 05th or early 04th centuries . . ."

"There is also, as in the case of the Analects, some outright uncertainty, with divergent scholarly opinions simply listed, as in many a Chinese commentary, without the author [of that essay] taking a clear stand as to which is to be preferred; and occasional failure to push a known situation to its determinable conclusion, as with Han Shr Wai-jwan and Hwai-nandz . . ."

"Finally, the conclusions themselves, 'established' (page ix) or no, are here and there at odds with each other. If Yi divination reflects the practice of the 09c Jou court, as is stated on p219, relying in part on linguistic similarities with the Shr, and if the Shr in turn, with its presumptive poems of the Jou court, is from the period c01000 to c0600, as is stated on p415, why then, except for two irregular and thus suspect stanzas, is there no mention of sortilege (shr) as distinct from bone divination (bu; 5 times in safe stanzas) in the entire 305-poem corpus of the present Shr? One feels, at such points, that the intended consensus does not after all quite consense."

"There are, however, favorable elements in the imperfect consensus which offer some hope that, after two millennia of floundering on this subject, Sinology may be on the verge of something more adequate. One such element is the demythologizing tendency noted above . . . Another positive element is a willingness to see some of these texts not as composed at a single moment in time, but as accumulated over a sometimes considerable span of time. Such is the treatment of the Gwandz chapters by Rickett, who assigns them individually a wide variety of dates from the 04c to early Han. The operative point here is that dates attach not to texts, but to chapters or layers. Cheng's treatment of the Analects, on the other hand, though admitting it to be heterogeneous, leaves it as a whole uniformly valid as a source of Confucius's ideas. The difference in handling is probably not due to any difference in the nature of the respective texts, but rather to the fact that Confucius is central for posterity, which is reluctant to relinquish anything associated with him, whereas nobody now cares about Gwan Jung. It seems likely that Rickett's matter-of-fact approach to the Gwandz can fruitfully be applied to the Analects and other culturally "hot" texts, and that this extension of a successful method might, in these hallowed areas also, lead to the solution of many long debated and presently intractable textual puzzles. This seems a promising direction for future work."

"What is missing from the Loewe treatments as a whole is a sense of the engagement of Warring States writers with current issues, and the acrimonious debate between the writers themselves, which must have characterized the period, one phase of which indeed is known as the 'Hundred Schools.' As a modest expectation, we may feel that we have satisfactorily solved these texts when their contemporary urgency is individually apparent, and when their bitter opposition to each other is collectively intelligible. This goal seems now to be reachable by anyone armed with a sufficient range of single-text paradigms, and unencumbered by the old unimpeachable assumptions." (p3)

Update 2007

This essay will presently be replaced by a new and more comprehensive monograph in the series Studies in Chinese Philology.

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18 May 2007 / Contact The Project / Exit to Publications Page