ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAOISM (VOL. 2): MAWANDUI MANUSCRIPTS

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In the beginning of the second volume of Encyclopedia of Taoism, Routledge, London and New York (2008) I would like to open the Mawandui manuscripts comment because this finding will have great and remarkable  influence on me during some years later.

The facts around the event are explained by Robin D.S.Yates: ”In December 1973, archeologists clearing tomb no. 3 at Măwánduī 馬王堆, Chángshā 長沙 (Hunan), discovered a cache of texts written mostly on silk folded in a lacquer box. They were placed there to accompany Lì Cāng 利蒼, Lord of Dai, who died in 168 BCE, into the afterlife. This was the main discovery of ancient texts since the opening of the hidden library at Dunhuang in the early twentieth century.”

The scientists discovered a new version of Yi Jing in the Mawandui tombs and the order of the sixty-four hexagrams of it is different from the known version, that is the fact. I can say one funny thing here: it is too bad for the version. I am not a scientists, I am not going to put proves here, I want just laugh and say that the true version can be only one (considering the mathematical consequences of the known version) and this is the version we usually open in the Wilhelm/Baynes edition. And I am pretty happy with it.

“Thirty-three of the names of the hexagrams are different from those in the received version, the most important being “Key” (jiàn 鍵) for qián 乾  and “Flow” (chuān 川) for kūn 坤. There are also a great number of variant graphs in the body of the text that could well have significant philosophical implications. Edward Shaughnessy (1996b) suggests that the original referents of “Key” and “Flow” were the male and female genitalia respectively, rather than the abstract notions of Heaven and Earth.” — R.D.S. Yates. Well, now it sounds like gynecology synopsis of a bad student. Lets make it clear in a couple of seconds: if cosmological aspects have been widely known by the time of Laozi and Zhuangzi why ‘the male and female genitalia’ should play such role in 168 BCE? Or, probably, I am not an early and easy adopter of new and ‘significant philosophical implications’. In any special case, the general beauty of Yi Jing ‘as is’ suits me perfect anytime I think about it.

There are also a serious group of fifteen texts inside the Mawandui corpus concerned health and medicine, and three of them are truly the most ancient Chinese sex manuals (fáng zhōng shū 房中書): Hé Yīn Yáng 合陰陽 (Conjoining Yin and Yang), Shí Wèn 十問 (Ten Questions), and Tiānxià Zhìdào Tán 天下至道談 (Discourse on the Ultimate Way Under Heaven). Another translation of the text 天下至道談 is Discourse on the Culminant Way in Under Heaven, and both titles I try to avoid. My favorite title sounds: On Following the Dao in High and Low, and I do like when translations from Chinese into English are short and a little bit poetical, two qualities which I guess natural for classical Chinese. I have some translations of this text into two languages and I reread them and comments every time I need to extract information but I will read my own translation into English always when I want to feel the fact knowledge can fly, from hear to heart. 

That is why Mawandui manuscripts have ‘great and remarkable influence on me’ many years already and today.  

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