Sunday, January 18, 2009

Huai Nan Zi 淮南子 and Bai Hu Tong 白虎通

These are two books some westerners are fond of quoting. Sinologists are addicted to these two books as if they were the most authoritative books in ancient China. In a way, it is true. These are very comprehensive books compiled in a very rigorous way. However, they are both of encyclopedic nature.



Huai Nan Zi was compiled by Liu An 劉安, the King of Huai Nan 淮南王 (179-121 BCE). The work was mostly done by his guests and was divided into 21 Inner and 33 Outer Chapters. The Inner Chapters were about the Dao. The Outer Chapters were about other philosophies. What remain today are the 21 Inner Chapters. These chapters are about the Dao of Nature. It is an integration of Daoism 道家, Moism 墨家, Yinyangism 陰陽家, Faism 法家 and Confucianism 儒家 with an inclination towards Daoism.



Bai Hu Tong was compiled during the reign of Han Zhang Di 漢章帝 (58-88 AD). The work started in the year 79 AD when he summoned his officers to hold a conference. The results were recorded and compiled by Ban Gu 班固, a famous scholar. This becomes the standard answers to questions about the study of Jing Xue 經學. It is interesting to find that this book even included a section on sex education.



Anyway, because of the encyclopedic nature of the books, they are not really reliable at the expert level. To call someone a walking encyclopedia is actually calling him someone who knows superficially almost anything you can name but expert in nothing.

I remember I started trading in gum rosin in China in 1982. I looked up the Encyclopedia Brintanica about gum rosin before I went to negotiate a deal. Armed with the detailed information from the authoritative source I was confident that my knowledge was at the expert level. Fortunately I was a good listener and not a big talker. I was surprised that even the categorization of different grades of the product was not the same from the book and as used in the insdustry.

There is always a danger to rely on reputable source of information.

JY

17 comments:

Howard said...

Dear Joseph,

I think the problem is not with the "reputable source of information", I think it is with your expectation that, "Armed with the detailed information from the authoritative source I was confident that my knowledge was at the expert level".

There are no books in the world that can make us an instant expert, only by experience and by making mistakes and learn from them that we can become an expert over time.

"Huai Nan Zi" and "Bai Hu Tong" are two great classics, I am glad they were written to guide us on our way. Thank you for drawing them to our attention.

Regards,

Howard.

Joseph Yu said...

Dear Howard,

That is exactly the point. Studying these classics won't make you an expert. A lot of people today consider themselves more than an expert just because they can quote from Huai Nan Zi and Bai Hu Tong. They demand whatever you say to have a source from one of these books or else it is not reliable.

These two books are great classics with ideas from the best scholars in the Han Dynasty. However, they cannot be considered the infallible source of Chinese culture and wisdom.

We are supposed to be standing on the shoulders of giants to see more and not to peep between their legs.

JY

Howard said...

Hi Joseph,

I guess it depends on what one wants to see, the distant horizon by standing on the giants' shoulders or something some interesting close up between the legs. :-)

Either way, we use the giants of the past to help us see more of the future and come up with more new ideas, therefore we should acknowledge their contribution by quoting their work, which won't make us an expert, but it would improve our manners for sure.

Under the heading, "How to Quote References in Academic Papers", the first few lines of this webpage gave us an explanation why we need to quote reference in academic work at least:

http://security.mytutorial.org/download/How-to-do-referencing-and-citation-in-academic-essays.pdf

I think it is not about whether what you say is reliable or not, it is more about where did you get your ideas from in the first place?

Like you said, these two books are great classics with some great ideas and if we got some inspirations from them, then we should quote them as references, not to impress others as you rightly pointed out, but to acknowledge their authorship.

It is only a fair thing to do.

Regards,

HC

Naseeb said...

Dear Master Joseph, Howard,

Are these two books available in English or only in Chinese?

Best regards,
Naseeb.

Joseph Yu said...

Dear Naseeb

You can search Amazon. I think there are several translated version of Huai Nan Zi. Bai Hu Tong, although compiled much later, does not draw as much attention as Huai Nan Zi and therefore I don't think there is a published translation.

JY

Joseph Yu said...

Dear Howard,

Some ideas do not necessarily come from books. They can come from observation of Nature and Life and inspired by knowledge already integrated into our minds without a definite source that we can quote.

Quoting references is just a means to make plagiarism difficult. The practice is only a modern system that did not exist in the days when tertiary education was not the fashion.

The two classics we refer to do not include a bibliography but does it affect their being authoritative? It is just a formality observed in tertiary education. It is a good format to follow though.

JY

Antje said...

Dear Joseph,

some time ago you suggested to search for Bai Hu Tong. My information so far was indeed catastrophic. Found now some much better sources.
Indeed it seems to be a very interesting classic. Though, it obviously some kind of a collection on nearly all topics someone can imagine, not fully structured and clearly written/explained. It contains quite general information on basic metaphysical principles and also history including different opinions. As Howard says, it is very inspirative, good food for thought.

Antje

Yenman said...

There is no translated version of the Huai Nan Zi. yet... One is supposed to come out in 2009.

Usually jack of all trades information is superficial, like narcissists from classics.

Jack of all trades but master of none, is what the classics make you.

Narcissists are like that.

Naseeb said...

Dear Yenman,

Could you tell us more information about the translated version of the Huai Nan Zi that is supposed to come out in 2009? Who is the publisher?

Yenman said...

The information's on wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huainanzi#Translations


Quoting Wikipedia:

"The Huainanzi has never yet been completely translated into English. A complete translation is due to be published for the first time in 2009 by John Major, Harold Roth, Sarah Queen and Andy Meyer, with contributions from Judson Murray and Michael Puett. Besides Evan Morgan's free translation of eight chapters (1, 2, 7, 8, 12, 13, 15, and 19) and John Major's scholarly analysis of three (3, 4, and 5), the only published translations are of individual chapters: 1 by Frederic Balfour, 6 by Charles Le Blanc, 9 by Roger Ames, 1 by Roger Ames and D.C. Lau and 11 by Benjamin Wallacker."


I helped make some of that article. Lol.

Howard said...

Hi Antji,

Bai Hu Tong has been almost fully translated into English by an Indonesian sinologist as a part of his PHD thesis, you can get hold of a copy here, but it seems to be very expensive:

http://www.bookgallery.co.il/content/english/bookpageschema.asp?BookPageID=56058

Howard

Howard said...

Hi Yenman,

Can you please elaborate a bit more on your statement below, I am not sure what you are trying to say.

"Usually jack of all trades information is superficial, like narcissists from classics.

Jack of all trades but master of none, is what the classics make you.

Narcissists are like that."

I look forward to your reply. Thanking you in advance.

Regards,
Howard Choy

Antje said...

Hi Howard,

Thanks for the link, but have that book already on my desk.
Not sure if that price is really expensive for such comprehensive academical book which is even out of print.
Interesting and extensive work this guy has done. The book gives an unusual critical view on Chinese Classics and their sources besides the translation of the BHT.

Antje

Naseeb said...

Hi Antji,

Could you please share with us where you bought the book?

Best regards,
Naseeb

Yenman said...

Hi howard, what I meant was reading all the classics or absorbing a lot of resources makes one narcissistic.

So since the classics are vague or they are like"jack of all trades" information but not very in depth, they are superficial etc.

It's the same idea with narcissists, they have a wide range of skills, but limited skill in each of them, they may have fancy vocabulary, but they really don't know what they're talking about.

I think it's kind of related to what Joseph Yu said although I don't really remember what his blog post was about. Something about classics making you experts or superficial information.

Antje said...

Hi Naseeb,

I think you can only buy it from any internet sources, that´s what I did too. The book is out of print as I´ve read. Eventually the autor has been too critical with the Classics. :-) So there hasn´t been enough interest from the public.

Don´t know if they sell it maybe still somewhere in Asia in regular bookshops.

Antje

Antje said...

Hi Yenman,

I have the ideal book recommendation for you ;o)

http://www.libri.de/shop/action/productDetails/7256200/antje_schwaericke_theoretische_und_strategische_grundlagen_der_pressearbeit_3836465841.html

As it is no classic you don´t need to have fear to become a narcist when reading it. The first part is especially about the process of human communication/understanding via written language. It´s about human perception of what another person has written and what the "reader" gets so to say.

Antje