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Textual criticism and critical edition of the ancient Chinese philosophical text Zhuangzi (Master Zhuang)

Applicant Bumbacher Stephan Peter
Number 122224
Funding scheme Project funding (special)
Research institution Ostasiatisches Seminar Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.01.2010 - 31.12.2012
Approved amount 159'900.00
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Keywords (12)

Philosophy; edition; Chinese; Chinese philosophy; Daoist philosophy; Zhuangzi; textual criticism; reconstruction of ancient texts; critical edition; phonology of Old Chinese; sinology; ancient and medieval China

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
The Taoist text Zhuangzi (Master Zhuang), traditionally attributed to a certain Zhuang Zhou who would have lived around 320 BC, is the most sophisticated and most interesting philosophical text composed in China before the emergence of Chan- (Japanese: Zen-) Buddhist texts in the sixth century AD. Unfortunately, large parts are unintelligible which has not impeded quite a series of sinologists from translating it in its entirety into Western languages. It goes without saying that none of these translations is satisfactory. Not the least reason for this problem lies in its transmission during which the text underwent several, at times dramatic, revisions. Current research into the Zhuangzi is based on the only received version, a redaction compiled by the commentator Guo Xiang (early fourth c. AD). Unfortunately, the text has suffered severely under his hands. He not only has shortened the text by more than a third as compared with the version available to the historiographer Sima Qian (first century BC), but he also has rearranged parts of the remaining text. As he discarded passages which he considered less philosophical or which he did not understand, the received text certainly looks more philosophical than the lost pre-Guo Xiang versions would have. In view of the fact that quite a few Western scholars are discussing all sorts of philosophical problems raised by Master Zhuang, like Relativistic skepticism in the Zhuangzi", Aporetics ethics in the Zhuangzi", A mind-body problem in the Zhuangzi?" to mention but a few, one wonders how relevant any results can be which are relying on such a crippled, hardly trustworthy textual basis. Despite their efforts, Chinese and Japanese as well as Western scholars have failed to produce a satisfactory critical edition so far. It is therefore of utter importance to establish a new critical edition that tries to reconstruct and to include as many of the lost passages as possible. The project aims at producing a critical edition of the Zhuangzi that comes - in the absence of any autograph - as close as possible to the autograph. The project includes the reconstruction of the lost parts of the text by (a) identifying and collecting lost pericopes, (b) by identifying and collecting lost passages and sentences and (c) including them into the text at the relevant loci. It further includes (d) the (re-)construction of a version of the received parts of the text that tries to establish the best possible reading by collating all available direct and indirect quotations of each sentence. The aim is to reconstruct the text to the state it may have represented at least before the Guo Xiang redaction. It may, however, be possible, to some extent, to reconstruct the text of even its pre-Liu Xiang state. This project thus constitutes basic research in its best sense as it will provide the basics for any further studies of Zhuangzi's philosophy.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

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Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
European Association of Chinese Studies Conference 2012, Paris 5th – 9th September 05.09.2012 Paris
British Association of Chinese Studies Conference 2011, Edinburgh 7th – 9th September 09.09.2011 Edinburgh