The discovery in Hunan in 1973 of silk manuscripts over two thousand years old opened a new field of Chinese studies. The find is of considerable value and importance to students of Chinese archaeology, palaeography, textual criticism, history, and philosophy. The Silk Manuscripts of Ma-wang-tui, containing around 120,000 characters, include two hitherto unknown versions of the Lao Tzu and probably the lost “Four Scriptures of the Yellow Emperor.” A preliminary investigation of these texts indicates that they represent a mode of thinking referred to in the Historical Records as the “thought of Huang-Lao,” that was prevalent in China in the second century B.C. and that may have originated in the ancient state of Ch'u. This paper proposes that the thought of Huang-Lao, as a fusion of Taoist and Legalist ideas, articulates a coherent political philosophy that emphasizes the inseparability of the metaphysical foundations of politics and the art of government as a daily routine.

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