The four texts
Mawangdui is an archeological site, comprised of three -era tombs, found near Changsha in modern Hunan Province . In December 1973, archeologists excavating "Tomb Number 3" discovered an edifying trove of silk paintings and silk scrolls with manuscripts, charts, and maps. These polymathic texts discussed philosophy, politics, Traditional Chinese Medicine, , Yin and Yang, and astronomy; ranging from the familiar to the unknown .
The Mawangdui manuscripts included two silk copies of the ''Daodejing'', eponymously titled "''Laozi''". Both add other texts and both reverse the received chapter arrangement, giving the ''Dejing'' chapters before the ''Daojing''. The so-called "B Version" included four previously unknown works, each appended with a title and number of characters :
#''Jingfa'' , 5000 characters
#''Shiliu jing'' , 4564
#''Cheng'' , 1600
#''Yuandao'' , 464
Owing to holes in the ancient silk fragments, the original numbers of characters are uncertain.
The two longest texts are subdivided into sections. "The Constancy of Laws" has nine: 1. ''Dao fa'' , 2. ''Guo ci'' , 3. ''Jun zheng'' .... "The Sixteen Classics", which some scholars read as ''Shi da jing'' , has fifteen : 1. ''Li ming'' , 2. ''Guan'' , 3. ''Wu zheng'' ….
In the decades since 1973, scholars have published many Mawangdui manuscript studies . In 1974, the Chinese journal ''Wenwu'' presented a preliminary transcription into modern characters. Tang Lan's influential article gave photocopies with transcriptions, analyzed the textual origins and contents, and cited paralleling passages from Chinese classic texts. Tang was first to identify these texts as the "''Huangdi sijing''", a no-longer extant text attributed to the Yellow Emperor, which the Hanshu's ''Yiwenzhi'' bibliographical section lists as a Daoist text in four ''pian'' . The "''Huangdi sijing''" was lost and is only known by name, and thus the excluded it. While most scholars agree with Tang's evidence, some disagree and call the texts the ''Huang-Lao boshu'' or the ''Huangdi shu'' .
The first complete English translation of the ''Huangdi sijing'' was produced by Leo S. Chang . Subsequent translations include scholarly versions by Yates and by Chang and Feng , as well as some selected versions. Ryden provides an informative examination of "The Yellow Emperor's Four Canons".
The ''Huangdi sijing'' reveals some complex connections within Chinese philosophy. Take for example, first lines in "The Constancy of Laws":
The Way generates standards. Standards serve as marking cords to demarcate success and failure and are what clarify the crooked and the straight. Therefore, those who hold fast to the Way generate standards and do not to dare to violate them; having established standards, they do not dare to discard them. Only after you are able to serve as your own marking cord, will you look at and know all-under-Heaven and not be deluded.
This passage echoes concepts from several rival philosophies, Daoism, , Mohism, Confucianism, and School of Names. De Bary and Lufrano describe ''Huangdi sijing'' philosophy as "a syncretism that is grounded in a cosmology of the Way and an ethos of self-cultivation".
"Prior to the Mawangdui discovery," says Peerenboom , "sinologists were more confused than clear about the school of thought known as Huang-Lao." Sima Qian's ''Records of the Grand Historian'' says many early Han thinkers and politicians favored Huang-Lao doctrines during the reigns of , , and . Sima cites Han Fei, Shen Buhai, and Shen Dao as representative Huang-Lao philosophers, advocates that sagely rulers should use ''wuwei'' to organize their government and society. However, after Emperor Wu of Han declared Confucianism the official state philosophy, Huang-Lao followers dwindled and their texts largely vanished.
The ''Huangdi sijing'' texts provide newfound answers to questions about how Chinese philosophy originated. Carrozza explains that, "For a long time, the focal point in the study of early Chinese thought has been the interpretation of a rather limited set of texts, each attributed to a 'Master' and to one of the so-called ''." For instance, tradition says Mozi founded Mohism and his students compiled the ''Mozi'' text. Conversely, Mawangdui textual syncretism reveals "the majority of the ancient texts" are not written by individual authors, "but rather collections of works of different origins."