Skip to main content

Strategic Sages and Cosmic Generals: A Daoist Perspective on the Intertextuality of the Daodejing and the Sunzi

Abstract

This study examines the intertextuality of the Daodejing 道德經 and the Sunzi 孫子 by exploring one possible horizon that can shed light on the intellectual environment of their early circulations. A preliminary section examines the early doctrinal movements of what would later be recognized as Daoism and Militarism by triangulating them with the early doctrinal movements of what would later be recognized as Confucianism. This is followed by a consideration of the possible ways in which the early “authors” of the Daodejing and the Sunzi honed their respective systems of thought by way of at least occasional encounter, dialogue, and debate with each other during the early period when their texts were still relatively fluid. The final sections provide a textual analysis of some of their shared content on the topics “surprise attack” and “straightforward attack,” and the “chaos” of cosmogony and battle.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Allan, Sarah, and Crispin Williams, eds. 2000. The Guodian Laozi: Preceedings of the International Conference, Dartmouth College, May 1998. Early China Special Monograph Series, Society for the Study of Early China.

    Google Scholar 

  • Allen, Barry. 2015. “War as a Problem of Knowledge: Theory of Knowledge in China’s Military Philosophy.” Philosophy East and West 65.1: 1–17.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ames, Roger. 1993. Sun-tzu: The Art of Warfare. New York: Ballantine.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bai, Tongdong. 2009. “How to Rule without Taking Unnatural Actions (無為而治): A Comparative Study of the Political Philosophy of the Laozi.” Philosophy East and West 59.4: 481– 502.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baxter, William H. 1998. “Situating the Language of the Lao-tzu: The Probable Date of the Tao-te-ching.” In Lao-tzu and the Tao-te-ching, edited by Livia Kohn and Michael LaFargue. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brooks, E. Bruce. 1994. “The Present State and Future Prospects of Pre-Han Text Studies.” Sino-Platonic Papers 46: 1–74.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brooks, E. Bruce, and A. Taeko Brooks. 1998. The Original Analects: Sayings of Confucius and His Successors. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chan, Alan. 1991. Two Visions of the Way: A Study of the WangPi and the Ho-shang Kung Commentaries on the Lao-Tzu. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cook, Scott. 2012. The Bamboo Texts of Guodian: A Study and Complete Translation. New York: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Defoort, Carine, and Nicolas Standaert, eds. 2013. The Mozi as an Evolving Text: Different Voices in Early Chinese Thought. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Denecke, Wiebke. 2011. The Dynamics of Masters Literatures: Early Chinese Thought from Confucius to HanFeizi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Gawlikowski, Krzysztof, and Michael Loewe. 1993. “Sun Tzu Ping Fa 孫子兵法.” In Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide, edited by Michael Loewe. Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China; Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

  • Graham, A. C. 1986. “The Origins of the Legend of Lao Tan.” In Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature. Singapore: Institute of East Asian Philosophies.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goldin, Paul Rakita. 2008. “The Myth that China Has No Creation Myth.” Monumenta Serica 56: 1–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hall, David, and Roger Ames. 2003. Tao Te Ching: A Philosophical Translation. New York: Ballantine Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • He, Bingdi 何炳棣. 2002. Three Studies on the Sunzi and the Laozi 有關《孫子》《老子》的三篇考證. Taipei 台北: Zhongyang Yanjiuyuan Jindaishi Yanjiusuo 中央研究院近代史研究所.

  • Henricks, Robert G. 1989. Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching: A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-wang-tui Texts. New York: Ballantine Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • ______. 2000. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: A Translation of the Startling Documents Found at Guodian. New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Ivanhoe, Philip J., tr. 2003. The Daodejing of Laozi. New York: Hackett.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kim, Hyongkyung. 2013. The Old Master: A Syncretic Reading of the Laozi from the Mawangdui Text A Onward. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • LaFargue, Michael. 1992. The Tao of the Tao-te-ching. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • ______. 1994. Tao and Method: A Reasoned Approach to the Tao-Te-Ching. New York: State University of New York Press.

  • Lau, D. C., tr. 1982. Tao Te Ching: A Bilingual Edition. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lau, D. C., and Roger Ames, tr. 2003. Sun Bin: The Art of Warfare, A Translation of the Classic Chinese Work of Philosophy and Strategy. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewis, Mark Edward. 1990. Sanctioned Violence in Early China. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • ______. 1999. Writing and Authority in Early China. New York: State University of New York Press.

  • ______. 2006. The Flood Myths of Early China. New York: State University of New York Press.

  • Littlejohn, Ronnie. 2019. “Wu-wei.” International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Wiley Online Library, https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee942 (last accessed on December 5, 2019).

  • Lo, Ping-cheung. 2015a. “The Art of War Corpus and Chinese Just War Ethics Past and Present.” See Lo and Twiss 2015.

  • ______. 2015b. “Warfare Ethics in Sunzi’s Art of War? Historical Controversies and Contemporary Perspectives.” See Lo and Twiss 2015.

  • Lo, Ping-cheung, and Sumner B. Twiss, eds. 2015. Chinese Just War Ethics: Origin, Development, and Dissent. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mair, Victor. 2007. The Art of War: Sun Zi’s Military Methods. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • ______. 2008. “Soldierly Methods: Vade Mecum for an Iconoclastic Translation of Sun Zi Bingfa.” Sino-Platonic Papers 178: 1–195.

  • Major, John S., Sarah A. Queen, Andrew Seth Meyer, and Harold D. Roth, eds. and trans. 2010. The Huainanzi: LiuAn, King of Huainan. New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Meyer, Andrew. 2011. “The Altars of Soil and Grain are Closer than Kin: The Qi Model of Intellectual Participation and the Jixia Patronage Academy.” Early China 34–35: 37–99.

    Google Scholar 

  • Meyer, Andrew. 2017. “Reading ‘Sunzi’ as Master.” Asia Major 30.1: 1–24.

    Google Scholar 

  • Michael, Thomas. 2005. The Pristine Dao: Metaphysics in Early Daoist Discourse. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • ______. 2015. In the Shadows of the Dao: Laozi, the Sage, and the Daodejing. New York: State University of New York Press.

  • ______. 2017. “Approaching Laozi: Comparing a Syncretic Reading to a Synthetic One.” Frontiers of Philosophy in China 12.1: 10–25.

  • ______. 2018. “Explorations in Authority in the Daodejing: A Daoist Engagement with Hannah Arendt.” Religions 9.12: 1–26.

  • Needham, Joseph, and Robin Yates. 1994. Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology; Part 6, Military Technology: Missiles and Sieges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Nivison, David. 1996. The Ways of Confucianism: Investigations in Chinese Philosophy. La Salle: Open Court.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pines, Yuri. 2002. Foundations of Confucian Thought: Intellectual Life in the Chunqiu Period, 722–453 B.C.E. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

  • Rickett, W. Allyn. 2001. Guanzi: Political, Economic, and Philosophical Essays from Early China, vol. 1, revised ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Roth, Harold. 1999. Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-Yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • ______. 2014. “Daoist Inner Cultivation Thought and the Textual Structure of the Huainanzi.” In The Huainanzi and Textual Production in Early China, edited by by Sarah Queen and Michael Puett. Leiden: Brill.

  • Sawyer, Ralph D. 1997. The Six Secret Teachings on the Way of Strategy. Boulder: Shambala Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • ______. 1999. The Tao of War: The Martial Tao Te Ching. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press.

  • Schaberg, David. 2015. “On the Range and Performance of Laozi-Style Tetrasyllables.” In Literary Forms of Argument in Early China, edited by Joachim Gentz and Dirk Meyer. Leiden: Brill.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schipper, Kristofer. 1993. The Taoist Body. Trans. by Karen C. Duval. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schwartz, Benjamin. 1985. The World of Thought in Early China. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sivin, Nathan. 1995. “State, Cosmos, and Body in the Last Three Centuries B.C.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 55.1: 5–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Slingerland, Edward. 2003. Effortless Action: Wu-wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stalnaker, Aaron. 2015. “Xunzi’s Moral Analysis of War and Some of Its Contemporary Implications.” See Lo and Twiss 2015.

  • Twiss, Sumner, and Jonathan K. L. Chan. 2015. “The Classical Confucian Position on the Legitimate Use of Military Force.” See Lo and Twiss 2015.

  • van Els, Paul. 2018. “Confucius’s Sayings Entombed: On Two Han Dynasty Bamboo Lunyu Manuscripts.” In Confucius and the Analects Revisited: New Perspectives on Composition, Dating, and Authorship, edited by Michael Hunter and Martin Kern. Leiden: Brill.

  • Wang, Zhongjian. 2015. Daoism Excavated: Cosmos and Humanity in Early Manuscripts. Trans. by Livia Kohn. St. Petersburg: Three Pines Press.

  • Wawrytko, Sandra A. 2007. “Winning Ways: The Viability (Dao) and Virtuosity (De) of Sunzi’s Methods of Warfare (Bingfa).” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 34.4: 561–579.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yates, Robin. 1994. “The Yin-Yang Texts from Yinqueshan: An Introduction and Partial Reconstruction, with Notes on Their Significance in Relation to Huang-Lao Daoism.” Early China 19: 75–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zhang, Ellen. 2015. “‘Weapons are Nothing but Ominous Instruments’: The Daodejing’s View on War and Peace.” See Lo and Twiss 2015.

  • Zhang, Rongming 張榮明. 2003. Ancient Chinese Qigong and Pre-Qin Philosophy 中國古代氣功與先秦哲學. Taipei 台北: Guiguan Tushu Gufen Youxiangongsi 桂冠圖書股份有限公司.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thomas Michael.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Michael, T. Strategic Sages and Cosmic Generals: A Daoist Perspective on the Intertextuality of the Daodejing and the Sunzi. Dao 19, 11–31 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-019-09701-3

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-019-09701-3

Keywords

  • Laozi Daodejing 老子道德經
  • Sunzi Bingfa 孫子兵法
  • Early Daoism
  • Early Chinese Militarism