The "Huainanzi" and Liu An's Claim to Moral Authority

Dissertation, Princeton University (1996)
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This dissertation contains both a philosophical examination of the Huainanzi's views on morality and an historical investigation of the factors that led to the demise of Liu An, King of Huainan, and his kingdom in 122 B.C. It shows how in early Han times moral values, ideas about morality and historical praxis shaped and influenced one another. ;Part one argues that during the second decade of Emperor Wu's reign a major shift in morality occurred. When Liu An offered the Huainanzi to Emperor Wu during an official court-visit in 139 B.C., he used the text to affirm himself as a person possessing both the practical expertise and the moral authority necessary to qualify as a player on the political scene. Officials whose primary goal lay in strengthening the grip of the central government over the empire, and who had risen to power during the twenties, sought to demonstrate how an independent moral stance was inherently disloyal. Around 122 B.C. they accused Liu An of plotting revolt and obtained a conviction. For the officials, loyalty coincided with submissiveness to the emperor's will. ;Part two shows that a reason for the officials' dislike of the Huainanzi is the text's refusal to articulate well-defined moral rules. How to act in a particular situation is up to the agent who has to rely on the judgment of his own heart. When an agent's heart is cultivated like the heart of a sage person, his actions will follow human nature and the hierarchy of values it contains and therefore be good actions. Part two further analyzes the Huainanzi's claim that persons who have cultivated their hearts according to the text's precepts are not only virtuous persons, but also extremely effective agents. Thus the Huainanzi puts forward pragmatic as well as moral reasons for why a person possessing the heart of a sage should be accorded a political voice. ;Even as the moral viewpoint that Liu An and the Huainanzi represent was condemned in 122 B.C., it retained its force as a vehicle for criticizing government practice



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Griet Vankeerberghen
McGill University

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