Transmitting Authority: Wang Tong (ca. 584-617) and the Zhongshuo in Medieval China's Manuscript Culture.

Author:Williams, Nicholas Morrow
Position:Book review
 
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Transmitting Authority: Wang Tong (ca. 584-617) and the Zhongshuo in Medieval China's Manuscript Culture. By Ding Xiang Warner. Sinica Leidensia, vol. 113. Leiden: Brill, 2014. Pp. 225 + xii. 103 [euro], $134.

The Zhongshuo, a compilation of sayings and anecdotes attributed to Wang Tong (a.k.a. Wenzhongzi), is a minor work that has attracted much scholarly attention both in premodern and modern times. That attention has focused less on the contents of the work than on the question of how well it reflects the intentions and sayings of its putative author Wang Tong, and to what extent it fulfills his ambitions as a latter-day Confucian sage. Howard J. Wechsler left many aspects of this complex problem unresolved when he reviewed the subject in a classic article, "The Confucian Teacher Wang T'ung (5847-617): One Thousand Years of Controversy" (T'oung Pao 63 [1977]: 22572). In her well-argued monograph, Ding Xiang Warner reframes the debate in terms of the "transmission history" of the Zhongshuo. Through a rigorous examination of the historical evidence, she elucidates the different layers of transmission that obscure our vision of Wang Tong himself. These range from the editors of Tang and early Song who may have altered the text, to Wang Tong's own descendants and other partisans of the Zhongshuo who have exaggerated its influence. By the final chapter we are left with a gratifyingly vivid picture of how the text evolved over the centuries, and of the various personalities and agendas that shaped its transmission. The monograph is thus a concise illustration of both the potential and the limitations of the "history of the book" methodology in premodern Chinese studies.

Building on the insights from her own earlier article in this journal, "Wang Tong and the Compilation of the Zhongshuo: A New Evaluations of the Source Materials and Points of Controversy" (JAOS 121 [2001]: 370-90), Warner's focus is on rigorous assessment of all the historical evidence. She begins with an examination of the contents of the Zhongshuo itself, in particular its five appendices, giving an exceedingly clear account of the relative merits of each of these puzzling documents. Though laden with anachronisms, factual errors, and inconsistencies, nonetheless they do preserve some valuable clues that allow us to reconstruct the early transmission history of the Zhongshuo. Warner is particularly insightful on the role of Wang's own family in editing and transmitting the text....

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