"Its basic themes are of political unification, meritocracy, equality, multi-racialism, and spiritual transcendence."

Martial artist and Chinese scholar Wells methodically explores a view of early Daoism (Taoism) in this academic exploration of a long-lost ideology called the “Way’s Law.” The Book of Han or History of the Former Han, a history of China completed in 111 AD, is the earliest source that mentions the Heguanzi, but a Tang dynasty writer found a copy of the Heguanzi in 805 and proclaimed it a forgery, an opinion echoed by scholars over the next twelve centuries.

The recovery of texts written on silk in 1973 (Mawangdui Silk Texts) led to renewed studies of the text’s history and significance. Its hybrid school of thought combined Laozi’s (also known as Lao Tzu, traditionally regarded as the author of the Tao Te Ching) vision of the mystic “Way,” said to be both the order of nature and the source of nature. The Silk Texts include previously unknown work in philosophy, astronomy, medicine, and military strategy.

The twelve-part introduction discusses the historical significance of the manuscripts in great detail and is by nature an academic and not a popular treatment. Extensive translations follow the introduction in three sections of the “top, mid, and bottom” scrolls. Heguanzi is written in verse: quatrains and couplets composed in a variety of voices (multiple authors). It is “a discourse on topics of unification . . .” He Guan Zi is translated as “Pheasant Cap Master”—a Chinese expression for warrior and a king of Chu, a kingdom of southern China. Heguanzi frequently quotes from Laozi, and Wells counts thirty-nine cases of this.

The author has also meticulously included robust end matter: a postscript, appendixes, a bibliography, and an index to support the meticulous academic discourse. Wells’ scholarly work should appeal to students of Daoism as well as those intrigued by studies of historic religious texts.

A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Legacy Nonfiction Category Honorable Mention

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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