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Paradoxes in the Textual Development of the Laozi : A Closer Examination of Chapters Eight and Twenty-Four

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In light of the recently published Western Han period bamboo-slip Laozi, now in the collection of Peking University, this paper explores several paradoxes in the textual development of the Laozi. Specifically, it presents two examples suggesting that since the wording in the Laozi was originally intended to be ambiguous and paradoxical, during the transmission of the text, the compilers or commentators modified some of the paradoxes to make better sense. Eventually those modifications came to replace the original text. In the first part of this article examines certain contrasting differences in Chapter Eight from the Beida Laozi, the Mawangdui Laozi, and the received Laozi. The second part, I examine certain other contrasting differences from these same versions from Chapter Twenty-Four are discussed. This paper argues that these differences among the various versions are not the product of transcribal error; rather, they are the result of compilers or commentators who revised these passages against their earliest versions in order to make the meaning clearer and more explicit.

Affiliations: 1: School of Philosophy, Peking University


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