Wang Bi: “Outline Introduction to the Laozi”

(ca. 245)

Wang Bi (226–249 CE) was a scholar and minor official in the court of the Kingdom of Wei (220–265 CE). Born after the collapse of the Han Dynasty, Wang and his mentor, He Yan (195–249 CE), are considered to be the progenitors of a system of thought known as Mysterious Learning (xuanxue), which challenged the Confucian orthodoxy of the Han. Although he died young, at the age of twenty-three, Wang left behind a considerable number of important philosophical treatises, among them influential commentaries on two canonical texts: the Classic of Changes and the Laozi. Wang’s commentary on the Laozi is significant because until the excavation of the Mawangdui and Guodian bamboo manuscripts in the late twentieth century, this commentary contained the only transmitted version of the original text of the Laozi. Furthermore, Wang’s influential interpretation of the Laozi set the standard for subsequent interpretations of this seminal text.