Guanzi (text)

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Literal meaning"[Writings of] Master Guan"

The Guanzi (Chinese: 管子) is an ancient Chinese political and philosophical text that is named for and traditionally attributed to the 7th century BCE philosopher and statesman Guan Zhong, who served as Prime Minister to Duke Huan of Qi.[1] At over 135,000 characters long, the Guanzi is one of the longest early Chinese philosophical texts. The Han Dynasty scholar Liu Xiang edited the received Guanzi text circa 26 BCE. It contains a wide variety of material from many different authors over several successive centuries, largely associated with the 4th century BCE Jixia Academy in the Qi capital of Linzi,[1][2] but much of it may actually not have been compiled until after the book Han Feizi (though the Neiye are thought to have influenced the Zhuangzi).[3]

The Ming dynasty agricultural scientist Xu Guangqi frequently cited the Guanzi and the Xunzi.[4]


As is typical of an ancient Chinese text, the organization of the Guanzi has been altered over time, both the chronology and significance of which isn't all that clear. Covering a wide variety of subjects, ranging from detailed economic discussions to overviews of local soil topography, many chapters include Confucian values as a necessity for the state, expressing a blend of what may be considered Legalistic, Confucian, and Daoistic philosophy that has been termed "Huang-Lao". The first reference to the collection appears in the more Daostic Huainanzi, of the early Han dynasty,[5] and Han bibliographies listed the text as Daoist.[6] For example, the Neiye ("Inner Enterprise/Training") chapter has some of the oldest recorded descriptions of Daoist meditation techniques.

When you enlarge your mind and let go of it,

When you relax your [qi 氣] vital breath and expand it,
When your body is calm and unmoving:
And you can maintain the One and discard the myriad disturbances.
You will see profit and not be enticed by it,
You will see harm and not be frightened by it.
Relaxed and unwound, yet acutely sensitive,
In solitude you delight in your own person.
This is called "revolving the vital breath":

Your thoughts and deeds seem heavenly. (24, tr. Roth 1999:92)

It was classed as Legalist after the Sui dynasty (581-617). Most chapters of the text deal with government and the art of rulership. Considering their tone generally less strident than in the classic Legalist work, the Book of Lord Shang (Shang jun shu 商君書), translator W. Allyn Rickett dissents from the traditional Confucian view of the texts as Legalist, judging them to "present a point of view much closer to that of the realistic Confucian, Xunzi than either the highly idealistic Confucianism of Mencius or the Draconian Legalism advocated by Shang Yang." The Guanzi shares with other "Legalist" texts the view that power is independent of morality, emphasizing techniques (Shu), but advocates "law" (Fa) as an adjunct to Confucian Li.

Economic and financial insight in the Guanzi[edit]

Several chapters of the Guanzi address what modern language would call economic and monetary issues. The "state savings" (國蓄) chapter has been described as the first-ever exposition of the quantity theory of money, and the "light and heavy" (轻重) chapter as the first clear articulation of the law of supply and demand:[7]

Now, the price of grain is heavy in our state and light in the world at large. Then the other lords’ goods will spontaneously leak out like water from a spring flowing downhill. Hence, if goods are heavy, they will come; if light they will go.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Rickett (1993), p. 244.
  2. ^ Ricket, Guanzi (1985) p.3
  3. ^ Chad Hansen, 1992 p.357 A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought
  4. ^ Joanna Handlin Smith 2009 p.252. The Art of Doing Good: Charity in Late Ming China
  5. ^ Ricket, Guanzi (1985) p.3, (1993) p.244
  6. ^ A.C. Graham 1989. p.268. Disputers of the Tao.
  7. ^ William N. Goetzmann (2016). Money Changes Everything: How Finance Made Civilization Possible. Princeton University Press. p. 160-161.


Works cited
  • Rickett, W. Allyn (1993). "Kuan tzu 管子". In Loewe, Michael (ed.). Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley, CA: Society for the Study of Early China; Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California Berkeley. pp. 244–51. ISBN 1-55729-043-1.
  • Roth, Harold. Original Tao: inward training (nei-yeh) and the foundations of Taoist mysticism. Columbia University Press. 1999.

External links[edit]