UBC Faculty Research and Publications

The Way of Tang and Yu (Tang yu zhi dao 唐虞 之道) Allan, Sarah; Hamm, Matthew


The Tangyuzhidao 唐虞之道 (The Way of Tang and Yu) is a bamboo text of twenty-nine strips that was part of a collection of such texts excavated from a tomb (Guodian Tomb One) near the village of Guodian 郭店 at Jingmen 荊門 in Hubei 湖北 province in 1993. The tomb itself was closed around 300 BCE and would have been located on the outskirts of Ying 郢, the capital city of the state of Chu 楚. The Tangyuzhidao cannot be definitively associated with any specific philosophical school in the Warring States period and is striking for constituting the only known argument to hereditary rule in Chinese history. According to the text, the only proper way to rule is for sage rulers to abdicate the throne to other sages when they become too old to rule effectively. In other words, rulership should not be transmitted through hereditary lineages but from one worthy ruler to another at a certain point in the ruler's life (age 70). The text illustrates this idea with the legend of the sage-king Yao 堯 (referred to by his lineage name Tang 唐) abdicating the throne to the sageking Shun 舜 (referred to by his lineage name Yu 虞). The "Way of Tang and Yu" is thus the way of abdication and this phrase, which is first line phrase of the text, is used by the editors of the Guodian texts to refer to the text as a whole. The basis for the text's argument is the idea that the ruler (the "Son of Heaven" tianzi 天 子) is necessary for the "natural order" (ming 命) to be harmonized. A good ruler is thus equivalent to the sun and the moon, essential to the flourishing of the world as a whole, and able to encourage the service of worthy individuals so that society is governed by sages at every level. The text further argues that abdicating the throne is thus a sign that sages do not seek to monopolize the benefits of rule for themselves but are genuinely concerned with the welfare of all. As a result, it defines abdication as the fullest expression of both "benevolence" (ren 仁) and "rightness" (yi 義). The text further links these two virtues to the practices of "loving one's kin" (ai qin 愛親, a practice that is part of the virtue of "filial" piety" xiao 孝) and "honoring worthies" (zun xian 尊賢) respectively and thus denies that there is any possible breach of kinship obligations in the practice of abdication. Although the text exhibits some parallels with other texts, including both Confucian and Mohist works, its argument is unique and its discovery sheds light on the types of arguments that the Mengzi 孟子 and Xunzi 荀子 were responding to when they offered their defenses of hereditary rule.

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