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Taiyi sheng shui 太一生水 Puglia, Francesca


The Taiyi sheng shui 太一生水 is a fourth century BCE Chu 楚 manuscript written on 14 bamboo slips, discovered in 1993 in the archaeological excavation of the Guodian 郭店 tomb n.1, in Jingmen 荊門, Hubei 湖 北 province. It has been given the title Taiyi sheng shui by the editors of the Guodian Chu mu zhujian 郭店楚 墓竹簡, based on the first four characters written on what is deemed to be the first strip. The text, written in the Chu script, appears to be divided into two main halves, and the debate is still open as to whether they represent two sections of a consistent text or two separate documents. The first half describes a cosmological cycle that begins with Taiyi making water alive and ends with the the completion of a yearly cycle, through a process of reciprocal assistance by a series of dyadic couples (the sky and the earth, shen 神 and ming 明, yin and yang, the four seasons, cold and warmth, wetness and dryness); the second half deals with various topics: the workings of the tiandao 天道 (way of the sky); the different designations assigned to Taiyi 太一, the “Great One”, whose names, ming 名, are qing 清 (bright) and hun 昏 (dark), and whose honorific, zi 字, is dao 道 (way); the services performed by the sage and by the people, who both need to rely on the names of Taiyi; the tilt that occurred between the sky and earth, whereby the sky is insufficient in the north-west, while the earth is insufficient in the south-east (a recurring account on the asset of the sky and the earth in Chu texts, e.g. Tianwen 天問). The Taiyi sheng shui appears to share the same material carrier with one of the three Laozi 老子 manuscripts found in the same tomb, the Guodian Laozi C 郭店老子丙, and for this reason the majority of scholarly works hypothesize a correspondence of Taiyi to the Laozian dao. This supposed connection between the two texts led to an understanding of the first half of the Taiyi sheng shui as a cosmogony connected to the cosmogonic chapters of the Daodejing 道德經 (ch. 25;42), despite the process ending with the completion of the year (cheng sui 成歲) rather than with the coming into being of material reality. Within this framework, Taiyi in this text has been understood as a name for the dao (Allan 2003; Cook 2012; Brindley 2019; Wang 2016), as the homonymous god known from Han religious cults (Harper 2001), as a name for the pole star and its god (Allan 2003). A recent study (Puglia 2021) reads the two halves of the manuscript as a consistent whole, in which Taiyi is a name for the sun that apparently moves along with the seasons in the sky, marking the completion of the year, and tracing the tiandao that people should understand in order to act timely and get accomplishments done. The identification of Taiyi with the sun in this manuscript is based on the detailed description of its movements provided in the text. It is said to proceed with the seasons (行於時), to make a cycle and begin anew (周而又始), and to hide in water (藏於水): the employment of the verbs xing 行 and zhou 周, tipically used to define the sun’s motion in astronomical pre-Qin and early imperial accounts (e.g. Lüshi Chunqiu 呂 氏春秋, Huainanzi 淮南子, etc.) recalls the completion of the yearly cycle as the end of the cosmology described in the first half of the manuscript; the hiding in water, on the other hand, parallels the topos of the sun disappearing in water at sunset in the Chu tradition (e.g. Tianwen 天問). Also the names qing and hun given to Taiyi, following Donald Harper’s reading of the same characters in the Mawangdui 馬王堆 medical text entitled Quegu Shiqi 卻鼓食氣, indicate dawn and dusk (Harper 2001), while its honorific dao might refer to the sun’s ecliptic, the huangdao 黃道 (simply referred to as dao in other pre-imperial sources, such as the Lüshi Chunqiu). Taiyi is also defined as the mother of the ten thousand things (萬物母): if Taiyi is the sun, this passage would refer to its essential function of ensuring the conditions for the existence and reproduction of things on earth, providing light and heat, and driving the water cycle (also explaining the fundamental role of shui 水, water, in the manuscript). Taiyi is finally said to weave making the warp of the ten thousand things (以紀為萬物經): the sun was traditionally taken both as a spatial and as a temporal benchmark for all things on earth, based on the directions of its rising and setting and on the regularity of its yearly cycle. According to this reading, the two halves of the text are consistent with each other: the first half provides a clarification of the various steps which cooperate for the completion of the year, which is marked by the apparent revolution of the sun in the sky. This revolution of the sun recalls the tiandao of the second half of the text, on which people should base their activities.

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