Paul van Els. The Wenzi: Creativity and Intertextuality in Early Chinese Philosophy. Studies in the History of Chinese Texts 9. Leiden: Brill, 2018. 233 pages. ISBN: 978-90-04-26479-3 (hardback); 978-90-04-36543-8 (e-book).

The Wenzi is a Chinese philosophical text that enjoyed considerable prestige in the centuries following its creation, over two-thousand years ago. However, when questions regarding its authenticity arose, the text was branded a forgery and consigned to near oblivion. The discovery of an age-old Wenzi manuscript, inked on strips of bamboo, refueled interest in the text.

In this combined study of the bamboo manuscript and the received text, I argue that they belong to two distinct text traditions as I study the date, authorship, and philosophy of each tradition, as well as the reception history of the received text.

This monograph, the first of its kind in English, sheds light on text production and reception in Chinese history, with its changing views on authorship, originality, authenticity, and forgery, both past and present.


1. The Dingzhou Discovery
2. The Dingzhou Wenzi
3. The Proto-Wenzi — Date, Protagonists, Author
4. The Proto-Wenzi — Philosophy
5. A New Wenzi
6. The Received Wenzi — Date and Editor
7. The Received Wenzi — Philosophy
8. Wenzi Reception


The cover image is a section of the paper manuscript 文子道德第五 (The Wenzi, chapter 5, "The Way and Virtue"), dated to the year 751 and discovered at Dunhuang in 1906. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France, département des Manuscrits, Pelliot chinois 3768. Further information is available at the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.


The book can be ordered from the Brill website. It is also available at Amazon and other bookstores.


The book has been reviewed by several specialists in the field. For a sample of their views, click here.

"Paul van Els succeeded excellently in dealing with a highly complex topic ranging from the interpretation of the excavated manuscripts to the evaluation of authenticity criteria of the transmitted texts. His work stands out through careful and thorough reasoning and will most certainly provide great help for those who study excavated manuscripts, especially the ones with counterparts in the received texts." — Andrej Fech (CLEAR 40: 255–259)
"Throughout, van Els works in discourse with the large field of traditional as well as contemporary Chinese scholars on the Wenzi for whom an old book that harmoniously incorporates ideas put forth by Laozi and by Confucius is of ongoing vital interest. The volume, brief as it is, is reliable, comprehensive and readable and can serve as a model for putting a complex ancient text to pertinent philosophical and historical use." — Barbara Hendrischke (Religious Studies Review 44.4: 496–497)