Explanations of the Three Masters


This work, San zi yin yi (Explanations of the three masters), was edited and published by Min Qiji (born 1580), a successful Ming publisher who used, for the first time in 1616, chromatographic printing with red and black ink. Later he worked with five colors, and specialized in printing books of classics, histories, and works of philosophy and literature, including drama and fiction. This work, consisting of writing by the three philosophers, Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Liezi, is printed in red and black. Laozi is believed to have lived in the sixth century BC and is traditionally regarded as the author of the Dao de jing (Classic of the way and virtue), also known as The Laozi, one of the most significant treatises in Chinese cosmogony. As with most of other early Chinese philosophers, Laozi often explained his ideas by way of paradox, analogy, appropriation of ancient sayings, repetition, symmetry, rhyme, and rhythm. The second master, Zhuangzi, is thought to have lived during the Warring States period around 370 to 301 BC. This work contains a version of his Zhuangzi, also entitled Nanhua zhen jing (The divine classic of the Sage of Mount Nanhua), with a commentary by Guo Xiang (died 312), a Daoist during the Western Jin era, which focuses on his understanding of Zhuangzi's philosophy of spontaneity. Zhuangzi’s work enjoyed great popularity among the Chinese literati of later generations, who were inspired to withdraw from social and political service into reclusion and self-cultivation and find an individual path of freedom. The third master, Liezi, was once thought to have lived around the fifth century BC, but most scholars now believe the work Liezi, or Chongxu zhen jing (Classic of the perfect emptiness), was compiled around the fourth century BC. Most of the chapters in Liezi reflect names in Chinese mythology and history, such as Tian rui (Heaven’s gifts), Huangdi (The Yellow Emperor), Zhou Mu Wang (King Mu of Zhou), and Zhong Ni (Confucius), and share many passages with other texts in Zhuangzi and Dao de jing. This work contains two juan of Dao de zhen jing by Laozi, with a preface by Ge Xuan (164‒244), a Daoist priest of the Three Kingdoms; four juan of Nanhua zhen jing by Zhuangzi, with a preface by Guo Xiang, and one juan of Chongxu zhen jing by Liezi, with commentary by Liu Xiang, a Western Han essayist. The Library of Congress also has three other similar copies, in different editions, number of juan, and dates, and in different bindings and measurements.

Last updated: January 10, 2018