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February 28, 2022

Hot off the presses of UWA Press, read more about Garden of Eloquence and Eric Henry’s accolades below!

Garden of Eloquence / Shuoyuan 說苑 (January 2022)

By Liu Xiang

Introduction and Translation by Eric Henry

In 17 BCE the Han dynasty archivist Liu Xiang presented to the throne a collection of some seven hundred items of varying length, mostly quasi-historical anecdotes and narratives, that he deemed essential reading for wise leadership. Garden of Eloquence (Shuoyuan), divided into twenty books grouped by theme, follows a tradition of narrative writing on historical and philosophical themes that began seven centuries earlier. Long popular in China as a source of allusions and quotations, it preserves late Western Han views concerning history, politics, and ethics. Many of its anecdotes are attributed to Confucius’s speeches and teachings that do not appear in earlier texts, demonstrating that long after Confucius’s death in 479 BCE it was still possible for new “historical” narratives to be created.

Garden of Eloquence is valuable as a repository of items that originally appeared in other early collections that are no longer extant, and it provides detail on topics as various as astronomy and astrology, yin-yang theory, and quasi-geographical and mystical categories. Eric Henry’s unabridged translation with facing Chinese text and extensive annotation will make this important primary source available for the first time to Anglophone world historians.

Authors & Contributors

Liu Xiang (79–08 BCE) was a scholar-official of the Western (Former) Han dynasty. Eric Henry is senior lecturer emeritus of Asian studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What are people saying?

Perhaps more than any other scholar of early China, Liu Xiang was responsible for determining the content and configuration of official Chinese knowledge. Henry’s translation makes audible in English a hitherto unheard but important voice.

Sarah Queen, Connecticut College

With his usual wit and style, Eric Henry brings to life Liu Xiang’s Shuoyuan. This engaging compendium of anecdotes and aphorisms addresses the various means to achieve an enlightened government. But it is also an important source on other topics, such as music, morals, yin-yang theory and rhetoric. The text also embodies the Han fondness for mining historical anecdotes for useful models of administering the state. In short, the Shuoyuan is essential reading for understanding the political and administrative concerns of the late Western Han dynasty.

Anne Behnke Kinney, University of Virginia

The Shuoyuan is one of the most important texts that have come down to us from the Han dynasty. Eric Henry’s complete and profusely annotated translation includes the establishment of a carefully collated critical text based on the best modern critical editions published in China. Professor Henry’s work, based on many years of meticulous research, makes a very substantial contribution to the study of ancient Chinese intellectual history.

Christoph Harbsmeier, professor emeritus, University of Oslo

This definitive translation of a very important classical Chinese text with its useful scholarly apparatus will be of great value to the fields of Chinese history and literary studies.

J. Michael Farmer, University of Texas at Dallas

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