One of the primary early Daoist texts, Huai Nan Zi (139 B.C.E.) follows in the tradition of Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi using the language and philosophy of these works, in some sections borrowing parts of the texts themselves. This text provides a view of what Ames refers to as “Han thinking” - a syncretic way of thinking and living that came, and continues, to be characteristically “Chinese.”

The Huainanzi comes from the central court of Emperor Wu (141-87 B.C.E.) and was thought to be given to him by his paternal uncle, Liu An, the king of Huainan, as a gift. Liu An was a respected scholar who gathered all ranking philosophies of his own court and recorded his reflections in a famous collection. Liu An’s court was a center of Daoist culture and a hold out against the powerful growing influence of Confucianism.

“The central message of Tracing Dao to Its Source, and the Huainanzi broadly, is philosophical. It advocates inclusivity - an appreciation of the contribution that each and everything can make to the well-bring of the whole when orchestrated by able leadership into a productive harmony… a compelling Daoistic argument against political centralism, expansionism, and zero-sum consolidation of power that was driving the imperial court during the first century of the Han dynasty.” (p.5)

Suggested Translation

Lau & Ames, trans. Yuan Dao: Tracing Dao to Its Source. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998.

(From the series Classics of Ancient China.) This book is part of a series called Classics of Ancient China. Includes Chinese text. Is the first translation in English.

Yuan Dao is a direct descendent of the better-known earlier Daoist texts, the Dao De Jing and the Zhuang-zi. Its main tenet is the ‘efficacy of accommodation’, as described by the translators, and brings to life the essentials of Han linguistic and political thought.

Roth, Meyer, Major, & Queen, The Huainanzi, New York: Columbia University Press 2010.

other translations

Chpt 3: Graham, A.C. Yin-Yang and the Nature of Correlative Thinking. Singapore: The Institute of East Asian Philosophies, 1986.


Major, John. Heaven and Earth in Early Han Thought: Chapters Three, Four, and Five of the Huainanzi. Albany: SUNY Press, 1993.

LeBlanc, Charles. Huai-nan Tzu: Philosophical Synthesis in Early Han Thought. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1985.

online resources

For the Original Chinese text ›

Available at Chinese Text Project under pre-Qin and Han texts - Miscellaneous Schools

Other Resources

·  On translation of ancient Chinese works : ›

·  On China Text you can also see other texts which mention Huai Nan Zi : ›