Huan Tan

Huan Tan 桓譚 (c. 43 BC28 AD)[1] was a Chinese philosopher of the Han Dynasty (202 BC220 AD) and short-lived interregnum of the Xin Dynasty (923 AD). Huan's mode of philosophical thought belonged to an Old Text realist tradition supported by other contemporaries such as the naturalist and mechanistic philosopher Wang Chong (27c. 100), the latter who Rafe de Crespigny states was probably heavily influenced by Huan Tan.[1] Huan was a close associate of the court astronomer and mathematician Liu Xin (died 23 AD) as well as the author and poet Yang Xiong (53 BC18 AD), and worked as an official under the administrations of Emperor Ai of Han (r. 271 BC), Wang Mang (r. 923 AD), Emperor Gengshi of Han (r. 2325 AD), and Emperor Guangwu of Han (r. 2557 AD).[1] He drew explicitly on Legalism in his writings on government, saying that in certain historical epochs harsher punishments are needed.[2]

In addition to his many rhapsodies, essays, and memorials, Huan's major work was the Xinlun (新論), "New Discussions", which was admired by Emperor Guangwu, despite Huan Tan's besmirched reputation for having closely associated himself with the regime of the usurper Wang Mang.[1] His Xinlun is also the earliest text to describe the trip hammer device powered by hydraulics (i.e. a waterwheel) in order to pound and decorticate grain.[3]

Huan Tan is reported by Yu Yingshi (b. 1930) to uphold self-contradictory views on immortality. On one hand, he is quoted to say that "the way of immortals" is a fabrication of the lovers for the strange; on the other, however, he was reported to admit the practice as genuine and efficient. Possible explanation lies in the fact that Huanzi xinlun 桓子新論 is a later compilation which might have confused his own statements with the quotations of his opponents.[4]


  1. 1 2 3 4 Crespigny, 338.
  2. Mark Csikszentmihalyi 2006 p.27. Readings in Han Chinese Thought.
  3. Needham, Volume 4, Part 2, 392.
  4. Yü, Ying-shih. «Life and Immortality in The Mind of Han China». Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 25, (1964—1965), p. 109.


Further reading

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