The Teachings of Li Wang Ho reviewed

A perceptive review of this unknown classic of ancient Chinese wisdom literature

Guest article by Paul G. Vaughan

"The Wisdom of Antiquity is the Star by which we steer our ship of life into a safe harbour, for it is better to forget the new and unproved notions of to-day than not to remember the well-founded learning of the profound Sages of long ago."

Such seems to be the guiding thought of The Teachings of Li Wang Ho, a book containing the teachings of a forgotten Chinese philosopher of over 2,000 years ago, as the cover informs us. I doubt that more than a tiny handful of readers have ever heard of this book or the venerable Sage whose teachings it contains. Indeed, as the forthright introduction tells us, until the publication of this book in 1947, the memory of Master Li Wang Ho and his exalted wisdom remained sealed and closely guarded by the Chinese Keeper of the ancient Archives.

From the outset, we are invited to participate in a splendidly detailed pageant of life in ancient China: with a lush and vivid tapestry of sensory descriptions, and minute accounts of rituals and ceremonials of the imperial court and nobles as they feast together, enjoy theatre and arts, or converse on lofty matters. All the glorious aspects of the refined Chinese mind come to the forefront giving us a taste of the exalted life in that brief period in recorded history, when the Light of Wisdom seemed to shine a little more brightly upon the face of the empire, which was once again guided by the Sons and Daughters of Heaven. How very different this is to the present-day conditions in China reported in the news and media!

The Teachings of Li Wang Ho is a work of beauty, short and sweet, giving simple pleasure to the reader whilst also strewing his path with glittering pearls of wisdom which make the poetic prose and inspired verses gleam with a light of their own. We observe the Sage and his disciples engaged in courteous discussions on everything from matters of practical daily conduct to some of the more esoteric secrets of Nature; the discourse being always couched in a melodious tongue and peppered with sharp wit and humour where appropriate.

We read the inspired poetry of Singing Nightingale, a young wandering poet-musician, still lost in the beauties of celestial realms from which his Mind has seemingly never departed; and we negotiate the tormented one-liners of Lu-shun, a neophyte whose tortured self is a very true portrayal of the wandering embodiment of pride and hatred, fully controlled by his lower instincts and passions—and yet, in the eyes of the Sage, possessing the potential for Good as much as anyone else.

We meet the sublime Lady Silver Lotus, to whom the book is dedicated, a Heavenly bride-to-be to the enlightened Emperor—reformer of the realm much beloved by his people, and a Son of Heaven himself. We behold the Lady, a diligent student of Li Wang Ho and in many ways his adopted daughter, in the final days before she is to take up her new abode in the Emperor's splendid palace; and the beauty of Silver Lotus is only equalled by her humility and wisdom:

"Her face was like a flower and glowed like the jasmine's sheen; her sweet body smelt of spice and nard and myrrh; music sprang from the gentle touch of her hands; and one glance from her was sufficient for the recipient to be drowned within the deep wells of her glorious eyes."

But hers is not a mere transient, fading beauty of the physical and outward self, for: "Although the rose is beautiful, it needs the background of its leaves before its beauty can be fully realised"—as we may read further; and it is thanks to the Master's teachings that her inner, spiritual beauty irradiates her entire being and shines outwardly for all to see—the only true beauty a human being can ever possess, and one which can never fade away. This is a good lesson in point for all those hasty women (and men, ye gods!) of to-day who choose to meddle with their outward looks by means of plastic surgery and botox injections, all the while forgetting what a vapid dream it really is, and how short-sighted! Life filled with virtue and good thoughts, Mind attuned with Nature and the infinite, sensitive to the un-apparent Harmony which yet permeates all being; good deeds and a clean and upright heart—only these can outlast the ravages of old-age, for through them the greater, inner beauty will increase in lustre and smooth out the wrinkles of all tomorrows! The rest is, verily, dross—and evidently so, if we but look around us or turn on the TV.

But to return to the Master himself. The book is filled with most useful practical wisdom which one can as easily and successfully apply to one's daily life and conduct today, as one might have over 2,000 years ago:

"Keep silent, and let each man call you what he will. Thus you will know him; for what he sees in you is but a reflection of that part of himself he wishes to conceal from others. The real you is invisible to him, and so he will know you not—if you keep silent."


"All men are Fools, and fools only have wisdom if they know they are fools. The rest are still fools—only more so: for they do not know it. On the other hand when a fool in his foolishness is happy it is cruel to make him wise before the appointed time. Better a happy Fool than a miserable Sage."

Indeed, it is hard not to agree with the wise injunctions of our venerable Chinese Sage. The book abounds with these and similar precepts, as pragmatic as they are uplifting and enlightening.

Which brings me to the following conclusion: this is a work of such rarity that it should turn the heads of all serious collectors—be it bibliophiles, lovers of occult maxims, wise sayings or admirers of Chinese culture. Once scarce and difficult to find, The Teachings of Li Wang Ho was reprinted in 2022 in a new, handsome hardcover edition which perfectly compliments this unique book. Yet it is also a book with great universal appeal, untainted graciousness and value which should interest every reader under the sun who has at least some propensity for good life, noble thought and appreciation of beauty.

In the words of the Sage Li Wang Ho:

"The adoration of beauty leads the creature nearer to the Source of all he beholds. Then he will disregard life as it seems; for he will have merged in THAT from which all proceeds, and he will be ONE with the Essence of Divine Love—which is the highest God, and therefore IT is unknown."


Review first published 24 March 2016. Updated 13 June 2024.
© Copyright Paul G. Vaughan &

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