Portrait of Mencius

Portrait of Mencius

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Nearly 70 years ago, Chinese anthropologist Fei Xiaotong published From the Soil (1947). The Chinese people, he wrote, were “inseparable from the soil”, which had produced “a glorious history”, but one that was “limited by what could be taken from the soil”. If that book was the portrait of a rural and inward-looking country, literally stuck in the famous yellow earth — the loess of the North China Plain — science writer Philip Ball's history of China, The Water Kingdom, is very much the opposite.

It is the portrait of a civilization permeated by water, with patterns of thought influenced by the centrality of water to everyday life and, echoing that, practical affairs shaped by philosophical ideas based on the principle of flow. The result is, Ball writes, “an intimate connection between hydraulic engineering, governance, moral rectitude and metaphysical speculation that has no parallel anywhere in the world”. On this premise he builds a picture of the nation, from its geographical and ideological foundations to the environmental and political predicament in which China (and not only China) now finds itself.

The Water Kingdom's structure is predominantly thematic rather than chronological. So the first chapter, introducing the Great Rivers, the Yangtze and the Yellow, leads from the Great Yu, the mythical ruler who, according to tradition conquered the floods more than 4,000 years ago, to twentieth-century Communist leader Mao Zedong, who repeatedly reasserted his power by swimming in the Yangtze. It interweaves more stories of the Yangtze: seventeenth-century explorer Xu Xiake's search for its source, twelfth-century poet Lu You's descriptions of commercial life along its banks, and more recent Western visitors' accounts of the colossal Three Gorges Dam.

On this epic journey, Ball explores mythological accounts of dragons and floods, along with early philosophical texts such as the teachings of Mencius from the fourth century BC , to unravel the origins of Chinese political ideology. That is, the idea that he who controls the water controls the people, which links the earliest cultural heroes to modern leaders from Republic of China founder Sun Yat-sen to Mao himself. Ball subsequently covers Zheng He's maritime explorations at the height of Ming-dynasty power in the fifteenth century, and the centrality of the Yellow River–Grand Canal administration to the state bureaucracy in the eighteenth. He notes how the late empire turned into a “hydraulic state”, increasingly mired in systemic problems that finally collapsed under the pressure of internal rebellion and the imperialist onslaught.

The centrality of water even plays out in the art of war, to which Ball devotes a chapter. In some of the most dramatic conflicts, rivers were harnessed as weapons. In 204 BC , for instance, an intentional rupturing of the Wei River dams led to the victory of the Han-dynasty forces. And in 1938, the Nationalist government attempted to stop the advancing Japanese army by breaching the Yellow River dykes, with disastrous consequences for the Chinese people — killing hundreds of thousands and making millions homeless. Technological and political parameters changed fundamentally in the twentieth century, yet hydraulic nation-building and the myths that surrounded it assumed an ever more important role. Mao in particular relished the role of the great leader conquering the floods. Ball ends that strand of the narrative with the Three Gorges Dam, first conceived by Sun Yat-sen and finally completed in 2012. He even covers the depiction of water in Chinese art through the ages, exploring its aesthetic, philosophical and political dimensions. The journey ends with a pertinent chapter on China's current environmental crisis. Another hydraulic-engineering project on an unprecedented scale, the South–North Water Transfer Project, is now under way, meant to tackle water scarcity in the north (J. Barnett et al. Nature 527, 295–297 2015).

Telling the history of Chinese civilization from the perspective of water is rewarding, because it can link the history of ideas and beliefs, technology and warfare, politics and the arts. But as with any general history, it risks essentializing China and making its history seem more uniform than the actual record justifies. The most obvious example is the major shift in the history of the Yellow River in the late tenth century. It is only from then that the river became a constant threat, bursting its dykes and flooding the countryside in ever more devastating cycles, and changing its course repeatedly in dramatic ways after nearly a millennium of relative stability. And so it is also only from then that controlling the river became tantamount to controlling the people, and that state and society became trapped in an increasingly unsustainable hydraulic infrastructure. That complex system of dykes and canals, with the Yellow River and the Grand Canal at its heart, devoured enormous resources — a quandary called “technological lock-in” by historian Mark Elvin. Moreover, Ball's focus on the state means that he fails to mention the role of small-scale irrigation and conservation projects that are common in particular in the southern China, and largely managed and funded by the local gentry.

Still, this is a convincing introduction to Chinese history. Rather than perpetuating stereotypes, it boldly navigates the treacherous and often-avoided terrain long dominated by influential but spurned theories, such as the idea, promoted by sinologist Karl August Wittfoge, of China as a despotic hydraulic society. It also complements and complicates Fei Xiaotong's idea of an earthbound civilization — a metaphor that has had a huge impact in China itself. In 1988, the six-part Chinese television documentary River Elegy depicted the country as weak and backward, closed off from the world by the Great Wall and stuck in the mud of the Yellow River, contrasted with a progressive, open, oceanic conceptualization of Western civilization. It has taken a generalist to turn the rich but rather dry literature on the history of water in China into an accessible history. Why it is a secret one, however, remains a mystery.


Mencius ( / ˈ m ɛ n ʃ i ə s / MEN -shee-əs) [1] (Chinese: 孟子 ) born Mèng Kē (Chinese: 孟軻 ) or Mengzi (372–289 BC or 385–303 or 302 BC) was a Chinese Confucian philosopher who has often been described as the "second Sage", that is, after only Confucius himself. He is part of Confucius' fourth generation of disciples. Mencius inherited Confucius' ideology and developed it further. [2] [3] Living during the Warring States period, he is said to have spent much of his life travelling around the states offering counsel to different rulers. Conversations with these rulers form the basis of the Mencius, which would later be canonised as a Confucian classic.

A key belief of his was that humans are innately good, but that this quality requires cultivation and the right environment to flourish. He also taught that rulers must justify their position of power by acting benevolently towards their subjects, and in this sense they are subordinate to the masses.

Mencius, also known by his birth name Meng Ke ( 孟軻 ), was born in the State of Zou. His birthplace is now within the county-level city of Zoucheng, Shandong Province, only thirty kilometres (eighteen miles) south of Confucius's birthplace in Qufu.

He was an itinerant Chinese philosopher and sage, and one of the principal interpreters of Confucianism. Supposedly, he was a pupil of Confucius's grandson, Zisi. Like Confucius, according to legend, he travelled throughout China for forty years to offer advice to rulers for reform. [4] During the Warring States period (403–221 BC), Mencius served as an official and scholar at the Jixia Academy in the State of Qi (1046 BC to 221 BC) from 319 to 312 BC. He expressed his filial devotion when he took three years leave of absence from his official duties for Qi to mourn his mother's death. Disappointed at his failure to effect changes in his contemporary world, he retired from public life. [5]

Mencius is buried in the "Mencius Cemetery" (孟子林, Mengzi Lin, also known as 亞聖林, Yasheng Lin), which is located 12 km to the northeast of Zoucheng's central urban area. A stele carried by a giant stone tortoise and crowned with dragons stands in front of his grave. [6]


Mencius's mother is often held up as an exemplary female figure in Chinese culture. One of the most famous traditional Chinese four-character idioms is 孟母三遷 (pinyin: mèngmǔ-sānqiān lit. 'Mencius's mother moves three times') this saying refers to the legend that Mencius's mother moved houses three times before finding a location that she felt was suitable for the child's upbringing. As an expression, the idiom refers to the importance of finding the proper environment for raising children.

Mencius's father died when Mencius was very young. His mother Zhǎng ( 仉 ) raised her son alone. They were very poor. At first they lived by a cemetery, where the mother found her son imitating the paid mourners in funeral processions. Therefore, the mother decided to move. The next house was near a market in the town. There the boy began to imitate the cries of merchants (merchants were despised in early China). So the mother moved to a house next to a school. Inspired by the scholars and students, Mencius began to study. His mother decided to remain, and Mencius became a scholar.

Another story further illustrates the emphasis that Mencius's mother placed on her son's education. As the story goes, once when Mencius was young, he was truant from school. His mother responded to his apparent disregard for his education by taking up a pair of scissors and cutting the cloth she had been weaving in front of him. This was intended to illustrate that one cannot stop a task midway, and her example inspired Mencius to diligence in his studies.

There is another legend about his mother and his wife, involving a time when his wife was at home alone and was discovered by Mencius not to be sitting properly. Mencius thought his wife had violated a rite, and demanded a divorce. His mother claimed that it was written in The Book of Rites that before a person entered a room, he should announce his imminent presence loudly to let others prepare for his arrival as he had not done that in this case, the person who had violated the rite was Mencius himself. Eventually Mencius admitted his fault.

She is one of 125 women of which biographies have been included in the Lienü zhuan ('Biographies of Exemplary Women'), written by Liu Xiang.


Duke Huan of Lu's son through Qingfu ( 慶父 ) was the ancestor of Mencius. He was descended from Duke Yang of the State of Lu ( 魯煬公 ). Duke Yang was the son of Bo Qin, who was the son of the Duke of Zhou of the Zhou dynasty royal family. The genealogy is found in the Mencius family tree ( 孟子世家大宗世系 ). [7] [8] [9]

Mencius's descendants lived in Zoucheng in the Mencius Family Mansion, where the Mencius Temple was also built and also a cemetery for Mencius's descendants.

Meng Haoran and Meng Jiao were descendants of Mencius who lived during the Tang dynasty.

During the Ming dynasty, one of Mencius's descendants was given a hereditary title at the Hanlin Academy by the Emperor. The title they held was Wujing Boshi (五經博士 五經博士 Wǔjīng Bóshì). [10] [11] [12] In 1452 Wujing Boshi was bestowed upon the offspring of Mengzi-Meng Xiwen ( 孟希文 ) 56th generation [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] and Yan Hui-Yan Xihui ( 顔希惠 ) 59th generation, the same was bestowed on the offspring of Zhou Dunyi-Zhou Mian ( 週冕 ) 12th generation, the two Cheng brothers (Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi-Chen Keren ( 程克仁 ) 17th generation), Zhu Xi-Zhu Ting ( 朱梴 ) 9th generation, in 1456–1457, in 1539 the same was awarded to Zeng Can's offspring-Zeng Zhicui ( 曾質粹 ) 60th generation, in 1622 the offspring of Zhang Zai received the title and in 1630 the offspring of Shao Yong. [18]

One of Mencius's direct descendants was Dr. Meng Chih (Anglicised as Dr. Paul Chih Meng) former director of China House, and director of the China Institute in 1944. Time magazine reported Dr. Meng's age that year as 44. Dr. Meng died in Arizona in 1990 at the age of 90. [19] North Carolina's Davidson College and Columbia University were his alma mater. He was attending a speech along with Confucius descendant H. H. Kung. [20]

In the Republic of China there is an office called the "Sacrificial Official to Mencius" which is held by a descendant of Mencius, like the post of "Sacrificial Official to Zengzi" for a descendant of Zengzi, "Sacrificial Official to Yan Hui" for a descendant of Yan Hui, and the post of "Sacrificial Official to Confucius, held by a descendant of Confucius. [21] [22] [23]

The descendants of Mencius still use generation poems for their names given to them by the Ming and Qing Emperors along with the descendants of the other Four Sages (四氏): Confucius, Zengzi, and Yan Hui. [24] [25]

Historical sites related to his descendants include the Meng family mansion (孟府), Temple of Mencius (孟廟), and Cemetery of Mencius (孟林).

One of Mencius's descendants moved to Korea and founded the Sinchang Maeng clan.

Main concepts

Human nature

While Confucius himself did not explicitly focus on the subject of human nature, Mencius asserted the innate goodness of the individual, believing that it was society's influence – its lack of a positive cultivating influence – that caused bad moral character. "He who exerts his mind to the utmost knows his nature" [26] and "the way of learning is none other than finding the lost mind." [27]

The four beginnings (or sprouts)

To show innate goodness, Mencius used the example of a child falling down a well. Witnesses of this event immediately feel

alarm and distress, not to gain friendship with the child's parents, nor to seek the praise of their neighbors and friends, nor because they dislike the reputation [of lack of humanity if they did not rescue the child].

The feeling of commiseration definitely is the beginning of humanity the feeling of shame and dislike is the beginning of righteousness the feeling of deference and compliance is the beginning of propriety and the feeling of right or wrong is the beginning of wisdom.

Men have these Four Beginnings just as they have their four limbs. Having these Four Beginnings, but saying that they cannot develop them is to destroy themselves. [28]

Human nature has an innate tendency towards goodness, but moral rightness cannot be instructed down to the last detail. This is why merely external controls always fail in improving society. True improvement results from educational cultivation in favorable environments. Likewise, bad environments tend to corrupt the human will. This, however, is not proof of innate evil because a clear thinking person would avoid causing harm to others. This position of Mencius puts him between Confucians such as Xunzi who thought people were innately bad, and Taoists who believed humans did not need cultivation, they just needed to accept their innate, natural, and effortless goodness. The four beginnings/sprouts could grow and develop, or they could fail. In this way Mencius synthesized integral parts of Taoism into Confucianism. Individual effort was needed to cultivate oneself, but one's natural tendencies were good to begin with. The object of education is the cultivation of benevolence, otherwise known as Ren.


According to Mencius, education must awaken the innate abilities of the human mind. He denounced memorization and advocated active interrogation of the text, saying, "One who believes all of a book would be better off without books" (盡信書,則不如無書, from 孟子.盡心下). One should check for internal consistency by comparing sections and debate the probability of factual accounts by comparing them with experience. [ citation needed ]


Mencius also believed in the power of Destiny in shaping the roles of human beings in society. What is destined cannot be contrived by the human intellect or foreseen. Destiny is shown when a path arises that is both unforeseen and constructive. Destiny should not be confused with Fate. Mencius denied that Heaven would protect a person regardless of his actions, saying, "One who understands Destiny will not stand beneath a tottering wall". The proper path is one which is natural and unforced. This path must also be maintained because, "Unused pathways are covered with weeds." One who follows Destiny will live a long and successful life. One who rebels against Destiny will die before his time.

Views on politics and economics

Mencius emphasized the significance of the common citizens in the state. While Confucianism generally regards rulers highly, he argued that it is acceptable for the subjects to overthrow or even kill a ruler who ignores the people's needs and rules harshly. This is because a ruler who does not rule justly is no longer a true ruler. Speaking of the overthrow of the wicked King Zhou of Shang, Mencius said, "I have merely heard of killing a villain Zhou, but I have not heard of murdering [him as] the ruler." [29]

This saying should not be taken as an instigation to violence against authorities but as an application of Confucian philosophy to society. Confucianism requires a clarification of what may be reasonably expected in any given relationship. All relationships should be beneficial, but each has its own principle or inner logic. A Ruler must justify his position by acting benevolently before he can expect reciprocation from the people. In this view, a King is like a steward. Although Confucius admired Kings of great accomplishment, Mencius is clarifying the proper hierarchy of human society. Although a King has presumably higher status than a commoner, he is actually subordinate to the masses of people and the resources of society. Otherwise, there would be an implied disregard of the potential of human society heading into the future. One is significant only for what one gives, not for what one takes.

Mencius distinguished between superior men who recognize and follow the virtues of righteousness and benevolence and inferior men who do not. He suggested that superior men considered only righteousness, not benefits. That assumes "permanent property" to uphold common morality. [30] To secure benefits for the disadvantaged and the aged, he advocated free trade, low tax rates, and a more equal sharing of the tax burden. [31]

Comparisons to contemporaries

His alleged years make him contemporary with Xun Zi, Zhuangzi, Gaozi, and Plato.

Xun Zi

Xun Zi was a Confucian who believed that human nature is centered on self-interest and greed, and the purpose of moral cultivation is to develop our nature into goodness. This put him at odds with Mencius. Later, the thinker Zhu Xi declared the views of Xun Zi to be unorthodox, instead supporting the position of Mencius.


Mencius's argument that unjust rulers may be overthrown is reminiscent of Socrates's argument in Book I of Plato's Republic.


Mencius's interpretation of Confucianism has generally been considered the orthodox version by subsequent Chinese philosophers, especially by the Neo-Confucians of the Song dynasty. Mencius's disciples included a large number of feudal lords, and he is said to have been more influential than Confucius had been. [32]

The Mencius (also spelled Mengzi or Meng-tzu), a book of his conversations with kings of the time, is one of the Four Books that Zhu Xi grouped as the core of orthodox Neo-Confucian thought. In contrast to the sayings of Confucius, which are short and self-contained, the Mencius consists of long dialogues, including arguments, with extensive prose. It was generally neglected by the Jesuit missionaries who first translated the Confucian canon into Latin and other European languages, as they felt that the Neo-Confucian school largely consisted of Buddhist and Taoist contamination of Confucianism. Matteo Ricci also particularly disliked what they had believed to be condemnation of celibacy as unfilial, which is rather a mistranslation of a similar word referring more to aspects of personality. François Noël, who felt that Zhu's ideas represented a natural and native development of Confucius's thought, was the first to publish a full edition of the Mencius at Prague in 1711 [33] [d] as the Chinese rites controversy had been recently decided against the Jesuits, however, his edition attained little influence outside central and eastern Europe.

In a 1978 book that estimated the hundred most influential persons in history to that point, Mencius was ranked at 92. [35]

Mencius Institute

The first Mencius Institute was established in Xuzhou, China in 2008 under a collaboration between Jiangsu Normal University, China Zoucheng Heritage Tourism Bureau, and Xuzhou Mengshi Clan Friendship Network. [36]

First Mencius Institute outside of China is located at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) Kampar Campus. [36]

Take part

This project met once a month, during 2014-2016, to discuss portraits of historical, fictional and contemporary figures whose lives or thought raise questions about what integrity is, and what it is worth. Readings and discussion points are available on this website, along with audio-recordings of 15 minute introductions to the material. You are welcome to download the materials and join the project, on your own or by forming a satellite reading group. Comments and questions can be shared on the website, so as to create a larger conversations about these questions.

Though we are no longer meeting monthly, we are still very happy to receive portraits for our website. If you would like to offer us a portrait please let us know write a brief essay (500-1,000) and provide a short reading list. If you’d like to, you can record a short introduction too.

Click on the images above to access reading lists and essay introductions, and for notes, audio files, and other resources from our meetings.

Thanks to the British Academy for supporting our ‘Portraits of Integrity’ project!

Confucian Patriarchy and the Allure of Communism in China

Despite a growing tolerance for socialism, “communism” is still a dirty word for most Americans. Many point to Stalin’s Gulag, the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge, and the repressive Kim dynasty in Korea as they preface the question how could communism ever appeal to anyone? For each country, there are myriad answers to that question, but it is useful to consider the historical situation in each nation before they embraced communism.

In China, for instance, there were political, economic, and nationalistic reasons for the popularity of communism, but interestingly, Chairman Mao Zedong’s movement found broad popular support in part because of his explicit efforts to enforce gender equality. It was he, after all, who proclaimed that “women hold up half the sky.” [1] Compared with China’s Confucian patriarchal system that had oppressed women for so long, many saw this as a welcome change. Nevertheless, part of what makes patriarchy so insidious is its ability to trick whole generations of people—including women—into propagating an oppressive system rather than overthrowing it.

Judith Bennett’s History Matters analyzes patriarchy in a medieval European context, but her theoretical claims could also be applied to pre-communist Chinese society in general, and Confucianism in particular. Bennett points out that it is problematic to broadly assume that men alone are the perpetrators of patriarchy and that women are their passive victims. While the institution of patriarchy certainly privileges the masculine over the feminine, Bennett also states that patriarchy has harmed individual men just as it has benefitted individual women. Indeed, certain women have not only benefited from it, but have also served as active “agents of patriarchy.” [2]

Portrait of Confucius, painted by Wu Daozi, 685-7 58 (via Wikipedia)

Confucius lived circa 500 BCE, but it was not until the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE) that Confucianism became the official state ideology. Since then, Confucianism was not simply a “main character” in Chinese society but also the stage, set, and scenery upon which the play of Chinese daily life unfolded. Central to Confucian philosophy is the doctrine of filial piety. This principle teaches that universal harmony is maintained when everyone shows proper respect to their elders because the organization of the family is a microcosm patterned after the organization of the state. A filial son honors his father, but filial piety also articulates the rules of conduct between friends, elder and younger brothers, husbands and wives, subjects and emperors. In this way, society is hierarchically structured with men ruling over women and the old ruling over the young, all the way from the lowliest peasant granddaughter to the imperial Son of Heaven.

At the apex of the Confucian philosophical pantheon sits Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi. Writing almost four-hundred years after the fact, the Han dynasty scholar Liu Xiang (79-8 BCE) compiled a biography of 125 women who each exemplified Han feminine virtues. One of these women was the mother of Mencius, who, according to Liu, taught her son that a woman’s duties are to cook the five grains, heat the wine, look after her parents-in-law, make clothes, and that is all! This means that a woman’s duty is not to control or to take charge. Instead she must follow the ‘three submissions.’ When she is young, she must submit to her parents. After her marriage, she must submit to her husband. When she is widowed, she must submit to her son. These are the rules of propriety. [3]

It is worth pointing out that although this quote is attributed to the mother of Mencius, it was actually written centuries later by a man whose intention was to reinforce the patriarchal order by projecting stereotypical female attitudes into the mouth of an authoritative woman whose own gravitas is enhanced by the respected tradition surrounding her son. However, Liu Xiang laid the foundation for others to buttress the Confucian patriarchy.

Photo of He Zhen (via Wikipedia)

Almost a hundred years after Liu Xiang, Ban Zhao, China’s first female historian, wrote a book titled Admonitions for Women. Her work condemns spousal abuse, but this text would certainly qualify Ban Zhao as one of Bennett’s “agents of patriarchy”:

On the third day after the birth of a girl…lay the baby below the bed [to] plainly indicate that she [is] lowly and humble and should regard it as a prime duty to submit to others…give her a spindle with which to play [signifying] that she should accustom herself to labor and consider it a prime duty to be industrious. Let a woman modestly yield to others let her put others first, herself last. Should she do something good, let her not mention it should she do something bad, let her not deny it. Let her bear contempt let her even endure when others speak or do evil to her. Always let her seem to tremble and to fear. [4]

A thousand years later, Confucian patriarchy would intersect gender and class by adding foot binding to its repertoire of female suppression. While women of the upper class suffered the debilitating pain and immobility of having bound feet, women of the lower classes without bound feet suffered socially from diminished marriage prospects and public humiliation. However, prior to the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, bowing to society’s unrealistic beauty standards, all classes of Chinese women were binding their feet. Roughly half of all Chinese women had bound feet, although the percentage rose significantly among the upper classes. Although many Chinese emperors and administrators tried to outlaw the practice, only the communists were successful at doing so because of their superior organizational tactics and relentless campaigning. [5]

In 1907, an expatriated Chinese woman named He Zhen published a series of articles on feminism and equal rights. Although she preceded the Chinese Communist Party by over a decade, and although she was not widely read by the Chinese public, her essays did influence a number of important social agitators whose movements helped bring the Communist Party to power. She begins her essay, “Women’s Revenge,” by outlining the patriarchal injustices that Chinese women have suffered. She then asks “how did this poison fill the entire world? It can be traced to the doctrines of Ban Zhao.” She continues by labelling Ban a traitor to her sex, a dupe of Confucian misogyny, and a willing agent of patriarchy. [6] He’s intention, however, is not simply to lay the axe at the root of patriarchal Confucianism, but to actively promote communism as the treatment for China’s nineteenth and twentieth century social ills.

In another essay, He declares that starvation is the strongest tool of sexual oppression in Chinese society. By controlling the food (i.e. the products of labor), men control the labor of women. He argues that just so they can eat, women generally fall into one of three categories: either they are slaves to their husbands they work in factories for slave wages or else they become prostitutes and enslave themselves to their pimps. He proclaims that the problem for Confucian women is that they are dependent on others, and “as long as you depend on others, you cannot be free. I have a good idea that will exempt you from relying on others while still finding food naturally. How? By practicing communism.” Whether or not a twenty-first century Westerner agrees with He’s assessment, it should at least be understandable why so many oppressed Chinese women agreed with Mao and He that because women hold up half the sky, “if we only unite together, with [communism] we can naturally have a good future. As we say colloquially, ‘the good times are coming.’” [7]

(Alan Roberts is an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute’s Chinese language program. He is currently a graduate student in history at Utah State University where he is writing his Master’s thesis on performative elements of gender in Chinese Communist propaganda.)

[2] Judith Bennett, History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 59.

[3] Xiang Liu, “Women’s Virtues and Vices,” in Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, 2 nd Ed, ed. Patricia Buckley Ebrey (New York: The Free Press, 1981, 1993), 73.

[4] Zhao Ban, “Admonitions for Women,” in Sources of Chinese Tradition Volume 1, ed. Wm. Theodore De Bary and Irene Bloom (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 821, 822.

[6] Zhen He, “Women’s Revenge,” in Sources of Chinese Tradition Volume 2, ed. Wm. Theodore De Bary and Richard Lufrano (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 394.

[7] Zhen He, “What Women Should Know About Communism,” in Sources of Chinese Tradition Volume 2, ed. Wm. Theodore De Bary and Richard Lufrano (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 390-2.

A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations

We have swallowed the red pill, which now makes its way to the stomach. The coating dissolves. The rotor spins up and the device begins to operate. Inside, the sodium-metal core remains intact.

And we begin the treatment. Again, our goal is to detach you—by “you,” of course, I mean only the endogenous neural tissue—from the annelid parasite which now occupies a significant percentage of your cranium, and of course is fully integrated with your soul.

This worm goes by many a name, but today we’ll just call it democracy. Once we’ve severed its paradendritic hyphae, you can remove your little guest safely in your own bathroom—all you need is a Dremel tool, a Flowbee and a big plastic bag. Pack the cavity with Bondo, wear a wig for a few weeks, and no one will suspect you’ve become a reactionary imperialist.

Of course, you came to us. So the worm must be a little loose already, or otherwise unwell. Which is great—but doesn’t really assist us in the procedure. UR is a scientific operation. Everyone gets the same cuts on the same dots. So for the purposes of our red pill, we’ll assume you remain an orthodox, NPR-loving progressive. Continue reading at your own risk.

We’ll start by detaching you from the party line, your parasite, democracy, on exactly one point. You’ll feel a kind of faint plucking sensation behind your right ear. It might hurt a little. It is not the sodium core. We are certainly not solving the problem here and now. Yet our point is a substantial one, and detaching it should give us plenty of slack to pull on.

What we’re going to do is to replace your perspective of a major historical event, one which you have never considered controversial, but one which is vital to your understanding of the world you live in. And how will we accomplish this? By the most orthodox of scholarly methods. The only tools in our little black bag are (a) primary sources, (b) forgotten works by reputable historians of the past, and (c) modern works by respected academics.

When all I knew of surfing was surf videos, I used to wonder how surfers swim through all those big broken waves out to where it’s glassy. When I learned to surf (I am a terrible surfer), I learned the answer: there’s no trick. At least, not one that works. You just have to paddle out faster than the crazy, roaring mess can push you in. (Okay, if you’re a shortboarder, you can duck-dive. But shortboards are for teenagers.)

Similarly, there is no magic key to history. If you want to make up your own mind about the past, you cannot do so by going there. So you have to find sources you trust. The Sith Library makes this about as easy as it’s going to get, but it will always be work.

Anyway. Our point is the conflict you call the American Revolution. For a quick self-test, ask yourself how close you are to agreeing with the following statement. (You’re not expected to take this on faith—we will demonstrate it quite thoroughly.)

Everything I know about the American Revolution is bullshit.

Orwellian antihistory, at least high-quality antihistory (and remember, kids, democracy is anything but mildly evolved), tends to fit Professor Frankfurt’s handy definition: bullshit is neither truth nor fiction. It is bullshit. If it uses any factual misstatements, it uses them very sparsely. If it has any resemblance to reality, the match is a coincidence.

The typical structure of antihistorical bullshit is an aggregate of small, accurate and unimportant facts, set in a filler of nonsense and/or active misinterpretation. This mix hardens quickly, can support tremendous architectural loads, and looks like marble from a distance.

Especially if you’ve never seen actual marble. When I find out, or at least flatter myself that I have found out, the actual picture behind my 10th-grade matte-painting view of some event, I am always reminded of something that happened to me in 10th grade. I was listening to a shitty ’80s Top 40 station—in the actual ’80s. Presumably in a desperate attempt to familiarize myself with actual American culture. When, as some kind of game or promotion, they played a Stones song—Paint It Black, I think. And that was basically it for Cyndi Lauper. This is the difference between real history and antihistory: the difference between Mick Jagger and Cyndi Lauper.

Of course, unlike Cyndi Lauper, antihistorical bullshit has an adaptive function. It exists to fill the hole in your head where the actual story should be. Duh. If everything you know about the American Revolution is bullshit, you know nothing about the American Revolution. This is the basic technique of misdirection, popular with magicians everywhere since time immemorial. You can’t see the rabbit going into the hat if you’re not looking at the hat.

So: let’s put it as bluntly as possible. At present you believe that, in the American Revolution, good triumphed over evil. This is the aforementioned aggregate. We’re going to just scoop that right out with the #6 brain spoon. As we operate, we’ll replace it with the actual story of the American Rebellion—in which evil triumphed over good.

Yup. We’re really going to do this. You’re on the table. It’s the real thing. In the terms of the time, at present you are a Patriot and (pejoratively) a Whig. After this initial subprocedure you will be a Loyalist and (pejoratively) a Tory. Obviously, a challenging surgical outcome. But hey, it’s the 21st century. If not now, when?

Some would just try to split the difference, and convince you that it wasn’t black and white—that the “King’s friends” had a point, too. Your modern academic historian (as opposed to his more numerous colleague, the modern academic antihistorian) is terribly good at this trick of dousing inconvenient truths in a freezing, antiseptic bucket of professional neutrality.

This is pretty much why you can’t just walk into your friendly local bookstore and buy a red pill. It was black and white. It was just black and white in the other direction.

How on earth can we possibly convince you of this? We’ll read an old book or two, that’s all. No actual incision is needed. The metaphor is just a metaphor. Relax and breathe into the mask.

Let’s call our first witness. His name is Thomas Hutchinson, and he is the outstanding Loyalist figure of the prerevolutionary era. His Strictures upon the Declaration of the Congress at Philadelphia is here. It is not long. Please do him the courtesy of reading it in full, then continue below.

Now: what do you notice about Hutchinson’s Strictures? Well, the first thing you notice is: before today, you had never read it. Or even heard of it. Or probably even its author. What is the ratio of the number of people who have read the Declaration to the number who have read the Strictures? 10⁵? 10⁶? Something like that. Isn’t that just slightly creepy?

The second thing we notice about the Strictures is its tone—very different from the Declaration. The Declaration shouts at us. The Strictures talk to us. Hutchinson speaks quietly, with just the occasional touch of snark. He adopts the general manner of a sober adult trapped in an elevator with a drunk, knife-wielding teenager.

Of course, as Patriots (we are still Patriots, aren’t we? Sorry—just checking), we would expect some cleverness from the Devil. Everyone knows this is the way you win an argument, right or wrong. Pay no attention to Darth Hutchinson’s little Sith mind tricks. But still—why would Congress make it so easy? Why are we getting stomped like this? Because ouch, man, that was painful.

The third thing we notice is that Hutchinson actually explains the Declaration. As he begins:

The last time I had the honour of being in your Lordship’s company, you observed that you were utterly at a loss as to what facts many parts of the Declaration of Independence published by the Philadelphia Congress referred…

In other words: these Congress people are so whack-a-doodle-doo, half the time your Lordship can’t even tell what they’re talking about. Presumably “your Lordship” is Lord Germain. Dear reader, how does your own knowledge of the Declaration compare to Lord Germain’s? Weren’t you amused, for instance, to learn that

I know of no new offices erected in America in the present reign, except those of the Commissioners of the Customs and their dependents. Five Commissioners were appointed, and four Surveyors General dismissed perhaps fifteen to twenty clerks and under officers were necessary for this board more than the Surveyors had occasion for before: Land and tide waiters, weighers, &c. were known officers before the Surveyors used to encrease or lessen the number as the King’s service required, and the Commissioners have done no more. Thirty or forty additional officers in the whole Continent, are the Swarms which eat out the substance of the boasted number of three millions of people.

or, most intriguingly, that

The first in order, He has refused his assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good is of so general a nature, that it is not possible to conjecture to what laws or to what Colonies it refers. I remember no laws which any Colony has been restrained from passing, so as to cause any complaint of grievance, except those for issuing a fraudulent paper currency, and making it a legal tender but this is a restraint which for many years past has been laid on Assemblies by an act of Parliament, since which such laws cannot have been offered to the King for his allowance. I therefore believe this to be a general charge, without any particulars to support it fit enough to be placed at the head of a list of imaginary grievances.

What is this fraudulent paper currency? Hutchinson is referring to the Land and Silver Bank controversy. The experienced UR reader may well ask: what is it with America and paper money? We’ll definitely have to revisit the question.

But suffice it to say that you, personally, do not have the knowledge to produce any kind of coherent response to Hutchinson’s brutal fisking of our sacred founding document. You can’t say: “Actually, Governor Hutchinson, I was in Boston in 1768, and I can tell you exactly why the Assembly was moved to Cambridge. What really happened is that…” For all you or I know about Boston in 1768, of course, Hutchinson could just as easily be the one yanking our chains. But why, then, are we so sure he’s wrong?

Of course, you don’t really think of the Declaration as a list of factual particulars. You think of it as a deep moral statement, about humanity, or something. Nonetheless, it does contain a list of particulars. Isn’t it odd that it strikes us as odd to see these particulars closely examined? One simply doesn’t expect to see the Declaration argued with in this way. And, reading the Strictures, one gets the impression that the authors of the Declaration didn’t, either.

Which should not surprise us. What we learn from the Strictures is that, as in the rest of American history, there is absolutely no guarantee that a detailed and rational argument about a substantive factual question will prevail, whether through means military, political, or educational, over a meretricious tissue of lies. So why bother—especially if you’re the one peddling the lies? Perhaps Hutchinson is yanking our chain, and King George really did dispatch hordes of ravenous bureaucrats to America, etc., etc. But one would expect to have seen the point at least disputed.

But, okay. Whatever. We are still Patriots. So let’s advance to the second primary: Peter Oliver’s Origin & Progress of the American Rebellion.

Peter Oliver was Chief Justice of Massachusetts and Hutchinson’s brother-in-law. His brother Andrew was Hutchinson’s lieutenant governor. Like Hutchinson, the Olivers spent most of the ’60s and ’70s trying to survive the Boston mob, by whom Andrew Oliver was more or less hounded to death. Hutchinson and Peter Oliver died in exile.

The Origin & Progress was written in 1781, but not published properly until 1961 (with an excellent introduction by the historian Douglass Adair). The copy on is a bank error in your favor, as Adair’s edits should still be under copyright. I recommend downloading the PDF. If Hutchinson has already sold you on Toryism, great. Otherwise, please read the whole book, then Adair’s introduction.

If you are feeling especially impatient, and/or confident in your knowledge of 18th-century political theory and the history of early New England, I suppose you can skip Oliver’s “procathartick Porch” and go straight to chapter II (page 57), where the story starts to really motor. But I don’t recommend it. As Oliver writes:

Methinks Sir! I hear you ask me, why all this Introduction? Why so long a Porch before the Building is reached? Let me answer You by saying, that you desired me to give You the History of the american Rebellion, because You thought that I was intimately acquainted with the Rise & Progress of it having lived there for so many Years, & been concerned in the publick Transactions of Government before the Rebellion burst its Crater. I was very willing to answer your Request. I, on my Part, must ask you to oblige me, by permitting me, in the epistolary Walks, to indulge my Fancy in the Choice of my Path. Besides, you may perhaps, in the Sequel, find some Analogy between the Porch & the Building, & that they are not two detached Structures altho’ a good Architect might have produced a better Effect, by making either or both of them a little more tasty. However, if you will excuse the Hibernicism, you need not enter the House by its Porch, but open the Door of the main Building which hangs at the End of the Porch, & adjoins to it.

Before I introduce you to the House, let me remind you, that I shall confine myself, chiefly, to the Transactions of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, as it was this Province where I resided, & was most intimate to the Transactions of & as it was the Volcano from whence issued all the Smoak, Flame & Lava which hath since enveloped the whole British american Continent, for the Length of above 1700 Miles. If I deviate into other Colonies, my Excursions will be few & short. I promise You that I will adhere most sacredly to Truth, & endeavor to steer as clear as possible from Exaggeration although many Facts may appear to be exaggerated, to a candid Mind, which is always fond of viewing human Nature on the brightest Side of its Orb.

The Origin & Progress is obviously a very different animal from the Strictures.

What’s so neat about Peter Oliver’s little book is that, besides being a primary source of considerable historical value, it is also an artistic work of considerable literary merit. The tone, as we see, is almost postmodern. Oliver has a voice, and even here in the benighted 21st century (where we think “candid” means “honest,” rather than “naive”), we can hear it. This is a man you could have a beer with. Even from the strongest revolutionary characters, TJ and John Adams, it is hard to get such a three-dimensional presence.

The past, as they say, is a foreign country. Imagine you were a hippie backpacker visiting, say, Armenia, having read a few newspaper stories about how the Armenian Democratic Front is struggling nobly against the iron oppression of the Armenian People’s Party—this being roughly comparable to the average American’s knowledge of prerevolutionary Massachusetts politics. But leaving the airport in Yerevan, you meet Vartan (“call me Varty!”), a die-hard APP man, and wind up drinking with him and his boho friends until four in the morning. Of course, you’ll leave Armenia a dedicated supporter of the APP. This is roughly how we intend to convert you into a Loyalist. You can’t actually have a beer with Peter Oliver, but you can read his book.

Speaking of John Adams, there’s actually another point of contact: you can rent the first disc of the HBO miniseries by that name. I gave up after an episode and a half—I have put a little work into my picture of the 1770s, and I don’t want it contaminated with Hollywood’s. But I will say this: HBO’s Samuel Adams, as a sort of 18th-century Al Sharpton, is dead on. As Oliver puts it:

I shall next give you a Sketch of some of Mr. Samuel Adams’ Features & I do not know how to delineate them stronger, than by the Observation made by a celebrated Painter in America, vizt. “That if he wished to draw the Picture of the Devil, that he would get Sam Adams to sit for him:” & indeed, a very ordinary Physiognomist would, at a transient View of his Countenance, develope the Malignity of his Heart. He was a Person of Understanding, but it was discoverable rather by a Shrewdness than Solidity of Judgment & he understood human Nature, in low life, so well, that he could turn the Minds of the great Vulgar as well as the small into any Course that he might chuse perhaps he was a singular Instance in this Kind & he never failed of employing his Abilities to the vilest Purposes.

His beer sucks, too. And few will forget this portrait of John Hancock, as the dim young Trustafarian, and general Wallet of what Oliver calls “the Faction”:

Here I am almost necessarily led into a Digression upon Mr. Hancock’s Character, who was as closely attached to the hindermost part of Mr. Adams as the Rattles are affixed to the Tail of the Rattle Snake. Mr. Hancock was the Son of a dissenting Clergyman, whose Circumstances in Life were not above Mediocrity, but he had a rich Uncle. He was educated at Harvard College, was introduced into his uncles Warehouse as a Merchant, & upon his Death was the residuary Legatee of 60,000 pounds Sterling. His understanding was of the Dwarf Size but his Ambition, upon the Accession to so great an Estate, was upon the Gigantick. He was free from Immoralities, & Objects of Charity often felt the Effects of his Riches. His Mind was a meer Tabula Rasa, & had he met with a good Artist he would have enstamped upon it such Character as would have made him a most usefull Member of Society. But Mr. Adams who was restless in endeavors to disturb ye Peace of Society, & who was ever going about seeking whom he might devour, seized upon him as his Prey, & stamped such Lessons upon his Mind, as have not as yet been erased. Sometimes, indeed, by certain Efforts of Nature, when he was insensible of the Causes of his self, he would almost disengage himself from his Assailant but Adams, like the Cuddlefish, would discharge his muddy Liquid, & darken the Water to such a Hue, that the other was lost to his Way, & by his Tergiversations in the Cloudy Vortex would again be seized, & at last secured.

Put your John Hancock on that! Of course, dissenting doesn’t mean Mr. Hancock’s father was an open-minded dissident, like me. It means he was a Dissenter—i.e., a Puritan, and thus a member of what Mr. Otis called his Black Regiment. (The Olivers and Hutchinsons were Anglicans.) Don’t miss Peter Oliver’s discussion of the role of the Puritan clergy in the disturbances, which will not be even slightly surprising to the experienced UR reader.

And yes, the Origin & Progress really is pretty much all this good. Read the whole thing. Consider it a small revenge on your 10th-grade history teacher. And chuckle along with Peter Oliver, when he writes:

I have done Sir! for the present, with my Portraits. If you like them, & think them ornamental for your Parlour, pray hang them up in it for I assure You, that most of them justly demerit a Suspension.

Black humor—cheap black humor—from the 18th century. And there is more to Oliver than his Portraits. If you want action, skip to the Stamp Act (chapter III, p. 76):

In this Year 1765, began the violent Outrages in Boston: and now the Effusions of Rancour from Mr. Otis’s Heart were brought into Action. It hath been said, that he had secured the Smugglers & their Connections, as his Clients. An Opportunity now offered for them to convince Government of their Influence: as Seizure had been made by breaking open a Store, agreeable to act of Parliament it was contested in the supreme Court, where Mr. Hutchinson praesided. The Seizure was adjudged legal by the whole Court.

This raised Resentment against the Judges. Mr. Hutchinson was the only Judge who resided in Boston, & he only, of the Judges, was the Victim for in a short Time after, the Mob of Otis & his clients plundered Mr. Hutchinsons House of its full Contents, destroyed his Papers, unroofed his House, & sought his & his Children’s Lives, which were saved by Flight. One of the Riotors declared, the next morning, that the first Places which they looked into were the Beds, in Order to murder the Children. All this was Joy to Mr. Otis, as also to some of the considerable Merchants who were smugglers, & personally active in the diabolical Scene. But a grave old Gentleman thought it more than diabolical for upon viewing the Ruins, on the next Day, he made this Remark, vizt. “that if the Devil had been here the last Night, he would have gone back to his own Regions, ashamed of being outdone, & never more have set Foot upon the Earth.” If so, what Pity that he did not take an Evening Walk, at that unhappy Crisis for he hath often since seen himself outdone at his own outdoings.

You see what I mean by “evil.” You probably also remember, dimly, your 10th-grade history teacher plying you with propaganda that glorified this kind of spontaneous popular action. If you want to know how decent people can support evil, find a mirror.

Enough of Peter Oliver. Perhaps he is just not your style, and you remain a Patriot. In that case, there is no further escape. You will have to cope with the long S, and read Charles Stedman’s History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War (vol. 1, vol. 2), our third primary source.

I regret to report that there is no such thing as a neutral primary source. Charles Stedman, though, is Colonel Stedman to you. Call him Chuck, and you’re shit out of luck. Not only was he a Colonel in the British Army, he was born in Philadelphia—and commanded a Loyalist corps against the rebel forces. Moreover, he is a trained lawyer and clearly has read his Thucydides, of whom his tone and content are quite reminiscent.

Colonel Stedman’s history is accurate, clear, and not at all dry. Like Governor Hutchinson, he lets only a few cold digs slip through. The following is a fair sample:

When the assembly of this province Massachusetts, of course met in the month of January 1773, the governor Hutchinson probably intending to give them an opportunity, if they were so disposed, of doing away the evil impressions which might have been made by the unqualified resolutions of the town meeting at Boston, took occasion in his speech to insist on the supreme legislative authority of the king and parliament.

But if he hoped to benefit government by bringing on this discussion, he was entirely disappointed. The assembly, instead of endeavouring to moderate and qualify the doctrines contained in the resolutions of the town meeting, seized the opportunity of the address which was to be presented, to fix them more firmly and in their utmost extent. They openly denied the authority of parliament, not only to impose taxes, but to legislate for them in any respect whatsoever adding, “that if there had been in any late instances a submission to acts of parliament, it was more from want of consideration or a reluctance to contend with the parent state, than a conviction of the supreme legislative authority of parliament.”

This address also recapitulated a number of new grievances which had not heretofore been complained of. And such was its improper tendency, even in the opinion of the Assembly, upon cooler reflection, that six months after, in a letter to the earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for American affairs, they thought it necessary to apologize for it, imputing the blame of their intemperate proceedings to their governor, who had unnecessarily brought the subject of parliamentary authority under their consideration.

In this letter they say, “that their answers to the governor’s speech were the effect of necessity, and that this necessity occasioned great grief to the two houses” and then, in a style truly characteristic of puritanical duplicity, they exclaim, “For, my lord, the people of this province are true and faithful subjects of his Majesty, and think themselves happy in their connection with Great Britain.”

Trust me: if you have actually read all three of these selections, you will be under no illusion whatsoever as to what style is, or is not, truly characteristic of puritanical duplicity.

If not, please do so. Feel free to stop reading Colonel Stedman as soon as you are sold, or if you get to the point where the war has actually started and you still are not sold. In that case, we move on to the secondary sources: W. E. H. Lecky’s American Revolution (Britain, 1898), Sydney Fisher’s True History of the American Revolution (1902, US). And if you are still a Patriot after that, we have to get into the tertiary sources. (Anything post-1950 deserves the “tertiary” warning label, I feel.) Read Bernard Bailyn’s Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967).

If you actually read all this, yet remain a damn’d Whig—congratulations Sir! You are poſſeſſed of an unusually thick Skull—not unlike yr. ancestor, the Pithecanthropus. Indeed Samuel Johnson put it best: the Devil was the first Whig. And to him with you Sir! For the Remedy hath failed.

Otherwise, congratulations on completing the first step of the procedure. Don’t worry—the worst is still to come. Also, we need to quickly install your new Tory history.

The outcome of our little reading list is that, if even a tenth of what Hutchinson, Oliver and Stedman say is true, your desire to remain a Whig is now somewhere between your desire to join the Crips and your desire to volunteer for the Waffen SS. Whereas you formerly thought of the values of the American Revolution as liberty, truth and justice, you now see the hallmarks of the American Rebellion as thuggery, treason, and—above all—hypocrisy.

Therefore, since you can no longer be a Whig, you have no option but to become a Tory. The conflict was, after all, a war. No one was neutral. There is no third side.

But what—since we are now Tories—actually happened? What truth are we to install in the freshly-scraped neural cavity?

What happened is that the executive cohesion of Great Britain had weakened considerably since the golden age of Pitt. For most of the 18th century, there was no such thing as a Tory in British politics. The country was a one-party Whig state. As Colonel Stedman puts it: “…that party distinction of Whig and Tory, which had been dormant since the reign of Queen Anne.” It may (or may not) surprise you to know that this was considered a bad thing.

The event that triggered the Rebellion was an attempt by certain elements of the British leadership, a group not at that time distinguished by any great talent, to restore full lawful authority to the American colonies. Especially in New England, smuggling was rife, and it was not at all clear how far the king’s writ ran.

Moreover, Massachusetts in particular was swarming with unreconstructed Puritans, who had never been properly disciplined for the failure of the previous republican revolution. In contrast to the home country, which had enjoyed 28 years of restored Stuart rule, the attempted New England restoration of the Andros period had lasted only three years, at which point it was terminated by the treasonous Whig coup of 1688.

British politics in the 1760s was coming out of its one-party phase and had stretched out a good bit, developing Whig radicals on the left and proto-Tory “King’s friends” on the right. Naturally, the former tended to be low-church and Dissenter/Nonconformist, the latter tended to be high-church and Anglican. George III never pretended to anything like Stuart authority, but he was making the last ever attempt to render the British monarchy a serious arm of politics.

Therefore, everyone had a reason to do what they did. The King and his friends had a reason to try to reassert authority over the colonies. The colonies had a reason to try for independence. Note, however, that the law was entirely on the side of the former. This gave the rebellion the generally mendacious and criminal quality described above, which is why we are Tories. The rebels could rebel or they could think, speak and write honestly, but not both.

Humans being what they are, it is not terribly surprising that quite a few took the former path. Fortunately, this included many individuals of genuine character and substance, such as George Washington and John Adams, who may have been deluded by ideology but were not seduced by cupidity. The rebellion could easily have ended up where France’s did, and its failure to do so is more than anything due to the High Federalists, who once they saw what republicanism meant in practice ended up with very similar attitudes toward mob politics that we see in Hutchinson and Oliver—twenty years before the Thermidorean reaction that created the Constitution. Most of history consists of going around in circles, learning nothing.

As Colonel Stedman says, the rebels could and should have been crushed easily. In a fair fight, their real chances against the British military were slim to none. As the Union later found, suppressing guerrilla warfare, even in the wilds of North America, is not difficult given sufficient energy. Britain failed because it lacked that crucial ingredient in every war: the will to win.

Britain in the Revolution was politically divided. Large numbers of mainstream political figures—most famously, both Pitt and Burke—sympathized with the Americans. Moreover, although the tea outrage finally created a nominal consensus for a military response, and finally made it imprudent for a British politician to openly urge surrender, a new lobby developed which urged conciliation, conciliation, and more conciliation.

What we see, in other words, is the familiar pattern of two conflicting prescriptions for maintaining the integrity of the state. The Whig prescription says: conciliate the truculent, assuage their grievances whether real or feigned, loosen the ropes at every complaint. The Tory prescription says: enforce the law, and do not bend an inch in response to violence or any other extralegal pressure. As Oliver puts it (p. 125):

Timidity, in Suppression of Rebellion, will ever retard the Subdual of it.

With our corrected Tory vision, we see the answer clearly. In every case, concessions made to dispel conspiracy theories, reassure the Americans of Britain’s fundamental benevolence, and in general appease a fit of calculated insanity, have the obvious effect of displaying Timidity and encouraging further demands. First internal taxation is a violation of American rights, then all taxation, then all parliamentary legislation. The only actual principle that can be discerned is one of unremitting chutzpah and hypocrisy.

The relationship between Britain and Massachusetts, in particular, was much like that between a parent and a teenager. Independence or loyalty: it could go either way, at least for the moment. Scenario: your teenager starts cutting class. So you take her car keys away. So she throws your widescreen TV out the window. So you give her car keys back. Is this pattern of behavior more likely to result in independence, or loyalty?

But this is basically the American policy that the Whigs prescribed. And with the repeal of the Stamp Act, thanks to Burke (who at least later learned better) and the Rockingham Whigs, it’s the policy they enacted. And even when the left Whigs were not, precisely, in the driver’s seat, they were in the passenger seat, yelling. While sold as a policy for the reconciliation of Britain and America, Burke’s policy could hardly have been a better design for the encouragement of an American rebellion and the prospects of its success—which was, of course, achieved.

For example, General Howe among other British military figures is known to have had strong Whig sympathies. His role in America was also twofold: he was there to either defeat the rebels, or make peace with them. Obviously, the latter would have been greatly to his political advantage. Whether his failures in the war were the result of this conflict of interest, or of simple incompetence, can never be known. But the former is surely a reasonable suspicion.

Colonel Stedman, in his dedication, sums it up both well and not impolitically:

The pain of recording that spirit of faction, indecision, indolence, luxury, and corruption, which disgraced our public conduct during the course of the American war…

What, from the historiographic perspective, is particularly galling, is that the explanation that was generally accepted, even in Britain, for most of the 19th century is the Whig one. The rebellion succeeded not because it was not dealt with quickly and decisively, but because the Americans were not conciliated enough. (Alternatively, it succeeded because the Americans were militarily invincible—another common Whig trope.)

This is the secret of puritanical duplicity: no shame, none whatsoever. Every quack who hopes to outlast chance must learn the trick. If you bleed the patient and he dies, obviously you didn’t draw enough blood. Never concede error. Counter every criticism with a barrage of even more gloriously inflated claims. You can see why the likes of Hutchinson and Oliver had no chance at all against the Black Regiment.

Evil is typically more powerful than good. Bad men delight in weapons that good men spurn. Success in past conflicts, political or military, is not Bayesian evidence of moral superiority. It is just the opposite. Which is why it’s a problem that the winners write the history books.

So: we’ve completed the operation, at least as far as the American Rebellion is concerned. We’ve created a clean separation between the parasite, democracy, and your understanding of the 18th century, and we’ve replaced the infected Whig mass with a small dose of healthy Tory history. Presumably the counter-democratic nature of the latter is obvious, if not definitive.

In retrospect, your former support for the Whig cause was a classic received opinion, installed without any sort of thought on your part. In other words, it is not something you were reasoned into. It is to your credit as a thinker that you’ve let yourself be reasoned out of it. If you think of Patriot v. Loyalist as a lawsuit and yourself as a juror, not only had you never heard a single word from the defense, you hadn’t even really heard a proper prosecution. There was never any need. The annelid just raised your hand to convict. Megaloponera foetens, thy name is you.

Note, from an almost military perspective, the curious weakness of your convictions in this regard. What made the “Revolution” an easy target is that you had no particular emotional attachment to it—at least, not compared to some other wars we could mention. Your attachment to the Patriot cause seemed rock-solid. But it disintegrated on contact with the enemy. It was all hat and no cattle.

But our red pill is most certainly not an information-warfare device—at least, not a democratic one. It is a tool for your personal enlightenment only. As we can see easily from this first target. If UR were, say, a political party, would the first plank in our platform be repudiation of the American Revolution? This should attract about twelve supporters, all of whom are homeless schizophrenics. It will repel many more, of course.

Of course, this only makes it easier for you to swallow the red pill. The parasite has strong defenses against most attacks of this kind—certainly all which are of democratic relevance. This position is intellectually significant, yet undefended because of its negative political value. Turning you into a Loyalist does not solve the whole problem by any means, but it’s a foothold, and we can use it to excavate other annelid coprolites in more delicate areas of your brain.

Reversing this one point is not sufficient to replace your entire picture of American history. In fact, it’s entirely possible that, if you stop reading UR immediately, you’ll eventually relapse and become a Patriot again. (Some may prefer this outcome.)

What we’ve done, however, is to establish a second narrative. You now have two realities in your head. You have the reality in which there was an American Revolution, which was a triumph for liberty, truth and justice. You may no longer believe in this reality, but you have no way to forget it. And you have the reality in which there was an American Rebellion, which was a triumph for thuggery, treason, and hypocrisy.

So, for example, we can now then ask the question: in the second narrative, the one in which the American Rebellion was a disaster, what is happening in 2009? Whatever the answer is, the two seem quite unlikely to have converged.

How Chinese History Provides Guidance in the Age of Trump and Brexit

SHANGHAI -- In recent years, globalization has been increasingly perceived as a threat, and the longing for the good old days has been growing -- the "Brexit" being a recent example. To reflect on this, let us take some very old Chinese perspectives, for globalization and various reactions to it already occurred in China thousands of years ago.

Before this early "globalization," the Western Zhou dynasty (about 1150 B.C.E. to 770 B.C.E.) occupied roughly the northern half of the eastern part of today's China. To its people, this was the globe -- the civilized world. Although the Zhou king was called the "Son of Heaven" and presumably ruled over everything, the "world" was actually divided into smaller autonomous fiefdoms whose rulers, other than the first generations, were hereditary.

When the fiefdoms became too large for their rulers, they were further divided into smaller units. Migration between fiefdoms was limited because the farmers were attached to the land that belonged to a local lord. Political and social mobility was also limited because everyone was born into a class with specified political duties and social roles. But during the so-called Spring and Autumn and especially the Warring States periods (roughly from 770 B.C.E. to 221 B.C.E.), this old world order collapsed and a version of globalization occurred.

There are similarities between what happened then and what is happening now. Similar to globalization today, during this early globalization period, people had far more freedom to move from one (now de-facto independent) state to another, from one class to another or from one social and political role to another, hoping to find a better life of their own choosing. An agriculture-based free market economy and commerce developed and bigger and bigger political entities emerged -- though largely through conquest and not peaceful negotiations. As a result, people became far more well connected.

In spite of all the new opportunities, concerns and complaints emerged. There was nothing like the Brexit, though. There were no international regimes that would allow political and legal negotiations there was only power-based realpolitik. States and peoples didn't have rights as they are understood today. Nevertheless, authors of the Daodejing -- also known as the Laozi or the Tao Te Ching, a classic from that period -- called for a total rejection of this globalization and a "return" to a simpler world.

According to them, the chaos of their times was characterized by constant wars and other forms of struggle caused by people's greed that had been running out of control. But it is a fool's errand to call for self-control by the human race because in a populous and well-connected world, greed is too powerful for most human beings to control. They can't control their greed because the masses are either too stupid or too weak-willed to see the danger of greed and to resist it. Greed is too powerful because of the fierce competition among a large number of people and because of the concentration of wealth, which is made possible by a large number of well-connected people and makes possible further competitions -- a vicious circle.

Therefore, the only solution is to "return" or enter a world in which each community consists of few people who, due to the community's limited size, couldn't maintain and find no use in advanced technologies. These communities are isolated from each other, making competition and concentration of wealth impossible.

Indeed, when Europe went through a similar transition from its medieval, "feudal" world into a well-connected, "plebeianized" and populous world, the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau had a similar response. For him, human virtues were doomed to be corrupted in such a world and our only salvation lay in the return to the republican era in which the world was divided into small republics -- like his home state, the Republic of Geneva.

To be sure, Rousseau's republics were different from the small and isolated communities in the Laozi. But what is common to both is the diagnosis that the only cure for globalization is the total rejection of the well-connected and populous world and a "return" to a world of isolated, small political entities. Any halfway measures are temporary fixes at best.

If they are right, the question now is -- are we ready to pay the price? For many Brits, the break-up with the E.U. and the potential for Scottish independence should be considered merely a first step, and the United Kingdom should be divided into far smaller and homogeneous units until there is little significant communication and migration among them left. But it is really hard for a country to maintain an open domestic market and society while closed to the outside world -- a country of fundamental contradiction and incoherence can hardly hold itself together for too long. Since each unit is small, not only will new technologies not be invented, but it will be nearly impossible to keep the old ones. That is, people have to be ready to live a truly simple life, a life that will eventually reject all modern technologies.

Seeing the high price of rejecting a "globalized" world, and thus considering such a world inevitable, the so-called Legalist thinkers in China fully embraced this new reality. They advocated a centralized and unified government and bureaucracy, and the state of Qin achieved this by conquering all other states and unifying the whole "world" under one centralized government. In fact, Europe might have ended up with a similar centralized and unified government if Napoleon or Hitler had won the wars against the rest of Europe.

But a Europe united by Hitler would be a nightmare for the human race, to say the least, and a Europe united by Napoleon wouldn't sound too much better to many, either. In spite of envisioning an eternal empire, China's Qin dynasty quickly collapsed as well. But the next dynasty's attempt at decentralization led to instabilities and wars, and a centralized bureaucracy has remained a key element of traditional Chinese regimes since then.

To cure the excesses of the centralized regime, however, Confucian arrangements were introduced into government. For the Confucians, the legitimacy of the regime and the ruling class is grounded in the service to the people, and whether people are satisfied with the services offered should be determined by the people as well.

In today's world, a Confucian could be happy with using one vote per person to let the people's will be expressed. But contrary to today's over-reliance on one vote for each person in democratic countries, Confucians are suspicious of the common people's intellectual and moral capacities. At the same time, Confucian thinkers such as Mencius also believe that every human being has the potential to become a morally and (perhaps) intellectually superior person, but in reality, only the few can actualize their potential.

Therefore, the state should offer opportunities to educate people intellectually and morally. And then there should be selection mechanisms to identify those with merits who are relevant to serve the people, and they should be given more power in the political decision-making processes.

In the case of U.K.'s EU referendum, we can imagine that some kind of majority vote of a Confucian meritocratic upper house (not the House of Lords if lords are nobles by pedigree) can override a majority vote by the people or parliament. Moreover, while acknowledging the utility and desirability of a globalized world that is facilitated by some centralized power, Confucians advocate some form of autonomy for local communities. As a later Confucian, Gu Yanwu, beautifully put it, the political ideal is to embed the spirit of "feudalism" that symbolizes local autonomy in the framework of a centralized political system.

Somewhat ironically, a successful model of such a mixed regime is precisely the constitutional framework developed by the British. In the modern age, among European nations, the U.K. first developed a more centralized bureaucracy. But at the same time, it rejected the French model of absolutism and extreme equality and maintained many feudal features, including political hierarchy, that held important checks and balances on the centralized government and offered the human race a different kind of modern political regime. Even today, in spite of its imperial past, only the U.K. sent three "national" teams to the recent Euro soccer tournament.

Different traditional Chinese regimes also experimented with different mixtures of centralized government and local autonomy. Maybe we should learn lessons from all these attempts in order to search for an ideal balance between centralization/globalization and local autonomy, and between equality and hierarchy.

Midwest Conference on Chinese Thought

In Northern China at the onset of the medieval period, a dramatic and rapid change of political systems, along with economic and cultural transformations of local society, prompted the construction of new identities –ethnic, religious, family-based or class-based—that could serve as a way of legitimating groups for political purposes. In this paper, I will focus on three Chinese generals who originally served the Han Chinese regime of the Northern Qi and later surrendered to the non-Han rulers of the Northern Zhou: Wang Shiliang, Wang Deheng, and Hou Ziqin. In the early 1990s, fifteen Northern Zhou tombs have been excavated, including those of the three Chinese generals. However, the material remains from those Northern Zhou tombs and some important issues, such as the concept of Chineseness, have not been fully studied yet. The goal of this paper is to focus on the tombs of those three generals and use the intact tomb of Wang Deheng as a case study to discuss how material remains and written documents reveal the complexity of the stories of the Wang family and a larger issue of identity construction during the end of the Northern Zhou period. I argue that the intentional interment of miniature bronze ritual vessels, not often seen in tombs during the time, and the inclusion of carefully worded biography were decisions consciously made by Wang Shiliang’s father in order to protect the reputation of the Wang family through a dialogue about loyalty and betrayal. In order to legitimate their political and cultural authority, it is possible that the Wang family created a collective memory of Chinessness through funerary ceremony within the Chinese community.

Xiaolong Wu (Associate Professor, Hanover College): “Statecraft, Confucianism, and Zhongshan Bronze Inscriptions”

This paper deals with the political philosophy in the State of Zhongshan during the Warring States Period, and the role bronzes and their inscriptions played in Zhongshan statecraft and politics. The three long commemorative inscriptions on the bronze ritual vessels from Cuo’s tomb are complex in meaning and purpose and can sustain detailed rhetorical analysis. My reading of these inscriptions suggests that the lord-subject relationship between the king and his chancellor was critical to the survival of this state, and King Cuo was concerned with the loyalty of his chancellor and intended to secure the throne for his heir through these inscriptions. Their strong Confucian overtones and political rhetoric reveal that the king used these inscriptions to assert claims of cultural and political legitimacy to rule the state. These ritual bronzes were made and displayed at ceremonial occasions in order to maintain the internal political order and to sustain the survival of the state.

Both historical literature and bronze inscriptions suggest that Confucian thought played an important role in the official ideology of the state of Zhongshan. Some historians even attributed the destruction of Zhongshan to its Confucian policies. However, checking the rhetoric against the events of the time betrays that the Zhongshan rulers did not follow the Confucian ideals and policies faithfully. Instead, my reading of the bronze inscriptions suggests that the Zhongshan kings used Confucian ideas as a tool to rectify their status inside and outside the state, to facilitate their diplomatic policies, and to maintain the political order of Zhongshan.

P. Nicholas Vogt (Assistant Professor, Indiana University): “Rebuilding King Wen: Philosophy, Biography, and Paratext in the Yizhoushu

The Yizhoushu, or Remnant Documents of Zhou, comprises a number of philosophical and political documents supposedly associated with the most famous kings of the Western Zhou period. Many of these texts contain little or no internal evidence linking them to those figures. However, the preface to the Yizhoushu offers a detailed account of their production, situating them within the chronology of Western Zhou history and, as a side effect, producing intellectual biographies of the early Zhou kings.

This presentation examines the preface’s account of just one such figure: King Wen, the culture hero and posthumously crowned founder of the Zhou dynasty. It reviews the Yizhoushu texts that directly mention King Wen, focusing on the substance of their political philosophy, and compares them with the full set of chapters that the preface assigns to his reign. Through this comparison, the presentation considers the question of intellectual coherence as a factor in how the preface as paratext assembled its account of King Wen’s reign in closing, it explores the implications of the comparison for the interpretation of the Yizhoushu as a whole.

Hao Hong (PhD candidate, Indiana University): “The Metaphysics of Dao in Wang Bi’s Interpretation of Laozi

Contemporary analytic metaphysicians turn their attention from the question what there is to the question what grounds what in the past decade. While this approach revives the Aristotelian tradition in analytic metaphysics, there are abundant resources on similar topics in Chinese philosophy that are worth exploring. One such example is Wang Bi (226-249 A.D.), who is one of the most important interpreters of  Yijing (易经) and Laozi (a.k.a. Daodejing, 老子, 道德经).

In this paper, I focus on Wang Bi’s view on the metaphysics of Dao in his Commentary on the Laozi (老子注) and “The Structure of Laozi’s Subtle Pointers” (老子指略). The key thesis of Wang’s metaphysics of Dao is that Dao is featureless (or formless, 无形) and ineffable (无名), and it is the ontological ground for the myriad things. I further explore this thesis by answering three questions: (1) How should we understand the featurelessness and ineffability of Dao? (2) Why is Dao featureless and ineffable and how does it ground the myriad things? (3) How should we deal with some seemingly contradictory statements that sometimes claim Dao is something but sometimes claim that Dao is not a thing (or Dao is nothing/non-being)?

First, I argue that Wang takes Dao to be featureless in the sense that it does not have any features had by ordinary things and he takes Dao to be ineffable in the sense that no ordinary predicates can be used to describe Dao. However, the reason that Dao is featureless is not because Dao is nothing or non-being, but because Dao is great (大). The greatness of Dao has two important ontological implications. Frist, Wang thinks that any feature is a limit on Dao’s nature so, Dao’s greatness prevents it from having any limit on its nature, i.e. having any feature. Second, being great, according to Wang, cannot be regarded as a real feature of Dao saying that Dao is great is not to genuinely describe Dao using a predicate. Rather, this is just to help us understand Dao. Theoretically speaking, Dao is not great Dao is greater than great, and is greater than greater than great, ad infinitum. This is why Laozi describes Dao as “mysterious and more mysterious” (玄之又玄).

Next, I argue that Dao must be featureless in order to be the ontological ground of the myriad things. This is because Wang thinks that Dao ontologically grounds the myriad things in virtue of being the opposite (反). This idea is similar to an interpretation of Leibniz’ Principle of Sufficient Reason: the ultimate ground for all things of a kind K cannot be something of K otherwise, it would be an explanatory circularity. According to Wang, if there is something that grounds the myriad things of all different kinds, this ground cannot have any features had by the myriad things. Therefore, only by not having any feature could Dao serve as the ontological ground of the myriad things.

However, my interpretation of Wang’s view on Dao is in seeming conflict with some of Wang’s statements, which suggest that Dao is nothing or non-being. I argue that we should not read those statements as suggesting that Dao is nothing or non-being. One such statement takes Dao as “not-thing” (无物). I argue that Wang uses “thing” (物) in two different senses: it is used to refer to both existing entities and “thingly-features”. When Wang says that Dao is not a thing, he means that Dao does not have thingly features. Another statement is “You () is generated from Wu ().” I argue that we should not understand this statement as saying that being is generated from non-being. Rather, it should be understood as a generalization on the having and not-having features, and there is textual evidence for this understanding. So, it is the claim that having-a-feature is generated from not-having-that-feature, which echoes my interpretation of Dao.

Stephen Walker (PhD candidate, University of Chicago): “‘Dao’ as an inclusive term in the Qiwulun

This paper presents a line-by-line analysis of the Qiwulun’s doctrines about dao, starting from the interpretive hypothesis that this text employs the word in a thoroughly inclusive sense. Just as the Qiwulun discusses yan “speech, language, sayings” in general, it also addresses dao in general—each and every case of dao, however diverse these may be. Building principally on work by Chad Hansen and Chris Fraser, I argue that all forms of activity or behavior count as dao, and therefore that the Qiwulun’s statements about it must be understood as applying to any activity or behavior we can conceive of. Those statements consistently make less sense if we assume that dao refers only to some kinds of activity and not to others.

The first thing we learn about dao in the Qiwulun (and in the Zhuangzi overall) is that it is obscured or covered over by accomplishments. By the use of rhetorical questions, the text seems to imply that dao accompanies, indeed permits all behavior—and that it escapes the dichotomy between “genuine” and “fake”. Any curiosity we have about what the real way forward is, about which paths to trust and which to mistrust, is driven not by insight into the way forward (however that might present itself) but instead by the perfections and achievements we have learned to prize. Dao is something other than prizeworthy, and it is certainly something other than the good and the right. If anything, dao responds to valued and disvalued things rather than itself being a valued or disvalued thing.

That dao, each and every way forward, comes about in the very act of walking it out means that the exercise of agency both presupposes dao and generates or constructs more of it. Verbal cues in the text indicate that the tracks and traces left behind by agents become the paradigmatic “perfections” and “achievements” that obscure dao, but the Qiwulun does not conclude (as Guo Xiang does) that the tracks and traces are not dao. They are indeed dao, like puddles are indeed water, and what they obscure when fixated upon is all the other dao—this puddle is not the rain or the sea, and taking it to exhaust what is meant by “water” resembles the mistake we make when puzzling over which way forward we can really trust.

The reason dao connects things as one is not that it is one to the exclusion of two or many —a conception that would be, the text argues, nonsensical. If it is a basis or field that somehow grounds or unites the world, this is because uniting and connecting require relaxation and movement. If dao is simply activity, in whatever form that takes, and if it responds to things rather than being fixed as a thing, then it unites the world by its very dynamism and indifference. Dao can be divided up in myriad ways, just as things can. But the less divided and more indistinct things are, the less they meet our intuitions about “things” and the more they resemble transitions from one thing to the next. This is the sense in which dao is privileged as a term connoting oneness with its aid, we can understand the text’s mystical moments without falling afoul of its own insistence that “oneness” is not a cognitive object.

While no other text in the Zhuangzi develops such a subtle and intricate portrait of dao, this does not mean that the text “as a whole” is after something less subtle and intricate than the Qiwulun is. The paper closes by glancing at a half-dozen other passages that scrutinize or thematize dao, and concludes that an inclusive, panoramic understanding of the term explains their content better than an exclusive one does—better than any model whereon according with dao constitutes success, and departing from it constitutes failure. 

Asia Guzowska (PhD candidate, University of Warsaw): “Freedom as Symmetry Keeping: A Case Study of Zhuangziق”

There is no one term in the Zhuangzi that could be rendered as “freedom” problem free. Perhaps the best candidate is the expression wu dai 无待, translatable as independence, or lack of dependence. Another possible linguistic placeholder for the concept of freedom could be the term you 游, often rendered as wandering, connoting lack of restraint and ease. Neither choice is perfect.

Of course, the fact that an idea or notion is not distinguished on the terminological level—at least not in a manner clear to the contemporary reader—does not mean that it is not implied, or present on the conceptual level. In this paper, I intend to demonstrate that an interesting conception of freedom is operational in the Zhuangzi, despite the lack of an explicit and singular term for freedom in the text.

The notion of freedom is notoriously ambiguous. I intend to argue that the conception of freedom found in the Zhuangzi can be expressed in terms of symmetry keeping, as opposed to symmetry breaking. The symmetry I have in mind is one between the multitude of possible courses of action, or dao, permitted in the particular context or situation. The choice of one such dao constitutes a breach of this symmetry. Freedom, on the other hand, is linked to the ability on the part of the human agent to keep this symmetry intact or, to use an expression found in Zhuangzi 2, to position oneself at the hinge of [all possible] dao. This ability opens up the possibility of action that is independent of the past—be it some previously formulated guide for action or habit—and therefore, by all accounts, free.

I am going to discuss this conception, icluding its subjective and objective dimension, in more detail based on Chapter 2 of the Zhuangzi

Michael Ing (Assistant Professor, Indiana University): “Things Endure While We Fade Away: Tao Yuanming on Being Himself”

This presentation will argue that Tao Yuanming recognized a tension between being himself (ziran 自然) and the natural transformations of the world (hua 化). While Tao advocated a kind of “naturalism” 自然主義, he did not believe that he, or human beings in general, were predisposed to accept the inevitable changes in the world. Hence, his “naturalism” is not about fitting into his natural surroundings despite the fact that he relies on these surroundings in his poetry, and that contemporary scholars sometimes see his work as “pastoral.” Through an examination of several poems I will demonstrate three things: 1) that Tao saw human beings as distinct from the other “myriad creatures” 萬物 who otherwise accept or fit into the natural transformations of the world 2) that Tao understood ziran 自然 as “being himself” and 3) that he often saw hua 化 as a threat to him being himself. I will also situate this view in contemporary scholarship on Tao, much of which fails to detail this tension.

Amy Olberding (President’s Associates Presidential Professor of Philosophy, University of Oklahoma): “A Philosophy of Funerals”

Early Chinese philosophers argued long and avidly about how best to manage funerary rites.  These arguments are diverse and include disputes such as how long one ought mourn upon the death of a parent, just what constitutes an appropriate use of resources in burying the dead, and even whether, put plainly, there is anything wrong with simply leaving a corpse exposed to the elements.  It might be tempting for contemporary interlocutors, especially those principally trained in western philosophies, to see these arguments as a parochial curiosity, as little more than cultural artifacts betraying preoccupations rooted in idiosyncratic tradition and discourse.  However, I wish to argue that we do indeed need philosophies of funerary rites.  Influenced by the early Chinese philosophical disputes, my essay is an effort to capture just what philosophies of funerals ought include, what interests and desiderata they ought answer, and, most basically, why we would profit from them. 

Youngsun Back (Assistant Professor, Sungkyunkwan University): “Three Layers of Mozi’s Jian’ai 兼愛” 

This paper examines Mozi’s 墨子 doctrine of Jian’ai (兼愛). The secondary literature on Mozi’s jian’ai has been written primarily based on the Mengzian contrast between Mozi’s jian’ai as “love without distinctions” and Ruist ren (仁 benevolence) as “love with distinctions.” According to Mengzi’s simple appraisal of “love without distinctions,” Mozi’s jian’ai has been interpreted as prescribing universal obligations, meaning that all beings have the same ethical duties toward all other beings. However, in this paper, I argue that Mozi’s jian’ai is a complex and multilayered system that promotes universal obligations and, at the same time, incorporates particularistic obligations as well.

By analyzing the three chapters of “Jian’ai,” I argue that there are three different layers in Mozi’s doctrine of jian’ai: Impartial Care 1 , Impartial Care 2 , and Impartial Care 3 . At the basic level, Impartial Care 1 applies to each distinct relationship we encounter in our lives. By practicing Impartial Care 1 , we give equal weight to the well-being of another person and our own, and thereby we can fulfill our various obligations toward others. At the second level, Mozi required a more demanding form of Impartial Care 2 : in our dealings with strangers, we should take care of them as we take care of our family. At the third level, Mozi demanded the most difficult and extreme form of Impartial Care 3 from rulers: rulers should take care of all people equally and universally. In other words, I will show that Mozi’s jian’ai embraces all the characteristics of “impartiality,” “inclusivity,” and “universality.”

Judson Murray (Associate Professor, Wright State University): “Agrarianism, Ethics, and Statecraft: Appropriating Nongjia Thought” 

In this presentation I examine different appropriations of early Chinese Nongjia (“Agriculturalists”) agrarianism for the purpose of either criticizing and limiting or endorsing and augmenting the state’s power over the people. The methodology I employ is cross-cultural and comparative, as thinkers from early China, both its pre- and early imperial historical contexts (c. 3 rd 𔂿 st centuries BCE), and Tokugawa-period (1600� CE) Japan exhibit notable similarities and differences in their appeals to agrarianism. Generally speaking, the analysis reveals that the concerns of thinkers both in ancient China and in medieval Japan focused on identifying specific values worth emulating, delineating both the correct policies those in power should enact and the duties rulers must perform, and determining the proper apportioning of land for the subjects they govern.

More specifically, critics of the state’s unrestrained power, and its exploitation of the people as the primary means to preserve and exercise that power, lauded the ancient Chinese sage-ruler Shen Nong—the values he embodied and his personal example, his method of statecraft, and the sociopolitical, material, and even cosmological conditions he established during his house’s reign—as the exemplary standard by which to judge these matters in their own ages. These critics theorized an ethics relating to the commonplace activities of farming and weaving, as there is a particular kind of moral education they afford to both ruler and ruled, which, they argued, should also inform the priorities and practices of governing. Conversely, supporters of the state’s interests also appropriated the example of Shen Nong to demonstrate an important measure that would assist them in enhancing their control of the realm and its subjects, by projecting back onto this figure, and the manner in which he governed, the very geopolitical arrangement they believed would augment and most effectively exercise the ruler’s power and authority.  Thus, this paper examines the diverse, and sometimes competing and contradictory, ways the agrarianism associated with Shen Nong has been interpreted and deployed by different Chinese and Japanese thinkers. It also brings to light both the manner in which arguably the most fundamental and interrelated human activities of farming, weaving, and governing have been conceptualized in a normative way, and the extent to which thinkers have sought to define and control how these undertakings ought to interrelate, in these East Asian philosophical and historical contexts. 

Benjamin Huff (Associate Professor, Randolph Macon College): “Abiding in the Highest Good:
 Formal Eudaimonism in Early Confucian Thought”

Early Confucian thought aims at nothing less than world peace, to be achieved by following the Way of Yao and Shun. The path to this peace begins in the cultivation of one’s own character, but has implications for all major aspects of human life. The Great Learning presents a concise summary of the Confucian project, tracing it from the level of the individual heart to that of the entire world. The unifying theme of this summary is the identification of the goal—the “ultimate” or “highest good” (zhì shàn 至 善)—and of the processes for achieving it. In this paper I argue that early Confucian thought is formally eudaimonistic, centered on a conception of the highest good.

The first stage of this argument is a close reading of the Great Learning, where the focus on the highest good is explicit. I argue that from start to finish the Great Learning is a teleology—an account of goals or ends and what leads to them. The teleological structure is clearly announced at the beginning of the text and reiterated at the end, invoking as its pattern the relationship between roots and branches (běn mò 本末). The text then gives its particular account of the highest good and its causes, identifying eight distinct stages in its achievement. Interestingly, it enumerates these stages not once, but twice, from branch to root and again from root to branch, in a pattern that reflects the structure of deliberative reasoning.

Based on this structure, I argue that the Great Learning’s notion of the highest good is primarily defined in formal terms: the highest good is the goal at which all human activity should aim. We may therefore define formal eudaimonism as a feature of an ethical theory that is centered on a conception of the highest good. As it happens, this is also a standard feature of ancient Greek ethical thought, which refers to the highest good as eudaimonia.
In the second stage, I argue that while the term “highest good” (zhì shàn 至善) does not appear in the Analects or Mencius, the message of the Great Learning is strongly present in these texts, including much of its structure and vocabulary. Hence it, and its formal eudaimonism are faithfully representative of their thought. This conclusion is important both to clarify the structure and concerns of early Confucian thought, and to provide a framework for comparative work with other eudaimonist theories, such as those of classical Greece. 

Rui Fan (PhD student, Indiana University): “The ‘Impersonator of the Dead’ as Image of the Ancestral Spirit in the Liji

The “impersonator of the dead” shi 尸 as a participant in ancestral sacrifice appears in several early Chinese texts, such as the Shijing, the Mencius, and the three ritual canons. Based on descriptions from the texts, the impersonator is typically a young male descendant of the deceased acting on behalf of the latter during sacrificial rituals. Regarding the ritual function of the impersonator, some scholars, such as Jordan Paper and Michael Carr, read it as a case of spiritual possession: during the sacrifice the impersonator enters an altered state of mind through intoxication and serves as a shamanic medium, a physical receptacle for the ancestral spirit brought down through sacrificial rituals. This paper argues that although the shamanic reading of shi can be supported by evidences from the Shijing, it is problematic, as the aforementioned scholars did, to apply this interpretation to the understanding of shi in other texts, such as the Liji. As the paper shows, the Liji and its traditional commentaries challenge the shamanic reading in two ways. Firstly, despite the consumption of alcohol, a state of intoxication or hallucination is not called for in the ritual performance of the shi. Neither is the young descendant’s transition into the impersonator marked by the entrance into an altered state of mind, nor is it plausible that he enters such a state in the process of the sacrifice. Secondly, in expressing uncertainty on the part of the participants of the sacrifice over the whereabouts of the spirits throughout the ritual, the text complicates the shamanic reading that the shi serves as a receptacle of the ancestral spirit during the sacrifice.

In place of the shamanic reading, the paper suggests a reading of shi in the Liji as an embodied image of the ancestral spirit that is physically absent from the ritual scene. The paper identifies three ritual functions that the impersonator as embodied image of the spirit serves in the Liji. Firstly, in providing a visual representation of the spirit that is otherwise intangible, the impersonator serves a performative tool that enables other ritual actors to carry out their performance as if the spirit were present. Secondly, the presence of the impersonator as embodied image of the spirit strengthens the filial devotion of the host of the sacrifice, which the text deems to be the core of the sacrificial ritual. Thirdly, the image that the impersonator embodies constitutes part of a larger image, an indexical sign of both the ancestral spirit and the living ruler’s benevolence, which the sacrificial ritual aims to make visible. 

Rohan Sikri (Visiting Scholar, University of Georgia): “Between Emptiness and Abundance: Problems of ‘Naming’ in the Excavated Texts”

Scholars have frequently identified problems of language across Warring States philosophical texts as being coextensive with a binary organization of the categories of ‘nature’ and ‘culture.’ The quality of this organization – that is, whether ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ are seen as continuous, oppositional, or as fundamentally incompatible ontological orders – comes to then determine the role that ‘names’ (ming 名) and ‘speech’ (yan 言) play. At one end of this spectrum, a naturalistic bias deems that words must be aligned with patterns of nature, free from the artificial conventions of human culture. At the other end, it is precisely these institutions, and their normative history, that emerge as the source of the standards for the ‘correct’ use of words (expressed in the idea of zhèngmíng正名).

My presentation extends this exploration into the problem of language to the excavated corpus. I focus specifically on three texts – Tài Yī Shēng Shuǐ 太一生水 Héng Xiān 恒先 and the Yŭcóng 語叢 – and identify a set of positions that are rendered along a scale of ontological possibilities. In the case of the Tài Yī Shēng Shuǐ, the problem of ‘naming’ is specifically related to a cosmogonic account, where an underlying structure of binary pairings governs the nature and use of ‘names.’ The text articulates the question of language, in other words, in relation to an onto-generative model, and the potential of ‘names’ (ming 名) is rendered in their ability to either maintain or upset this generative structure. The Héng Xiān, I argue, offers an alternative account in which the organizing conceptual frame is the ontological division between being, or presence (yǒu 有), and non-being, or absence ( 無). ‘Names’ (ming 名), in this binary account, are endowed with a mediating role between a conscious, coercive activity and a complete absence of the same. The text articulates this middle ground through the creative notion of ‘names’ and accompanying ‘endeavors’ (shì 事) that ‘become (or happen) of themselves’ (zì wéi自為). And finally, in the fragments of the Yŭcóng, I show that a decidedly anthropocentric bias in the text might shed some clues regarding views on language that its authors might have adopted. In opposition to the Héng Xiān, the potential of language in the Yŭcóng is celebrated in its ability to bring out the “abundance” (hòu 厚) that is at heart of all existence (of “things” / 物) – an ability, moreover, that is a prerogative of the human experience. 

Nicholaos Jones (Associate Professor, University of Alabama—Huntsville): “An Axiomatic Approach to the Analects

The call for analytically-trained professional philosophers to engage with Chinese philosophical traditions is growing. Advocates cite factors such as diversity, pluralism, and decolonization as stimuli for strengthening and enriching philosophical research and education. But success in answering the call has proven difficult. Candidate causes are manifold: few professionals who specialize in Chinese philosophy receive training from analytically-oriented departments those departments discourage or disincentivize engagement, as does the past and continuing capture of “mainstream” and general professional journals pressures of specialization discourage adequate self-scrutiny.

Common approaches to ameliorating these causes include orienting primary sources around conceptual themes, likening Chinese philosophy to respected styles from ancient European traditions striving to make Chinese philosophy speak to the contemporary concerns of analytic philosophers. I develop a variant of this last solution: strive to make Chinese philosophy speak in accord with contemporary norms of analytic philosophers.

Despite its growing quality, scholarship on Chinese philosophy tends to satisfy norms prevalent among pragmatist, speculative (process), and ideology-critique (“continental”) traditions. These norms recommend thematizing texts, constructing narratives that fit passages into context, using commentarial traditions and linguistic mastery to explain unfamiliar concepts. But the unit of analysis for analytically-trained philosophers is the argument rather than theme, excerpt, or concept. None of the preceding techniques are directed toward extracting, reconstructing, and analyzing arguments. None fit what Kristie Dotson calls the “culture of justification” in the philosophy profession.

I shall, accordingly, develop some central ideas from Chinese philosophy—in particular, from the Analects—as following from a small set of “first principles” through a series of cogent arguments. I provide nothing as ambitious as Spinoza’s Principles of Descartes’ Philosophy. My intent is similar: to extract key claims from the Analects, both explicit and implicit to organize those claims as “axioms,” “postulates,” and derived theorems and to reconstruct their inferential connections. But I am more modest than Spinoza, aiming only to create an analytic-friendly gateway to orient further engagement.

I provide, as axioms, definitions and doctrines likely shared amongst Warring States period philosophers. For example: that rectifying names means interacting with others according to proper social convention (禮 li) that consummate conduct (仁 ren) consists in perfectly enacting proper culture (文 wen). For postulates, I provide historical, psychological, and sociological claims that motivate Confucius’ program, some of which competing traditions reject. For example: that those lacking Zhōu culture lack social harmony (和 he) that correct behavioral dispositions and feelings involve and require mastering proper ritual. Finally, I derive as theorems claims that develop the Confucian program for living well. For example: that mastering proper ritual, learning, and arts involves, and requires, following Zhōu culture and that rectifying names produces social harmony. (Here I omit other claims and argument reconstructions for reasons of space.) 

Brian Hoffert (Professor, North Central College): “Rethinking Gender Equity in Contemporary Confucianism”

During the twentieth century, Confucianism was strongly criticized for its promotion of rigidly defined social roles that limited the potential of certain segments of society and hindered China’s attempts to adapt to the modern world. Women were particularly affected by the restrictive demands of social conformity for they were subordinated to their fathers when young, to their husbands when married, and to their sons when widowed. As Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee concludes in Confucianism and Women, “The nei-wai [內外inner/outer] gender division of labor not only reduces women’s function in the patrilineal family to their reproductive capacity, but also denies women of all classes a legitimate access to vital cultural resources that are needed for the cultivation of the consummated Confucian personhood, which marks the substance of being one’s own person in the world” (113).

While this paper will not defend the historical treatment of women in “Confucian” China, it will argue that the Confucian ideal of social harmony demands the minimization (if not elimination) of all forms of oppression and that the tradition has always possessed the conceptual resources to establish and maintain gender equity. More specifically, I will argue that humaneness (ren 仁) and ritual propriety (li 禮) are properly understood as mutually generating virtues in the sense that normative patterns of behavior help us to cultivate humaneness if and only if the normative patterns of behavior truly embody a genuine concern for the welfare of others. Historically, Confucian gender roles were primarily determined by men and became increasingly oppressive over time, which undermined Confucianism’s ability to provide a moral foundation for Chinese society and contributed to the tradition’s decline in the twentieth century. With the resurgence of Confucianism in the twenty-first century, however, the time is ripe to examine contemporary social norms to determine the extent to which they embody the principle of humaneness. Towards this end, my paper will conclude with some thoughts on how the theory of ren and li as mutually generating virtues can contribute to the establishment of gender equity in the present era.

Dennis Arjo (Professor, Johnson County Community College): “Confucian Role Ethics and the Challenge of Gender”

In a series of recent works Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont Jr. have argued classical Confucianism represents a distinct kind of ethical thinking, what they call Confucian Role Ethics. This paper uses their work as a starting point to consider some questions of the place of gender in classical Confucian thought. I argue first for what I think is the most plausible understanding of the phrase “Confucian Role Ethics”, which holds that a distinctive feature of classical Confucianism is its focus on the particular roles captured in the Wu Lun, or Five Relations: ruler, subject, father, son, husband, wife, older, younger, and friends. I then develop a framework—what I call Confucian Naturalism—that offers a plausible defense of Confucianism’s focus on these roles rather than many others that humans might enter into. This focus is what makes Confucian Role Ethics Confucian, and I argue there is something to be said for this focus even when judged by contemporary philosophical standards.

After clarifying my understanding of Confucian Role Ethics I consider the place of gender within it. Here I argue we should not be too quick to translate gender out of the Wu Lun by, for example, substituting “parent and child” for “father and son”, or “spouses” for “husband and wife.” While common among its contemporary Western defenders, this habit risks obscuring some important features of Confucian thought. This is because, I argue, from a Confucian standpoint making gender distinctions within the Wu Lun is as defensible as the moral elevation of these particular relations itself.

This is not an entirely comfortable conclusion for anyone hoping to reconcile classical Confucianism and any philosophical position informed by modern feminism, which is deeply suspicious of gender and gender roles. While the matter remains rather vexed within feminist thought it-self, at least one position sees the entrenched and universal practice of dividing the human population into ‘men’ and ‘women’ as something that needs to be overcome. If, as I argue, classical Confucianism instead puts this distinction at the core of its moral thinking, it may seem it and contemporary feminist thought are not in the end compatible. I finish the paper with the beginnings of a defense of the Confucian position.

Dobin Choi (Instructor, Towson University): “Mencius and Hume”

This essay explores aspects of a comparative study of the virtue theories of Mencius and modern Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711�). This comparative study hinges upon the fact that both philosophers base the theoretical foundations of their moral systems upon sentiment. By indicating our compassionate feeling toward a baby about to fall into a well, Mencius articulates that all humans have “the heart of compassion (ceyin zhi xin 惻隱之心)” (Mengzi 2A6).  In “Of Morals,” Book III of A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume argues that the moral distinction of virtue and vice is derived from sentiment, not from reason. Mencius believes that our recognition and cultivation of ceyin zhi xin causes the virtue of Ren 仁 (benevolence) to bloom, and Hume believes that one’s benevolent character makes one “agreeable and useful in all the parts of life” (T SBN 604). Both philosophers, taking virtue as the main topic of their moral thoughts, clearly believe that our concentration on sentiment either develops or determines virtue.

Merely bracketing the similarities of Mencius and Hume, however, does not always bring a significant extension of our knowledge about their moral thoughts and beliefs. If we put aside the indisputable philosophical difference between ancient Mencius and modern Hume, this comparative project may distract us from the cores of their moral theories despite its good intention. A well-balanced comparative study between these two philosophers begins with establishing a conceptual framework that is equally applicable to them and does not lose focus on their theoretical essences. Hence, this essay aims to present this proper framework for comparing the ethics of Mencius and Hume. The point of comparison must be their identical moral foundation of sentiment, but we should note that this point of sentiment affords us two directions of comparison. On the one hand, we can focus on sentiment to examine its epistemic characteristics and its relation to morality. On the other hand, we can broaden our scope to see how virtue theories are fabricated upon the theoretical basis of sentiment. Referring to the former as epistemic comparison and the latter as structural comparison, I argue in this paper that the latter is the only proper method for comparing Mencius’s and Hume’s virtue theories. Furthermore, I will show how our appreciation of the parallel structure of the two philosophers’ sentiment-based theories of virtue deepens our understanding of Mencius’s moral theory.

Meng Zhang (PhD candidate, Indiana University): “Righteousness (Yi) in Mengzi: An Exploration of Justice as a Personal Virtue”

This paper locates Mengzi’s discussion of righteousness in the contemporary discussion of justice as a virtue. It first articulates a set of difficulties generated by the tempt to relate two seemingly distinctive dimensions of the concept of justice, and then argues that Mengzi’s discussion of righteousness contains promising resources for us to reconsider those difficulties and illuminates our understanding of justice as a virtue.

In both philosophical ethics and the ordinary use of language, the concept of justice includes two dimensions - the dispositional dimension and the institutional dimension. The former refers to justice as a character trait (which may involve psychological impulses, sentiments, ability of judgment, certain understanding of well-being, etc. depending on which theory is under discussion) to treat persons with desert, dignity, or other measurement of value. The latter refers to justice as a system via which some good is distributed in a principled way. The way in which the two are related is crucial to understand the concept of justice as a virtue. It is tempting to treat justice primarily as an institution, as many modern thinkers do, and thus to view justice as a character trait as parasitic to that institution. But in doing so, one encounters the difficult task to account for the origin of that institution and its normative force. Without predicting the failure of non-virtue-ethical approaches to complete that task, I choose to discuss the virtue of justice within virtue ethics which at the first glance avoids the question of origin easily by advocating the dispositional dimension as primary. Yet treating the dispositional dimension as primary is not without a price: taking the temperament of a just person as primary seems either to risk subjectivism or to sneak in the reliance on institution to account for the content of such temperament.

Locating Mengzi’s discussion on righteousness in this background, I find in the concept of righteousness as delineated by Mengzi some significant resemblances with the concept of justice. On the one hand, for Mengzi, righteousness has intimate relationship with both the physiopsychological factor of qi and with the inborn tendency of holding reactive attitudes such as shame and disdain, and thus is treated as a disposition. On the other hand, the concept of righteousness is involved in the discussion of the social order which determines the correct way to conduct a wide range of activities - from getting married to taking governmental positions - and sometimes even refers to such order itself. In several instances, the institutional aspect of righteousness is primary so that righteousness (yi) is paralleled with the term ritual (li) which is closely related to a codified order specifying proper behavior. Incorporating such diverse dimensions, the concept of righteousness in Mengzi seems to suggest a way to account for justice as a personal virtue without giving up the core commitment of virtue ethics – understanding morality primarily in terms of virtue. I propose to understand the Mengzian virtue of righteousness as the temperament to discern and abide by the social order (institutional justice) which can only exist upon the human psychological tendency of internalizing the attitude that others hold toward oneself. Understood in this way, Mengzian righteousness enriches and contributes to the on-going discussion of justice both as virtue and as institution by bridging these two aspects in nuanced understanding of moral psychology.

Aaron Stalnaker (Associate Professor, Indiana University): “Embracing Mutual Dependence”

Over the last few years several serious books and numerous articles have appeared that focus on Confucian political theory (by authors such as Steve Angle, Joseph Chan, Sungmoon Kim, David Elstein, Leigh Jenco, and Loubna El Amine, among others).  Many of these studies focus on the possible relations between Confucian thought and democratic theory and practice, from various angles.  My proposal is an attempt to extend this consideration to Confucian economic theory, a relatively understudied but still important set of ideas, which is highly relevant to an assessment of the contemporary significance of Confucian thought for ethics and political theory.

More specifically, in this talk I will argue that early Confucian texts such as the Mengzi articulate a vision of political economy based on a full and welcome recognition of human mutual dependence.  Early Ru generally argue that dependence on others is natural, normal, and good, across the full human lifespan, and includes different sorts of dependence such as economic, political, intellectual, and personal or familial reliance on others.  Their resulting views of family life (including “reproductive labor”), education, welfare policy, and the value of work are sufficiently intriguing, and sufficiently different from common “conservative” and “liberal” orientations in contemporary United States debates, that they deserve close attention from ethicists and political theorists.  The present talk will sketch out the main lines of these ideas, drawing primarily on the Mengzi, and speculate briefly about how some of their basic orientations might be adapted for contemporary societies.

Timothy Gutmann (PhD candidate, University of Chicago): “Questioning Chinese Tradition”

This paper explores how Chinese tradition was reconceived around the turn of the 20th century and how it can help us reexamine the concept of tradition itself and its relationship to modernity. It engages accounts of tradition such as those of Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor with Talal Asad’s thinking on colonial modernity, and concepts of historicity such as Reinhard Koselleck’s. These works are formative in understanding how the past informed and instructed later times and the disruptions wrought through the Enlightenment and the imperial universalism. However, their contrasts of Christian, and Islamic, traditions and modernity do not account for the particular ruptures caused through the abandonment of long-lived East Asian institutional forms in the modern moment and for the different lives they had before. Specifically, canonical forms of academic theory have difficulty assessing Confucianism and modernization. How is it simultaneously a patriotic legacy of spiritual civilization (jingshen wenming 精神文明) while little practiced and alienated from the political context of its formative texts? Can Confucianism, or other traditions, be simply pronounced living, dead, suspended, and if so, how can its premodern form of life be understood?

To focus these questions, this paper explores changes affected in the name of tradition in contrasting in mass education with neo-Confucian concepts of knowledge and the politics of belonging in late- imperial China. I examine Zhang Zhidong's 張之洞 1898 essay "Exhortation to Learning (Quan xue pian 勸學篇)". Zhang reimagines ritual spaces repurposed for universal compulsory teaching. For him, as for a generation of reformist Confucian scholars, China can meet the ethical and geopolitical challenges of modernity by expansive reinterpretation of Confucian traditions. Effectively, they imagine Confucian traditions of the imperial state as resources for all the nation's people. They universalize Confucian traditions beyond the elite class of scholars at the center of their religious and literary flourishing while narrowing them to the Chinese national state. This disjunction transformed formative concepts out of which the tradition was built.

To assess these disjunctions, the paper looks to earlier ideas of learning and vocation associated with the imperial-service exam system (ke jü 科舉) as routinized in the Song 宋 dynasty (960-1279). The ke ju presented a teleological structure for scholarly achievement and public service. It also had an exterior space for other kinds of Confucian being, such as that of the literati (wen ren 文人). Rather than acting as a challenge to the dominant tradition, these reinforced it through providing other forms of study, critique, and social life productively discursively tied to the dominant imperial traditions, especially Zhu Xi's 朱熹 (d. 1200) way- learning (dao xue 道學). In contrast, modern states do not have such exteriorities. Education, as Zhang and others conceived, integrates all Chinese traditions with modern science in the production of a critical citizen, a very vaguely-defined role in contrast to the specific duties of a Confucian imperial official. Rather than only contrasting the “good tradition” with the “bad state”, as is often a main form of postcolonial critique, the paper suggests how understanding different habitations and discourses of Chinese tradition shape, and conform to, different historical situations. 

Julianne Chung (Assistant Professor, University of Louisville): “Why Chinese Philosophy is Indispensable”

Although it is commonly acknowledged that Chinese philosophies should be better incorporated into contemporary analytic philosophical discourse, many skeptics remain. Often, they will phrase their concerns as a dilemma for those who pursue greater inclusion for Chinese philosophies, along these lines. Either Chinese philosophies do the same things as Western philosophies or they don’t. If they do, then there is no reason to include them in discussions of Western philosophies, as they will not offer anything distinctively different. But if they don’t, then there is still no reason to include them in discussions of Western philosophies, as they will not offer anything distinctively relevant. This purported dilemma may also be compared to what Amy Olberding has called a “double-bind”, which “can register as an impossible, importunate demand:  ‘Show us something we have not seen before, but be sure it looks well and truly familiar to us too.’” (Olberding 2015, pp.14-15)

Happily, as the work of many others has demonstrated, there are a number of ways that such challenges can be met. And this paper comprises another attempt to explain how Chinese philosophies can be brought into productive dialogue with contemporary analytic philosophy—but with a bit of a twist, in that it makes a case for the claim that its greater inclusion might not only be beneficial, but also essential. In it, I argue—by means of a case study focusing on the Zhuangzi—that Chinese philosophy is not just epistemically important, but rather, that it is epistemically indispensable: in other words, that engaging it has the potential to yield knowledge that we could not have acquired by any other means. This is because the content of some works in Chinese philosophy, such as the Zhuangzi, can plausibly only be fully grasped by attending to certain elements of their form. In order to explain why this might be, I draw on a contemporary account of literary cognitivism (a term that, roughly, picks out any view on which works of literature can track and transmit extra-fictional truths, or at least knowledge), independently developed in analytic aesthetics. This account holds that many written works—insofar as they have cognitive (as opposed to simply aesthetic) value of a meaningful sort—specify their cognitive content in a way that is essentially demonstrative, and that in order to access it, one must thus attend to their aesthetic features (naturally, among other things). If this is right, however, then it may be the case that the content of some works in Chinese philosophy can only be completely understood by engaging them directly, as it were, and not merely by, e.g., re-describing them. This paper thus not only explores why Chinese philosophy is indispensable, but also provides a detailed account of why exactly claims such as these, from Paul Kjellberg and P.J. Ivanhoe, resonate with interpreters of the Zhuangzi: “One of the greatest challenges facing any interpreter of the Zhuangzi is that its protean nature and literary subtlety are inseparable from its philosophical message: one cannot understand its content without careful attention to its multifarious and moving form. The very difficulty of the text is one of the ways the Zhuangzi uses literary style to make its philosophical point.” (Kjellberg and Ivanhoe 1996) What’s more, it supplies an additional potential means of explaining not just why the arts were in fact often treated as philosophical practices in a number of Asian traditions (and why aesthetics occupied a principal place in the philosophies included here, arguably on par with the preeminent role that metaphysics has played in the history of European philosophy (cf. Chinn 2016))—but also why we might think that this should be so more broadly speaking, as well.

Chinn, M., 2016. “Asian Aesthetics: American Society for Aesthetics Curriculum Diversification Project,” last accessed 1/30/17, URL= <>

Kjellberg, P. and P.J. Ivanhoe (eds.), 1996. Essays on Skepticism, Relativism, and Ethics in the Zhuangzi. New York: SUNY Press

Olberding, A., 2015. “It’s Not Them, It’s You: A Case Study Concerning the Exclusion of Non-Western Philosophy,” Comparative Philosophy 6, no. 2: 14-34

Mencius and Buddhist Philosophy

The book The Path summarizes the primary concepts behind some popular ancient Chinese philosophies.

In the parts on Mencius, if I understand correctly, the author mentions that Mencius views a human as not a singular unit, but rather a nexus between and . He calls it the 'heart-mind'.

Mencius suggests that a wholesome human cultivates the 'heart-mind' by challenging the emotional and thinking 'ruts' we may fall in. For Mencius, a 'good' person is educated about their 'thinking' and 𧿮ling' mind, and actively works to break habits or bad rituals that may exist in the 'heart-mind'.

The author goes on to say that Mencius' ideas disagree with Buddhist philosophy because mindfulness in Buddhism requires becoming aware of our emotions and thoughts, and observing them subside. He claims that the emphasis in Buddhism is to distance ourselves from our emotions and thoughts, and also lose any distinction between ourselves and others.

Is this correct? Would Buddhist philosophy disagree with Mencius when he claims that a complete human is one who is constantly working/experimenting with emotions and thoughts (thereby seeing new perspectives and losing the 'self')?

alright, so this is going to be jumbled and maybe a little dodgy insofar as the nitty gritty details go, but I can comment a little on the (early) buddhist project, and how Mengzi (Mencius) would figure into that.

One thing we can note right off the bat is that there is a deep conflict between being buddhist and being a confucian. For one, Confucianism centers around a substantial self, one that is part of a particular community sure, but one that exists while (early) buddhism is what seems to me a very strong form of self-denial, that is it denies the existence of a substantial self. From what I've read of Buddhism, this self-denial would ideally include living a monastic lifestyle, not looking to feed your desires, and ultimately freeing yourself from desires and a sense of self (the self does not exist for [early] buddhists). I will quote a passage from Mengzi that seems to disagree with what buddhists would have us do:

Those in the world who do not help the sprouts to grow are few. Those who abandon them, thinking it will help, are those who do not weed their sprouts. Not only does this not help, but it even harms them. [Book 2A2.16]

It is important to know that, in the Mengzi, sprouts represent human desires. Mengzi does not want us to abandon desires, rather he wants us to pursue them through ceremony/ritual in order to help them grow. It seems that buddhism would be a case of abandoning their sprouts. But from the above passage, we see that it would harm the individual to attempt this. So, there is conflict here.

Another note is that I believe it is a mistake to think of Mengzi saying that we need to break habits, not completely wrong but a mistake nonetheless. The reason for this is that Mengzi believed humans were by nature good, that given the right environment a person would grow to become virtuous. What we need to actively work towards is to help create the right environment (tell me to rephrase this part), this is achieved through ritual and being part of the community. I don't think that rituals would necessarily exist in the heart-mind either, but I might just be doing that because I know Xunzi doesn't believe that -- and this could be an obvious mistake on my part, Xunzi disagreed with Mengzi A LOT.

Also, I would not say that a complete human is one who is constantly working/experimenting with emotions and thoughts, nor that this would lead one to new perspectives and losing the self. Rather it is looking to cultivate the self such that the nature of the self becomes extended. This means that the self starts out good, but this goodness will need to develop. Constantly working on one's desires means to adhere to the correct rituals and relationships, and reflecting on how to extend this. I hope you can see how this would require there to be a self in the first place.

Reading this back it is kinda wonky, but I can't really fix that right now, nor put in the effort that I should/want to. I'll try to come back later tomorow and explain a little better.

Portrait of Mencius - History

Consultants: Professors Irene Bloom, Myron Cohen, Andrew J. Nathan, Madeline Zelin (Columbia University), Andrew Walder (Stanford University), in consultation with Sue Gronewold (Kean University), and Elizabeth P. Tsunoda (Washington University). Edited by Roberta Martin, Asia for Educators.

Originally designed in the 1980s to support the New York State 9th-10th grade Global History requirement, the themes are designed to provide an infrastructure for the myriad facts and dates encountered in studying the long histories of the East Asian countries. The themes are reprinted here for educators seeking new perspectives to bring to bear on the individual histories of each of the East Asian countries — China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam — and of South and Southeast Asia also.

These recurrent "central themes" may be referred to repeatedly in the study of Chinese history, suggesting distinctive patterns to students, until a portrait of cultural difference is accumulated. Of many possible themes, six are discussed here as illustrative of Chinese culture and its relation to the world:

Theme 1: National Identity and China's Cultural Tradition

China is one of the oldest continuous civilizations in history and the dominant cultural center of East Asia with flourishing philosophical, political, economic, artistic and scientific traditions, China developed a strong cultural identity as a universalistic civilization. China has struggled for the last century with the challenge of forging a new identity in a world of nation-states and of redefining its cultural values in a modern world.

Theme 2: Agriculture and Population: The Agrarian Dilemma in China's Modernization

China's economy depended traditionally on wet rice agriculture, a labor-intensive method of cultivation with uneven demands for labor input. Chinese farmers solved this problem by using their families as their labor forces. Traditional agricultural technology and population growth thus became closely related: the best chance a Chinese peasant had to improve his life was to have a large family, intensify the family effort to cultivate rice in the traditional way, then use whatever extra income the family generated to buy more land until the amount of land owned matched what the whole family, working together, could farm at maximum productivity — or even exceeded the family's capacity, an impetus to expand the family size. This was a highly sophisticated system. It provided neither incentive for modernization nor surplus for the state, however, as population and output remained in equilibrium. Collectivized agriculture was introduced in the 1950s as a means of generating agricultural surplus to support urban industrial development, but it proved not to be a satisfactory solution. Under the economic reforms inaugurated in the 1980s, farming is once again contracted to individual peasant families. While successful in raising output, the return to family farming is working against the other essential policy of population control.

Theme 3: Family and State: The Importance of Hierarchy and Paternalism in the Ordering of Society

Government and society in China were traditionally grounded in the Confucian philosophy, which held that the correct ordering of relationships within the family was key to the ordering of society in general emphasis was on hierarchical relationships and the paternal line, with the eldest male holding supreme authority and responsibility for the family unit. The state claimed to be modeled on the family, with the emperor serving as the father of the people. Government in China was characterized by rule of man not law, rule by moral example, and rule by personal rather than official authority. These cultural patterns and assumptions continue to influence the Chinese political system and shape popular expectations of the role of government in China today. They are also reflected in the structure of work unit relationships in Chinese factories, schools, and institutions.

Theme 4: The Perfectibility of Man and the Moral Role of Government

The dominant strain of Confucian thought stressed the perfectibility of man, through self-cultivation, education, and the practice of ritual. One of the government's main functions in the Confucian state is to educate and transform the people, by moral example of the emperor and his officials. The belief that the state is the moral guardian of the people and that men are perfectible is reflected in a number of institutions, historically in the merit bureaucracy, or civil service, in which all officials are supposed-to be selected for their moral qualities, and more recently under Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung), in the style of Communist party leadership, the treatment of deviance, and the revolutionary role assigned to the peasantry in China.

Theme 5: The Relationship Between the Individual and Society in China

The relationship between the individual and the state in China is understood not in adversarial terms, as is characteristically the case in the modern West, but in consensual terms. China did not, therefore, develop an elaborate system of civil law instead, mediation between aggrieved parties is stressed, with local leaders emphasizing negotiation, compromise, and change through education rather than assignment of blame and punishment. Neo-Confucian ideals also held that it was the responsibility of the educated individual to serve the state and the society.

Theme 6: Commercial Development in Place of Industrial Development

The geographical and political unity of China provided an environment in which the Chinese developed an intricate market network extending deep into the countryside in the form of periodic, rural markets that are in turn linked to regional markets. China differed from Europe, where the existence of many small countries led to trade barriers and local shortages that forced technological improvements within individual countries. In the Chinese situation, the absence of trade barriers and the existence of a huge and varied geography and population with much regional diversity meant China never was under pressure to develop labor-saving devices or to engage in expansionist or colonizing activities to the extent of those undertaken by the West and Japan in the modern period. The corresponding lack of industrial development put China in a disadvantageous military and economic position when faced with foreign encroachment in the 1800s, and industrial development has been a priority since that time. The re-emergence of the traditional Chinese market system in contemporary China has greatly facilitated economic growth under the reforms of the 1980s.

Portraits of Integrity: 26 Case Studies from History, Literature and Philosophy Hardcover – 16 April 2020

A wide-ranging, thought-provoking collection that examines the various aspects and challenges of living with integrity. These short essays challenge us to move beyond thinking of integrity simply as unbending devotion to a principle or being true to oneself. ― Matthew Pianalto, Professor in the Department of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies, Eastern Kentucky University, USA

Integrity is the most personal of virtues and yet the more philosophers try to define it, the more elusive it comes to seem. Here is a work that goes directly to the source: to the very struggle to live with integrity as it is encountered throughout the world and throughout history. From scholars and artists, reformers and journalists, and in great narratives such as the Ramaya?a, the portraits in this book are unfailingly enlightening and engaging. It is a moving and inspiring collection that unveils both the complexity and necessity of integrity. ― Damian Cox, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia

Rather than providing yet another philosophical account, the editors are to be commended for offering a rich tapestry of lives and works that touch on the concept of integrity in different ways. Their novel approach is highly recommended! ― Christian B. Miller, A. C. Reid Professor of Philosophy, Wake Forest University, USA

About the Author

Charlotte Alston is Professor in History at Northumbria University, UK. She is the author of Russia’s Greatest Enemy? Harold Williams and the Russian Revolutions (2007), Piip, Meierovics, Voldermaras: The Baltic States Makers of the Modern World (2010) and Tolstoy and his Disciples: The History of a Radical International Movement (2013).

Amber Carpenter is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Yale-NUS, Singapore.

Rachael Wiseman is Lecturer in Philosophy at University of Liverpool, UK.

Watch the video: Forgotten Thinkers: Mencius (May 2022).


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