Individualism in Early China
Human Agency and the Self in Thought and Poliltics
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
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Chinese culture is often characterized as a culture of obligation rather than individual freedom. This characterization is not just a stereotype; it is rooted in various nineteenth- and twentieth-century constructions of Chinese identity, as such an identity is compared to that of the “West.” 2 ...
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This project has assumed more than a dozen different guises, and working on it has undoubtedly taken its toll on many individuals besides myself. I am indebted to all the great mentors, guides, friends, and family members in my life who gave critical input and who helped support me emotionally, intellectually, and financially over the years. ...
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The imperial beginnings of China tell a story not just of concrete changes in state structure, policy, and military power but also of important developments in ideology. Well before the First Emperor of the Qin proclaimed sovereignty over a unified empire in 221 BCE, the concept that all should be united under a single great cosmic authority ...
CHAPTER ONE Individual Agency and Universal, Centralized Authority in Early Mohist Writings
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In searching for the roots of individualism, we begin with an unlikely source: the writings of the early Mohists. Unlike the Confucian Analects—a rough contemporary of the early Mohist writings—which focuses deeply on the cultivation of individual moral autonomy, early Mohist writings underscore the importance of an individual’s conformism to Heaven’s will.1 ...
CHAPTER TWO Centralizing Control: The Politics of Bodily Conformism
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Conformist ideologies were also popular in fourth-century BCE texts such as the Laozi, Guanzi, Zhuangzi, and even some Ru texts, uncovered from tomb excavations at Guodian, that were in circulation around the same time. In the following two chapters we examine a diversity of viewpoints on conformism that date roughly to this period, ...
CHAPTER THREE Decentralizing Control and Naturalizing Cosmic Agency: Bodily Conformism and Individualism
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In the textual record we also find ideologies dating to the fourth century BCE that went beyond the sovereign to address bodily conformism at a more universal level. Zhuangzi in particular spoke of spiritual attainment in terms of the relatively decentralized power of the Dao that might obtain in each individual, and not merely in leaders of the state. ...
CHAPTER FOUR Two Prongs of the Debate: Bodily Agencies vs. Claims for Institutional Controls
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Starting from about the third century BCE, authors ubiquitously grounded their proposed programs for education, self-cultivation, and legal and political reform in arguments concerning the natural biological conditions of humankind. Hardly a thinker existed who did not have some opinion concerning the relationship between innate, universal human functions ...
CHAPTER FIVE Servants of the Self and Empire: Institutionally Controlled Individualism at the Dawn of a New Era
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Having distinguished between individualistic writings that more fully idealize one’s natural, internal sources of authority and writings that idealize institutional, external controls in society, we now proceed to examine writings from the third through second centuries BCE that at once idealize both types of control.1...
CHAPTER SIX Conclusion
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In an environment of increasing social mobility and political centralization, intellectuals from the fifth through the third centuries BCE put forth competing conceptions of human agency, each of which presented a different view of the sources of authority and power that underlie an individual agent’s actions. ...
Postscript: A Note on Chinese Individualism, Human Rights, and the Asian Values Debate
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Translating concepts from one cultural, historical context to the next is never an easy task. In using the term “individualism” in my analysis of intellectual developments related to the self, I show readers that certain early Chinese views can justifiably be compared with, or translated as, “individualism.” ...
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Publication Year: 2010