Abstract

How can you bring about sudden and radical moral change in someone who shows himself blatantly impervious to reason, who cannot be forced in any way and may end your own life at his will? This crucial issue was discussed and debated with growing acumen throughout the Warring States period and underlies many a speech strategy, from Mencius’ encounters with the grandees of his time down to the cunning rhetorical devices used by diplomats sent on perilous missions among the contending states of the third century B.C. In the heretofore neglected chapter 30 of the Zhuangzi, “Persuading with Swords,” a strange tale casting Zhuang Zhou himself as a fake swordsman, the author conceives of a very specific intervention in the activities of the swashbuckling ruler of Zhao in order to stop him from inciting lethal battles among his champions and wreaking havoc on his State. We attend as readers to a new form of moral persuasion based on the therapeutic powers of imagination, which turns the Prince of Zhao’s own desire against him. This chapter may be construed as a reflection on the power of fiction embedded in a farcical hoax, in which the author seems to have made headway with the problem tackled in chapter 4, “In the World of Men” (“Renjian shi” 人間世), dealing mainly with scholars’ perilous political missions. The present study translates, comments on, and interprets the radical switch of perspective adopted in the attempt to solve the problem of the inefficacy of speech in certain critical contexts. Zhuang Zhou’s intervention is analyzed in the light of modern psychotherapeutic techniques also used to bring about a satisfactory change in persons who suffer from obsessions or violent behaviors, and contrasts them with traditional forms of persuasion best exemplified in the Mencius, which chapter 30 ironically references in a subtle interplay.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Pages
pp. 375-403
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-14
Open Access
No
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