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  • A Rejoinder to Rapp’s Comments
  • Yuri Pines

Rapp accuses me of missing the forest for the trees. He may be right inasmuch as my review focused on the inadequate sinological apparatus of his book rather than on its “major thesis,” that early Chinese critics of the state “used a basic anarchist theory to criticize the inevitable tendency of all states to rule for themselves” (p. 3). I, indeed, regret the fact that I had not addressed sufficiently what the author identifies as his main idea. It happens, though, that a book is so poorly edited that even the most brilliant ideas can no longer be adequately dealt with before the web of wrong suppositions about the texts, of their inadequate contextualization, and of their highly questionable interpretation is disentangled. Actually, I am sure that a better editorial work on behalf of Continuum publishers would allow Rapp to present his insights in an incomparably clearer and more convincing way than was actually performed. Should the discussion in the first half of the book be based on an equally solid and systematic research as in the second half, the tone of my review would surely be different.

Going back to the first part: Fundamentally, I think that should Rapp have abandoned the self-imposed Procrustean bed of Daoism and engaged preimperial and early imperial thought as a field of lively intellectual discourse, he could have made his theses much more convincing. For instance, to prove the main thesis that some of the early Chinese thinkers considered the state ruling for itself, the author should have demonstrated first that early Chinese thought had a concept of an abstract state and second that the Daoist polemical writings indeed targeted this abstract state rather than concrete rulers and administrators. This was not demonstrated, though, nor did the author systematically address these questions. For the present reviewer, this failure is a pity because I think that such demonstration was possible. Had the author, for instance, addressed such interesting topics as pre-imperial debates about the origins and ultimate desirability of the state and of organized society, or had he addressed debates about whether the ruler (and by [End Page 397] extension the state) can represent public (i.e., common) rather than private interests, he could have built a much more compelling case for his arguments.1 He did none of these, alas.

The reader of the review and of Rapp’s reply may judge for him/herself whether the problems I have pointed at can be reduced to typographical errors, or whether Le Guin’s translation is indeed off base. Yet there is one issue that I believe requires further clarification: namely that of the Da tong ideal. Somewhat inexplicably to me, Rapp identifies this ideal as yet another example of “call[ing] for more humane types of rule that would supposedly eventually lead to a stateless utopia” (p. 387). I think this is very much off the point. Since the Da tong passage from the Li yun chapter of the Liji is quite brief, it can be cited in toto:


When the Great Way was implemented, All under Heaven belonged to all. [The people] selected the worthy and the able; their words were trustworthy, and they cultivated amicability. Thus, men were not attached to their parents only, nor did they treat as children only their own sons. The old were provided until their natural death; the able-bodied were employed, the young were provided for growing up. They pitied widows, orphans, childless, disabled and sick, nourishing each of them. Males had their allotment; females had their homes. They detested to throw away extra commodities, but nor did they hoard these for themselves alone; they detested not to utilize their labor, but nor did they work for themselves alone. Hence, scheming was blocked and did not rise; robbers, bandits, and rebellious criminals did not act. Hence the outer doors remained open, and were not shut. This is called the Great Uniformity.

(Da tong)2

This passage has nothing to say about humane types of rule or eventual evolution into a stateless utopia. The stateless utopia presented here is primeval and normative and is anterior to...