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  • Die Aufhebung des Politischen: Lü Zuqian (1137–1181) und der Aufstieg des Neukonfuzianismus by Kai Marchal
  • Hilde De Weerdt (bio)
Kai Marchal. Die Aufhebung des Politischen: Lü Zuqian (1137–1181) und der Aufstieg des Neukonfuzianismus. Lun Wen 14. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2011. vi, 271 pp. Paperback €48.00, isbn 978-3-447-06480-4.

In Die Aufhebung des Politischen, Kai Marchal makes a case for the inclusion of Neo-Confucian political philosophy in contemporary intercultural dialogue on the future of humanity. The case rests on a discussion of the life and political thought of Lü Zuqian, a contemporary of the better known philosopher Zhu Xi. The title (The Sublation of the Political) captures the core thesis the author proposes with regard not only to Lü Zuqian’s thought but also to Neo-Confucian philosophy more generally. “Aufhebung” is a technical term. Its meaning and history in German philosophy are not further explored in this work, but it is clear that it refers here to a process of both negation and preservation. The political is deeply problematic and kept at bay in Neo-Confucian moral philosophy, yet it is also an unalienable part of it. In the author’s concluding words, “[Neo-Confucian philosophy] is not political, but it can only prove itself politically” (p. 244, my translation).

The goal of the manuscript is threefold. First, at its core is a contextual, historical reconstruction of the political philosophy of one individual. Second, it aims, thereby, to reveal “the political nature” of Neo-Confucianism (p. 27). Finally, it advocates that the Neo-Confucian approach to the political be considered in the West, not only in a historical-philological engagement with texts but also in a self-reflective dialogue with the other. The problems identified and the meanings [End Page 468] assigned to concepts in the original context of one individual’s oeuvre thus become emblematic first of “a time period” (whose scope is not defined) and lastly of “a certain way of thinking—by no means limited to China” (p. 45).

After an introduction that sets out these goals, the author summarizes the life and political career of Lü Zuqian. Lü Zuqian was chosen as the subject of this study because he has been considered a key figure in the development of the Neo-Confucian movement of the Learning of the Way but has, nevertheless, been less well studied than others associated with it, Zhu Xi in particular. The biographical sketch offered in the second chapter is the most extensive account of Lü’s career available in a European language. It lacks the biographical detail available in the Chinese biographies mentioned in the bibliography because this chapter is primarily intended as an outline of Lü’s principal political and intellectual activities set against the broader context of the court politics of the second half of the twelfth century and the formation of the Learning of the Way.

The author divides Lü’s career into three phases that reflect, in his view, major turning points in late twelfth-century political history as well as in Lü’s life. The first ten years (1155–1165) of his career appear “non-distinct” (p. 56) as his career has just gotten under way: He takes on his first appointments and passes the notoriously difficult polymath examination; he also makes the acquaintance of Zhu Xi. In the next ten years, Lü has become a member of the Learning of the Way and devotes himself to the spread of Confucian values and campaigns for its influence at court (p. 63). Finally, in the last five years or so before his death in 1181, Zhu Xi and Lü Zuqian part ways. Their differences manifest themselves in distinct “political strategies” (p. 80). Zhu Xi opts for a refusal to join the court, whereas Lü Zuqian favors collaboration, albeit not at the cost of remonstrance; his return to court comes with a critical review of the rule of the reigning emperor in 1177 and a continuous belief in the possibility of political reform. As this summary suggests, Marchal’s account of Lü’s career is refracted through a comparison with Zhu Xi’s—the same approach is adopted in...