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Reviewed by:
  • History of Chinese Philosophy Through its Key Terms ed. by Yueqing Wang, Qinggang Bao, and Guoxing Guan
  • Alice Simionato (bio)
History of Chinese Philosophy Through its Key Terms. Edited by Yueqing Wang, Qinggang Bao, and Guoxing Guan and translated by Shuchen Xiang. Singapore: Springer, 2020. Pp. xii + 439. Paperback 64,99€, isbn 978-981-15-2574-2.

Recent anglophone scholarship on Chinese philosophy provides students and scholars with a great variety of introductory materials, especially when it comes to encyclopedias and manuals on the history of Chinese philosophical traditions. It is therefore increasingly difficult for scholars to produce innovative studies on the subject that can provide a significant and original contribution to the field, especially when addressing both specialists and enthusiasts. In this context, The History of Chinese Philosophy Through its Key Terms by Nanjing University’s Wang Yueqing 王月清, Bao Qinggang 暴庆刚, and Guan Guoxing 管国兴 certainly represents a valuable and innovative contribution. Instead of presenting the history of Chinese thought by sectioning it in terms of thinkers or schools of thought, as it is traditionally done in encyclopedic works, the book considers the historical and conceptual evolution of specific key terms which characterize the evolution of those philosophical traditions which form the broad and diversified framework of Chinese philosophy. The book is composed of thirty-seven chapters (varying from 8 to 18 pages in length), each of which is devoted to a detailed discussion of a specific key term in both its historical and conceptual evolution. The great majority of chapters discuss the evolution of terms within the broad historical framework ranging from classical thought to the end of the Qing dynasty.

The book presents a detailed discussion of a great variety of Chinese philosophical concepts, ranging from the most well-known core notions, such as dao 道 (“Way”, first chapter), xin 心 (“heart-mind”, chapter five), and cheng 诚(“sincerity”, chapter eight), to other fundamental yet less discussed concepts such as xingershang xingerxia 形而上形而下 (“above physical form and below physical form”, chapter twenty), liyu 理 欲 (“principle and desire”, chapter twenty-nine), and xiaoyao 逍遙 (“unfettered and effortless”, chapter thirty-five), among others. The evolution of each concept is presented by discussing how different philosophers from different traditions and historical periods have rendered its meaning. This approach is particularly effective with regards to discussions of terms which are often considered as monolithic in significance such [End Page 1] as li 理 (“coherence”, chapter thirteen) or qi 氣 (“vital energy”, chapter fourteen), among others. Importantly, the different meanings of each key term are explained both across different thinkers and within the same philosophical system (for example, Confucius’ multifaceted notion of tian 天 as both “almighty commander” and ziran 自然, “self-so”, p. 38). This type of categorization allows the reader to appreciate the articulate development of the most central notions of Chinese philosophy in relation to different contexts throughout the centuries. By means of nuanced and differentiated analysis, in turn, philosophical traditions emerge as developing in conversation among each other, rather than in isolation. As a consequence, the central concerns which characterize the history of Chinese thought are highlighted systematically, together with their conceptual and argumentative specificities.

While the remarkable density of each chapter makes this book a valuable source for scholars working in the field of Chinese philosophy, the authors also aim at addressing the broad audience (p. vii). The scope of the book has informed the authors’ methodology: while the genealogical account of the terms considered provides a picture of their “historical lines of evolution”, they explain, thematic comparisons are also employed in order to “highlight the unique contents of these philosophies” (p. vii). In addition, the authors occasionally provide “insightful comparisons with Western philosophy”, which are meant to “bring forth the original and multidimensional meanings of these terms” (p. vii). So while the genealogical and the comparative accounts can serve as aiding tools for researchers at all stages, the explanatory connections with Western philosophy are aimed at broadening the narrative of Chinese philosophical discourse in order to aid non-experts (or scholars of Western philosophy) in appreciating Chinese thought “in its own natural habitat” (p. vii). This methodology, however, is not employed without issues, as it might be inevitable for works with such a broad and ambitious...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Pages
pp. 1-4
Launched on MUSE
2022-07-01
Open Access
No
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