China & Inner Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer: Dierdre Sabina Knight, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Chair: Yi-tsi Mei Feuerwerker, University of Michigan
Discussant: Anthony C. Yu, University of Chicago
How has mingdescribed by Mencius as "whatever happens without mans causing it"been understood and managed in Chinese history? In this back-to-back panel, the notion of ming is addressed by scholars from the diverse disciplines of philosophy, religious studies, anthropology, literature and social history. Although ming is arguably as prominent as such notions as xiao (filiality), 1i (ritual) and bao (reciprocity), it has received limited scholarly attention. This panel is the beginning of a collective project to systematically study issues pertaining to ming.
Part One explores philosophical and religious interpretations of ming from early Confucian and Daoist texts to contemporary social practice. Lisa Raphals examines the contrasting ways that Zhuangzi and Xunzi conceive of this important concept during the Warring States Period. Robert Campany lays the groundwork for how ming is subverted in texts of religious Daoism and Buddhism of the Six Dynasties Period. Stephen Bokencamp analyzes historical shifts in Daoist concepts of predestination and their relation to the religions revolutionary notion that one might be responsible for ones own destiny. Drawing on his ethnographic fieldwork, Steven Sangren demonstrates the presence and implications of ming in current ritual practice.
Lisa Raphals, Bard College
Questions about the nature of destiny informed Chinese thought well before Buddhist notions of fate influenced Neo-Confucian and popular culture. Linking the fates of individuals and states to patterns of the cosmos led to a range of practices, assuming varying degrees of human agency: "passive" divination, efforts to align individual fate to cosmic pattern, and out-and-out attempts to avert the force of destiny. In this paper, I examine accounts of ming in Zhuangzi and Xunzi.
The Zhuangzi treats three principal notions of ming: allotted life-span, fate or destiny, and inevitable change in the universe. Fated life-span is short and unknowable; one must preserve it by avoiding self-destructive activities, such as seeking honor and rank or displaying knowledge and cleverness. Destiny includes Great and Small fate, and specific notions of individual, personal fate. The virtuous can understand and master fate, harmonize with it, and contrive to live out their ming. Fate as inevitable change is linked with cycles of the seasons, life and death, and the fate of the times. The Zhuangzi also speaks of fate in terms of hardship and poverty, duty, and purpose or cause, frequently in the voice of Confucius.
Xunzi de-emphasizes fate in favor of free will and individual action, in a defense against Mohist attacks on Ruist "fatalism." Like Zhuangzi, he acknowledges the existence of individual fate that must be obeyed, and holds that those who understand fate do not resent it. For Xunzi, fate is flexible, unpredictable, and a source of unexpected opportunities.
Robert F. Campany, Indiana University
This paper focuses on ming not as a metaphysical concept but as an aspect of religious imagination and practice. When taken as an abstract term for the inexorability of events in general, ming perhaps did not much lend itself to circumvention. But writers of varying religious persuasions understood ming as something much more specific: a "pre-allotted lifespan" imagined either in the bureaucratic terms of otherworldly bookkeeping or in the organic terms of indwelling cosmic energies and corporeal spirits. This specificity of the workings of ming afforded scope for the invention of multiple ways of dodging ming. Daoists developed strategies incorporating adherence to moral codes, ingestion of life-prolonging herbs and minerals and alchemical elixirs, employment of talismanic writs and possession of other empowering sacred texts, deception by falsified grave documents, outright faith, and negotiations aimed at getting ones name off the celestial books however possible. Ordinary persons, though unqualified for transcendence or nirvana, might hope to outlast their allotted lifespan thanks to moral rectitude or a mix-up in celestial paperwork. As for Buddhists, although they argued the inexorability of ming, transposing it into the karmic key, they also sometimes extended their lifespans Daoist-style, and they shared with Daoists the goal of finally transcending the temporal world and thus escaping the shackles of ming altogether.
Stephen R. Bokenkamp, University of Indiana
Denial of any determinative role for individual fate (ming) was one striking way in which Daoism distinguished itself from Confucianism. In that the religion promoted its self-cultivation practices with promises of longevity and death avoidance, fatalism could logically play no part. As one oft-cited text put it, "My fate lies with me, not with heaven or earth." In fact, though, medieval Daoist texts reveal a number of compromises with more general conceptions of fate. In this paper, I will explore the mechanisms by which the southern reform movements of the late fourth and early fifth centuries, Shangqing and Lingbao Daoism, reinstituted elements of Han belief in predestination, modifying the revolutionary Celestial Master doctrine that one might be entirely responsible for ones own destiny. This shift was the result of two factors: First, Daoism was at this time becoming more widely accepted among the aristocracy and accommodating itself to their beliefs and preferences. Second, the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth was gaining more widespread acceptance, complicating the simple causal model of destiny to which earlier Daoists had subscribed. Through exploring Daoist improvisations on the theme of ming, we begin to see more clearly the utility of individual fate as a social ideology.
P. Steven Sangren, Cornell University
Ming and yun are widely noted as referring to unalterable and alterable types of destiny or fate. The present paper argues that the issues of agency or power implicated in this contrast correspond to a more general rhetorical structure evident in ritually invoked ling (magical power). For example, a contrast that logically parallels that of ming/yun is evident in Taoist uses of tian/xiantian (heaven/prior heaven). In both cases a symbol contextually defined as transcendent and beyond human control can be redefined in the context of ritual as subject to human agency. The rhetorical or ritual means by which this redefinition is effected entails positing a yet more transcendent level of being, thereby inverting the relation between producer and product thought to obtain in secular (as opposed to ritual) time. Whereas in secular time "luck" or "the gods" determine what happens to (and in this sense, produce) us, the rhetoric of ritual inverts this relation, claiming control not only over luck or the gods, but implicitly, over who or what we are to be.