2005 Annual Meeting: Border-Crossing Sessions


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Session 171: The Virtues of Spontaneity: New Perspectives on Spontaneity in Early China

Organizer and Chair: Lisa Raphals, University of California, Riverside

Keywords: emotions, gender, language, ritual, spontaneity, strategy.

In recent years, the study of early China has been transformed in many ways, including the new evidence of excavated texts, new perspectives on gender, and reassessments of the use of cross-cultural study. New texts, methods and perspectives provide opportunities to rethink the historiography of early China and to reassess conventional views of the early Chinese philosophical canon, and the present panel is part of that effort.

Spontaneity, in some senses, is an opposite pole from ritual. Interestingly, many early Chinese depictions of human agency place a high value on the "right" kind of spontaneous action; in much of the Warring States philosophical canon, spontaneous but appropriate response is a hallmark of the sage. The papers in this panel offer diverse perspectives on the understanding of spontaneity in early Chinese thought, using both the received tradition and excavated texts.

Qing and Spontaneity in the Pre-Qin Period

Ying Li, University of California, Riverside

This paper reconsiders views of the relations between emotions (qing) and concepts of dao, inner nature (xing) and ritual (li) in the pre-Qin period by comparing the discussion of these concepts in the texts excavated from Guodian to the accounts of the Analects, Mencius, Xunzi and Zhuangzi. The Analects, Mencius, and Xunzi all emphasize the crucial role of ritual and education in refining qing that arises spontaneously out of inner nature. There are, of course, important differences. For Mencius xing and qing are morally good at birth, but must be nurtured; Xunzi associates them with desires and social disorder, and stresses the need for ritual to shape and control them. Zhuangzi also assumes the spontaneity of qing, but links it to the spontaneous processes of the universe, which exist for and of themselves. In the Guodian account of the relations among dao, qing, xing and ritual, dao begins in qing, which in turn arises from xing. The ultimate purpose is to moralize and cultivate xing and qing by the way of education.

Is Spontaneity a Gendered Ideal in Early Chinese Philosophy?

Yiqun Zhou, Valparaiso University

Flexibility with rules, ease in performance, and affinity with nature are traits that characterize the "realized person" portrayed in both early Confucian and Daoist texts (Analects, Mencius, Book of Rites, Dao de jing, and Zhuangzi). It may seem, however, that they imply very different—almost opposite—answers to the question asked in the title of this paper. Confucian thinkers may generously allow women a share in such cardinal moral virtues as humaneness, righteousness, and wisdom, acted out in a different sphere (mainly domestic) and by different means (mainly through influence on kinsmen), but spontaneity as an ideal typically captured in aesthetic terms in early Confucian literature seems to be decidedly a masculine achievement. The Daoist depiction of the same ideal in a similarly artistic language, on the other hand, appears tantalizingly ambiguous on the question of the gender of the agent. This paper examines both of the two preceding observations in light of a series of distinctions, e.g., between nature and culture, between moral and aesthetic domains, and between the hypostatized "feminine" and a real woman. It aims to further our understanding of the early Confucian and Daoist ideals of personhood along the gender dimension and also of the role of women and the feminine in these two intellectual traditions.

Spontaneity and Language in the Zhuangzi

Jie Chai, University of California, Riverside

The Zhuangzi is infused with a desire to let go of words, to let the mind wander freely, and to encourage a kind of spontaneous experience which Zhuangzi believed was neither in words nor learned. In this paper I will discuss the Zhuangzi’s views on spontaneity and language in "speaking non-speech" (yan wuyan) and "forgetting words" (wangyan) as means of freeing oneself from the captivity of language and allowing things to develop by their own nature. This is not a total rejection of language, but rather a negation of discriminative or reifying speech in relation to Dao. I argue that Zhuangzi is more flexible and skillful in avoiding a metaphysical hierarchy of speech and silence than had been thought, and that Zhuangzi is not a radical linguistic skeptic as some scholars believe. Zhuangzi claimed that the Dao was incommunicable, but used every artistic and rhetorical device at his disposal to communicate it. He used language to present a world of spiritual freedom and multiple perspectives. His use of language encourages and engages a spontaneous perspective, like that of Cook Ding comprehending with the "daemonic" (shen) rather than with conventional sense perception or rationality.

Spontaneity and Strategy: Modes of Divination and Prediction in Early Chinese Military Works

Lisa Raphals, University of California, Riverside

This paper examines the interlocking roles of spontaneity and prediction in early Chinese military divination and strategy, as the Zhou aristocratic military order was replaced by new modes of military command. Warring States strategist-generals and bingfa literature emphasized the importance of deception and rapid response to rapidly changing circumstances, all modes of action seemingly incompatible with divination. Although some bingfa passages reject military prognostication, others seem to incorporate divination into the new strategic thinking. Military divination texts excavated from tombs at Mawangdui, Yinqueshan and elsewhere illustrate a wide range of reliance on predictability. Overall, divination methods based on cycles of time (daybooks, five-phase correlations, the sexagenary cycle, etc.) offered little room for spontaneity. Others, based on the observation of changing qi configurations in winds, clouds, and the sounds of pitchpipes, were geared toward the understanding of changing circumstances. The relative "spontaneity" of at least some Chinese military divination methods is illustrated by contrast with the Greek pattern of performing divination rituals at every stage from the beginning of the expedition to the actual lines of battle, thus counterindicated the use of surprise attack and many other bingfa methods.