Warp, Weft, and Way

A Group Blog of Chinese and Comparative Philosophy

Panels at the Upcoming AAR Conference

Here is an update from Thomas Wilson concerning the American Academy of Religion conference that will be held this weekend:

Please note the two panels sponsored by the Confucian Traditions Group. We especially encourage you to attend the business meeting following the Saturday afternoon session (A17-316). We’ve also listed a few other panels that might be of interest to you.
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November 13, 2012 Posted by | Conference, Confucianism, Daoism, Religion | Leave a comment

Another Recent Dissertation: Chai on Ontology and Cosmology in Zhuangzi

Here is anther recent dissertation in Chinese philosophy, posted with permission. David has already published articles on Ji Kang and on Xuanxue, and will be presenting papers at the Eastern and Central APAs on topics ranging from “Ziqi and Yan Hui on Forgetting” to “Heidegger’s Lichtung in Light of Daoism” to “Being and the Abyss: Heidegger’s Leap into Daoist Nothingness.” 

Title: Nothingness, Being, and Dao: Ontology and Cosmology in the Zhuangzi
Author: David Chai (david.chai@utoronto.ca)
Defended: February 2012
Institution: University of Toronto, Canada (Dept. of East Asian Studies)
Supervisor: Vincent Shen Continue reading

October 21, 2012 Posted by | Daoism, Dissertation, Metaphysics | Leave a comment

Recent Dissertation on Bio-spiritual Practices and Ritual Theories

With his permission, I post here the abstract of Ori Trevor’s recent UPenn dissertation. I believe that Ori will keep on eye on this post, so please feel free to comment or raise questions.

Embodying the Way: Bio-spiritual Practices and Ritual Theories in Early and Medieval China
Ori Tavor, University of Pennsylvania, East Asian Languages and Civilization
Supervisor: Paul R. Goldin Continue reading

October 19, 2012 Posted by | Daoism, Ritual, Xunzi | 4 Comments

The Daoist Nazi Problem

I am pleased to present a guest-post from Donald Sturgeon. Donald is a PhD candidate in philosophy at HKU and founder, editor, programmer, and general man-behind-the-curtain of the Chinese Text Project (ctext.org), an extremely useful online etext database with which many blog readers are familiar, I’m sure. Donald reports that according to Google Analytics, over the last 30 days the site has exceeded 1 million page views and 100,000 unique visitors! Please address all comments to Donald.

The Daoist Nazi Problem

Donald Sturgeon

Suppose there is a person, or a group of people, committed to practicing what we can for convenience call a “Nazi Dao”: a Dao that, though practically successful from the perspective of its followers, involves commitment to some abhorrent practices that all “right-minded people” would condemn as exemplary immoral acts that should be universally condemned – “killing innocent babies for fun”, for example.

What can a Zhuangist – someone committed to a relativist position about differing practices and the nature of their justification, questioning of conventionally accepted values, and skeptical about certain kinds of knowledge – say about such a Dao? Can he condemn it? Is it a “bad” Dao, and if so in what sense? Or is it just as good a Dao as any other? Continue reading

October 14, 2012 Posted by | Daoism, Ethical Theory, Zhuangzi | 17 Comments

[Scott Barnwell posts Part 3 of his series “Classical Daoism – Is There Really Such a Thing?,” parts 1 and 2 of which also appear here and here at WW&W. We’re using the “Reblog” function for the first time. Feel welcome to initiate discussion here or on his own site. In any case, please direct all comments or questions to Scott.  – Manyul]

Bao Pu 抱朴

Part 3 . . . . (Part 4.3 – – – Part 4.2 – – – Part 4 – – – Part 2 – – – Part 1)

Zhuangzi 莊子


Traditionally, the second most significant classical-era (pre-Han) Daoist is Zhuangzi. Sima Qian 司馬遷, in the 63rd chapter of the Shiji 史記 (Laozi Hanfei Liezhuan 老子韓非列傳), identified Zhuangzi as Zhuang Zhou 莊周, a man from Meng 蒙 who lived circa 370–300 B.C.E., (which is around the same time the Laozi seems to have begun to be written and compiled). Sima said Zhuangzi’s written works amounted to over a hundred thousand words and owed much to the teachings of Laozi (老子之言).[1] He criticized the followers of Confucius (孔子之徒), clarified “the methods of Laozi” (老子之術) and castigated the Ru and Mo (儒、墨). Sima also wrote that he was an official at a “lacquer garden” (Qi Yuan

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August 6, 2012 Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Daoism, Taoism, Zhuangzi | Leave a comment

Poetic Metaphysics of the Dao De Jing

Another in a series of posts by guest blogger Joel Dietz, discussing the metaphysical doctrine of the Dao De Jing. Please address comments to him.

There is a natural relationship between metaphysics and “esoteric” subjects, insofar as metaphysics generally claims to discuss reality in a way that is not perceived by every human being, including often elusive topics such as “God/godhead” or various types of “essence.” It also has a natural relationship with aesthetics, insofar as metaphysical claims are frequently made as a part of artistic creation and evaluation. These frequently introduce a qualitative difference between different artistic works, as exhibited by the famous quip of Mahler, “There was only Beethoven and Richard [Wagner] – and after them, nobody.”

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July 26, 2012 Posted by | Daodejing, Daoism, Metaphysics | Leave a comment

Review of Book on Early Medieval Chinese Philosophy

A very favorable and informative review of Chan and Lo, eds., Philosophy and Religion in Early Medieval China (SUNY, 2010) has appeared on H-Net; take a look!

July 15, 2012 Posted by | Book Review, Daoism, Laozi, Xuanxue | 1 Comment

Huainanzi – shorter edition

Huainanzi update: A couple of years ago — has it really been that long? — WW&W posted an announcement and hosted some discussion that included the authors of the unabridged Huainanzi translation published by Columbia University Press. FYI, I just received in the mail an abridged version of the translation (272 pages instead of 1016), which is now available: The Essential Huainanzi.

Unrelated book note: The WAC (“Writing-across-the-Curriculum”) Clearinghouse at Colorado State University is offering, free of charge, electronic access to Chinese Rhetoric and Writing: An Introduction for Language Teachers by Kirkpatrick and Xu.


April 11, 2012 Posted by | Books of Interest, Daoism, Huainanzi, Rhetoric, Taoism, Translation | Leave a comment

Rethinking the “mystical” in the Dao De Jing

Joel Dietz, a regular follower of the blog, has written up the following summary of research he has been doing into the nature and background of “mystical” texts like the Dao De Jing. It’s fascinating stuff; enjoy! Please address comments to Joel.

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March 30, 2012 Posted by | Daodejing, Daoism, Taoism | 15 Comments

Popular Daoism

Mark Saltveit, professional comedian and author, guest-posted last year on comedy and Daoism. Subsequently, he published his thoughts on that topic with MeFiMag (available for download). Mark is back with some questions that he has about popular Daoism, to get some discussion and opinion from members of our forum. He plans to publish an article about this topic as well (note Mark’s comments below about seeking permission to quote or cite from those who comment in this forum). Please address all comments or questions directly to Mark.


Hello.  I’m working on a feature article (for an intelligent general audience) about criticism of popular Daoist authors (particularly Ursula K. Le Guin and Benjamin Hoff) by certain academics of Eastern religion who are centered around the University of San Diego and the Center for Daoist Studies (http://www.daoistcenter.org/homepage.html).

Some of this criticism seems rather polemical, rooted in an anti-Orientalist critique of the concept of Philosophical Daoism as a Western (and arguably Protestant) gloss. (I’m using the term “Culturalists” as shorthand for this group, and positing Michael Saso as its founder.)  Russell Kirkland calls Le Guin a “fraud” and Louis Komjathy won’t even write “Philosophical Daoism” without applying strikethrough to the words to show his disapproval. Kirkland goes so far as to argue that the Daodejing itself distorts Daoism, “sanitized” by its 3rd Century BCE redactor in a “marketing ploy” designed to strip it of “cultural baggage” and make it more presentable to Northern Chinese courts.  Continue reading

February 16, 2012 Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Daoism, Taoism, Translation | 48 Comments

Is it Psychologically Possible for the Skeptic to Suspend All Belief

Guest-poster Eric Schwitzgebel wonders:

Is it Psychologically Possible for the Skeptic to Suspend All Belief?

Please address your comments to Eric, who will be checking in here periodically. (See also discussion on Eric’s own blog.)  Continue reading

December 1, 2011 Posted by | Comparative philosophy, Daoism, Zhuangzi | 19 Comments

Classical Daoism – Is there really such a thing? Part II

(Scott Barnwell continues his guest-posting on this topic. Here is Part II of Scott’s thoughts. This post also appears on his own blog. Please address Scott directly in your comments.)

Laozi 老子

The first person to be investigated will be Laozi 老子, the “Old Master”; his supposed text being the Laozi or the Daodejing 道德經 (The Classic on the Way and Its Power). Although the Laozi has long been regarded to be the work of more than one author in both China and the West, Sima Qian 司馬遷, in his biography of Laozi, gives no indication that he thought the text was written by more than one person. Although he reports that there was uncertainty about the actual author, he seems to have felt the most plausible one was Lao Dan 老聃, “Old Long-ears” (a.k.a. Li Er 李耳[1]), the keeper of the Zhou archives from the southern state of Chu 楚 whom Confucius (551 – 479 B.C.E.) had gone to see.[2] The words exchanged at this famous meeting are always different in the various accounts we encounter.[3] The Lüshi Chunqiu, Zhuangzi, Liji, Hanshi Waizhuan, Xinxu, and Baihu Tong also all affirm that Lao Dan was a teacher of Confucius’; however, they do not suggest he was the author of the Laozi.[4]

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October 21, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Daoism, Taoism | 5 Comments

Classical Daoism – Is there really such a thing?

(Scott Barnwell, a long time friend of the blog, will be guest-posting on this topic. Here is Part I of Scott’s thoughts. This post also appears on his own blog. Please address Scott directly in your comments.)

Daojia and Huang-Lao

Classical Daoism, Philosophical Daoism, Early Daoism: these terms are increasingly being seen as obsolescent by scholars in the last couple of decades. The general public – those who have heard of Daoism or have read a little bit of it – are largely unaware, despite the fact that for quite awhile writers have admitted that there were no “Daoists” in pre-Han China and that the two most famous “Daoists,” Laozi and Zhuangzi, surely never thought of themselves as Daoists. The more recent interest in what was once called “religious Daoism (Daojiao 道教),” as opposed to “philosophical Daoism (Daojia 道家),” has seen a shift towards using “Daoism” to refer only to the former.

In this series of blog posts I am going to explore this matter. First, I will look at the oldest evidence for a “Daoist school” in the Historical Records (Shiji 史記) and the Han Documents (Hanshu 漢書). Next I will look into both the text and the legendary man Laozi 老子, followed by Zhuangzi 莊子. Texts that will be mentioned along the way will include: the Laozi 老子, Zhuangzi 莊子, Hanfeizi 韓非子 (esp. Jie Lao 解老, Yu Lao 喻老), Lüshi Chunqiu 春秋左傳, Mengzi 孟子, Xunzi 荀子, Guanzi 管子 (esp. Neiye 內業), Huainanzi 淮南子, Heguanzi 鶡冠子, and the Huangdi Sijing 黃帝四經. I will also survey various scholars’ views on early Chinese “schools of thought.”

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October 17, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Daoism, Taoism | 30 Comments

On-line Review of “Reading the Dao”

A review by Ellen Zhang of Keping Wang’s Reading the Dao: A Thematic Inquiry has been published at the Notre Dame review site. Here is an excerpt:

Reading the Dao: A Thematic Inquiry has its own agenda. As Wang suggests in the Acknowledgement, the book is meant to be read by those who are interested in Chinese language and “the Chinese way of thinking,” and as such it defines the frame of reference for non-specialists in the English-speaking world rather than Daoist scholars or Laozi scholars who are looking for a more substantial and original scholarly work. That being said, the book has a virtue of its own. It is a comprehensive overview of Laozi’s Daoism for anyone unfamiliar with the DDJ and Daoism. It is clearly written, thematically formulated, and supplemented with helpful commentaries.

October 4, 2011 Posted by | Daodejing, Daoism, Reviews | Leave a comment

Taijiquan, Daoist Metaphysics, and Practice

I often wonder about the connections—or lack thereof—between some interesting and potentially mind-blowing metaphysical claim and what might be called (although I don’t like the phrase) “real life.”  Lately, that wonder has been directed toward ways in which training in a practice such as taijiquan that at least purports to be meaningfully Daoist might inform and be informed by academic study of Daoist metaphysics.

I’ve had a bunch of different taijiquan teachers over the years.  Some of them were widely read about Chinese culture and history.  Others, not so much.  For whatever it’s worth, only one them—my first taijiquan teacher, who taught Yang family style in Chapel Hill back in the late 90’s—was Chinese, and though I never found out how well-read he was, I have come to appreciate how deeply knowledgeable that old man was about both taijiquan and Chinese traditions.  I feel like I learned a great deal from some of my teachers and that I managed to learn a bit less from others, but I’m grateful to all of them for offering me something important, and I suspect that I could have learned more from each and every one of them than I did, had I understood how to be a better student.  In each case, the teacher taught with sincerity.

As I’ve tried to learn taijiquan, I’ve had various moments when I’ve had the opportunity to think about the connections between the practice I was learning and the Chinese philosophy I work on academically.  Let me share two such incidents. Continue reading

October 1, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy, Daoism, Metaphysics, Taoism | , , , , , | 8 Comments