Warp, Weft, and Way

A Group Blog of Chinese and Comparative Philosophy

Question Board

Readers are invited to post questions relevant to Chinese and Comparative philosophy. Please use the Comment box to submit them. Both Contributors and Readers are invited to answer questions. Please use the “reply” links to nest answers and/or comments under the appropriate questions or others’ answers. (“Nesting” of comments is currently set to 5 levels.)

NOTE: Every six months or so, the question board is “cleaned out” a bit to keep its more recent discussions from getting lost in the crowd.



  1. What response in Confucianism, if any, exists for people who are morally well-endowed (or conversely, ill-endowed) despite their familial upbringing and not because of it?

    For instance, I had spendthrifts for parents, and that taught me to be much more frugal and to live simply. However, they were also very rationalizing, even when they weren’t the most rational, which I perhaps adopted from them.

    But even in the most radical cases, it appears that children of highly virtuous or vicious parents grow up to be morally average on average. From Ghandi’s kids to Keith Jesperson’s kids, such data reveals very little in favor of the idea that parents’ morality significantly alters their children’s morality in the direction of the parents’ morality.

    I couldn’t imagine that this criticism doesn’t exist somewhere in the Ruist history, but I’m at a loss of where to find that kind of a criticism from Ruist interlocutors.

    Comment by Joshua Harwood | January 7, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Joshua, I’m not sure I understand the question. What thesis in Confucianism is your observation supposed to challenge?
      This might be helpful:

      Comment by Bill Haines | January 7, 2012 | Reply

      • My question arose upon rereading Wong Pak Hang’s post: https://warpweftandway.wordpress.com/2011/11/26/social-media-and-confucian-way-of-life-a-losing-battle/, which reads:

        “Confucians’ insistence on the priority of familial relationships and the importance of filiality and fraternity, however, has already hinted that a separation between the public and private ought to be maintained. In Confucianism, the familial relationships are a model for other non-familial relationships. Family (or, the familial sphere) is believed to be distinct from other spheres in that the roles and role responsibilities in familial relationships are driven by natural affections and trust, i.e. parent-children and sibling; therefore, it provides qualitatively different feedbacks to people in their learning to become a person. And, it is also where people learn to socialise through assuming and performing the roles and fulfilling the responsibilities, and, thereby, to eventually achieve proper conducts and attitudes towards the non-familial members in the society. Hence, family is essential in people’s (moral) development from the Confucian point of view.”

        I’d challenge the tenet that “family is essential in people’s moral development.”

        I think that’s an accurate interpretation of Confucian material, but if we consider instances wherein the child develops morally preferred behaviors, even though the family may be morally virtuous, or even conversely, where morally virtuous people raise morally inferior, or even criminal children, how are we to justify the claim that family is essential to moral development? It appears that moral development occurs independently from one’s performance of familial roles.

        Now, human interaction is essential so that we don’t all turn out how feral children do, but I would want to challenge the idea that familial interaction is what is essential for the plain reason that it disregards cultures that keep blood ties for strictly genetic purposes, but build bonds and moral scope collectively.

        Comment by Joshua Harwood | January 7, 2012 | Reply

  2. Hi, I’m a first time visitor to Warp,Weft, and Way. While my usual nom-de-plume is mrc109, my philosophical brothers and sisters know me as “Wu Lee” taken from the book “Dancing with the Wu Lee Masters”. I prefer the “patterns of organic energy” intpretation for which ever phonic intonation is symbolically implied to derive that meaning (if anybody can phonetically spell this out for me, I would appreciate knowing how to pronounce this in english).

    My real question is about a translation. I have two vase’es each is a mirror image of the other (they were probably created to be displayed as a pair)? Anyway, there are displayed images of four beautiful young women, three are seated around a low rectangular table, one is standing behind. There are three young children who appear to be boys, (all have shaved heads excepting the sides, which is long and tied out to the sides, short-tail like, or bundled and fixed with something). One appears to be learning or reading from an open text in his hands, while one of the young ladies holds her larger text book open in her hands. She appears to be looking at him with expectation in her eyes. Another “child” is reaching with outstretched arms, and is leaning towards another seated young lady, giving the impression that he wants to be picked up or possibly receive something from the person. Her hands (like all the other females) are “hidden” shrouded by the very colorful robes they wear. The third child, approaching the group from out of the direct line of sight of all the ladies, appears to be carring some sort of pottery. The table has several containers on it. Two could possibly contain food, the other rectangular object, showing stacked opening on the front, appears to possibly contain or store the lesson books. These are hand painted with most excellent use of color, fine detail and use of shading. Very natural and life-like. These are “fired” porcelan works, bearing the original makers “personal stamp”. I am curious about the calligraphy inscription. There are four vertical lines composed of 4,3,4,3 (katagana?) symbols.

    I asked a few friends who are from Japan if they recognized any of the symbols, they said the architecture used for the calligraphy was “too old” for any of them to be able to recognize any modern translation into Japanese.

    I do not know anybody else who might be familiar with old Chinese symbols. Both vase’s have the same inscription. I was thinking these characters might present a poem or story line to give an overall meaning or significance to the scene depicted.

    I could send a digital image of the scene and the inscription if there is any interest at your end for what it means, or is trying to teach us for today?

    Wu Lee

    Comment by Steve Cummins | January 9, 2012 | Reply

  3. Hi Hive Mind,

    Could someone please inform me about the bibliographic details of a book by someone with a name something like Heping Chu or Hoping Chu, about Early Chinese society, I believe? I can’t track it down with the limited information I currently have.


    Comment by Ryan Nichols | March 6, 2012 | Reply

  4. Nevermind. I found it.

    Comment by Ryan Nichols | March 26, 2012 | Reply

  5. I am wondering if the below approach has already been documented? I am drafting a paper on Taoist concepts/morals and the application of experiential learning in the corporate environment. This is not intended as a “One cut-One kill” militaristic/corporate diatribe. That has been done over and over and I believe its a negative approach. Rather it is a “Reach for your potential and don’t hurt others on the way; rather, help others do the same and thus benefit all of society ” approach designed to overcome prevailing modern misconceptions of the management process. I have a BA in EAS, am a mature individual, family man and have been a sucessful (in terms of producing students that are interested in bettering society) martial arts instructor since 1997. I have worked in both field and project management in the construction arena and presently serve as a Senior Manager in information technology – for the last 30 years. For the last five, I have been experimenting with experiential teaching aimed at growing interpersonal understanding, positively influencing the behavior of others and in doing so, helping people grow their communication and team building skills within the IT disciplines. This effort has resulted in an improved working climate, quicker, more dependable deliveries, reduced communication mistakes, better interpersonal understanding and increased passive learning across all teams (70 applications and teams). The problem I am attacking; often, IT management in general and at all levels has a tendency to be very strong in technology skills, but not in social and/or managerial skills. I see a wide need to share this information. I wonder if anyone has approached this topic from this point of view? Respectfully, Rob J

    Comment by robertlangland | May 21, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Rob; not that I’ve heard. Usually it’s the Art of War interpretation of Daoism that gets promoted in management literature. I like your approach; you should write some things down and start sharing/publishing it. Sounds like you have the right experience to address the issues on the management side.

      Comment by Manyul Im | May 22, 2012 | Reply

      • Exactly! The Art of war; I love it, but its over quoted and in western interpretation always ends up defining a one-off win or lose situation. Life isn’t, shouldn’t and doesn’t need to be like that.

        From my experience, life is constant empathy for others and never ending agonizing self, re-appraisal. This is not a bad thing, its needed for personal growth.

        The horizontal thinking approach, the Confucian, or good for society based approach, is inherently optimistic and that is what Corporations really want. They want winning options – cost versus benefit – both soft and hard. That’s what I am aiming at – instilling an almost insatiable desire to be positive. The VP’s I work with want that (even if they don’t realize it), but they have to overcome the personal fear of taking a risk or losing something if they think they “already own it”. As soon as they accept the risks of “combat or innovation”, their options to grow are endless. The cross overs here from Confusinan thought and Taoist and Buddhit values are everywhere, but unseen.

        That is what I am aiming at, the joy of improvement for everyone’s sake. I have found if you train for combat of any type, plan and prepare the playing field and do all the right things for all the right reasons, the Corp will win and you will win as well. What more can a Corp want of an employee? I have always taught martial arts this way and it’s the same way I train and team build. It simply works.

        I have started writing the experential lessons that match up to the Corp needs and skill sets. I have about 50 points so far. I will keep at it.

        All comments warmly welcome. Thanks.

        Comment by robertlangland | May 22, 2012 | Reply

      • Robert, you might be interested in this discussion posted by friend of the blog, Sam Crane, on his blog: http://uselesstree.typepad.com/useless_tree/2012/05/daoism-is-not-a-strategy.html

        Comment by Manyul Im | May 24, 2012 | Reply

        • I see the argument. Treading lightly here as I am citing personal experience not historic text, I think you can have both harmony and strategy if motivation is for the better good of others/Tao first. In benefitting them first, you may as well. For instance, Philosophical Taoism vs. Alchemic Taoism; Philosophical as a search for harmony with nature and alchemic as the search for control over it. In the real world, strategy is always a mix of both. Striving for pure harmony or pure control are two different paths that can either slightly succeed or both fail miserably. Ultimately, attempting to use strategy to master change management is a failure. Surfing with it is another thing indeed.

          A sense of harmony builds the bottom of let’s say for now a pyramid or prism (building up your skill sets or knowledge base by repetition). Patience with the rate of change fills the center. And, interestingly, in the real world, balancing on the very top is the shu or initial strategy. As a new life event energy enters the prism its filtered by experience and knowledge, the rainbow outcomes are your choices. Prysmatic persistence is the act of choosing one, maybe suceeding or failing and then choosing another. This is strategy in a “combat” environment – not giving up. Choose one and go for the ride.

          It’s like paddling a racing canoe without a keel, on a large and wide lake. The craft is very fast, the pinnacle of human design, very maneuverable and light, simple and perfect in economic function and yet the very things that make it perfect make it possible that nature can deal it havoc. Currents, waves and winds push the bow and stern in unpredictable directions, seemingly trying to spin the boat on the axis, maybe even flipping it over. But, if you understand the craft and the forces against, or with it, you can, to a great degree influence your destination.

          The strategy is getting where you want to go and knowing how to do it with your skills and knowledge. The harmony is knowing what the craft can do and working with it and the environment like a team. You watching out for the craft and the environments safety and they in turn “agreeing” to ceed you some amount of control. This way you minimize negative energy while using both yours and natures positive energy to reach your goal.

          The truth, sometimes you end up exactly where you intend to go, sometime you get out and portage a bit… So in a way, it’s not really a pyramid/prisim process – it’s a never ending circle of change and adaptation until you reach your goal. Thats gotta be Tao.

          Comment by Robert L Johnson | May 27, 2012 | Reply

  6. Looking away from Daoism but still in early Chinese thought, you might possibly find ideas like yours in early Confucian texts. See for example the last section of Analects 6 (and 12.9 for Henry Ford), and Book I of the Mencius.

    Comment by Bill Haines | May 22, 2012 | Reply

    • Got it. I read and see your point. Pretty close to spot on with what i am thinking, seeing and doing. Thanks.

      Comment by robertlangland | May 22, 2012 | Reply

  7. First-time poster but long-time lurker. I enjoy the blog.

    I hope my question isn’t too far afield for input. It’s this:

    Does anyone know of any studies that have been done assessing how effective imperial Confucianism was in producing the benevolent government that seemed to be the aim of the whole enterprise?

    I ask because it’s so easy to be seduced into thinking that the examination system and the sway of the Confucian canon ipso facto led to that type of government, when the reality instead could have been the predictable insincerity, corruption, and careerism that Confucius sought to prevent.

    So again–have any studies undertaken to measure how successful the system was in upholding the Confucian ideals in political practice? Better still, have any undertaken that compare levels of political corruption and common welfare across the traditional cultures of the major civilizations?

    Obviously, the answer to these questions will vary depending on what periods of Chinese history are looked at, but I’m still hoping someone can suggest scholarship related to the topic.

    Thanks in advance for any responses~

    Comment by Clay Burell | May 27, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Clay. I don’t know of anything, but then I wouldn’t! Sungmoon Kim of City U in HK might know. Do you have a view about the value of something like imperial Confucianism, e.g. in Singapore?

      Comment by Bill Haines | May 31, 2012 | Reply

      • Thanks for the tip, Bill. Will pursue. While I enjoy looking at Singapore’s allegedly “soft authoritarianism,” I haven’t really considered to what degree it may be Confucian in any way. I’m really just more interested in the degree to which Confucianism may have–to borrow Acemoglu’s and Robinson’s phrase in Why Nations Fail–tempered the “extractive” tendencies of the imperial elites. We know how far short of the mark Christian doctrines were in inculcating any sort of benevolence in medieval Christendom’s elites, for example, so the question of whether Confucianism led to different results is a long-standing mental itch I’m wanting to scratch. I think I need to hit the Cambridge History of China and skim for evidence.

        Thanks again~

        Comment by Clay Burell | May 31, 2012 | Reply

  8. Hi everyone,

    First of all, I just wanted to also express by gratitude for this very informative blog. As someone just beginning to learn East-Asian philosophy, it has been an invaluable resource.

    I am seeking some advice about the best way to begin learning Classical Chinese as someone who has little previous knowledge of Chinese characters. (I took some Mandarin in college, but remember embarrassingly little.) My main goal is to be able to read the Classical texts: the texts of Kongzi, Mengzi, Xunzi, as well as the Neo-Confucians, e.g. Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming. I know that this may be a long and arduous process, but I am willing to put in the necessary hours. Luckily, I am at the City University of Hong Kong where I can get help from the highly knowledgeable P.J. Ivanhoe, with whom I will be working with for the next several years.

    Any advice would be much appreciated!


    Comment by Richard Kim | June 11, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Richard, Glad the blog has been useful! Paul Rouzer’s A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese is a terrific textbook for beginning classical Chinese. If you end up working on this on your own, that’s the textbook I’d recommend.

      Comment by Steve Angle | June 11, 2012 | Reply

      • Hi Steve,

        Thanks for the advice! I will definitely purchase a copy of it as soon as possible.


        Comment by Richard Kim | June 12, 2012 | Reply

  9. Creatio ex nihilo. Some say that this was not an ancient Chinese view, but I wonder how else are we to interpret the following:

    Laozi 40: 天下之物生於有,有生於無。
    Zhuangzi 12: 泰初有無,無有無名。
    Zhuangzi 23: 天門者,無有也,萬物出乎無有。有不以有為有,必出乎無有,而無有一無有。
    Huainanzi 1: (夫無形者,物之大祖也;無音者,聲之大宗也。) … 有生於無,實出於虛 …
    Huainanzi 3: 太始生虛霩,虛霩生宇宙,宇宙生元氣。
    Daoyuan (MWD boshu): 恒无之初,迵同大虛。虛同為一,恒一而止。濕濕夢夢,未有明晦。神微周盈,精靜不(熙)。古(故)未有以,萬物莫以。古(故)无有刑(形),大迵无名。…

    Of course, there are other passages that seem to say that before the heavens and earth came to be there was chaos (混, 渾, 沌), or perhaps some sort of chaotic soup, but still, the above passages do not suggest that.

    Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | August 12, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Scott,

      It looks like you might have hit on something really big here.

      But I’m no judge; I don’t know what’s been said about Chinese thought in this regard, and I haven’t read any early Chinese materials with this sort of issue in mind. I can brainstorm a little though.

      You seem to be proposing that early Chinese thought included the view that the universe came to be from nothing; you don’t seem to be proposing that there was a view about creation (i.e. by a Creator) from nothing.

      What is it to come to be from something? Offhand two ideas seem to be involved: (a) that the thing comes to be by the rearrangement of some previously existiung stuff or things that can be the thing’s components, and (b) that there is some cause (causer, efficient cause) for the beginning of the thing.

      I think the former kind of ex/from must be the primary one in the concept of “creatio ex nihilo”, since the idea of a creator who isn’t a cause looks like no idea at all. Creatio ex nihilo, then, would be creation not by rearranging prior stuff.

      And then coming to be from nothing, creatio ex nihilo minus the creator idea, would turn out to be something like this: coming into being but not by the rearrangement of previously existing stuff. In this sense of “coming to be from nothing” one might argue over whether the whole universe could have come to be from nothing, and one might argue over whether particular things even today can come to be from nothing.

      And one might wonder whether e.g. the first quote on your list is talking about the coming-to-be of the whole universe, or just talking about the coming to be of particular things.

      Here’s an argument to show that the first quote isn’t talking just about particular things. If it were, it would presumably be making a claim about each particular thing: that it comes to be from nothing (which doesn’t imply that the universe had a beginning). But that claim about all things would be too plainly false: for at least some things do come to being simply from the rearrangement of previously existing stuff.

      The problem with that argument is that it relies on the assumption that the Chinese thinker(s) were using a very specific idea of what it is to come to being from something else.

      If we read the first quote as saying that the universe came to be from nothing, perhaps the idea is just that first there was nothing and then there was something. We could express that in two ways:

      1) ‘Til there was U, there was nothing at all.
      2) ‘Til there was U, there was not U.

      These two are equivalent. But the difference in formulations becomes interesting when we to ask, “Could someone make the same claim about each particular thing X, without making it about U?”

      For (1), the answer is no. If I say “The following is true of each thing: until it existed, there was nothing at all” – I am not only being silly, I am also saying something that clearly implies (1), the claim about U.

      For (2), the answer is yes. Furthermore, the claim about each thing seems pretty plausible.

      And so we might wonder whether the first quote on your list is just saying this: for each thing, until there was that thing, there wasn’t that thing. One can see how a sensible person might be willing to assert this with some confidence.


      Toward interpreting “有生於無”, I think one must ask how to interpret the phrase “生於有” from earlier in the line. I don’t understand “生於有” at all. If I’ve read any discussion of it, that was long ago and I don’t remember.

      I guess one possibility is that means “come to be from something (presumably something else ), so that in context might suggest a chaos that has existence without having things. That isn’t your reading.

      It seems to me that the claim “天下之物生於有” at least suggests the hypothesis that in this place “生於” is supposed to be taken as meaning something like “falls into the category of”. Only, it’s hard to reconcile that reading with the rest of the line.

      How do you read “生於有”?

      Comment by Bill Haines | August 13, 2012 | Reply

    • Hm. I guess the word 生 suggests an image of coming-to-be as being born or sprouting (not as being manufactured). And “於” seems willing to mean almost anything. So to Chinese eyes, “生於” might take as its object a mother, parents, ancestors, or perhaps a family. And then it could indeed make sense to read “生於有” to mean something like “falls within the family of the existent.”

      A quick search at the Chinese Text Project suggests to me that “生於__” usually means “arise or begin in __” (e.g. in a certain place, organ, medium, time, or other arena; and less commonly means “arise from__”. I suppose a family is a kind of arena, something to arise in.

      But if the first part of “天下之物生於有,有生於無” meant “All things belong to Being [because they be]”, what could the second part mean that might sort of seem parallel? The only thing that comes to mind is, “… but Being belongs to Nothing [because it’s a pretty darned empty idea].” That doesn’t look like a plausible reading to me, offhand.


      I have now got around to reading the whole of DDJ40. Here it is with Legge’s translation:

      The movement of the Dao
      By contraries proceeds;
      And weakness marks the course
      Of Dao’s mighty deeds.

      All things under heaven sprang from It as existing (and named);
      that existence sprang from It as non- existent (and not named).

      If the beginning of this chapter is talking about some sort of cyclicality, then it seems odd for the conclusion of the chapter to be talking about the origin of the universe from nothing at all – at least if we think of that as a one-time event.

      Chad Hansen translates this way:

      That which is converse is the action of a guide.
      That which is weak is the use of a guide.
      The cosmos and the ten-thousand natural kinds arise from ‘existing.’
      ‘Existing’ arises from ‘non-existing.’


      That translation does away with cyclicality. But I don’t understand any of its first three lines, so it isn’t yet helping me with the fourth line!

      Comment by Bill Haines | August 13, 2012 | Reply

      • Hi Bill,

        Yes, I’m proposing that some in ancient China believed that the world/universe sprang from nothing. A Creator appears quite absent in the ancient texts, although the mythology talked often about god-like beings playing a significant role in shaping the world (i.e., “rearranging prior stuff”). We also find references to 天生 various things – most often human beings or living beings in general.

        re: “In this sense of “coming to be from nothing” one might argue over whether the whole universe could have come to be from nothing, and one might argue over whether particular things even today can come to be from nothing.”
        — Today, scientists might talk about the Big Bang and quantum physics where particles can appear out of thin air. (I don’t think the ancient Chinese thought in these terms obviously.)

        re: “I guess one possibility is that means “come to be from something (presumably something else ), so that in context might suggest a chaos that has existence without having things. That isn’t your reading.”
        — Well, there are examples where an undifferentiated chaos is posited as existing before the heavens and the earth, but I am suggesting that there was more than one “theory” floating around in early China.

        Regarding Legge’s reading of DDJ 40 you write, “If the beginning of this chapter is talking about some sort of cyclicality, then it seems odd for the conclusion of the chapter to be talking about the origin of the universe from nothing at all – at least if we think of that as a one-time event.”
        — True, but what if the Dao is being identified with some sort of cosmic (empty) womb, where things emerge from but also return to? This reading seems to be relevant in other places. In Zhuangzi 23 mentioned above, Heaven’s Gate 天門 may be referring to the Dao (many scholars believe this to be so, and the DDJ mentions a gate as well), and beyond this gate is nothingness (無有). Victor Mair translates this line as “The gate of heaven is nonbeing. The myriad things come forth from nonbeing. Being cannot bring being into being; it must come forth from nonbeing, and nonbeing is singularly nonbeing.” I think there is justification to regard 有 here in the abstract rather than a particular beings, as adult animals (beings) regularly produce offspring (beings).

        Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | August 14, 2012 | Reply

      • Hi Scott,

        I don’t know if I’m saying anything interesting or un-obvious. I’m taking up your challenge just for fun, casting about to see whether the line from DDJ40 has to be read as saying that the universe came from nothing, was preceded by nothing, had a beginning. I haven’t really thought about the other quotes.

        I meant to ask especially how you interpret “天下之物生於有”.

        Part of the question is: should we read it as making a claim about the aggregate of all Things (物), or instead as making a claim about each of them?

        If we read it as a claim about each Thing, then that 7-character string perhaps need not be read as naming some one item, 有 (which we’ll be told comes from nothing). Rather, “有” might instead refer to something different for each Thing (as, for example, if we take the string as saying that each Thing under Heaven originates in or from something real; or if we take the string as saying that each Thing starts by existing).

        Of course the distinction I’m trying to draw about “有” here is a problematic one in Chinese. But the distinction between a claim about each Thing and a claim about the aggregate of all Things seems to me plain enough.

        The idea that “天下之物” refers to the aggregate of all Things (or the aggregate of all Things Under Heaven) is of course different from the idea that it refers to the aggregate of whatever exists – what we call the universe. Presumably the phrase does not refer to the latter. It can’t have been meant to refer clearly to the latter: for on its face “天下之物” does not include 天. (Also of course it makes no sense to take “天下之物” to stand for the universe while at the same time taking “有” to refer to something that exists or has existed that is prior to, or around, 天下之物.)

        If “天下之物” refers to the aggregate of all Things, and “生於” means “comes from” (as a chair comes from the component wood, or as a child comes from a parent, or as the cells in a plant all come from the tips), then what could “有” be? What is it that comes from nothing?

        If it “有” supposed to be the whole of what exists before there are Things, or instead the whole of what exists period (with the understanding that this whole can exist before there are Things), the implication would seem to be that there is chaos soup before there are the Things.

        I took you to be explicitly rejecting that reading when you said that none of your quotes suggests that there was chaos soup before there was heaven and earth; but perhaps I misread you.

        Of course there are other possibilities. Heaven and even earth may be existents that are not included in “天下之物”: Heaven is higher, and perhaps neither Heaven nor Earth is regarded as a Thing.

        One could go on in this vein – but somehow this whole way of talking feels foreign to the spirit of the original. Taking the claim seriously as talking about the origin of the universe seems somehow false. Perhaps the whole quoted line is not really making a claim (meant literally) about the origin of the world at all. In which case:

        (1) Maybe it is doing so non-literally, as a conceit, as Blake spoke of the stars:

        When the stars threw down their spears,
        And watered heaven with their tears,
        Did he smile his work to see?
        Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

        I imagine that his reference to the stars is an allusion to various mythologies – the fall of Lucifer, the Titans v. the Gods – and ultimately to the idea that despite the spirited rebellion of (male) adolescence etc., we each end up tamed by the overwhelming permanent power and authority.

        Or (2) maybe the 11 characters are speaking somewhat more literally than that, but talking about each thing, not about ancient history.

        Or (3) some combination of (1) and (2).


        There are various ways to conceive nothing, I suppose. Is there space? Time? Both? I wonder how hard it is to have the concept of purely empty space, if one lacks a general concept of matter. Your Huainanzi 3 quote seems to contemplate a time before there was time, but after the beginning, when there was only space …

        With a really pure concept of nothing, the idea of an infinite cycle of nothing and something might not make sense. If there’s nothing, not even an interval of time, between the end of one cosmos and the beginning of the next, then there has always been something, never nothing; and it’s at least unclear why one wouldn’t just say that each cosmos 生 the next. (The cosmoi have to be laid end to end in the same line of time, because otherwise the picture wouldn’t be cyclical: the beginnings of the cosmoi would not be returnings –?)

        With an imperfect concept of nothing, i.e. nothingness, it becomes possible to distinguish between saying that the universe came to be from nothingness, and saying that the universe had a beginning.

        I understand that you’re not yet claiming anything about the purity of early Chinese conceptions of primeval nothing or nothingness!


        One way to test whether there really was a view about the universe having a beginning, or cosmoi originating from empty spacetime, or whatever, is to look for reasons for such a view in early Chinese texts. Reasons would help confirm what the texts are talking about. And it seems somehow absurd to have a view about such remote things without a reason, or to put forth a view without putting forth one’s reason(s).

        In the Western tradition, a common line of thought was that the concept of an infinite past is somehow incoherent, so the past must be finite, so the universe must have had a beginning. That sort of line of thought rules out a conception of cosmic history as any kind of infinite cycle.

        Do the early Chinese texts articulate any reasons?

        Maybe the line of thought could have been something like this: Regarding each sort of Thing, we see that things of that sort start small and without much order (we can extrapolate to: they start from nothing), and end in pretty much the same way. Hence by induction we may be justified in holding the same view about the cosmos as a whole (either the aggregate of all Things Under Heaven, and/or a larger “有”.

        This line of thought wouldn’t exactly suggest a prior 虛霩 or time of nothingness, but it would suggest that the cosmos starts and ends very small and/or unordered (soup to dust).

        Since this line of thought does not involve any objection to infinite time, it allows for infinite cycles.

        If this is the line of thought, then we have some sort of connection between the claim about world history and an idea about everyday life that might be useful in practice. Only, the sort of connection we have doesn’t make the claim about world history contribute to practical guidance. It’s just a kind of reflection thrown off by the useful idea, useful perhaps as a vivid image that reminds us of the useful idea.

        And that point suggests to me that the claim about world history may not be meant with full literal seriousness. The main point may actually be the useful point, the more knowable point, the point about each Thing taken separately. How about that?

        (One theoretical possibility is that the idea that the universe came from nothing actually got into early Chinese thought by way of a misreading of the DDJ – so the reason for the view was simply the authority of the text!)


        When scholars say that early China didn’t have the idea of the universe coming into being from nothing – do the scholars draw any interesting moral from the alleged absence? Do they think it is revealing in some way about Chinese thought or culture?

        Comment by Bill Haines | August 14, 2012 | Reply

        • Here’s how I tend to understand the various passages mentioned:

          DDJ 40: 天下之物生於有,有生於無
          The myriad things of the world arise from Existence (Something).
          Existence arises from Non-Existence (Nothing).

          ZZ 12: 泰初有無,無有無名。
          In the Great Beginning, there was Nothingness; nothing existed, nothing (that could be) named.

          ZZ 23: 天門者,無有也,萬物出乎無有。有不以有為有,必出乎無有,而無有一無有。
          The Heavenly Gate consists of nothingness. The myriad living things come forth from nothingness. Something cannot create something by means of something; inevitably it must come forth from nothing. Nothing is simply nothingness.

          Huainanzi 1: (夫無形者,物之大祖也;無音者,聲之大宗也。) … 有生於無,實出於虛 …
          (Now, the formless, is the great ancestor of things; the soundless the great ancestor of sound.) … that which exists is generated from that which does not exist, that which has substance emerges from that which lacks substance …

          Daoyuan: 恒无之初,迵同大虛。虛同為一,恒一而止。濕濕夢夢,未有明晦。神微周盈,精靜不熙。故未有以,萬物莫以。故无有形,大迵无名
          The beginning of constant nonexistence, wholly identical to the Great Void, empty and uniform it was Unity (the One), A Constant state of unity and that was it, aqueous and dream-like, light and darkness did not yet exist, mysterious and subtle, it filled everywhere, the utmost in tranquility and not active, therefore, (the Dao) did not accord with existence, the myriad things did not either, therefore, there existed no form, Great Unity was without a name … (based on Yates)
          — this now appears to me to suggest a undifferentiated primordial soup.

          Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | August 14, 2012 | Reply

          • Maybe the last part of the ZZ 23 quote should be translated, “and then there won’t be anything there won’t be”? And the broad import of the whole passage would be something like this:

            Everything has to start from not being there. Butterflies start from caterpillars, not from already being butterflies. If you want to be the boss, you have to start in the mailroom. If you take that approach, then in the words of John Lennon, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.”

            Comment by Bill Haines | August 15, 2012 | Reply

        • Thanks! That’s very helpful to me; I struggle over Chinese sometimes.

          These seem to me to be excellent translations.

          One of the things I really like about your translation of the first quote is that it preserves most of the questions I had about the interpretation of the original. That makes it not an interpretation, though. It doesn’t present a way of understanding the text (unless your point is that the text was intentionally ambiguous as among the different kinds of reading I sketched).

          I mean, suppose I say “Shortly before the joint committee meeting I found the two chairs in the closet.” You might translate that into some other language in a way that preserves the ambiguity, or you might say what you understand me to have meant. The former kind of translation is the right kind to offer if you don’t know what I meant, or if your translation aims to serve a discussion among people who reasonably differ about my various ambiguities. But that doesn’t make the former translation an articulation of an interpretation.

          Your English for DDJ 40 looks like it rejects “arises in” and “falls within the family of” as possible interpretations of “生於”. (Those interpretations might solve some problems though.)

          I think your English for DDJ 40 could be taken to imply that the world came to be from nothing, but needn’t be taken that way. It could just as easily be taken to be talking about each thing separately, with no implication about the universe of things as a whole. Either way, I don’t know what you mean by “arise from Existence (Something).”

          Further, it seems to me that “Existence (Something)” is highly ambiguous; it involves four ambiguous signs. I want to distinguish between two kinds of ambiguity. One kind is like the simple ambiguity of “chair”. For “chair” there are two clear rival conventions about what’s meant; the problem is to choose between them. But if I say I found two glintgers in the closet, I am using a sign for which there is no conventional meaning at all: I’m using a mystery symbol. That symbol announces to the reader that there is something important in what I mean that I am not articulating for her. If there is indeed something I mean by the word, then the announcement is true. I think it may be quite appropriate to use mystery symbols in translating DDJ 40. I think your English for the first part of DDJ 40 has two or three mystery symbols, and one or two simple ambiguities.

          (1) For one thing, the capitalizations are meant to be taken as signals of something, but there is no convention about what it might mean to capitalize this sort of word. (Well, there’s a convention that in capitalizing a word one is referring back to an earlier place where one introduced and explained the capitalized version, as I did with “Things” above; but I think that convention doesn’t apply in the present case.)

          (2) Putting one noun in parentheses after another noun has no conventional meaning that is clearly applicable to this case. Maybe it’s a mystery symbol. Or maybe “X (Y)” is simply ambiguous as between “X, which is the same as Y” and “X, or perhaps Y instead”? If you intend one of these two meanings, I think the reader can’t tell which.

          (3) There is nothing in particular that “existence” or “from existence” in the phrase “arise from existence” seems to mean. (Arise from what?) That is a mystery symbol, I think; except that presumably what’s meant has something to do with existing. (Compare: “The myriad things arise from width.”)

          (4) It’s left unspecified whether, in case the claim is about the things separately, they are being said to arise from the same X or not. (If I say all my books come from someplace, I might or might not mean that there is someplace they all come from.) This particular ambiguity is like that of “chair” – there are two pretty definite options, and the signals offered just don’t specify.

          Comment by Bill Haines | August 15, 2012 | Reply

          • Hi Bill,
            re: “Everything has to start from not being there. Butterflies start from caterpillars, not from already being butterflies. If you want to be the boss, you have to start in the mailroom.”
            — Yes, this could be the intended meaning, (although the butterfly-caterpillar example involves a more radical transformation than generation, like an infant from an adult). The text is ambiguous for sure. I still think that 有 might instead signifie an abstract concept of existence or being. It is unsualy for a writer to speak of 有 by itself. I think it would be impossible to remove all ambiguity.

            Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | August 15, 2012 | Reply

            • Hi Scott. Point taken – but I want to say –

              If I say this cup exists and that saucer exists (and that each thus has existence), in each case I’m employing the concept of existing (or existence). I think it’s the same concept in both applications; I think it’s an extremely abstract concept, perhaps the maximally abstract concept.

              That’s the concept I’m proposing that ZZ 23 is using. The cup starts from not existing.

              I think maybe you have in mind a different abstract concept? If so, I wonder whether the concept you have in mind is this: the whole of all that exists. (Think of “coming into existence” as entering a place.) In other words, the universe.

              Or this: mere existence, existence without being a Thing or Things.


              Hm. Suppose the point I want to make is that each thing starts from something that is not that thing. A chicken starts from an egg, etc.

              I might phrase the point this way: Existence precedes essence: that is, any Thing begins by first existing before it becomes that Thing. A bronze vessel is first some bronze that is not a vessel; a chicken is first an egg. In short, each Thing starts from, or originates in, (mere) 有.

              Or I might phrase the same point this way: Each thing begins from something that is not that Thing; each thing begins from its own absence. A chicken starts from the absence of a chicken, or from something that is no chicken. In short, each Thing starts from, or originates in, 無.

              Looks to me like the same concept of existence is operative in each case; just two different concepts of what counts as that Thing.

              Comment by Bill Haines | August 15, 2012 | Reply

              • If it’s two ways of saying the same thing, how would you explain Laozi 40?
                It sounds as if you are saying this:

                天下之物生於有 = 天下之物生於無

                but that doesn’t seem to be what the passage says. Or perhaps I’m misunderstanding you.

                Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | August 15, 2012

              • Sorry! I didn’t mean to be proposing just then anything about how we should read DDJ 40. I just thought that toward any project of trying to interpret DDJ 40, it’s interesting and worth noting that those opposite sentences might each be used to try to communicate the same point. I didn’t mean that they might be used in the same passage to try to communicate the same point; and I didn’t mean that that point is the only thing that those sentences could be used to mean.

                Comment by Bill Haines | August 15, 2012

          • Feng Youlan (Fung Yulan) once wrote:
            Since the Tao is unnamable, it therefore cannot be comprised in words. But since we wish to speak about it, we are forced to give it some kind of designation. We therefore call it Tao, which is really not a name at all. That is to say, to call the Tao Tao, is not the same as to call a table table. . . . Tao is not itself a thing. ( 1966, 95)

            Anything that comes to be is a being, and there are many beings. The coming to be of beings implies that first of all there is Being. These words, “first of all,” here do not mean first in point of time, but first in a logical sense. . . . Tao is the unnamable, is Nonbeing, and is that by which all things come to be. Therefore, before the being of Being, there must be Nonbeing, from which Being comes into being. What is here said belongs to ontology, not to cosmology. It has nothing to do with time and actuality. For in time and actuality, there is no Being; there are only beings. (1966, 96) (Wing Tsit Chan quotes Feng here with approval)

            Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | August 15, 2012 | Reply

            • Hm. When he says (or reports the view) that beings logically imply “Being,” and says it is a logical point, that looks to me like the same point as the idea that Things fall into the family of existents. For anything to exist, there logically must be such a thing as existing, just as for anything to be playing chess there logically must be such a thing as playing chess.

              But when he says (or reports the view) that “Nonbeing … is that by which all things come to be,” I completely fail to understand. Is this point supposed to be parallel to the point about “Being”, as the linguistic parallelism in DDJ 40 would suggest, and as his claim that they are both (?) about ontological or logical priority would suggest?

              The first point – that there would be no beings if there were no such thing as being – seems to me completely unrelated to whether beings come to be or have always been, as it is unrelated to whether they are purple or have pointy hats. The second point seems to pertain specially to coming-to-be. But apparently the two points are supposed to be parallel in some way. I don’t get it!

              Comment by Bill Haines | August 15, 2012 | Reply

              • This is a bit late, and I’ve only skimmed through the comments, but Paul Goldin’s “The Myth That China Has No Creation Myth” (2008) might be worth looking at: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/ealc/system/files/bio/%5Buser-raw%5D/papers/The%20Myth%20That%20China%20Has%20No%20Creation%20Myth.pdf.pdf

                My apologies if this was mentioned up thread.

                Comment by Michael Ing | August 16, 2012

              • Thanks Michael! I’ve just read it through – an excellent piece with some fascinating quotes. Much appreciated.

                Comment by Bill Haines | August 16, 2012

              • Yes, thanks Michael. Interesting that none of my examples are dealt with in Goldin’s paper. (Is that because my examples are more “logical” explanations than mythological?)

                “China has no creation myth? Wrong – China has many creation myths. China does not have creation ex nihilo? Wrong – Greece
                does not have creation ex nihilo; China does. Classical Chinese philosophers are primarily acosmotic thinkers? Wrong again – cosmology has always been one of the paramount concerns of Chinese philosophy, and virtually no thinker abstained from expressing an opinion.” (p. 20)
                — I think he’s overstating in that last sentence. What did Confucius have to say about cosmogony?

                “if there is one valid generalization about China, it is that China defies generalization. Chinese civilization is simply too huge, too diverse, and too old for neat maxims. For every China-is-this or China-does-not-have-that thesis, one can always find a devastating counterexample, and usually more than one.” (p. 21)
                — This is very true. I recall that Goldin has written a paper entitled “A Mind-Body Problem in the Zhuangzi?” too 😉

                Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | August 16, 2012

              • Quoting Scott Barnwell quoting me:

                “Classical Chinese philosophers are primarily acosmotic thinkers? Wrong again – cosmology has always been one of the paramount concerns of Chinese philosophy, and virtually no thinker abstained from expressing an opinion.” (p. 20)
                – I think he’s overstating in that last sentence. What did Confucius have to say about cosmogony?”

                Cosmology, not cosmogony. In Confucius, you’re talking about the arch exception, of course, since all we know of Confucius is what certain later partisans wanted us to know, but I think a statement like 敬鬼神而遠之 qualifies as a cosmological statement. Also, 天何言哉 is certainly a cosmological statement, but the problem with that one is that I don’t accept Chapter 17.

                I’ll have a longer response later today or tomorrow. Have to get ready for class now.

                Comment by Paul R. Goldin | October 1, 2012

              • In response to Paul Goldin, (above?)
                Lunyu 6:22 敬鬼神而遠之,可謂知矣 describes an aspect of what he considers wise: to respect but keep one’s distance from guishen. I suppose we could extract from this that Confucius understood the structure of the universe to contain spiritual beings, but then we could then also consider his acknowledgement of mountains, seas, the wind and the sky as cosmological statements. That’s not what comes to my mind when I think of cosmology. 17:19’s 天何言哉?四時行焉,百物生焉,天何言哉 is, as you say, a cosmological utterance, as he seems to be saying that the generation of living things and the cycling seasons are not initiated by Heaven’s verbal commands. ( I was likely thinking more of cosmogony, which wasn’t that common before the Laozi.)
                Looking forward to your next reply. I’m not sure there is room for more nested comments, but put it where you can.

                Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | October 1, 2012

    • Many thanks to Scott for bringing this up. After promising a few days ago to return to this thread, I find I have little to say that doesn’t already appear in “The Myth That China Has No Creation Myth.” I’ll just add two cautions: about sheng 生 and about wu 無.

      Cosmogony is not the same thing as creation, because cosmogony merely narrates how the cosmos came into being, whereas creation requires a creator. The many scholars who have argued that China has no creation myth are right to draw this distinction, and thus one has to be careful about the many cosmogonies based on the verb sheng. Perhaps the most famous is Laozi 42: 道生一,一生二,二生三,三生萬物. This tells us that the One, the Two , the Three, and the Myriad Creatures were all “shenged” directly or indirectly from dao, but it doesn’t quite state that the dao created them. As I put it in the paper: “The universe is not created by some willful Author who causes everything to be so; on the contrary, the Way is so of its own accord, and all things flow from this source by an autonomous and unchanging mechanics.” Looking back on this a couple of years later, however, and having put to rest, I hope, the chestnut that China has no creation myth, I’m less cautious today about calling this “creation.” It’s not Christian, of course. but maybe it’s still creation. Part of the problem is that there are scarcely any Chinese words that mean precisely the same thing as “create/creation.” The standard term is zuo 作, but fundamentally this means “to cause to stand” (the endoactive form, to use Schuessler’s helpful terminology, is zuo 作/酢, “to stand up, to arise”), and thus at best it’s more like “to establish” than “to create.” Of course it’s used in contexts (such as bronze inscriptions) where its functional meaning is very close to “to make, to create.”

      Second, about you 有 and wu 無. Scholastic philosophy (e.g., Wang Bi) takes those as fully reified metaphysical concepts; that is to say, a statement like 泰初有無 wouldn’t mean “In the Grand Beginning there was nothing,” but “In the Grand Beginning, there was Non-Existence.” And thus 有生於無 means “Existence is born of Non-Existence.” Counterintuitively, then, wu is not nothing; on the contrary, it’s something–the reified state of non-existence. Thus a true creation story would have to narrate not only how existence emerged out of non-existence, but how non-existence was created in the first place. And that’s why I think it’s hard to find creation, in our familiar Western sense, in any of the Chinese cosmologies based on you and wu. (While it’s reasonable to question how far back one can take what I’m calling the “scholastic” interpretation of you and wu, without it I think it would be difficult to understand the passages that Scott cites.)

      Comment by Paul R. Goldin | October 5, 2012 | Reply

      • Thanks Paul, your reply is thought-provoking. Regarding Laozi 42 you write “This tells us that the One, the Two , the Three, and the Myriad Creatures were all “shenged” directly or indirectly from dao, but it doesn’t quite state that the dao created them.” In your paper, you also say that Lu Jia “opened his book with a detailed account of how Heaven created all things and Earth nurtured them,” where the word used is also sheng 生 (in your actual translation you say “engendered”). I realize that sheng can have a number of connotations, though “cause to live” and “create” are surely two. Just as one’s parents sheng us, Heaven is also said to sheng the people (e.g., 天生烝民), though this is perhaps more of a figure of speech. You continue: “As I put it in the paper: “The universe is not created by some willful Author who causes everything to be so; on the contrary, the Way is so of its own accord, and all things flow from this source by an autonomous and unchanging mechanics.” This would be zisheng 自生, wouldn’t it? This was something Guo Xiang championed (thereby denying Zhuangzi 6’s 道 … 生天,生地). While thinking about this, Laozi 64 “sprang” to mind: “The tree which fills the arms grew from the tiniest sprout” (合抱之木,生於毫末). Applied to Laozi 40, we could say that 有 grew from (生於) 無, although this seems less appropriate when the subject precedes the verb (e.g., 道生 or 天生 or 父兮生我).
        — And I think a creator can be a creator without being “willful.”
        — Zao 造 is another word for “create” I think, which we find in the Zhuangzi (e.g., 造物者), though perhaps not creating ex nihilo.

        Regarding Wu, you write “wu is not nothing; on the contrary, it’s something – the reified state of non-existence. Thus a true creation story would have to narrate not only how existence emerged out of non-existence, but how non-existence was created in the first place.” This confuses me, for I feel that this “reified state of non-existence” is not something one must account for, because it is simply something created for the sole purpose of communicating something.

        Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | October 6, 2012 | Reply

        • The basic meaning of zao 造 is “to go someplace” (and thus it can mean “to attain success”); it appears more commonly in the causative sense of “to cause something to go someplace” -> “to set something in motion,” but that’s not exactly the same thing as “to create” either. So I think all the translations of 造物者 along the lines of “Creator of Things” are subtly but fundamentally inaccurate. (And I’ve been guilty of this myself.) Zaowuzhe means “that which sets things/creatures in motion.”

          It’s fascinating that so many of the Chinese words meaning “to make” or “to create” are causative uses of verbs that basically mean “to stand” or “to go.” (Li 立 is another one.)

          I did notice that Lu Jia uses 生 in his cosmogony as well, and I take your point that in practice this stuff comes close to what anyone (or anyone not riding a hobby-horse) would call creation. I even said that, looking back on this material today, I’m a lot less cautious about using the term “creation.” But the one caveat I’d throw out is that in Laozi’s cosmogony, the subject of sheng is 道, whereas in Lu Jia’s, it’s 天, and dao and tian don’t necessarily operate identically.

          Comment by Paul R. Goldin | October 9, 2012 | Reply

  10. In the 80’s there were two important books on Chinese philosophy: Benjamin Schwartz’s The World of Thought in Ancient China and Angus Graham’s Disputers of the Tao. I’ve noticed a lot more being published lately, and I am wondering why so many?

    Manyul Im’s Classical Chinese Philosophy: An Introduction (2012)

    JeeLoo Liu’s An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy: From Ancient Philosophy to Chinese Buddhism (2006)

    Karen Lai’s An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy (2008)

    Bo Mou’s History of Chinese Philosophy (2008)

    Bo Mou’s Chinese Philosophy A-Z (2009)

    Bryan Van Norden’s Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy (2011)

    Zhang Dainian’s Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy (2002)

    Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | September 17, 2012 | Reply

    • “Important” seems very premature. Also mine will not be out til 2013 — a function of my stint as an administrator. Also, Chris Fraser has one out through Columbia Univ Press. In partial answer to your question, publishers are seeing a market for more updated intro texts, based on what I’ve heard from editors.

      Comment by Manyul Im | September 17, 2012 | Reply

      • Hey, I didn’t say these new ones were important 😉
        I forgot about Chris Fraser’s book. Are these all intended for use in classrooms? Are they doing battle, so to speak, to see which ones rise to the top?
        I guess Graham’s and Schwartz’s books are fading away like Wing-tsit Chan’s and Feng Youlan’s?

        Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | September 17, 2012 | Reply

        • Oh good; there’s only one thing worse than not being considered important, and that’s being considered important.

          Yes, the opening market is in undergrad courses mainly, at least for academically conservative introductions to Chinese philosophy. Plenty of market was and is there for more “adventuresome” introductions. The works by Graham and Schwartz you list are probably pitched higher than the average intro course, at least that’s my estimation. So, they’re not the same sort of book as the newer titles you list. Maybe there’s still a market for the academic introduction that aims for some target audience above undergrads and below specialists. My impression is that the “Guides for the Perplexed” series by Continuum aims at something like that audience (http://www.continuumbooks.com/series/detail.aspx?SeriesId=1983 ), but I don’t think they have any Chinese phil titles in it. Hint, hint to others…

          Comment by Manyul Im | September 18, 2012 | Reply

          • “Maybe there’s still a market for the academic introduction that aims for some target audience above undergrads and below specialists.”

            I hope so, because that’s more like the book that I’m embarking on. Or I’d say simply a target audience other than undergrads, as I’d like to address specialists and general readers alike. It will be oriented around eight texts: Analects, Mozi, Mencius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Sunzi, Xunzi, and Han Feizi.

            Comment by Paul R. Goldin | October 1, 2012 | Reply

            • Sounds great, Paul! Looking forward to it.

              Comment by Manyul Im | October 1, 2012 | Reply

        • I take it back, there’s a Komjathy guide to Daoism for the perplexed http://www.continuumbooks.com/subject/details.aspx?SubjectId=1020&Subject2Id=1718&ShowTitles=true . (I don’t know anything about Louis Komjathy, but I don’t get out much these days.)

          Comment by Manyul Im | September 18, 2012 | Reply

          • Komjathy doesn’t work on Chinese philosophy, but religious Daoism. Like Russell Kirkland, he is an outspoken critic of scholars writing on early Chinese philosophy, particularly “Daoism,” (the “thing” I’ve been examining lately). He’s got some interesting stuff available on Scribd (“Handbooks for Daoist Practice,” which includes a critique of classical Daoism).

            Of the books I mentioned above, the Routledge History of Chinese Philosophy edited by Bo Mou is pretty good, though the other one is very condensed. Zhang Dainain’s book, translated by Edmund Ryden, is quite different from the other I suspect, as it seems to be a kind of dictionary of concepts resulting from his long career as a professor of Chinese philosophy.

            Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | September 18, 2012 | Reply

  11. Curious to know the group’s position on this question: Judging by the evidence in the Analects, was Confucius “agnostic” on the question of the existence of ancestor spirits? I tend to think yes, based on several passages, and it seems Fingarette, Eno, Ames, and others hold this view. Simon Leys, though, seems reluctant to agree (and is he even considered a serious scholar in the field, or more of a popularizer?).

    Interested to hear any input, and thanks in advance.

    Comment by cburell | September 17, 2012 | Reply

    • Clay,
      I was just reading a decent discussion of this in a book, but I can’t recall which one. Maybe Michael Puett’s To Become a God? But others, such as Edward Slingerland and Chris Jochim have argued that Confucius had a religious vision, so to speak, and I agree. I’m not sure which Analects’ passages are found to imply that he did not believe in the existence of ancestor spirits. To “keep them at a distance” or to focus on the living does not indicate to me any doubt.

      Comment by Scott "Bao Pu" Barnwell | September 17, 2012 | Reply

  12. I am selecting Chinese philosophical texts to read for Columbia’s Non-Western Philosophy Workshop. The audience are students with a background in philosophy but not necessarily Chinese philosophy. I have in mind 1) Daoist dialectics as reflected in Dao De Jing Chapter 2,9,18,19, 28,40,43, and 45, 2) the First Gaozi Chapter of Mencius, and 3) the Diamond Sutra Chapter 6,7, and 10. Could someone recommend supplementary texts that help elucidate these primary texts?

    Comment by Chuyu Tian | August 16, 2017 | Reply

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