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Philologists, forgers and disciples: The complexities of authorship in 18th-century China

Wednesday 15 November 2017
China Seminar
Van Wijkplaats
Van Wijkplaats 4
2311 BX Leiden

In the 18th century, the topic of authorship began to dominate scholarly discussions in China. Every text had to be assigned to one author; any other mode of textual production was regarded as problematic. Especially early Chinese texts, however, did not fit into this model, as it was unclear who had written them. This talk addresses the manifold consequences that this incongruity generated in the late 18th century. Philologists saw the received text as unreliable, which threatened the authority of many works. Most scholars countered this tendency to doubt by dissecting received texts in order to separate authentic passages from later additions. A close reading of the arguments employed shows that a strong moralist bias influenced such research, leading Qing scholars to especially doubt the authenticity of passages they deemed morally dubious. Claims of inauthenticity thus functioned as a particularly effective way to imprint 18th-century values into the classics.

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