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Unifying Values by Transforming Human Nature– Wang Anshi’s (1021-1086) Philosophy and the New Policies Governance

21 November 2018
China Seminar
van Wijkplaats
Van Wijkplaats 2
2311 BX Leiden

It is well-known that the New Policies Wang Anshi architected aimed at unifying values. But what exactly were the values he wanted all to uphold? Surprisingly, disproportionate to the central place values occupied in Wang’s political theory and practice, scholars have barely tapped into this question. In this talk, I shall unveil the content of the new value system Wang designed, as well as the specific techniques he worked out to fundamentally change people’s values from outside. I argue that Wang intended to replace the old values centering on humaneness with new ones centering on the ruler-state and that Laozi’s dialectics and Mencius’s insight into the physicality of morality were among the technical know-how for effecting this change. Using school education to carry out this Orwellian project, Wang essentially turned the government’s job from responding to human desires – however poorly – to engineering what desires ought to arise. In the face of competing states on the east end of Eurasia, this mode of governance was practiced in the last decades of Northern Song (960-1127), but its impact lasted longer, thanks in part to its success in transforming human nature.

Jiyan Qiao, A.M. Harvard ’14, is a PhD candidate at Leiden University. She works on political philosophy, history of Chinese political thought, and intellectual history of Middle Period China. Her dissertation reconstructs the political philosophies of Wang Anshi and Su Shi (1037-1101), using this comparative perspective to shed new light on John Rawls’s engagement with utilitarianism.

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