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Human nature and governance: soulcraft and statecraft in eleventh century China

On the 2nd of September Jiyan Qiao successfully defended a doctoral thesis and graduated.

J. Qiao
02 September 2021
Leiden Repository

This dissertation contributes to the reinvention of Chinese political history with a comprehensive account of Wang Anshi’s 王安石 (1021-1086) political theory, touching also upon its practice, arguing that it was centered on transforming human nature with statist values against the mid-eleventh century humanist mainstream. Intellectual historical studies of Wang Anshi over the past three decades have been focused on how he envisioned the relationship between government and society. Aiming to go beyond this, this study focuses on the “what” in Wang’s learning, i.e., his writings on daode 道德 and xingming 性命 (literally, the way and its power, nature and destiny), most concentratedly found in volumes 63-70 of Collected Writings of Mr. Linchuan 臨川先生文集. Regarding this body of work in Wang’s oeuvre, scholars like Yu Yingshi take them as being about moral self-cultivation in the Confucian tradition. Through close analysis of key concepts in context and differentiating rhetorical strategies from what was meant, I argue in chapter 2 that Wang’s discussions of human nature were integral to his political thought on governance and that what he advanced as the gist of his learning was an anti-humanist soulcraft centered on using statist values to transform self-regarding humans into subjects who would unreflectively think in the interest of the state. It was cultivationist rather than self-cultivationist, as Wang designed a full procedure to firmly establish these values – otherwise foreign to humans in his view – into people’s hearts through externally imposed behavioral regulations. 

Supervisors: Prof. dr. H.G.D.G. De Weerdt,  Em. prof. dr. W.L. Idema 

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