The Politics of Bodily Conformism
In recent years, scholars have begun focusing on the relationships among the body, space, and the cosmic ideal of spiritual attainment in early China. This chapter adds to these seminal accounts by stressing the historicity of a particular stance on individual agency—that of “bodily conformism.” By analyzing such a stance across a variety of intellectual traditions, it attempts to reveal larger cultural connections that might be missed in discussions of a single tradition or specific cults and practices. It shows that this “bodily turn” was not limited to any single region or intellectual practice but was pervasive throughout many different circles of thought associated with the increasingly centralized courts of the day. The writings examined can be grouped into two main categories: those that supported the exclusive link between a sovereign's conforming body and the cosmos; and those that encouraged the universal bodily conformism of every individual alike, irrespective of one's political position and role. The former group of texts, the topic of this chapter, bears a relationship to the needs of the centralizing state. The chapter begins with those authors that justified a highly centralized state structure, focusing on their characterizations of the ideal relationship between the sovereign and the cosmos.
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