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Individualism in Early ChinaHuman Agency and the Self in Thought and Politics$
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Erica Fox Brindley

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780824833862

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824833862.001.0001

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Decentralizing Control and Naturalizing Cosmic Agency

Decentralizing Control and Naturalizing Cosmic Agency

Bodily Conformism and Individualism

(p.54) Chapter Three Decentralizing Control and Naturalizing Cosmic Agency
Individualism in Early China

Erica Fox Brindley

University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter examines fourth-century BCE writings that address bodily conformism at a more universal level. Zhuangzi in particular spoke of spiritual attainment in terms of the relatively decentralized power of the Dao that might obtain in each individual, and not merely in leaders of the state. While he still stressed each individual's conformity to or communion with the single higher authority, Zhuangzi addressed bodily agency in terms of an individual's personal and unique link to the cosmos. This approach to human agency, which viewed self-cultivation in terms of a universal and directly accessible ideal of attaining cosmic agency, was but one step removed from the full-fledged empowerment of the individual—or “individualism”—that developed some time in the fourth century BCE as well. The chapter also examines writings that shifted the locus of cosmic power and authority from outside or separate from the self and person to inside or intrinsic to the self and person. Through the concept of xing (human nature), such texts began to naturalize idealized, often divine, agency as an inherent part of the self, rather than as something apart or distinct from it. They therefore moved away from the goal of conformism to an external power—or, conformism to an authority not intrinsically associated with agencies of the self. Instead, they supported a type of conformism to the inherent powers and authorities of the individual itself, dubbed “individualism” in this book.

Keywords:   bodily conformism, individual agency, Zhuangz, bodily agency, cosmic power, self, xing, Dao, human nature

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