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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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Two Prongs of the Debate

Two Prongs of the Debate

Bodily Agencies vs. Claims for Institutional Controls

(p.77) Chapter Four Two Prongs of the Debate
Individualism in Early China

Erica Fox Brindley

University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter examines debates about xing dating from the third and second centuries BCE. These debates generally presented two basic orientations on human agency: “internal,” individualistic orientations, which placed faith in universal processes of bodily cultivation, promoting the development or preservation of xing or other personal, cosmic agencies as a means to individual attainment and authority; and “external” orientations, which advocated institutional methods of control and discouraged individual reliance on the powers of xing as a primary means of achieving personal and social ideals. While the former orientation proclaimed the existence of positive, innate agencies in need of cultivation and/or preservation, the latter orientation insisted on the existence and power of negative innate agencies that must be fiercely combated through institutional and social means. On the other side of the debate, there were authors of the third and second centuries BCE who explicitly condemned such overreliance on the powers of the self. Two important authors, Xunzi and Han Feizi, supported the active restraint, suppression, and avoidance of what they deemed to be negative, innate agencies associated with the self. To these thinkers, the individual was the locus for a complex interaction of dynamic and often selfish forces.

Keywords:   human agency, individual agency, individualism, xing, self, Xunzi, Han Feizi

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