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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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Servants of the Self and Empire

Servants of the Self and Empire

Institutionally Controlled Individualism at the Dawn of a New Era

(p.104) Chapter Five Servants of the Self and Empire
Individualism in Early China

Erica Fox Brindley

University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter examines writings from the third through second centuries BCE that idealize both the natural, internal sources of authority and institutional, external controls in society. By adapting the demands of individualistic trends to those of the centralizing state or to Ru ritual norms, many writers of the third and second centuries BCE promoted individual agency and achievement while also providing a mechanism of external control over individual agency. These writings, namely the Zhong yong (“Centering on the Commonplace”) and passages from certain later chapters of the Zhuangzi, assume that the inherent agency of humans is highly deterministic yet not entirely positive when taken on its own. Each text thus demonstrates the necessity of using both internal and external sources of power and authority to attain one's ideals. Each text also reflects the varied ways in which authors wished to incorporate individualistic conceptions of power and authority into the state system in early imperial times.

Keywords:   individual agency, human agency, individualism, external control, Zhong yong, Zhuangzi

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