Insidious syncretism in the political philosophy of Huai‐nan‐tzu 1

Asian Philosophy 9 (3):165 – 191 (1999)

Abstract

This is a study of the ninth chapter of the Huai-nan-tzu, a Chinese philosophical text compiled in the mid-second century BC. The chapter (entitled Chu-shu [The techniques of the ruler]) has been consistently interpreted as a proposal for a benign government that is rooted in the syncretic Taoist principles of the Huai-nan-tzu and is designed to serve the best interests of the people. I argue, on the contrary, that the text makes skilful (and deliberately deceptive) use of vocabulary from the major philosophical traditions of the day, in an attempt to subdue all philosophical sectarianism and wrench various antecedent philosophical ideas into the justification of a supreme political state. The best interests of the people are understood as nothing more than their material needs, since the text also denies that the ruler's subjects are possessed of 'minds' in any philosophical sense. It is this process of systematically undermining other philosophical traditions that I call 'insidious syncretism. '.

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