Progress or Change? Rethinking the Historical Outlook of the Book of Lord Shang

Contemporary Chinese Thought 47 (2):90-111 (2016)
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EDITOR’S ABSTRACTThis article is a reflection on the nature of “changing with the times” that is put forward in the Book of Lord Shang. The author challenges the modern, predominantly Marxist, portrayal of Shang Yang as the exceptional Warring States master promoting a progressive view of history. The Book of Lord Shang does not prioritize future over the present or present over the past, nor does it envision a large-scale rational understanding of the historical trends, nor the possibility to improve human nature. Like other late Zhou, Qin, and Han sources, some chapters of the book promote the capacity to change with the times as a political expediency in concrete contexts. The author utilizes this understanding to dismiss the still popular conceptualization of Shang Yang as a “progressive” thinker. If this oppressive ideology promoted the idea of progress, then the very idea of progress should be called into question, according to the author.



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