Panel: Continuities and Displacements: Histories of Early Chinese Concepts


Raum: Kath Theol I, Hochparterre, Johannisstraße 8-10
Tag Zeit    
Di 09:00-09:30 Indraccolo Redolent Garden of Words: the dichotomy of shuì/shuō 說 in Warring States and Early Imperial China
Di 09:30-10:00 Schwermann Semantics of Affection in Zhanguo Thought
Di 10:00-10:30 Suter The Role of Things in the ‘Mencius’ – Conceptual Effects of a Moralizing Commentarial Tradition?


Christian Schwermann, Rafael Suter, Lisa Indraccolo


Lisa Indraccolo

Beschreibung des Panels:

Recent accomplishments in the fields of cultural studies and conceptual history (M. Bal, 2002, Travelling Concepts in the Humanities – A Rough Guide, University of Toronto Press, Toronto-Buffalo-London; R. Koselleck, 2006, Begriffsgeschichten, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main) have revived the debate on the nature, use and misuse of concepts, putting forward the necessity also for sinology to rethink and reinterpret its understanding of them. In fact, concepts should be rather conceived of as fluid cultural processes in motion across space and time than as static, unchangeable and homogeneous entities. An interpretation of concepts along these lines has led to the elaboration of “history of concepts” (Begriffsgeschichte) as a theoretical framework. In such a framework, the social and linguistic aspects of a phenomenon are closely intertwined, becoming inseparable and necessary components that have to be accounted for in a rigorous scientific approach. The panel aims at studying the history of selected Chinese philosophical concepts, exploring their “plurisemic potential” (Bal 2002), highlighting semantic continuities and discontinuities – both synchronic and diachronic – in the intertextual evolution, adaptation and rereading of these concepts across and beyond genres in Classical Chinese literature of the Warring States (475-221 B.C.) and early imperial periods. In particular, individual papers will address the issue of the translatability and plasticity of concepts, facing their intrinsic complexity, ambiguity and “messiness”, trying also to suggest a suitable methodology and operational approach to the study of concepts in space and in time. Through the analysis of the proposed case studies, the panel participants aim at providing a detailed analysis of three early Chinese concepts. They will also take into consideration the effects that later (re)readings, which were consciously superimposed to support dominant exegetical traditions, might have had, including their influence on contemporary interpretations of early Chinese texts.



Abstracts der Vorträge:

Indraccolo, Lisa: Redolent Garden of Words: the dichotomy of shuì/shuō 說 in Warring States and Early Imperial China

The two Classical Chinese words shuì/shuō 說 (persuasion/explanation) are “homographic heterophones”, as they share the same graphic representation though bearing different pronunciations. The polyphonicity of the corresponding Chinese character does not simply express different nuances of the same meaning, but produces a consistent lexical ambiguity throughout Classical Chinese literature. Such ambiguity is exemplified by several cases of ambivalent renderings and alternative readings, as the two possible pronunciations correspond to distinct argumentative techniques and literary genres (Kern 2000; Schwermann 2011), both showing clearly identifiable and well-established sets of formal and structural characteristics. Shuì identifies the rhetorical technique of “persuasion”, a plea to a sovereign or a superior in rank aimed at convincing the addressee to agree on some key ethical or political issue or to assume a certain desirable behavior, while shuō is usually understood as the synthesizing explanation of or the corollary to a previous statement or a series of exempla, which could also be employed as a rhetorical argumentative tool to argue against an opponent in polemical discourse  (Garrett 1993; Lu 1998; Du 2010). The present paper tries to trace the narrative of the polyvocal term shuì/shuō – where “term” is meant as the linguistic manifestation of a concept –  exploring its intertextual “travel” (Bal 2002) across genres. Aim is to provide an analysis of the dichotomy between the two possible meanings the term can assume, and to outline the evolution of the respective semantic fields across the Warring States (475-221 B.C.) and early imperial periods.

Schwermann, Christian: Semantics of Affection in Zhanguo Thought

In his now classical revisionist history of ancient Chinese thought, Angus C. Graham forcefully argued against the still widespread tendency to graft the Christian-Humanist concept of universal love onto early Mohist thought and proposed to translate the Mohist term jian ai as “Concern for Everyone” instead (A.C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China, La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1989, pp. 41-43). Following Graham’s line of thought, I will introduce yet another English equivalent for this famous Mohist slogan and place the latter into the larger context of the semantics of affection in Classical Chinese. Most interestingly, ai, the central term for a strong affection for other people, does not only refer to “love” – especially in the sense of a sexual passion – but also to benevolent attachment to and “care” for others, “sparing” of other human beings and even “stinginess” with resources, including human resources. It can be demonstrated that the persons to whom this affection is extended are typically dependents who are conceived of as objects, whom one is not inclined to share with others. In my paper, I will delineate a likely scenario of semantic change to relate the various meanings of ai to each other and show that the concept of philanthropy is a late semantic loan alien to early Chinese thought. 

Suter, Rafael: The Role of Things in the ‘Mencius’ – Conceptual Effects of a Moralizing Commentarial Tradition?

My presentation focusses on a sequence of the ‘Mencius’. I suggest that the bias of the commentarial tradition on self-cultivation has suppressed a more technical reading of the passage, equally plausible in the light of other pre-imperial souces. The discussion revolves around the interpretation of the expression ‘物交物’ (‘wù jiāo wù’) in Mencius 6A 15. D.C. Lau follows the traditional interpretation and takes ‘物交物’ as a unit, translating “when a thing acts on a thing.” This common reading is well illustrated by Sūn Shì 孫奭 (962–1033), when he remarks that “man is obscured by the things, which he likes and desires”, unless he subjects his sensual organs to the heart’s control. Sūn here fully endorses the aversion against sensual desires prevalent with most other Song dynasty Confucian scholars. For him, being obscured by things is tantamount to becoming a thing oneself, and this, again, means to lose one’s genuine self, namely one’s heavenly nature.[1] This reading, stripped off its peculiar Confucian concern about the human nature, is reminiscent of other, earlier characterizations of the relationship between man and things: Thus, the ‘Zhuāngzǐ’ 莊子 famously invites us “to treat things as things, all by not allowing to be treated as a thing by things.”[2] Yet, nothing seems to speak against another punctuation of the relevant passage of the ‘Menicus’: Moving the main break to the position immediately before 交 (jiāo) yields the two phrases ‘蔽於物物’ and ‘交物則引之而已’ respectively. In the ‘Xúnzǐ’, the expression ‘物物’ (wù wù) characterizes the duty of officials.[3] Uses of 物 (wù) in the ‘Zuǒzhuàn’ show that the word expresses the expertise of assessing the quality of certain products.[4] Moreover, the ‘Zhèngmíng’ chapter of the ‘Xúnzǐ’ determines the task of the sensual organs as “registering” (bù 簿) the kinds of the things, which the heart approves, thus explicitly linking expertise of the former kind to imaginations of processes of perception. Eventually, the ‘Explanations to the Mohist Canon’ contain a discussion on the alleged impossibility of distinguishing ‘hard’ from ‘white’ by mere pointing. It says that “what one intends [pointing] to refer to is not yet communicated, as if the image were not yet reported”.[5] The Chinese word for ‘to report’ is 校 (jiào). The ‘Mohist Canons and Explanations’ being notorious for using characters with classifiers which are unusual elsewhere, I argue that 校 here represents the same word as 交 in the ‘Mencius’: If this is true, 交 stands for a peculiar kind of communication, namely the sense organs’ reporting to the heart of the things which they encounter. If so, we have an alternative interpretation which, although not entirely incompatible with the traditional reading, still lacks its deprecatory connotation.

[1]人有耳目之官不以心思主之而遂蔽於物既蔽於物則己亦已失矣。己已失則是亦為物而已。是則物交接其物終為物引之喪其所得矣。“Man has the organs of eye and ear, but if he does not control them by his heart’s thought, he then will be obscured by the things, which he likes and desires. Obscured by things in this way, he has already lost himself. And having lost himself, he too becomes but a thing. Like this, the things interchange with the thing he now is, and this culminates in the things attracting him so that he has forfeited what he was bestowed with [by Heaven].” (Mèngzǐ Zhùshū 11B [Lǐ Xuéqín 1999, 314f])

[2] 物物而不物於物. See ‘Zhuāngzǐ’, ‘Shānmù’ 20, 4; ‘Lǚshì Chūnqiū’, ‘Bìjǐ’ 76, 2; ‘Wénzǐ’, ‘Zìrán’ 6, 12; ‘Huáinánzǐ’, ‘Bīnglüèxùn’ 15, 5. Cf. also ‘Zhuāngzǐ’, ‘Rénjiānshì’ 4, 5; ‘Zhuāngzǐ’, ‘Zàiyǒu’ 12, 5; ‘Huáinánzǐ’, ‘Jīngshénxùn’ 7, 3; ‘Huáinánzǐ’, ‘Quányánxùn’ 14, 1; ‘Wénzǐ’, ‘Jiǔshòu’ 3, 2. Zádrapa mentions the construction 物物 and doubts the causative character of the first instance of ‘wù 物’, cf. Zádrapa, Lukáš, Word Class flexibility in Ancient Chinese, Verbal and Adverbial Uses of Nouns, Ph.D. dissertation, Prague: Univerzita Karlova, 2009 47, fn. 22; 134, 145.

[3] ‘Xúnzǐ’, ‘Jiěbì’.

[4] ‘Zuǒzhuàn’, ‘Yǐn’ 5, ‘Zhào’ 29.

[5] 所欲相不傳意若未校.