Individual Autonomy and Responsibility in Late Imperial China

by Paolo Santangelo

Description

This book is in the Cambria Sinophone World Series headed by Victor H. Mair (University of Pennsylvania).

Does the concept of “individual” occur only in Western culture, or is there Chinese “individualism” as well? In touching upon this topical question and the related politically sensitive issues, this book calls into question the impression of a Chinese culture centred on harmony and conformism, opposed to an individualistic Europe, based on the concept of personal human dignity, that allows the liberty of choice to human beings.

It was not only ancient Confucians who showed their consciousness of dignity; in the writings of the late imperial period, a certain leeway can be seen that assures to the individual a sort of independence from circumstances and the authority control. The human being is an autonomous agent who belongs to a wider “reality”, and constantly oscillates between the quietness of spirit and ephemeral feelings; affective components, emotions and beliefs are seen as the main expression of an individual self. Self is therefore perceived not simply as the embodiment of everlasting or temporary values and beliefs but in human endeavour toward self-assertion.

This book deals with the tension toward personal autonomy and individual values, and the role of ethics in the process of self-construction. The sense of responsibility in Confucianism is identified with the “moral self”, and understood as a basic category of representation of one’s self and others. Notwithstanding the severity of official control, elements of pluralism and individual autonomy emerged in the intellectual debate, hence pushing toward the formulation of new approaches within and beyond orthodoxy.

This book will be a most important resource for scholars and students studying Chinese history, culture, philosophy, and literature.



 

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