Reform in the Balance

The Defense of Literary Culture in Mid-Tang China

By Anthony DeBlasi

Subjects: Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791454367, 224 pages, September 2002
Hardcover : 9780791454350, 224 pages, September 2002

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Table of contents


Prelude: The Changing World in Eighty-Century China


Intellectual Culture in the Mid-Tang Mainstream
Defining the Mid-Tang Mainstream
Politics and Social Change in the Mid-Tang
The Confucian Revival
The Plan of This Study


1. The Literary Response to the Mid-Tang Crisis


Literary Decline and the Roots of Disorder
The Continuing Promise of Literary Pursuits
The Nature of the Literary Man
Completeness and Balance in Mainstream Thought
The Evolution of the Literary Mainstream


2. Literary Education in the Mid-Tang Mainstream


Educational Assumptions in Medieval China
Mid-Tang Literary Learning and the Tradition
The Guiding Tradition
Learning Broadly in the Mid-Tang
Alternative Visions


3. Literary Politics in the Mid-Tang


The Elements of Mainstream Political Thought
Bai Juyi and His Celin
Liu Yuxi's Accomodative Political Philosophy


4. Moral Choices in the Literary Mainstream


Literature and the Self
Models for the Moral Man
Desire and Morality in Quan Deyu's Thought
A Remedy for Desires


5. The Guwen Alternative


Guwen Literary Theory
Approaches to Learning
The Basis of Morality in Guwen
The Politics of Individual Responsibility


Final Considerations


The Vitality of Tang Literary Conservatism
The Legacy of the Mainstream





Presents the intellectual milieu of mid-Tang China, particularly the conservative defense of literary pursuits and cultural tradition in the face of political and social uncertainty.


Anthony DeBlasi offers a remapping of China's intellectual landscape during the late eighth and early ninth centuries. Recreating a world of intense philosophical debate, influenced by political uncertainty and social disorder, he reveals the logic behind the period's most popular philosophical positions.

Reform in the Balance casts aside traditional evaluations of the predominance of the Ancient Style Movement (guwen) during this era. Building on recent scholarship and his own reading of Tang sources, the author argues that the period's dominant intellectual position advocated moderately conservative cultural reform designed to defend literary pursuits and the broader cultural tradition from more strident critics.

Anthony DeBlasi is Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies at the University at Albany, State University of New York.


"…DeBlasi's book is a valuable achievement in the expanding scholarship on Tang-Song intellectual history. It raises and explores a new question and makes important points along the way. " — Journal of the American Oriental Society

"This book makes an important contribution to the study of Tang intellectual history. DeBlasi convincingly revises the conventional view that the so-called Ancient Style Movement predominated in the period under consideration. Instead, he shows that there was a literary mainstream—hegemonic literary culture—that held sway, one that differed sufficiently and significantly from the assumptions and goals of the guwen movement. DeBlasi has done the field of Chinese intellectual history a great service by painting a vivid picture of the mid-Tang intellectual landscape and offering insights into a contested world of intellectual alternatives aimed at the betterment of state and society. " — On-cho Ng, author of Cheng-Zhu Confucianism in the Early Qing: Li Guangdi (1642–1718) and Qing Learning