The Animal and the Daemon in Early China

By Roel Sterckx

Subjects: Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791452707, 385 pages, April 2002
Hardcover : 9780791452691, 385 pages, April 2002

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Table of contents


Introduction: Contextualizing Animals


The Animal and the Daemon
Animals as Images


1. Defining Animals


Problems of Definition
Animals in Texts
Naming Animals and Animal Names


2. Animals and Officers


Managing Animals
Ritual Animals
Animals and Spirits
Calendrical Animals


3. Categorizing Animals


Qi and Blood
Yinyang and the Five Phases: Correlative Taxonomies
Toward a Moral Taxonomy


4. The Animal and Territory


Animal Patterns as Social Patterns
Animals and Territory
Animals beyond Territory


5. Transforming the Beasts


Animals and the Origins of Music
Animals, Music, and Moral Transformation
The Transformation of Animals through Virtue
Moral Hybrids
“Speaking with Birds and Beasts”


6. Changing Animals


A Cosmogony of Change
Demonic Transformations
Functional Metamorphosis
Autonomous Transformations
Symbolic Metamorphosis
Portentous Transformations
Metamorphosing Agents
Critique of Change


7. Strange Animals


Defining the Strange
Interpreting the Strange
Confucius Names the Beasts
When the Grackos Nest in Lu
The Dog as Daemon
The Capture of the White Unicorn



Explores early Chinese beliefs regarding the animal world and how these informed ideals of sagehood and political authority.


Exploring the cultural perception of animals in early Chinese thought, this careful reading of Warring States and Han dynasty writings analyzes how views of animals were linked to human self perception and investigates the role of the animal world in the conception of ideals of sagehood and socio-political authority. Roel Sterckx shows how perceptions of the animal world influenced early Chinese views of man's place among the living species and in the world at large. He argues that the classic Chinese perception of the world did not insist on clear categorical or ontological boundaries between animals, humans, and other creatures such as ghosts and spirits. Instead the animal realm was positioned as part of an organic whole and the mutual relationships among the living species—both as natural and cultural creatures—were characterized as contingent, continuous, and interdependent.

Roel Sterckx is University Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Cambridge and a former Junior Research Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford.


"With his [Sterckx's] enormous knowledge … and meticulous arguing … he provides us with a unique work that will remain standard in the field for many years, an immense source of information full of stimulating new insights and interpretations dealing with the subject of the mutual relations between man and animal." — East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine

"…a fascinating study of animals as metaphors for human behaviour and character, as well as of the anthropomorphism of animals thought subject to moral laws and human virtue." — Archives of Natural History

"Sterckx's study deserves wide attention, for it broadens one's perspective of the historical, crossing disciplinary boundaries to suggest a fuller, more complete Chinese universe." — Journal of Asian History

"This book provides a sumptuous and detailed typology of an important theme in early Chinese thought. It adumbrates the ways in which the animal world was appropriated by the early Chinese to create some of the most fundamental ideals concerning the spiritual, social, and political aspects of sagehood in Warring States and Han China. It makes an important contribution to our understanding of the way in which the early Chinese perceived the natural world and how such perceptions reflected on and shaped their views of the human world and what it meant to be human." — Sarah A. Queen, author of From Chronicle to Canon: The Hermeneutics of the Spring and Autumn, According to Tung Chung-Shu

"I know of no other book, either in a European language or in Chinese or Japanese, which provides such a fascinating portrait of early Chinese interpretations of animals. I suspect that it will be a major reference work for everyone who deals with the intellectual and religious world of early China." — John H. Berthrong, author of Concerning Creativity: A Comparison of Chu Hsi, Whitehead, and Neville