The Many Lives of Yang Zhu

A Historical Overview

Edited by Carine Defoort & Ting-mien Lee

Subjects: Chinese Religion And Philosophy, Asian Studies, Taoism, Confucianism, History
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438490397, 359 pages, December 2022
Paperback : 9781438490403, 359 pages, June 2023

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Table of contents

Introduction: Being and Becoming: The Many Portrayals of Yang Zhu
Carine Defoort and Ting-mien Lee

1. Five Pre-Republican Portrayals of Yang Zhu
Carine Defoort

I. From Warring States to Wei-Jin

2. Yang Zhu and Mozi as Critics of Unification Warfare
Ting-mien Lee

3. Beyond Mencius’s Portrayal of Yang Zhu and Mozi: A Zhuangzian-Han Feizian Yang-Mo
Yao-cheng Chang

4. Deconstructing “Hedonism”: Understanding Yang Zhu in the Liezi
Erica Brindley

II. From Tang to Ming

5. Yang Zhu’s Role in Tang-Song Proto-daotong Discourse
John Makeham

6. Yang Zhu’s Role in the Construction of Zhu Xi’s Daotong
John Makeham

7. Plucking Hairs and Shaving Heads: Li Zhi’s Repudiation of Yang Zhu
Esther Sunkyung Klein

III. From the Qing Dynasty Onward

8. The Birth of the Image of the “Egoist-Epicurean Philosopher” Yang Zhu during the Meiji Period
Masayuki Sato

9. Struggling between Tradition and Modernity: Liang Qichao’s Portrayal of Yang Zhu in the Early Twentieth Century
Xiaowei Wang

10. Feng Youlan and Yang Zhu: The Shifting Discursive Space (1920–80)
Xiaoqing Diana Lin

11. Three Dimensions of Yang Zhu Research in the Twentieth Century: Hu Shi, Meng Wentong, and Guan Feng
Feng Cao

About the Contributors

Presents the most important portrayals of the Daoist master Yang Zhu throughout Chinese history, from the Warring States period until today.


This volume presents the most important portrayals of an ancient Chinese master, Yang Zhu, throughout Chinese history, from the fourth century BCE till today. Due to the striking scarcity of reliable textual testimony regarding his life and thought, all these portrayals are to a large extent inspired by their own historical contexts: Mencius's criticism in the late Warring States, the creation of a Confucian orthodoxy during the imperial era, and the establishment of a Chinese philosophy in the Republic. This volume adopts a historical approach, tracing the most important portrayals of Yang Zhu in their own contexts and mutual connections. It yields new insights not only into the figure of Yang Zhu, but also into the stages of China's intellectual history. Scarcity of reliable textual support is, to varying degrees, a common predicament in the study of ancient Chinese masters, but the case of Yang Zhu is particularly illuminating. The remarkable dearth of textual material represents the almost "nothing" out of which early Chinese philosophers such as Yang Zhu have been fruitfully "created."

Carine Defoort is Full Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Leuven, KU Leuven. Her previous books include Having a Word with Angus Graham: At Twenty-Five Years into His Immortality, coedited with Roger T. Ames, and The Pheasant Cap Master (He guan zi): A Rhetorical Reading, both published by SUNY Press. Ting-mien Lee is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Macau.


"This is the first comprehensive book-length study of the Yang Zhu figure, with respect to its appearances, expressions, and uses throughout the Chinese intellectual tradition. The studies in this book explore numerous strands and feelers that connect this figure with other Chinese thinkers and schools of thought, both those contemporaneous with 'Yang Zhu' as well as later emulators, thinkers, and critics. I believe this book is destined to become a standard reference in the field of Chinese philosophy and a must-have book for scholars of Daoism and related traditions." — Kirill O. Thompson, National Taiwan University