Beyond our Control? Two Responses to Uncertainty and Fate in Early China

In Livia Kohn (ed.), New Visions of the Zhuangzi. Three Pines Press. pp. 1-22 (2015)
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Abstract

The first contribution, by Mercedes Valmisa, begins by repositioning the Zhuangzi 莊子 as a whole within pre-Qin thought under the impact of newly excavated materials. Moving away from the traditional classification of texts according to schools, it focuses instead on varying approaches to life issues. Centering the discussion on life situations and changes we have no control over, including the unpredictable vagaries of fate (ming 命), it outlines several typical responses. One is adaptation, finding ways to go along with what life demands, and even availing oneself of the new opportunities it brings about. Another is a turning inward, a focus on the inner self, holding on to ethical and other standards and making sure on does the right thing regardless of the outcomes of one's actions. While the former appears in several chapters of the Zhuangzi, notably in chapter 6, the latter is central to the Qiongda yishi 窮達以時 (Failure and Success Depend on Opportunity), a manuscript excavated at Guodian. However tempting it may be to characterize one approach as Daoist and the other as Confucian, they both appear within the Zhuangzi together with a third approach to fate, showing the fluidity of philosophical discussion and the futility of thinking along the lines of traditional boundaries.

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Mercedes Valmisa
Gettysburg College

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