Wednesday, September 19

Your second journal entry is due today, uploaded through Oncourse.

Readings:  The Rhetorical Arts and Political Persuasion, Mohist Thought

On Wednesday, we'll be moving on to a series of classes on Warring States thought.  By far the greatest portion of our textual database for Warring States China is composed of works of thinkers of the "Hundred Schools," and consequently, all studies of Warring States China lay great emphasis on intellectual history.

We'll begin with an overview of the Hundred Schools (we won't actually study 100; we'll look at five). As I'll describe, the reason that intellectual pursuits became so popular during this period was because there grew up a "market" for it -- a market almost as lively as the market for military prowess. Sellers on this market were men who were known as "wandering persuaders": people who hoped to sell their wares -- in the form of ethical, political, or naturalistic doctrines -- at the courts of rulers who were looking for an edge in the brutal competition of the times. Demonstration of one's ability to offer new ideas -- or in many cases simply to offer old ideas in glib ways -- could earn a persuader court rank and salary. This was the goal of many of many people remembered historically as "philosophical" types. 

The first reading focuses on a more prosaic type of court figure, who was a variant on the persuader model, and in a sense basic to it -- the clever court advisor. These were men who gained stature at court not through their doctrines, but purely through fine rhetorical arts, put to use in the context of day to day decision making. These non-philosophical persuaders were sometimes hereditary courtiers, but increasingly, they came from the ranks of independent shi who studied how to achieve rhetorical skill and put it to use. Their primary "textbook," the Intrigues of the Warring States, survives, and we can see in the tales preserved in this training manual the tools these men used to make their way up in the court world of the Warring States.

While the true Persuaders were political opportunists, many of the followers of more ideological groups - the Hundred Schools - shaped their careers around the same pattern of travel among courts, in the hopes that rulers would adopt their theories or, perhaps far more realistically, provide them with a stipend and minor court title as a public relations gambit. Most of class will be devoted to a discussion of one of Hundred Schools: Mohism. The Warring States period was a tortured time for people actually living in Chinese society, and cults like the Confucian ritualists, Mohist militarists, and Daoist hermits (whom we'll meet next week) were colorful symptoms of widespread social ailments reaching a feverish climax -- bad times make for exciting history.  Among all these groups, none were as fanatical, as conflicted, and as rational as the Mohists.  They are, I think, unique in world history.