“Immoderation” (yin 淫) in Early Philosophical Literature Against the Background of the Newly Found Manuscripts Fan yin 反淫 and Wang Ji 妄稽

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project aims to investigate the philosophical significance of the notion of “immoderation” (yin 淫) in early Chinese philosophy and poetry. As a starting point for this investigation, the PI has chosen the newly discovered manuscript Fan yin 反淫 (Contra Immoderation), which belongs to the corpus of bamboo manuscripts donated to Peking University in 2009. The Fan yin is structured as a dialogue between the “ethereal soul” (hun 魂) and “corporeal soul” (po 魄): the former depicts several enticing scenes of pleasant activities such as listening to music, hunting, fishing etc. to facilitate healing of the ailing “corporeal soul”. In the end, the po shows signs of convalescence only after being instructed in what comes very close to a poetic representation of the Way (dao 道) especially as it was promulgated in the Zhuangzi 莊子 and Huainanzi 淮南子.

The next manuscript to be investigated is the Wang Ji 妄稽, likewise part of the Peking University collection. Here, the eponymous protagonist is portrayed as an utterly repulsive woman who, driven by jealousy (du 妒) towards her husband’s beautiful concubine, adopts increasingly desperate and brutal measures. In the end, she develops a serious disease and succumbs to it. On her deathbed, she realizes that her jealousy was caused by her ignorance of the “decree of heaven” (tian ming 天命). Therefore, in both cases, the decisive factor for convalescing or developing a sickness is determined as the realization of higher principles, which preclude “immoderate” actions. Following this, the two manuscripts will be compared to other texts of the same collection, such as the Laozi and Zhou xun, in which notions belonging to medical discourse serve as a means to address political issues. The investigation of the common philosophical features of this collection might help shed more light onto the intellectual and political views of their unknown owner.

In the final step, the PI will proceed to examine the earliest examples for the notion of “immoderation” in Daoist texts. While the notion is absent in the Laozi, it plays an important role in the Zhuangzi, the Huainanzi and the Wenzi. This analysis will be carried out against the background of the Confucian understanding of yin and will be informed by the correspondence between the medical and political discourses in early China.
Effective start/end date1/01/23 → …


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