Attitudes towards the Environment in The Book of Lord Shang

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Recent trends in contemporary China have sought to mobilize ancient Chinese philosophy in the battle against environmental degradation. This movement promotes the so-called “Green Religions” of China, and supports the construction of “ecological” Confucian, Buddhist, and Daoist temples. This trend is also visible in environmental philosophy, where focus has been on texts which discuss the environment in ways that more easily fit with contemporary thought, particularly those classified as Daoist. While there may be some ideas related to ecology in these texts that could be useful to contemporary society, these ideas were by no means dominant in early Chinese political thought. This paper proposes instead to study the attitudes towards the environment of one of the most influential ideologies during the formation of the Qin empire. The Book of Lord Shang 商君書, largely written by the Qin statesman Shang Yang 商鞅, provided the blueprint for empire-formation utilized by Qin rulers. While this text is by no means “environmental,” it reveals to us the attitudes towards the environment held by Shang Yang which shaped Qin policy. Rather than suggesting some ontological equivalence between humans and the environment, Shang Yang’s “environmental thought,” advocated for the utilization and exploitation of the environment to power the new “total state,” the impact of which is visible in the geologic record. Considering the dominant environmental thought of early China along with the clear signs of human-induced environmental change force us to re-evaluate ideas about the modern character of environmental exploitation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021
EventChinese Studies Association of Australia (CSAA) 17th Biennial Conference - Virtual
Duration: 29 Nov 20211 Dec 2021 (Conference website) (Conference program)


ConferenceChinese Studies Association of Australia (CSAA) 17th Biennial Conference
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