THE ZHOU XUN 周訓 AND “ELEVATING THE WORTHY” (SHANG XIAN 尚賢)

Andrej FECH*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The present paper aims to investigate the idea of "elevating the worthy" (shang xia(Greek Passage)) as it appears in the newly found manuscript Zhou xun (Greek Passage). This manuscript is part of the Peking University collection (Beijing daxue cang Xi-Han zhushu (Greek Passage)), presumably copied in the first half of the first century b.c.e. In sharp contrast to most recently discovered manuscripts promulgating "elevating the worthy," the Zhou xun introduces the meritocratic principle to support hereditary power transfer, by positing that the right to rule should be passed on to the most able son of a ruler. I argue that this position served several purposes. First, it provided a solution to the central problem of abdication discourse, namely, the conflict between the principles of "respecting worthies" (zun Xian (Greek Passage)) and "loving kin" (ai qin (Greek Passage)). Second, this interpretation of "elevating the worthy" entailed a significant extension of the number of potential contenders to the throne, challenging the system of primogeniture, the very cornerstone of political order in early China. This fundamental challenge appears to be deliberate and can be interpreted as an attempt to formulate a new paradigm for the ruling house of Zhou. The complete absence of the idea of Heaven's Mandate (tian ming(Greek Passage)) from the Zhou xun certainly underscores its radical departure from Zhou conventional claims to power. However, I argue that, given the close association between the Zhou xun and the Lushi chunqiu (Greek Passage), it is also plausible that the former's theory was created to justify the Zhou's overthrow by the Qin (Greek Passage). In any case, the Zhou xun provides us with new insights into how the idea of "elevating the worthy" was applied to politics in early China.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-178
Number of pages30
JournalEarly China
Volume41
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2018

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology
  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Literary Theory

User-Defined Keywords

  • "elevating the worthy"
  • "Heaven's Mandate"
  • abdication discourse
  • Excavated manuscripts
  • Zhou Dynasty

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