We don’t need no (Confucian) education! A Northern Song Reading of the Liezi

Richard J. Sage

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


One of the common traits ancient speculative Daoist texts share is their aversion to a society based on Confucian morals. The Liezi’s anecdote about Huazi has often been cited as prime example for this attitude and its inherent yearning for a return to the Dao. Remarkably, one of the most radical interpretations of this passage was authored by a high-ranking member of the Northern Song imperial court. Combining references to other classics with Buddhist concepts and terminology to expound a mysticism rooted in the Daoist tradition, Fan Zhixu’s 范致虛 (?–1129) commentary is not only a masterpiece of exegetical literature, but also provides valuable insights into the unique intellectual atmosphere at and around Emperor Huizong’s court. This case study serves as introduction to Fan’s forgotten work and simultaneously to a widely neglected set of sources regarding the religio-political developments during Huizong’s controversial reign.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)579–623
Number of pages45
JournalT'oung Pao
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

User-Defined Keywords

  • Song Huizong
  • Fan Zhixu
  • Daoism
  • commentary
  • mysticism


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