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The Subject And The Sovereign: Exploring The Self In Early Chinese Self-Cultivation

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Chapter Summary

This chapter deals with the a duality that exists between a theoretical subject primarily conceived as a thinking being aspiring to authentic knowledge, and an ethical subject engaged in the process of transforming himself through various practices. The latter tendency seems to prevail in early China. Daoist-oriented texts prevail in this study, chiefly the chapters of the "Art of the mind," for their focus on the biological foundations of ethical behavior. These self-cultivation texts focus on the powers of the human mind and on capacities for acting upon oneself and achieving a radical process of transformation. The body is never reified nor treated as an object of study because physical force and mental potency emerge from a common substratum. The reflections on self-cultivation never gained their independence, as if the literati of the ancient world had given precedence to the king over the self, and valued subjection over subjectivity.

Keywords: body; Chinese; Daoist; ethical; self-cultivation; sovereign; subject

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