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Establishing the Public Sphere and Abolishing the Private Domain: The Rise of a Doctrine and Its Social Significance in the Spring and Autumn Period

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The dominant views regarding the concepts of “the public” (gong) and “the private” (si) took shape in the Spring and Autumn period and matured in the succeeding years of the Warring States period. This paper is an attempt to trace both the growth of the vocabulary containing “gong” and “si” and the development of philosophical views regarding issues that center on the relation between the individual and the larger social/communal/political body, of which that individual is a member; it also touches on issues related to the proper handling of public affairs and the relation between state, sovereign, and the individual. The era is often characterized as “The Contention of the Hundred Schools of Thought,” notwithstanding it ended with but one view that is universally accepted by thinkers of diverse persuasion, namely, si is the source of all social evil and, therefore, should be condemned. This is the doctrine known as ligong miesi (abolishing si so gong may be established), which contributed to the orthodox for that era and the millennium to come. By extolling gong and condemning si, it painted a portrait of the pair as two irreconcilable norms or forces in social and political life; it provided a justification for the then emerging new social arrangement and ways of distribution of power and resources, and it also led to acute conflicts between the sovereign and the state, the ruled and the ruler, the state and the subject, as well as the public sphere and the private domain.


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