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The “Masters” in the Shiji

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image of T'oung Pao

The intellectual history of the ancient philosophical “Masters” depends to a large extent on accounts in early historiography, most importantly Sima Qian’s Shiji which provides a range of longer and shorter biographies of Warring States thinkers. Yet the ways in which personal life experiences, ideas, and the creation of texts are interwoven in these accounts are diverse and uneven and do not add up to a reliable guide to early Chinese thought and its protagonists. In its selective approach to different thinkers, the Shiji under-represents significant parts of the textual heritage while developing several distinctive models of authorship, from anonymous compilations of textual repertoires to the experience of personal hardship and political frustration as the precondition for turning into a writer.
L’histoire intellectuelle des “maîtres” de la philosophie chinoise ancienne dépend pour une large part de ce qui est dit d’eux dans l’historiographie ancienne, tout particulièrement le Shiji de Sima Qian, qui offre une série de biographies plus ou moins étendues de penseurs de l’époque des Royaumes Combattants. Cependant leur vie, leurs idées et les conditions de création de leurs textes se combinent dans ces biographies de façon très inégale, si bien que l’ensemble ne saurait être considéré comme l’équivalent d’un guide de la pensée chinoise ancienne et de ses auteurs sur lequel on pourrait s’appuyer en toute confiance. Dans sa façon d’approcher sélectivement les différents penseurs, le Shiji tend à sous-représenter des secteurs significatifs de l’héritage textuel; en même temps il développe plusieurs modèles distinctifs de rapport entre texte et auteur, depuis la compilation anonyme de répertoires textuels jusqu’à l’expérience du malheur et à la frustration politique posées comme conditions pour devenir écrivain.

Affiliations: 1: Princeton University


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