Workshop: Rhetoric as a Political Tool in Early China

Supported by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Frieberg Center for Asian Studies



  • Sabattini, Elisa (University of Sassari)
  • Van Els, Paul (Leiden University)
  • Pines, Yuri (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)



Political thinkers in Early China (roughly: the second half of the first millennium BCE), and their disciples and followers, produced a voluminous body of writings. Modern academic study of these writings thus far focuses overwhelmingly on the politico-philosophical content and affiliation of these writings. That is, what ideas do they convey, and in what context. This workshop focuses on how the Early Chinese thinkers convey ideas. More specifically, through a study of representative texts from the said period, our aim is to consider the rhetorical tools these thinkers had at their disposal to convince their audience of their ideas. In short, the workshop studies the political use of the art of rhetoric (téchne rhetoriké) in significant texts from Early China.

The workshop gathers leading specialists in the field of early Chinese thought, including those who deal with pre-imperial (pre-221 BCE) and early imperial China. In our gathering we hope to consider a variety of techniques of persuasion, found in traditional written sources and excavated texts. In particular, we shall focus on following questions: What typical rhetorical tools did early Chinese thinkers develop? How were these tools shaped by different audiences of the thinkers? What are similarities and differences in persuasive techniques among different (groups of) thinkers? What are – if any – temporal and spatial differences in rhetorical tools employed in a variety of texts? How can Chinese rhetoric be compared with the Western téchne rhetoriké?

We hope that this gathering would significantly bolster our understanding of Chinese rhetorical tradition. We plan to publish select papers in a conference volume, which, we hope, will become a milestone in the study of this important, yet hitherto under-explored topic in Chinese intellectual history.