Rhetoric in the Han texts

Workshop: Rhetoric as a Political Tool in Early China IV

Wednesday, 10:45-12:45, 403





"Awaiting the Wise of a Future Generation": On the Rhetoric of Treason in the Shiji

In several parts of the Shiji, the historiographer in his personal comments directly addresses the wise of a future generation and encourages them to ponder deeply over what is discussed in the chapter and to draw their conclusions from it. As I will argue in my talk, all the chapters in which this address to later junzi occur are key chapters in that they reveal to an attentive reader that in the historiographer’s view the Han dynasty has not encountered a wise ruler so far and that he thus directs all his hope to somewhere in the future. Even before reading the chapter itself, a scholarly trained reader will reckon with a political message of this kind, since this is an allusion to the last chapter of the Chunqiu exegetical text Gongyang zhuan, where Confucius’ address to later junzi is preceded by the news of the capture of the unicorn in the West. Confucius interprets this as a message saying that there will be no more enlightened rulers of Zhou during his life time. Thus the Shiji author, by the rhetorical tool of allusion, conveys a political message, albeit sufficiently hidden so that an uninitiated reader would not easily be able to accuse the historiographer of having committed high treason against his own ruler.


Modes of Argument in the Daxue and Zhongyong: Deflected Proof-texts, One-sided Parallels, and Creative Expansion

In this paper I will reconsider certain aspects of the rhetorical methods of late-Warring-states/Early Han philosophical writings. Using as my primary examples the Li Ji recensions of the Daxue and Zhongyong, I will examine three modes of argumentation that characterize these and other single-pian, or more extended, treatises of the period. My primary focus will be directed towards the use of 'proof-text' citations in ways that deflect or subvert their original sense, the construction of parallel sequences in which the main rhetorical weight falls upon one side of the paired propositions, and the use of passages that purportedly explicate or expand upon central terms and concepts in order to inject new meanings into a given argument.


The rhetorical use of the notion of min ben 民本 in the Xin shu by Jia Yi

The "people as root", min ben 民本, is generally considered one of the basic notion expressed in the Xin shu (New writings), text ascribed to the Han erudite Jia Yi. The Xin shu treats primarily political topics and it is mainly composed by memoirs or records presumably written by Jia Yi and addressed to Emperor Wen (alias Liu Heng, r. 179-157).

In the Xin shu the idea of min ben is usually conceived in the light of Mencius' influence on Jia Yi. However, I question this analysis and believe min ben is part of the political rhetoric of Jia Yi which is different than the one of Mencius.

In the present study, I will first trace the differences between Mencius' and Jia Yi's concept of min ben, particularly with respect to the role of tian 天. Second, I will show that the idea expressed in the Xin shu is closer to Xunzi's thought. Third, I will analyse min ben as part of the strategy of Jia Yi's political persuasion.