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Sam Goldstein



Final Paper

A Philosophical Conversation:

Wittgenstein and Zhuangzi


Wittgenstein is a challenging philosopher to understand. Zhuangzi is also a challenging philosopher to understand. This will not be an attempt to construct a new philosophical argument. It will not be an attempt to enter into the pre-existing arguments in the fields of philosophy of language, a field which I am drastically under-qualified to say much of anything about. This will be modest. This philosophy paper will attempt to put Wittgenstein and Zhuangzi in conversation with each other, as they present themselves in the Philosophical Investigations and the Inner Chapters respectively. Luckily (in my mind), I don’t think anyone has attempted to do this specific comparison before. This perhaps gives me some reckless freedom to say what I want to say. This comparative reading will utilize the two texts as they are, and argue from there; in this sense it is a philosophical exercise.

In comparing these two, I hope to present a positive argument for Zhuangzi not only as a philosopher, but also as a philosopher of language. I will take Wittgenstein as an exemplary philosopher of language, and present what I construe as Zhuangzi’s argumentative techniques and philosophy of language so that the two may be compared. I will show that in some respects, the two are quite congruent, but where they are distanced from each other is in terms of what their arguments attempt to achieve. Zhuangzi was not only a philosopher but also a social critic and his linguistic arguments are intertwined with his social arguments. Wittgenstein maintained a narrower focus on the philosophy of language in his Investigations.

Wittgenstein is a famous modern Western philosopher. He presented his Investigations in the context of philosophy of language discussions taking place in European institutions like Cambridge in the 30s and 40s. These discussions included his own previous work, the Tractatus. Specifically, as Wittgenstein puts it in his own words, the purpose of the Investigations was to “publish those old thoughts and the new ones together; that the latter could be seen in the right light only by contrast with and against the background of my old way of thinking.”(Preface vi) Essentially, Wittgenstein was writing in the context of his own previous argument. His arguments are complex. He utilizes multiple voices, sometimes speaking as the naïve questioner, and sometimes speaking as the arguer making a firm point. Here we can see how he shifts voices:

198. “But how can a rule shew me that what I have to do at this point? Whatever I do is, on some interpretation, in accord with the rule.”—That is not what we ought to say, but rather: any interpretation still hangs in the air along with what it interprets, and cannot give it any support. Interpretations by themselves do not determine meaning.

“Then can whatever I do be brought into accord with the rule?”—Let me ask this: what has the expression of a rule—say a sign-post—got to do with my actions? What sort of connexion is there here?—Well, perhaps this one: I have been trained to react to this sign in a particular way, and now I do so react to it.

(Wittgenstein 80)


Zhuangzi (369-286 BCE) is a famous Chinese philosopher from the later Warring States period in Chinese history. Unlike his fellow Daoist Laozi, Zhuangzi at least can be purported to have been an actual individual. Zhuangzi’s Inner Chapters are the section of the canonical work attributed to him that scholars agree is of consistent authorship and most authentically his. He lived and wrote at a time in Chinese history in which debate that one might call philosophical, but might also be called political or social, was quite active among the upper echelons of literate Chinese society. The dominant ideologies of the Confucians were being challenged left and right. Zhuangzi’s thought can thus be seen in the context of these discussions. Generally speaking, he argued against Confucians and elitist Confucian principles, taking a more transcendental, personal view of social life. He utilized personifications and spoke in different voices to make his abstract, paradoxical, and often sarcastic points. Here is an example of how he took on multiple voices:

5:12 There was an ex-con in Lu, named Toeless Shushan, whose feet had been mutilated as a punishment. He heeled his way over to Confucius, who said to him, “You were careless in your past behavior and thus have ended up in this condition. Isn’t it a little late to come to me now?”

Toeless said, “I just didn’t understand my duties and undervalued my own body, and so I now lack a foot, but I come to you with something worth more than a foot still intact. Heaven covers all things. Earth supports all things. I used to thing that you, Sir, were just like Heaven and earth—I never imagined you would instead say something like this!”

…Toeless told Lao Dan (Laozi) about it, saying, “Confucius is certainly no match for the Consummate Person, is he?…

Lao Dan said, “Why don’t you simply let him see life and death as a single string, acceptable and unacceptable as a single thread, thus releasing him from his fetters?…

Toeless said, “Heaven itself has inflicted this punishment on him—how can he be released?”

(Ziporyn 35)


Here we see Zhuangzi taking on three distinct voices, notably the voices of Confucius and Laozi. Through his personifications, Zhuangzi essentially argues with himself. This point can be made because it has been established that the author of the Inner Chapters is a consistent individual. We can clearly see his positive view of Laozi and his negative view of Confucius. I would argue that this argumentative technique is similar to that presented by Wittgenstein. Zhuangzi is using the voices of established (and dead) thinkers to argue against one kind of philosophical and social establishment and in favor of his own view, as personified by Laozi. Wittgenstein of the Investigations argues with himself, often his Tractatus self. In so doing, he supports his new view, while rejecting his old views.

One potentially devastating line of argument presents Zhuangzi not as a philosopher at all in the Western sense. After all, the Western notion of philosophy developed in an entirely independent context. Another devastating line of argument may accept the possibility of an Eastern kind of philosophy, but would portray Zhuangzi not as a philosopher, but as a social or political critic. I would reject these notions on the basis that they are overly limiting. Zhuangzi simply doesn’t fit a single conceptual mold. Zhuangzi is hard to classify, but my job here is to strengthen the argument for Zhuangzi as a philosopher of language, not mutually exclusive of the other readings or classifications that he may justifiably maintain concurrently. Let us take a look at an especially relevant passage:

2:11-14 to claim that there are any such things as “right” or “wrong” before they come to be fully formed in someone’s mind this way—that is like saying you left for Yue today and arrived there yesterday. This is to regard the nonexistent as existent…

But human speech is not just a blowing of air. Speech has something of which it speaks, something it refers to.” Yes, but what it refers to is peculiarly unfixed. So is there really anything it refers to? Or has nothing ever been referred to? You take it to be different from the chirping of baby birds. But us there really any difference between them? Or is there no difference? Is there any dispute, or is there no dispute? Anything demonstrated, or nothing demonstrated?

(Ziporyn 11)


On the flip side, we can at least say with confidence that Wittgenstein was a philosopher, and that moreover, he was a philosopher of language. But was he anything more (other than a kindergarten teacher)? It’s hard to attribute much more to him in my opinion, especially if we are just going based on the Investigations. But if I want to imagine a conversation between Zhuangzi and Wittgenstein I feel compelled to imagine whether or not Wittgenstein hoped to achieve some broader social or even spiritual goals through his arguments. I just don’t see much evidence for this. Sometimes he is a very explicit philosopher:

116. When philosophers use a word—“knowledge”, “being”, “object”, “I”, “proposition”, “name”—and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used in this way in the language-game which is its original home?—What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.

(Wittgenstein 49)


Here we can see Wittgenstein both taking the position of a philosopher, and putting his argument in the context of philosophical debate. In the Zhuangzi passage, we see him directly reference spoken language and making a point about reference that is seems extremely correlative with a view on which words are arbitrary signifiers for their referents.

At the very least, it appears that both Zhuangzi and Wittgenstein had something philosophical to say. I’ll argue that Zhuangzi even maintained a succinct and identifiable philosophy of language. Here are some of the “tenets” of his philosophy of language as I perceive them:

  • Speech has something of which it speaks, something it refers to. (11)
  • Words are obscured by the ostentatious blossoms of reputation that come with them. (11)
  • Something is affirmative because someone affirms it. Something is negative because someone negates it. (13)
  • It is not only the physical body that can be blind and deaf; the faculty of understanding can also be so. (7)


Wittgenstein’s concepts of “language game” as well as “private language” are very comparable to Zhuangzi’s views. For example, we can see how Wittgenstein’s concept of rules is similar to Zhuangzi’s points:

142. if things were quite different form what they actually are—if for instance there were no characteristic expression of pain, of fear, of joy; if rule became exception and exception rule or if both became phenomena of roughly equal frequency—this would make our normal language games lose their point.

(Wittgenstein 56)


We can also see how his idea of “private language” is also comparable to Zhuangzi’s points:

269. there are certain criteria in a man’s behavior for the fact that he does not understand a word: that it means nothing to him, that he can do nothing with it. And criteria for his ‘thinking he understands’, attaching some meaning to the word, but not the right one. And, lastly, criteria for his understanding the word right. In the second case one might speak of a subjective understanding. And sounds which no one else understands but which ‘appear to understand’ might be called a “private language”.

(Wittgenstein 94)


I have presented some rudimentary evidence showing how Zhuangzi and Wittgenstein are comparable philosophers of language. However, to conclude, I want to point out the main contradiction I see between the two. Recalling one of my previously quoted Zhuangzi passages,  “to claim that there are any such things as “right” or “wrong” before they come to be fully formed in someone’s mind this way—that is like saying you left for Yue today and arrived there yesterday. This is to regard the nonexistent as existent”. This passage leads into an explicit introduction of language philosophy. But the passage itself refers to “right” and “wrong”. This shows how Zhuangzi emphasizes questions of morality. He does this consistently, and in his overall argument, he presents anecdotes and paradoxes meant to comment on and satire the social and political situation around him. Wittgenstein does not do this, obviously. To end without really ending, I want to point out that Zhuangzi is also highly concerned with existentialism, metaphysics, and mysticism. I see plenty of possible metaphysical thought within the Investigations, and I see Wittgenstein’s metaphysics and its comparison to Chinese Daoism and Buddhism as a point for future contemplation.


Works Cited:

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. Third Ed. Prentice Hall, 1958.

Ziporyn, Brook (trans.). Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings. Hackett, 2009.




Warring States Bamboo Slips from the State of Chu

Sam Goldstein




Warring States Bamboo Slips from the State of Chu:

 Piecing Together Ancient Puzzles


There is a large corpus of scholarship, mostly but not all in Chinese, regarding the interpretation and reconstruction of Warring States (~475-221 BCE) bamboo slips from the state of Chu (approximately modern Hubei). This field is currently my main academic focus, and this paper provides a survey of this area of research aimed at a non-specialist audience that has to this point not been available. Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien’s Written on Bamboo and Silk[1] does a marvelous job of presenting a broad picture of the history and practice of “ancient” Chinese writing, that is, writing from archaic times in the Shang dynasty (~1600-1046 BCE) until the firm establishment of paper in the late Han (206 BCE-220 CE) and beyond, from areas that we would consider today as parts of China. Materials used for writing in the period covered by Tsien consisted of, in very rough chronological order, bones, turtle shells, bronze, clay, bamboo, wood, and paper (Tsien xi-xii). The use of bamboo itself overlapped with the use of paper by 300 years, lasting until 6th century CE. (Tsien 97)

            This survey will focus on a specific era— the Warring States, a specific material– bamboo, and a specific local—the state of Chu. A survey of this nature may serve to familiarize readers with a fascinating and important area of research, but more practically, it may serve to synthesize a scholarly process so that the field itself may be viewed comprehensively and coherently. There is no reason that this field cannot be attractive to non-specialists and those with casual interest, as well as accessible to those who may otherwise be intimidated by a field that might at first appear obscure and cliquish, and who would like to use the arguments in this research for their own scholarly disciplines, or perhaps try to break into the field for the first time.

The Warring States period was a chaotic time. Technically, the Zhou dynasty lasted from 1046-256 BCE, but the Zhou dynasty is divided into the Western Zhou (1046-771 BCE) and the Eastern Zhou dynasty (771-256 BCE), with the Warring States period taking up a large chunk of this collapsing later dynastic era. For a rough map from 260 BCE see appendix figure 1.

 Despite the virtual independence of the competing states and accompanying political turmoil throughout the Warring States period, it is generally considered a golden age of cultural and philosophical pursuits. Individual states maintained strong cultures of their own, with their own rituals, traditions, and even writing scripts. Within this context, independent scholar-officials sought employ by the various states, gathered disciples, and spread their teachings via the written word.

The  “warring state” of Chu was one of the largest and dominant states for much of the period, until it was finally overrun by the state of Qin in approximately 224 BCE, which allowed the Qin state to unify the realm and establish the Qin dynasty shortly thereafter in 221 BCE. Chu maintained a strong, independent culture for centuries, with distinct music, artistry, and writing. These distinctions are often on brilliant display in excavated Chu tombs, which themselves maintain a distinct Chu style. Along with more recent archaeological evidence, the history of this time period is recounted in such ‘received’ textual sources as the Zhanguo ce 戰國策 (Warring States Annals)[2], and Sima Qian’s Shiji 史記 (Records of the Grand Historian)[3].

A received version of a text is a canonical text that has been passed down through history and is accessible to this day. However, sometimes texts are discovered in tombs or other archaeological sites, and these texts are simply referred to as excavated texts (出土文獻 chutu wenxian). If they are determined to be versions of received texts, they may be referred to as excavated versions of the respective text. For example, there is a received version of the Dao De Jing which is part of the Daoist institutional canon, and there are also many excavated versions including the Guodian Laozi, which I will introduce shortly. In large part because of the soil composition in the general Hubei area where the state of Chu once was, tombs tend to be relatively well-preserved. The white clay earth creates a tight seal around the tombs.

Excavations and Acquisitions

Ancient Chinese relics become available to work on in one of two ways: an archaeological discovery, or an acquisition by an institution. China is littered with ancient tombs and deposits of old and interesting things. Textual discoveries are particularly important when we want to collect and popularize evidence of cultural and linguistic development in ancient China. For Warring States discoveries, sometimes writing is found on relics such as stone vessels or jade artifacts, but the most extensive texts are usually found on long, thin slips of bamboo. These slips can vary greatly in length and width.

Back in the day, bamboo slips were prepared by first cutting bamboo into cylinders of uniform length, then cutting the cylinders into strips of uniform width. The green outer cuticle would then be stripped off, followed by drying of the slips over a fire. The outer convex surface would most commonly be used for writing, but sometimes the inner surface would also be used. Scribes would utilize both a knife and a brush, the knife most likely made of bronze. Knives would be used for cutting slips and for engraving on harder materials such as jade, but they would also be used to erase characters by physically scraping or shaving. The brush would be used for writing. A “book” (juan) would then be bound by string made of silk, hemp, or leather would then be bound by string made of silk, hemp, or leather. (Tsien 113-124)

After excavation or acquisition on the black market a group of texts is typically secured by an institution, often a museum. Over the past 60 years, there have been several discoveries of important texts dating to the Warring States from the state of Chu. The names (the location of the discovery or when that is unknown, the holder of the texts) and discovery dates of the most important of these texts are: Wulipai 五里牌 1951, Yangtianhu 仰天湖 1953, Yangjiawan 陽家灣 1954, Changtaiguan 長台關 1957, Wangshan 望山1965, Shuihudi 水湖地 1975, Suixian 隨縣 1987, Fangmatan 放馬灘 1986, Baoshan 包山 1987, Guodian 1993, and the Shanghai Museum Collection 1994 (Tsien 101-103). The last two of these are the ones that have received the most scholarly attention and are arguably the most important.

Archaeological Excavation: The Example of Guodian

An archaeological discovery might be made in any number of circumstances. In the case of the Guodian slips found in 1993, the tomb in which they were found was in one of several burial mounds in an ancient graveyard. Because this particular tomb was robbed several times, water began to leak in, and thus it was thought prudent to excavate. The excavation was not part of a plan to deal with all the tombs in the area. Besides the bamboo slips for which the site is known, the tomb also contained many beautiful artifacts such as weapons, household items, and vessels. Archaeologists did a thorough job of examining and cataloguing all aspects of the tomb in their report Jingmen Guodian yihao Chu mu荆门郭店一号楚墓 (Jingmen Guodian Tomb Number One)[4] from 1997. Based on evidence collected from the tomb, several conclusions could be drawn. See appendix figure 2 for a sketch of the tomb from the report.

Dating: Late fourth or early third century BCE. This conclusion was drawn based on the typically “Chu” orientation and style of the tomb; thus, because the state of Chu was defeated by the state of Qin in 278 BCE, we can be relatively certain that the tomb predated this defeat. Moreover, because the artifacts discovered are very similar to artifacts discovered in other Chu tombs, namely those of Baoshan Tomb Number 2 (316 BCE) and Wangshan Tomb Number 1 (332 BCE), and seeing as these tombs had been previously dated based on other evidence, the date of the tomb can be further approximated to the middle-late 4th century BCE. Some of these artifacts which were very similar to those in other Chu tombs included a lacquer cup, and two different wooden combs. (Hubei 47) See figure 3 for a picture of some of the artifacts from the tomb.


Identity of entombed: Member of the lowest aristocratic class (shi 士), possibly the tutor of either King Kaolie or King Qingxiang of Chu. This conclusion can be drawn based on three main pieces of evidence. First, the tomb had a mound and was not flat, thus distinguishing it from the tomb of a commoner. Second, the coffin had two layers—according to early texts, this was customary for members of the shi class. Lastly, a cup was discovered in the tomb with an inscription stating “Teacher of the Eastern Palace.” Scholars noted that this was the residence of the heir to the Chu throne. Thus, based on the aforementioned dating, it could have only been one of these two kings.

Furthermore, based on the content of the texts discovered, we can speculate as to the occupation and personality of the tomb’s occupant. The tomb contained texts now considered Confucian, along with the earliest known version of the Laozi, as well as a new metaphysical text dubbed by the excavators “Taiyi sheng shui” 太一生水 (The Great Unity Ascends to Water), which is similar to the Laozi in content. Some would contend that this collection is the most significant Warring States discovery in modern Chinese history. Based on the texts, we can reasonably guess that the entombed very well could have been a teacher. Robert Hendricks points out that unlike many other Chu tombs, which contain divination records and inventories, this tomb contained a veritable “philosophical library” of bamboo slips[5] (Hendricks 3-5).

The Guodian site was unlucky in that it was robbed twice before excavation was undertaken, but lucky in that the excavation was done professionally. Other sites were not as lucky. Make no mistake, the antiquities market in China is very big and very shady. In the case of the Guodian tomb, several artifacts and some bamboo slips were stolen before the tomb was excavated. Who knows what happened to them. Some of them may very well be sitting one someone’s mantelpiece.

Acquisition on the Black Market: The Example of the Shanghai Museum Collection

In the case of the Guodian tomb, it has been recognized as an ancient tomb and was robbed as such. Because of all the construction taking place in China, many previously unknown sites are often found as building sites are prepared. When a tomb is happened upon by building contractors, they can contact the relevant authorities, and have their project halted until a complete archaeological excavation is conducted. Or they can sell off the artifacts to professional dealers, who sell them on the black market. Because of this, China’s rapid development can be seen as both a boon and a curse for the fields of archaeology and paleography in China. On the one hand, the drive to exploit and transform more and more space and the digging that accompanies this increases the likelihood that tombs and artifacts may be discovered. On the other hand, the chances for irresponsible or illegal mishandling of such artifacts also drastically increases. There is without doubt a tension between economic development and cultural preservation in China today.

One of the most important sets of Warring States Chu texts was purchased in Hong Kong by the Shanghai Museum in 1994. The collection is called the Shanghai Bowuguan cang Chu Zhushu 上海博物館藏楚竹書 (Shanghai Museum Collection Chu Bamboo Slips.) The collection was purchased for an undisclosed sum (probably millions of dollars), with the support of a wealthy donor. Unfortunately, the market for such antiquities is in part sustained by institutions such as the Shanghai Museum that are willing to buy them and a climate in which this kind of acquisition of historical artifacts is not widely condemned. In any case, when museums are the buyers, it is more likely that they will try to purchase them in such a way that the integrity of the texts is preserved as much as possible, which is why the collection was purchased as a whole.

Both the bamboo and the writing on excavated slips are very fragile. The slips have to be stored in liquid as soon as they are excavated. If they are mishandled or stored incorrectly, irreversible damage may be inflicted on the texts to the point where the writing may no longer be legible. Contact with oxygen, sunlight, and changes in humidity may cause significant damage to bamboo slips, including discoloration and fading, thus, great care must be taken in cleaning and storing these slips. In order to prevent fading, the slips are treated with a sodium dithionite solution, preserved with the chemical EDTA, then stored in this liquid solution[6].(Li 59-61)

The Paleographer’s Turn: Initial Publications

The Guodian Bamboo Slips were discovered in 1993, and the initial publication was produced in 1998 by the Jingmen Museum[7], shortly following the publishing of the archaeological report. The discovery contained 804 complete or partial bamboo slips with over 13,000 characters.[8] There was also a large conference on the Guodian discovery in May 1998 at Dartmouth, which helped to spur great international interest in the texts.[9]

The Shanghai Museum Collection Chu Warring States Bamboo Manuscripts (《上海博物国楚竹[10]) were published for the first time beginning in 2001. It was produced in nine volumes by Ma Chengyuan from the Shanghai Museum, with the most recent volume being published in 2012. This collection contains altogether over 1,200 slips and slip fragments, with over 35,000 characters.[11] The initial publication of a set of bamboo slips with writing will include an attempt to organize the slips, as well as an interpretation of the texts, along with images of them. The breakdown of the entire collection of slips into separate discrete “texts” is sometimes relatively obvious to trained scholars, and sometimes subject to fierce debate. Stand-alone texts from the time period were usually not terribly long, and this makes it relatively convenient to break the texts down and produce reconstructions on a text-by-text basis. The organization and interpretation together may be considered a “reconstruction” of the text. The purpose of the initial publication, beyond offering a first attempt at a reconstruction, is to get the text out into the scholarly environment. Once this is done, then further scholarship may commence.

The initial reconstruction is invariably picked apart and reinterpreted. However, one privilege assigned to the initial scholar is the right to name the texts, as well as the right to assign numbers to the slips. When re-interpreting the texts, scholars will usually use the names and numbers assigned to the slips and slip fragments by the initial publishing scholar.

Interpretation and Reconstruction

The interpretation process, shidu 釋讀 (a compound of words for “interpret” and “read”), is the meat of the scholarly endeavor. It is largely undertaken by those with paleographical expertise, and a firm grasp of Classical Chinese, as well as the specific script of the texts (in this case the Chu script of the Warring States period) is essential. However, in addition to paleographers, the work of archaeologists, as well as linguists, etymologists, and classicists is also important in answering as many questions about the texts as possible. In order to do good work, one may have to consult with experts in a wide array of disciplines, making this field particularly collaborative.

If an archaeological excavation was undertaken, the reports may serve as a starting point for information to be gleaned about the text. Precise dating, the identity of the entombed, as well as the location of the slips within the tomb may all also serve to provide scholars with valuable information.

Once the slips are outside their tombs, they can enter into the paleographical stage of analysis. This analysis is in some ways like putting together an ancient, invaluable, incomplete puzzle. In searching for evidence to develop and support arguments regarding the correct organization, interpretation, and reconstruction of bamboo texts, scholars must remain open to all sorts of potential information, all at the same time. Some basic fundamentals of Warring States writing are that characters are written top to bottom, and the slips are read moving from right to left. Each slip is wide enough for one vertical line of characters. For the sake of argument, I will now attempt to break this process down into digestible chunks.

Reconstructing a Text: The Example of the Kongzi shilun

I will use the Kongzi shilun as an example text throughout this discussion. This text is part of the Shanghai Museum Collection and may serve as a useful guinea pig in our English language context simply because some English scholarship has been published on it, namely by Professor Theis Staack from the University of Hamburg.[12]

If slips are found together, especially if they are actually physically bound together, then this is clear evidence of slip order. However, bound slips dated to the Warring States are extremely uncommon (to my knowledge). But it is common for slips from the same text to be unearthed in the general vicinity of each other. If slips from the same tomb are of uniform length and width, then this may serve as evidence that the slips belong together. Moreover, although the physical bindings may have long since rotted away, the binding points will invariably still be evident. Slips were commonly bundled together with horizontally oriented lines of string. The slips would be weaker along these points from centuries of contact with the binding material, and thus more likely to break at these points. For examples of a Han bamboo text with bindings intact, and a text from the Shanghai Museum Collection reconstructed with the binding points obviously visible, see appendix figures 4 and 5 respectively. Complete slips were cut at the ends in an orderly fashion, and the slip ends are thus clearly evident, as is the orientation of any slip fragment as long as there are characters readable on it. Therefore, because the length of the complete slips may be determined, and because the distance between bindings may also be determined, this information may serve a vital purpose in helping to organize the slips in the order that they were meant to be read. . Some slips are strikingly different in their physical characteristics in terms of length, width, texture, color, and handwriting. For example, in figure 6 see an example from the text titled Xingqing lun性情論 from the Shanghai Museum Collection to compare to the Shilun slips.

Each text presents it’s own special challenges and characteristics. The Shilun was bound with three lines of string. The only unbroken Shilun slip was 55.5 cm long, with all of the slips having approximately the same width (0.6 cm) and thickness (0.11-0.13cm). (Staack 861) In contrast, the slips of the Guodian Laozi were grouped into three bundles, all with two binding points, with the slips from Laozi A being  32.3cm long, the Laozi B being 30.6cm long, and the Laozi C being 26.5cm long. (Hendricks 7-8)

Blank Ends

In the case of the Shilun, Liao Mingchun argued that because certain slips that many considered part of the Shilun should actually be considered part of the text titled Zi gao instead because they were similar to this text in physical appearance, length, content, and handwriting (Staack 866). This argument is based on the notion that the two texts were originally part of the same bundle (juan) of texts. This is a fairly compelling argument, but it should be noted that even if slips were in the same bundle, this doesn’t mean that they were necessarily intended to be read together as one text. Perhaps they were simply similar in content, or it was just convenient for the creators to bundle them together. It is common for one text to end and another to begin on the same slip. When this happens, sometimes the scribe will make an ink blot on the slip to signify this. Other than these sporadic marks, there is nothing that could be construed as modern punctuation in any Warring States Chinese texts. This is one element that adds to the challenge of reconstructing ancient Chinese writings.

With regards to the specific slips in question, the majority of scholars include these slips as part of the Shilun. They are referred to as “blank end” slips; they are slips that only have visible characters on part of the slip. Most of the slips are full of characters, and so scholars naturally questioned the nature of these strange slips (for an example, see appendix figure 7). Staack himself agrees with Ji Xusheng and puts his stock in the idea that there were at one time characters on the slips, but they were rubbed or scraped off intentionally, perhaps by scraping with a knife). Still others such as Li Xueqin argued that the characters could have worn off via a natural process after the slips were buried. (Staack 864-866) Jiang Guanghui argues that the text that the scribe was copying from was itself incomplete, and so the scribe left spaces blank in anticipation of the possibility of filling them in later when a more complete version became available to copy from, or to simply imply respect for missing content.[13] (Jiang 32) One problem that Staack sees with this argument is that we simply have no way of knowing precisely how the text was transmitted. He says, “we do not know whether the scribe was copying from another source, was writing from memory, or during recitation or dictation.”(Staack 865) One confusing point is that Staack states that there are “several hints that some kind of scraping was applied to the ends of these slips. Many scholars who closely studied the photographs or even had the opportunity to look at the original slips in the Shanghai Museum reported to have seen such traces” (Staack 866), whereas Jiang states that scholars who examined the slips said that “the slips have absolutely no trace of ever having a single character written on them”. (Jiang 32) Perhaps a more scientific examination could determine whether there is evidence of scraping on the slips, but this has yet to be done. This just goes to show how work on this text is still relatively preliminary although the initial publication has been available for over a decade. It’s also worth noting that this emphasizes the fact that scholars must often rely on each other’s work in lieu of direct access to the original slips, which may be difficult, or at least inconvenient to get.

Anyways, making a solid argument for the nature of these blank ends is essential to the process of reconstructing the Shilun, since if one argues that the slips with blank ends hold some special position, then this is material evidence for the organizing of the slips. But if one’s argument concludes that the slips were either at one time full of characters or characters were left off by the scribe, then the slips could go anywhere within the text.

Textual Parallelism

Another type of evidence that can be used especially effectively in the case of parts of the Kongzi shilun, is textual parallelism. The Kongzi shilun is supposedly composed of comments by Confucius about a wide range of poems of the type transmitted in the Shijing詩經 ( Book of Poetry). The Shijing itself is the primary source for reconstructing the rhyme groups of Old Chinese although there is no complete received version. It is therefore no surprise that the text is full of instances of rhythmic prose. In several instances, the author utilizes parallel sentence structures. Therefore, in places where there are questions as to how to organize the slips or how to fill in missing sections, evidence based on textual parallelism can be used. In the Shilun, the traditional so-called “ode-categories” of the Shijing are mentioned, with comments made about the categories or about specific poems within the categories. The comments are often made in an orderly, rhythmic fashion. Here is an example of how Staack illustrates this textual parallelism:

Example: “頌,平德也,多言…” (#2)

“大雅,盛德也,多言…” (#2)

Formula: “[ode category]XX也多言…” (#2 and 3)

(occurring twice completely, once partly)


(Staack 874)


Here is a Romanization of this example:

Example: “song, ping de ye, duo yan…” (#2)

“da ya, cheng de ye, duo yan…” (#2)

Formula: “[ode category]XX ye duo yan …” (#2 and 3)


In this illustration, the parenthetical numbers refer to Ma’s original slip number. The “XX” refers to the short descriptive characterization of whichever ode category, while “song” and “da ya” are the names of two ode categories. This example of textual parallelism occurs partly on slip number 3, and Staack makes a very convincing argument that this pattern can be extended to the blank end on slip number 3, since one half of the pattern occurs on the portion of the slip with characters visible. Staack infers that the missing part of the pattern would have been scraped off according to his blank end theory. Moreover, because the inclusion of the xiao ya ode category on the blank end of slip 3 can be inferred because it is traditionally associated with da ya, If no characters where ever written on the blank ends, then an entire missing slip would have to be inferred between slips 2 and 3. This would entail a commentary of 40 characters for da ya and xiao ya, which is inordinately long. Because of this, Staack views this instance of textual parallelism as further evidence for his theory that there once were characters on all the blank ends. (Staack 874-875) Textual parallelism can be viewed as an example effective and innovative technique that can be used in some cases to support one’s reconstruction of bamboo slip texts.

The “Liding” Process

            When attempting to understand a text, a correct reading of individual characters is essential. Certain characters invariably are more problematic to interpret than others, and entire academic debates are often spurred by questions regarding the correct interpretation of a single character. Some scholars relegate the discussion of interesting or problematic characters to either footnotes, or to an endnote section, with many scholars, especially Chinese scholars, assigning a complete section to the discussion of interesting characters. This process is also essential to the process of organizing the slips, and discussions of the correct interpretation of specific characters often continues indefinitely. Sometimes a more satisfactory interpretation of a character will not necessitate a rearrangement of the slips, but it very well may, and either way, it most certainly affects how one reads the text, as well as how one would potentially translate it into another language. This kind of reinterpretation may illustrate the continual nature of textual interpretation..

When interpreting individual characters, scholars utilize a technique called “liding隸定. This term comes from the word lishu隸屬, which is the name for the so-called “clerical script” which was the popular, standardized script starting in the Han dynasty, with its roots in the Warring States period Qin state. Used as a verb, the term liding means to analyze and identify the constituent etymological components of a pre-Qin character, and construct a new character in the standard Chinese script. After this new character is created, then one may interpret the character as representing a word that has a certain meaning. This is a term which has maintained relevance to this day. Instead of transcribing the new characters into the clerical script, they are now transcribed into a form that when printed or typed will look like a modern (although perhaps strange) character. Sound etymological arguments add to the corpus of textual evidence which may then be cited in the future.

Here is a simple liding example. This is the character commonly written today as 其: (Ma 13). This character is reconstructed as “丌”. Using the notation common among scholars in the field, we could represent this character as[丌], and the word interpreted from this character as{其}. This is not a controversial character. This is the common way that the word {其} was written in Chu texts. In classical Chinese, this word is a third person possessive signifier. The character used for the word that is nowadays written {其} took many different forms before the establishment of standard script in the Qin dynasty. Other pre-Qin examples of the character look like a winnowing basket, and the character actually originally was used with this meaning. For images of several variations of the character used to represent this word, see appendix figure X. The character was then used for the word for the possessive third person because the two words sounded similar. It was only later that the character used for “basket” had a bamboo radical added to distinguish it, as  {箕}. For a table showing several forms of the character [丌], as it appeared in different states and at different times, see figure 8.

Here is an example of a character from the Shilun that was a bit controversial and received scholarly attention: (Ma 13). There is a consensus that the character had been reconstructed incorrectly by Ma Chengyuan. He mistakenly interpreted the character as 止 on top of 言, when it should really be interpreted to have a 之 on top instead.[14] (Ji 7) This character is the Chu script way to write {詩},poetry, and here refers to the Shijing (詩經), the Book of Poetry,.

In making phonological arguments for how to interpret characters, a traditional style of argument based on the construction of rhyme groups for Old Chinese by the Qing Dynasty scholars, Wang Niansun and Jiang Yougao is often used. They constructed a system of rhyme groups based on the ancient rhyme dictionary the Qieyun, as well as the Shijing.[15](Baxter 62) All together, they came up with thirty rhyme groups. The rhyme groups have names. Evidence from the ancient 1st century BCE dictionary Shuowen Jiezi说文解字is also often included. This dictionary may include a brief definition typically based on the components of the character, indicating whether the component is a phonetic or root. The Chinese language(s) from the time that the Qieyun was written is referred to as zhonggu hanyu中古汉语 (Middle Chinese). The language(s) in use in pre-Qin times are referred to as shanggu hanyu上古汉语 (Old Chinese).

After the state of Qin overran the state of Chu in around 224 BCE, it consolidated power and took full empirical control of China, with emperor Qin Shihuang establishing his Qin dynasty. The Qin emperor destroyed literature all over the country; he also oversaw the standardization of Chinese script, establishing what became known as small seal script  (xiaozhuan小傳), which would soon be replaced in popularity by the clerical script. For a comparison of xiaozhuan and lishu see figure 9. Because of this significant literary event, much written history was lost, and much of what was preserved was held in people’s memories. In recalling pre-Qin texts, scribes would record from their own memories or record the words of others. Because they may not have known exactly what the words meant, they would often record characters whose pronunciation in their own dialect sounded like the words they were hearing, but in reality may have been written with a different character that would have made more etymological sense. Thus, after Qin, we see a large number of these so-called “loan characters” come into the corpus. Small seal script was eventually supplanted in popularity by clerical script in the Han Dynasty. Both of these scripts are relatively legible to a contemporary reader of Chinese, compared to the pre-Qin scripts used by speakers of Old Chinese.

Sometimes mistakes are made that are quickly corrected by other scholars, and sometimes there is no final consensus as to how a certain character should be read. One problem with this style of argument is that it is based on linguistic evidence from sources, the Shuowen and Qieyun, which were written hundreds of years after the Warring States. Moreover, one could argue that a finer understanding of the pronunciation and rhyming of characters and the words that they represented will help to clarify many of the etymological issues in Warring States texts. If we incorporate linguistic evidence based on older sources, then we will be able to construct a more accurate and fine-grained picture of the writing of the Warring States period. Scholars in the Qing dynasty left us with a tremendously valuable tool that allows us to accurately distinguish words that did rhyme, basing their rhyme tables on the rhymes evident in the Shijing, but, as William Baxter and Laurent Sagart point out, these scholars failed to take account of words that, at the time, did not rhyme, and then later merged. Moreover, only a small percentage of words rhymed with each other, and in order to accurately understand and reconstruct pre-Qin texts, we need to be open to information from all relevant sources, including phonology. Baxter and Sagart point out “from the scripts of recently discovered pre-Qin documents, we now have more and better evidence about Old Chinese phonology than was available to earlier researchers, and we can see the importance to Old Chinese reconstruction of careful paleographic research. In some cases, the standard script simply fails to give enough information; in other cases it is positively misleading, because it reflects the phonology of Qin and Han rather than Old Chinese.” (Baxter 75)

One important example of how innovative techniques of phonological analysis may help us to determine how to read characters from Warring States texts is the reconstruction of the character  勢shi. When it appears in pre-Qin texts, this word is usually translated as “power”, “authority, “influence”, or “circumstances”. It has many possible senses, and it has often proven difficult to translate. However, Baxter and Sagart discovered that this character was connected etymologically to the character 設she.  According to Qiu Xigui, this character was in several instances written with an element that was the ancestor to the word that is now written 埶yi, to plant, which is the top component of the character 勢. This discovery clarified the connection between 設 and勢, proving that all three words had the same beginning consonant sound,  with 勢 taking on the sense of  “the way nature has set things up”. (Baxter 76-77) This discovery could not have been made without taking into account pre-Qin sources of information.

Common Notation and Added Punctuation

I have touch upon one element of common notation used in this field, namely the use of brackets when discussing characters and their interpretations as words. When scholars reconstruct a text, the textual product may look overly confusing and complicated. After all, the slips themselves are elegant, concise, clear, and orderly! In reality, the reconstructions are not overly complicated. Good scholars who are intending to communicate with each other simply want their work on the text to be as transparent as possible. Here is how Thies Staack reconstructed a section of the Shilun:


And his translation:

The “change” of Guan ju, the “right time” of Jiu mu, the “prudence” of Han guang, the “homecoming”151 of Que chao, the “protection” of Gan tang, the “longing” of Lü yi, the “feelings” of Yan yan, what [about them]? Implementing them, [these odes] are all [becoming] more virtuous than they were at the be- ginning. In Guan ju, the rules of conduct are explained through sexual desires. […] two [a pair?]. This is explained in the fourth stanza. By the delight in zither and harp, lustful desires are imitated; by the enjoyment of bells and drums […] fondness. Someone who turns and channels [these feelings] according to the rules of conduct, is he not also capable of changing? In Jiu mu, the blessings are thus with the gentleman. Is it not [also …? In Han guang …] achievable, not to go about something one is not able to do; is it not also knowing things, which cannot be changed? If one leaves [accompanied] by a hundred chariots, [as described in] Que chao, is it not still a departure? In Gan [tang …] and his [the Duke of Shao’s] people, respected and cared for his tree. His protection [of the people] was powerful. The care in Gan tang is founded on the Duke of Shao [… Lü yi Yan yan …] feelings and affection.

(Staack 894-96)


The Shilun is a discussion of various poems. In the Chinese reconstruction, notice how double brackets are used around titles of poems. In order to make the text more comprehensible, punctuation may be added to the reconstruction.  He has also included reconstructed punctuation for the convenience of the reader. The empty boxes with brackets around them simply represent missing characters, either because this is a so-called “blank end” or because Staack thinks there is a missing slip fragment. The “…”  represent gaps where it is not possible to determine the exact number of missing characters. In the English translation, notice where he says “[… Lü yi Yan yan …]”, this is him utilizing evidence based on textual parallelism to offer his reconstruction of missing text. These words aren’t actually on any slips, but he believes that these are the missing characters.

Recent Scholarship

            Scholarly publications are produced throughout the process of reconstructing texts, from archaeological reports, to initial publication, to extended scholarly debate in articles and books. In general, after a significant amount of Chinese language scholarship has been undertaken, we may see English language scholarship emerge, including translations. A complete translation of the Guodian Laozi was published by Robert Hendricks in 2000, and just this past year, Scott Cook from Grinnell College has published a translation of the entire Guodian slip collection in two volumes titled The Bamboo Texts of Guodian[16]. English language work on the Shanghai Museum Collection is not as far along. Staack has offered us a very preliminary translation of the Kongzi shilun, and he is one of only a couple non-Chinese scholars to publish his own reconstruction of any of the Shanghai Museum Collection texts. I am also aware of English language scholarship on the Zi gao text[17], as well as the Zhou yi text.[18] As far as an English-language audience is concerned, the next logical step would be to see an English translation of the entire Shanghai Museum Collection. There have been numerous full-scale Modern Chinese interpretations, notably that of Professor Ji Xusheng and his colleagues[19]. This English translation would be a massive task, however, and it is perhaps too early to start considering this undertaking considering the many textual questions which have not been answered satisfactorily to this point. Moreover, because the Guodian discovery contained the oldest known version of the Laozi, there was a significant potential English language readership.

Conclusion: Prospects for Future Scholarship

The Shanghai Museum Collection, despite containing a wide array of fascinating texts, simply does not have the same impact value as the Guodian Laozi. One reason for the high interest in the Laozi among western readership may be a general interest in mystical Daoist literature. The majority of the texts from the Shanghai Museum Collection are not really mystical, with many of them being considered part of the Confucian canon. After all, many of the reveived versions of the excavated texts have been received as part of the vast Confucian classic, the Liji禮記 (Book of Rites). However, there is one text, namely the Min zhi fumu, which touches on undeniably mystical concepts. The text is an excavated version of the Liji text Kongzi Xianju 孔子閒居 (Confucius at Home at Leisure). In this text, the voice of Confucius speaks of the undeniably mystical concepts of practicing  “music without sound”,  “ceremony without embodiment”, and “mourning without garb”.[20] In his book Original Dao, Harold Roth successfully pushes the idea that texts within larger “non-Daoist” works may be considered essentially Daoist,  or as part of a “mystical hermeneutic”. [21](Roth 3-5) He presents the Nei ye內業 (Inward Training) section of the Guanzi, a large legalist work whose received version originated in the Han dynasty, as an example of an expression of early Daoist mystical practice. There is no reason why the Kongzi xianjuand Min zhi fumu民之父母 Parent of the People) excavated version cannot be classified in the same way. Roth says, “if we are to truly understand early Taoist thought and its relationship to the later Taoist religion, we must include a much wider range of early philosophical texts in our analysis.” (Roth 6) An innovative reconstruction and translation of the Min zhi fumu may help to expand our notion of Chinese mysticism.

            As China continues to develop both economically as socially, we can expect more Warring States texts to pop up in the future. Hopefully, the social environment may develop in a positive way so as to better promote the preservation of these texts, and hopefully the scholarship in this field, in both Chinese and in other languages, may take advantage of more innovative analytical techniques such as those utilized by Theis Staack, as well as a more fine-grained understanding of Old Chinese phonology. There is a lot of excellent Chinese scholarship on Warring States texts, but if the tendency to be overly reliant on traditional modes of analysis can be overcome, then the products of such scholarship may be more well-rounded, and attractive to a wider audience.



[1] Tsien, Tsuen-Hsuin. Written on Bamboo and Silk: The Beginnings of Chinese Books and Inscriptions, 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004

[4]湖北省荊門市博物館。荆门郭店一号楚墓。文物, vol. 7 (1997) 35-48.

[5] Hendricks’ Robert G. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: A Translation of the Startling New Documents Found at Guodian. New York: Columbia University Press,  2000.

[6] 李玲, 擾亂古墓出土竹簡考古整理過程中的保護技術。中国文物科学研究。vol. 2, 2011。 59-61.

[7] [7]湖北省荊門市博物館, 郭店楚墓竹簡北京:文物出版社 , 1998.

[8] 郭店楚墓竹簡。 accessed April 30, 2013

[9] See: Allan, Sarah, and Crispin Williams, eds. The Guodian Laozi: Proceedings of the

International Conference, Dartmouth College, May 1998. Early China Special

Monograph Series 5. Berkeley, 2000.

[10]馬承源。上海博物館藏楚竹書vols. 1-9. 上海:上海古籍出版社, 2001-2012

[11] Kern, Martin. Early Chinese Poetics in the Light of Recently Discovered Manuscripts. Recarving the Dragon: Understanding Chinese Poetics. Ed. Olga Lomová. Prague: Karolinum, 2003. 27-72.

[12] Staack, Thies. Reconstructing the Kongzi shilun: From the Arrangement of the

Bamboo Slips to a Tentative Translation. Asiatische Studien vol. 64 issue 4 (2010): 857-906.

[13] Jiang Guanghui. Problems Concerning the Rearrangement, Interpretation, and Orientation of the Ancient Preface to the Poetry (Shixu). Contemporary Chinese Thought. Vol. 39, no. 4 (2008): 30-48.

[14]季旭昇, et al. 《上海博物館藏楚竹書》讀本 vol. 1. 臺北:萬卷樓, 2004.

[15] Baxter, William H., and Laurent Sagart [in press]. Old Chinese: a new reconstruction. New York: Oxford University Press.


[16] Cook, Scott. The Bamboo Texts of Guodian: A Study and Complete Translation. Vols. 1 and 2. University of Hawaii Press, 2012.

[17] Allan, Sarah. Not the Lun yu: The Chu Script Bamboo Slip Manuscript, Zigao, and

the Nature of Early Confucianism. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African

Studies vol. 72 no. 1 (2009): 115-51.

[18] Shaughnessy, Edward L. A First Reading of the Shanghai Museum Bamboo-Strip

Manuscript of the Zhou Yi. Early China. Vol. 30 (2005-06): 1-24.

[19] 季旭昇, et al. 《上海博物館藏楚竹書》讀本 vols. 1-3. 臺北:萬卷樓, 2004.

[20]Legge, James, trans.《孔子閒居 – Kongzi Xian Ju》 Chinese Text Project. Accessed 4/30/13

[21] Roth, Harold D. Original Tao: Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.


English translation coming soon!




中国的现代历史有一些有名的“西方化主义者”。我刚骗你了!不是“一些”, 其实就是“特别多”!中国应不应该实行西方化其实就是中国最近150年最大的问题之一!








Story Idea

Story Idea:

Start with the idealization of the “people” aka rural villagers by cityfolk disillusioned or propagandized into creating a “people” as a solidified, defined group. Resentment and disownment of their own “privileged city life” ensues.  This life is defined by the drive to consume more and more, and by the social goals that include the pursuit of greater and greater “economic growth”. There are also some remnants of tradition such as holidays, but the main characters do not actually enjoy them. They decide to go to the countryside (to a specific minority area?) to see what the “people” are actually like.

They are confronted with the stark realization that the rural people, because of their technological backwardness are utterly disjointed and separated from each other’s villages. It starts with a character who really gets into the grove of life in one village. He comes to “appreciate” their culture and customs and feels “enlightened”. It’s kind of like Dances with Wolves to this point. Perhaps he even marries a village girl.

However, the story turns when the character is confronted with the juxtaposition of his village to the next village over. Their customs are different and perhaps they don’t even speak the same language. They do some things very differently and with different justification. When all of the differences and conflicts come to light, his concept of “the people” becomes greatly shaken. His entire definition comes crashing down, since he fully accepted the ways of life of those in his village as the ways of life of “the people”.  In attempting to bridge the gap, he inadvertently causes a conflict between the two villages. He falls back on the rhetoric and anthropological definitions he built up inside his head while in the big city. The conflict arises because communication between the villages, although not nonexistent, happens infrequently and only when entirely logical and necessary for the well-being of both villages. His rhetoric, which he spreads intentionally between the two villages is thus interpreted not as a call to respect diversity and bridge differences (which is actually only the playing out of the conflict which exists inside his own head), but as a serious, life-threatening problem. In reality, there was no threatening conflict between the two villages to begin with. Thus, instead of bringing the two groups together, his rhetoric brings the two villages to the brink of war with each other, thus playing out the war that exists in his head into the real world.

War is only prevented (or ended?) when two shamans from each village independently have the same vision. They did completely different rituals, but they still get the same result, because the transcendental space they went to was the same. It is revealed that throughout history, the villages communicate in this way when their way of life is actually threatened. The vision portrays the stress that exists in the main character as the instigating force behind the conflict. The two shamans come together and then go back to their own villages, enlightening the villagers as to the nature of the conflict as arising from an outside poison. Because their future depends on preventing this kind of outside stress from penetrating their stable, non-demanding, fulfilling way of life, the two villages form an alliance. The main character is lovingly exiled, sent on a mission by the shamans to discover his own path to enlightenment. He resists at first, but eventually consents when he realizes that he will not be personally fulfilled if he stays in the villages. The shamans explain that they simply don’t have all the answers to his questions because their power only extends to the two villages. They don’t even have all the answers to the differences between themselves. They know he desires more and thus send him to find more for himself.

Article written for Grinnell student magazine

Learning Chinese at Grinnell, Teaching in Chinese in China

My experience in China this past summer is an excellent example of what one can achieve, what one can experience, because of a Grinnell language education.

Last year, I wrote about the daily rigors of taking Chinese classes at Grinnell. The early mornings, the windowless classroom, the endless memorization. But as a famous Chinese saying goes, “The sharpness of a precious sword comes from grinding on the millstone, the fragrance of a plum blossom emerges from the bitter winter cold.” In other words, it was worth it.

This past summer I participated in the Associated Colleges in China (ACC) Summer Field Studies Program. This Fulbright-sponsored scholarship program run by Hamilton College consisted of three parts, over seven weeks. The first part of the program was three weeks of intensive Chinese language study at Minzu University in Beijing. The second part consisted of traveling to north-eastern Inner Mongolia Province, to teach summer camps to Chinese children, using Chinese. The third part of the program was a presentation, in Chinese, at an educational conference at Harbin University in Heilongjiang Province.

Through this program, I was able to hone and utilize my accumulated Chinese language skills to communicate and interact in China in ways I never could have imagined four years ago. My Grinnell Chinese language education prepared me to utilize my language skills in a practical setting. I was able to use my accumulated Chinese vocabulary and grammar knowledge base to write a polished, formal presentation on the American sports education system in Chinese, and feel confident that I would be communicating both my meaning and my emotions in an effective manner. I was able to use my accumulated Chinese oral skills to not only present this topic fluently in front of a Chinese audience, but to teach elementary-aged children astronomy and health classes in the student’s own language. This program truly was a rare opportunity to immerse confidently in a foreign culture, and it was made possible not only by my own personal commitment to the Chinese language, but by the opportunity to learn that has been afforded me at Grinnell.

Aside from the more tangible aspects of the program, many powerful experiences were ingrained on my mind over the course of the program. We made friends with a cheery shop-owner and his young son in a town where they have never seen a foreigner before We played drinking games with a group of mangy, boisterous Chinese guys ten miles from the Russian border. We listened to and came to appreciate the tribulations of teachers in a Chinese education system that emphasizes test scores above all else. And I was compelled to encourage a young, desperately poor child of migrant workers to persevere when with tears in his eyes he told me that he was not smart enough or good enough to make anything better of his life. These are the kinds of experiences that enlighten one to the manifold expressions of the human condition. One of the greatest lessons I have learned over the course of my college education is that these expressions of humanity, these humanistic interactions, are what define all people and their relationships. A place can have a different “culture”, different “customs”, but if one can get past the basic problem of the language barrier, one comes to realize that the human experience, both its sufferings and its pleasures, manifests itself in the same ways all over the world. The more one learns about and experiences another culture, the more one comes to realize that in essence we are all the same. That national boundaries are artificial constructions. That no man, in fact no people, is an island. That these so-called “differences” that people define themselves by, and are all too often overshadowed by, are mirages constructed by the human need to create identity. It may seem ironic, although I view it more as inevitable, but the more I submerge myself in this “foreign” language, this so-called “foreign culture”, the more I realize that we are all the same. That one need not look any further than the person standing next to you to get all the confirmation of one’s own identity that one needs. It is this barrier-breaking power that my Grinnell education has given me that has made me truly appreciative of the education I have received. Thank you.

First Post 第一个博客

First Post


So, I’ve been thinking about creating a blog (or two (or three)) for a while now and having just graduated from Grinnell College with a degree in Chinese, I at last have the time and motivation to do so. This will be an attempt to create a very special blog. It will be bilingual. Some kind of “mission statement” is not quite formed yet, but something along those lines may be in the works. For now, I will talk about what I intend this blog to be in more unconstrained terms.

One of the first real fruits of knowledge that my experiences living in China and studying Chinese literature, culture, philosophy, religion and history, along with the broader non-specific fields of literature, culture, philosophy, religion and history as well as those of other specific countries has allowed me to grasp was that human beings are all made of the same consciousness. We are all human beings not only in terms of anatomy but also in terms of spirit. Having taken up the study of the Chinese language, the juxtaposition of this language study with the manifold fields of study just mentioned has proven to me that one thing that language is is a divider of peoples, something that in and of itself creates discriminatory lines across so-called distinctive “cultures”. I am not saying that cultural difference does not exist or that it is unimportant. However, what this blog will attempt to do is BRIDGE one of these language divides–namely, that between the English language and the Chinese language.

In so doing, it is hoped that the perceived differences between Chinese speaking peoples and English speaking peoples that exist SOLELY because of the language divide may be brought down and that we as humans, as peoples, and as cohabitants of this planet may begin to address the differences that exist for other reasons, as well as come to mutually appreciate our similarities.

This is a bilingual blog but it is not intended merely for bilingual speakers. It is intended for all speakers of both languages.

“The path that can be followed is not the eternal path. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.” Daodejing 1

嗯,很久以来我一直在考虑创建一个(或两三个)博客。现在,我刚从美国的古林大学(Grinnell College) 获得了中文专业的本科学位,总算有时间和动力做这件事了。创造这个特别的博客,将是个有益的尝试。它是双语的。一个所谓的“宗旨”还没有成形,但是可能正在准备中。不过,我暂时先用比较随意的话来说明一下这个博客的目标。






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