Why should a guidebook, not a textbook, be written on Xunzi studies?

   This volume is neither an introduction to Xunzi’s (ca. 315-235 BCE) philosophy nor a collection of those research articles and essays that the author has conducted on the topic. It is instead a guidebook to “Xunzi Studies” and the research on Xunzi’s philosophy. I wrote this book mainly for those who conduct scholarly research about Xunzi or for those who must address his philosophy to discuss more popular thinkers such as Mencius (ca. 390-310 BCE) and Zhuangzi (?-?, late contemporary to Mencius) or other Chinese philosophy-related topics in their studies.

Given the stated purpose for publishing this work, particularly in light of the current adverse circumstances for commercially publishing humanities research monographs in Taiwan, one may wonder how many readers, in addition to university libraries, would be willing to purchase such a book, as the scope of content of this volume is so narrowly planned (i.e., guidebook for Xunzi research). Among students of Chinese philosophy during the past century, Xunzi has definitely not been popular. Indeed, his philosophy has been continuously criticized. In East Asian intellectual traditions, in which Neo-Confucianism has dominated as a state and sociopolitical ideology, owing to his “human nature is bad” theory, Xunzi’s philosophy has even been regarded as a harmful heterodox, especially compared to Mencius who advocated that “human nature is good.” In Taiwan, Xunzi has only recently been discussed in a more-or-less fair and composed manner, while during the same period in mainland China, “Xunzi” has rapidly grown into a very popular topic in Chinese philosophy and history.

From this perspective, the reasons that I have attempted to present a guidebook for Xunzi studies are threefold. First, in this book, I intend to reaffirm the claim that Xunzi has been a very important thinker during the entire two millennia of East Asian history and will outline his philosophical insights as they relate to many of this century’s humanity issues. The huge impact of Xunzi’s philosophy on intellectuals and the history of the whole East Asian region has been compared with that of Aristotle by several eminent early Chinese philosophy scholars such as Homer H. Dubs (1892-1969) and Chen Daqi (1886-1983). For instance, the significance of Xunzi’s idea of Liyi (rule for proper conduct) can be best illuminated by comparing it with Aristotle’s idea of dikaion (justice). Xunzi’s intellectual role in the history of China and East Asian countries should be evaluated more fairly, much as Aristotle’s role is evaluated in the West.

Second, despite the aforementioned importance of his philosophy, among Xunzi specialists, Xunzi is widely considered to be the most misunderstood philosopher and the most deprecated Confucian thinker among the Warring States’ masters during the classical period. More importantly, the prejudice against Xunzi by supporters of Mencius’ position has created a serious misunderstanding in mainstream Chinese philosophy, such that Xunzi’s disbelief in the potentiality of human nature has opened the door for the rise of Legalism, thereby leading to the advent of a dynastic totalitarian rule. It would be unfortunate if 21st century Xunzi studies continued to perpetuate such a misunderstanding.

Third, although it sounds paradoxical because I have just mentioned Xunzi’s unpopularity among other Chinese thinkers, the continued popularity of “Fever for Learning the Classics” (Guoxue re) since the 1990s in mainland China has definitely promoted a new style—e.g., a less ideological, more philological analysis—of studies of Xunzi’s philosophy. The rapid growth of scholars and students has been followed by a remarkable expansion in the number of scholarly articles and monographs on Xunzi. Such a transformation of the research environment has made it difficult for newcomers to this research area to find the most relevant and helpful materials for their own research topics. To date, there are more than 5000 items that are related to Xunzi, such as commentaries, modern translations, monographs and scholarly articles. Ironically, a search for the term “Xunzi” in a major database can return hundreds of Xunzi-related materials and articles. How can those graduate students and “beginners” to this subject distinguish the references that are essential from those that are not? For the past several years, the flood of secondary materials on Xunzi has become an obstacle for further developing Xunzi research. In this sense, graduate students, and especially young researchers beginning to study Xunzi-related topics in their academic research, desperately require a big picture understanding of the state of affairs of Xunzi studies. Such a purpose cannot be attained by treating this volume as a textbook that summarizes Xunzi’s philosophy but can if this is a guidebook that helps readers reflect on how to address the present conundrum in Xunzi studies.

In summary, throughout this volume, I help readers find more efficient ways to conduct their own research on Xunzi-related subjects rather than directly imposing my own interpretations upon them of his life, texts, or the characteristics of his philosophy. Few Taiwanese scholars today spend much effort publishing this type of monograph because a large part of this volume mainly consists of so-called “review articles,” which are usually ranked as “miscellaneous” under the current formal standard in the ROC’s scholarly evaluation system; thus, the whole volume can appear to be no more than a mosaic of review articles. However, investing a great effort to realize what I deeply believe in from my own academic standards, regardless of how much score the evaluation system gives to it, is the most important goal of my academic life. Additionally, to publish such a book would meet what I would call the “NTU spirit”!

Masayuki Sato (2015). Xunzi Studies and Research on Xunzi’s Philosophy: Reflection on the Past, Current Image and Future Design. 荀學與荀子思想研究:評析前景構想. Taipei: Wanjuanlou Publishing Co.

Professor Masayuki Sato
Department of Philosophy


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