Dao
, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 31-51

The Warring States Concept of Xing

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Abstract

This essay defends a novel interpretation of the term “xìng 性” as it occurs in Chinese texts of the late Warring States period (roughly 320–221 BCE). The term played an important role both in the famous controversy over the goodness or badness of people’s xìng and elsewhere in the intellectual discourse of the period. Extending especially the work of A.C. Graham, the essay stresses the importance for understanding xìng of early Chinese assumptions about spontaneity, continuity, health, and (in the human case) motivation. These assumptions make xìng fundamentally different from the contemporary nature concepts with which it is often equated. In particular, people’s xìng is not a near-equivalent of human nature or (in modern Chinese) of rénxìng 人性.