Critique of Imperial Reason: Lessons from the Zhuangzi

Abstract

It has often been said that the Zhuangzi 莊子 advocates political abstention, and that its putative skepticism prevents it from contributing in any meaningful way to political thinking: at best the Zhuangzi espouses a sort of anarchism, at worst it is “the night in which all cows are black,” a stance that one scholar has charged is ultimately immoral. This article tracks possible political allusions within the text, and, by reading these against details of social, political, and historical context, sheds light on another strand of the Zhuangzi—one that questions prevailing normative values because it is fiercely critical of scholarly complicity with violent imperial territorial consolidation.

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Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Tan Sor Hoon, Alan Chan, Leigh Jenco, the editor and anonymous reviewers of Dao, as well as participants of the Philosophy Colloquium of the Philosophy Department, Nanyang Technical University (Singapore, August 2017) for their helpful suggestions for this article. Open access publication of this article has been made possible by Cardiff University.

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Kwek, D.H.B. Critique of Imperial Reason: Lessons from the Zhuangzi. Dao 18, 411–433 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-019-09673-4

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Keywords

  • The Zhuangzi 莊子
  • Imperialism
  • Politics
  • Cosmology
  • Nature
  • People