Theories of Human Nature (Xing) in Early China (5th c. BCE–2nd c. CE) and Their Implications


Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Program in China Studies Predissertation-Summer Travel Grants


Early China


My research addresses transmitted sources and excavated manuscripts elaborating the concept of
human nature (xing 性) from the 5th c. BCE to the 2nd c. CE. I have been identifying the most
influential theories on human nature, detailing the scope of their influence, paying particular
attention to those sources that represent the emergence of a technical vocabulary dedicated to the
topic. Philosophical stances were not purely theoretical: how human nature was defined is
reflected in applied contexts of interpersonal relationships; the relationship between the
individual and the state; practices of education and government. It was also echoed in laws
addressing intentionality and responsibility. Recent recoveries of excavated material from the 3rd
c. BCE makes this project a timely intervention to discuss conceptions of human nature and hot
these impinge on other philosophical issues.