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The Ambivalence of Creation

As early as the Warring States period in China (fourth through third centuries b.c.), debates arose concerning how and under what circumstances new institutions could be formed and legitimated. But the debates quickly encompassed more than just legitimation. Larger issues came to the fore: Can a sage innovate? If so, under what conditions? Where did human culture originally come from? Was it created by human sages? Is it therefore an artificial fabrication, or was it based in part on natural patterns? Is it possible for new sages to emerge who could create something better? This book studies these debates from the Warring States period to the early Han (second century b.c.), analyzing the texts in detail and tracing the historical consequences of the various positions that emerged. It also examines the time s conflicting narratives about the origin of the state and how these narratives and ideas were manipulated for ideological purposes during the formation of the first empires.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Domesticating the landscape: notions of ancestors and innovation in the Bronze Age 2. The craft of humanity: debates over nature and culture in warring states China 3. Sages, ministers, and rebels: narratives of the emergence of the state 4. The creation of empire: the emergence and consolidation of imperial rule in China 5. The tragedy of creation: Sima Qian's reconstruction of the rise of empire in early China Conclusion Appendix Notes Bibliography Index.

About the Author

Michael J. Puett is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Humanities at Harvard University.


"Puett's brilliant textual, intertextual, and contextual analysis allows him to discern heretofore largely neglected aspects and nuances of intellectual controversies and their impanct on early imperial thought... The Ambivalence of Creation is a welcome addition to the field of ancient Chinese thought and culture, as well as mythology, historiography, and literature." - The Journal of American Studies "Lucid, cogent, and stimulating, it should make an instructive and delightful read for anyone who is interested in Chinese philosophy, religion, and history." - Zhou Yiqun, University of Chicago "...a clearly written, well-argued, and important book [that] performs a valuable service to the field by problematizing deeply entrenched assumptions about early Chinese thought." - Journal of Chinese Philosophy

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