Magnus Ribbing Gren

Postdoctoral Scholar: Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica (Taipei)
Faculty Advisor: Benjamin Elman

Title: The Lineage Orientation and Its Critics: Paths to Pluralism in Chinese Classicism and Politics

Abstract:  Throughout the late imperial period, conflict and disunity in Chinese politics were tied to a lack of consensus in classical scholarship. As the civil examinations grew in importance, intellectual partisanship and political factionalism became inextricably intertwined. Generations of Chinese scholars during the Song-Yuan-Ming-Qing dynasties recognized this problem and many sought a solution, while some Late Ming intellectuals resigned to individualism and relativism. Partly in reaction to such Late Ming trends, Qing dynasty scholarship developed methods and techniques that used textual evidence to forge indisputable consensus in the reading and interpretation of classical texts. Qing evidential research in Canton was at its nineteenth century peak when scholars like Fang Dongshu (1772-1851) and Chen Li (1810-1882) began to question it. They declared the movement’s attempt to establish intellectual consensus a failure and viewed the exclusivist values of its methodology as the cause of that failure. They also traced this exclusionism back to Cheng-Zhu daoxue in the Song-Ming dynasties and argued that it was being perpetuated in Qing dynasty evidential research. This dissertation systematizes these exclusivist values under the label of a “lineage orientation” in Chinese classicism and politics. It then demonstrates how nineteenth century Chinese scholars countered the lineage orientation with methodological innovation in the pursuit of variations on the concept of pluralism. The notion of pluralism, as a solution to disunity and partisanship, was then further developed by Gu Jiegang (1893-1980) and others in Republican China.