Reception of the Zhuangzi 莊子 in the West: the early years

Conférence de Richard John Lynn, Professor Emeritus of Chinese Thought and Literature, University of Toronto, jeudi 11 avril 2019 à l’Inalco (détails sur l’affiche ci-dessous).


The reception of the Daoist classic Zhuangzi in the West has a long history prior to the appearance of the first integral translations in the 1880s by Frederick Henry Balfour and Herbert A. Giles and should be studied as part of the 17th and 18th centuries European general encounter with South and East Asian religious traditions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and, of course, Daoism—a religiocultural experience that profoundly shaped the development of modern Orientalism before imperialist ambitions and commercial greed during the early 19th century compromised what had originally been essentially a search to expand Western religious perspectives—by discovering in Asia’s non-Abrahamic religions parallels and precedents for basic Judeo-Christian beliefs about God, creation, and the individual soul. Key players in this process, especially for the encounter with Chinese traditions, were members of the Jesuit mission to Peking, both before and after 1715 when Pope Clement XI condemned Chinese rites as incompatible with Christian beliefs and the Kangxi emperor retaliated by banning Christian missions in China. The majority of the Jesuit fathers continued their attempt to effect a Chinese-Christian synthesis based on their accomodation to Chinese culture and figurist readings of, first, the Confucian classics, and then the Yijing (Classic of Changes), Daodejing of Laozi, and, to a lesser extent, the Zhuangzi, Liezi, and Huainanzi. The writings of Joseph-Henri Prémare and Jean-François Foucquet in particular will be examined in this regard, as well as the writings of a coterie of 18th century intellectuals, secular devotees of Christian mysticism, especially the“Quietism” movement, influenced directly or indirectly by the Jesuits, which included Andrew Michael Ramsay and Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte, as well as those who would break with the Judeo-Christian tradition, deists such as Voltaire and Diderot. Special attention will also be paid to Father Prémare’s translation of the short story “Zhuang Zhou Drums on a Bowl and Attains the Great Dao” 莊子休鼓盆成大道 by the late Ming writer Feng Menglong’s 馮夢龍, for it more than anything else introduced the name “Zhuangzi” to the Western world during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Non-clerical Sinological writings about Chinese thought and religions during the earlier 19th century often refer to the Zhuangzi, but little was really added to what the 18th century already knew about the man or work until Balfour and especially Giles published their translations in 1881 and 1889. Balfour’s inept work is now all but forgotten, but Giles’, despite many detractors, is still in print today and well know. The lecture will be richly illustrated as a Power Point Presentation.

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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