Alienating rhetoric in the Book of Lord Shang and its moderation

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The Book of Lord Shang, supposedly composed by Shang Yang (d. 338 BCE) and his disciples, is one of the most controversial texts of the Warring States period. Aside from engagement in what may be defined as “normal” polemics with ideological opponents, the authors at times adopt a radically alienating rhetoric, assaulting ideas and values which were overwhelmingly cherished by members of the educated elite. This rhetoric is fully visible in two chapters (3 and 4), which apparently belong to the early layer of the book. There, the authors deride fundamental moral values; call for establishing a regime in which “scoundrels rule the good people”; and advocate military victory by performing “whatever the enemy is ashamed of.” These pronouncements may explain the strongly negative reaction that the Book of Lord Shang and its putative author, Shang Yang, generated among intellectuals from the Warring States period, throughout the imperial era and well into our time.
In my article I argue that while the rhetoric adopted in the two early chapters of the Book of Lord Shang was alienating for most readers, it could have targeted those members of the intellectual elite who were attracted by the text’s novelty and freedom from conventions. I further show how this harsh rhetoric was moderated in the later layers of the Book of Lord Shang and conclude that analyzing the changing rhetorical patterns in the text may help us to understand better its nature, composition, and the periodization of individual chapters.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)79-110
Number of pages32
JournalExtrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident: Cahiers de recherches comparatives
StatePublished - 2012

Bibliographical note

ISBN 9782842923525


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