read the basic texts of early Confucianism and Daoism. You should read these texts as closely as you can before composing your essays! You are expected to compare and contrast their views of the good life and good government. Here are some more specific guidelines:
Both Confucian and Daoist thinkers were primarily concerned with how to lead a good life in times of chaos (moral and existential questions), and how to achieve good government (political philosophical questions). Each of these thinkers (Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, Laozi, and Zhuangzi) had different ideas and offered different solutions as to these problems. Figure out how each thinker understood human nature (re: good life), and what each offered as solutions (re: good government) to rampant evils in human society at the time! Of course, you can choose to focus on either “the good life” or “good government,” but you can also address the other by spelling out the far-reaching implications of their views.
Once you have gained a confident understanding of these texts through close reading, you can find a more specific topic for further inquiry into the implications of these texts. For example, you might want to begin with the question of why and how Laozi and Zhuangzi were so critical of Confucian philosophy (what were their differences were as to human nature and good government); or you might want to defend Confucianism by constructing a Confucian apology against Daoist critiques.
You can, of course, address these issues by focusing on a more specific question: for example, you can focus on the difference between Laozi and Confucius. Even if your focus is on Laozi and Confucius, you should also cite later texts (Mencius, Xunzi, and Zhuangzi) because by reading the later texts, you can form a clearer understanding of their predecessors (Laozi and Confucius). Vice versa, you can choose to compare Zhuangzi and Xunzi, but you should also cite the other three texts.
Here is a list of possible topics for your essays:
1. A Daoist (Laozi or Zhuangzi or both) critique of Confucian (Confucius or Mencius or Xunzi) morality (remember “morality” is not only for individuals but also for government)
2. Zhuangzi’s view of “virtue” and Xunzi’s view of “learning”, similarities and differences compared.
3. Compare and contrast the Daoist and Confucian methods of “self-cultivation” (and their implications for good government)
4. Compare and contrast the Daoist and Confucian views of the state (and explain why each school proposed such visions by addressing their views of the good life)
There can be numerous topics! Be creative, and use your imaginations!
For the first essay assignment, I have already provided the translations of the Daoist classics and the Confucian Analects. Attached are the translations of the Mencius and the Xunzi.
1. When you cite these sources, you can only provide chapter numbers in the footnote.
Ex) Laozi 3; Analects 3.5; Mencius (or Mengzi) 1A1; Xunzi, chapter 1, Zhuangzi, chapter 4.
2. When you cite the secondary sources, use the following format in the footnote:
Herbert Fingarette, Confucius: the Secular as Sacred ( Waveland, 1988), 32.
HISTORY 3EC3, Winter 2022
The First Essay Assignment
1. Topic: Based on your reading of the Confucian Classics (the Book of Documents, the
Analects, the Mencius, and the Xunzi) and the classics of Daoism (the Laozi and
Zhuangzi), compare and contrast the ways of the good life and good government, as
articulated by these two rivaling schools of thought in ancient China.
2. Tips: In order to write a successful essay, you should first establish your views of what
Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi, despite their differences, commonly offered as solutions
to political chaos and social disorder. Once you have gained a fair understanding of
Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi, reconstruct a Daoist critique of the Confucian Way
based on a close reading of the Laozi and the Zhuangzi.
3. Textual Evidence: In your essay you should provide textual evidence for your arguments.
For historical contextualization you can use the Cambridge Illustrated Historyof China
with proper citation; however, NEVER use on-line sources as they tend to be misleading.
Footnotes are expected. Internal parenthetical citations are NOT acceptable.
4. Title: The title of your essays should contain be composed of two parts, a running head
and a sub-title, respectively. An essay without a proper title will NOT be accepted. These
are a few possible examples:
as Self-fulfillment”: The Significance of Ritual in the early evolution of
b. “The Ministers Should Reprove a Ruler”: Ministerial Check on Kingship in early
c. “Order, Wealth, and Legitimacy”: The Work of Government defined in Early Confucian
5. Length: 5 pages (Times New Roman 12 points, double-spaced)
6. Due Date: 11:59 PM, March 6th, 2021. Dropbox.
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