Pre-Qin Daoist Reflections on the Xianneng

in Journal of Chinese Humanities
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In the pre-Qin era, the xianneng 賢能 [those of virtue and talent] were a commonly discussed topic, on which every school of thought had its own views. Daoist discussions on the xianneng sometimes reflected strong aversion and rejection, yet at other times gave them abundant praise and approval. Because of uncertainty on the universality of moral principles, on the limitations of one’s individual ability, and on the effectiveness of political actions, views in the Laozi 老子 and the Zhuangzi 莊子 on the xianneng saving society were skeptical in nature, sometimes even taking a mocking tone. Scholars of the Huang-Lao tradition had realized the limitations of individual ability and hoped that the greatest level of political benefit could be attained. Consequently, under the premise of safeguarding monarchical authority, fully displaying the skills and talents of all kinds of sages (imperial teachers and virtuous officials) through the practice of wuwei 無為 [inaction], and the highest leaders’ respect for virtue became the main direction in the Huang-Lao understanding of the xianneng. This tendency has much in common with the Legalist school of thought.

Pre-Qin Daoist Reflections on the Xianneng

in Journal of Chinese Humanities



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