The Origins of Chinese Thought

From Shamanism to Ritual Regulations and Humaneness


Author: Zehou Li
Winner of the 2019 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

" The Origins of Chinese Thought offers an account of the origins and nature of a uniquely Chinese way of thinking that, carried through Confucian tradition, continues to define the character of Chinese culture and society. Li Zehou argues that vestiges of the practices of early shamanistic ritual, rationalized in ritual regulations and internalized in morals and values, continue to shape Chinese thought and relationships. This outlook and its understanding of the world, the divine, ourselves, one another, what is right and what is good differ fundamentally from other world traditions. As an alternative to modern liberalism, it offers unique resources for addressing modern Chinese—and even global—philosophic and moral issues."

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Li Zehou (b. 1930) is a philosopher first famed for his “practical aesthetics” in the 1950s. A leader of China’s 1980s intellectual ferment, Li’s aesthetics, ethics, and intellectual history continue to inspire broad discussion, both public and academic, today.
Robert A. Carleo III – Ph.D. candidate, Philosophy, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. M.Phil. Fudan University, Shanghai. Carleo has translated the work of several contemporary Chinese philosophers, including Li Zehou, Yang Guorong, Chen Lai, and Guo Qiyong.
Illustrations and Table
Chronology of Selected Works by Li Zehou
Translator’s Introduction

1 On the Shamanistic-Historical Tradition
 1 The Unity of Shaman and Ruler
 2 The Characteristics of Shamanism
 3 From “Shamanism” to “Historicism”
 4 “Virtue” and “Ritual”
 5 “Humaneness” and “Sincerity”
 6 Daoism and the Fundamental Concepts of Chinese Culture

2 Supplement to “On the Shamanistic-Historical Tradition”
 1 From Shamanism to Ritual Regulations
 2 The Essence of Ritual Regulations: The Integration of Religion, Ethics, and Politics
 3 The Way of Heaven and God

3 From Shamanism to Ritual Regulations
 1 The Divine in Motion
 2 Three Characteristics of “Ritual”
 3 Sense of Historical Mission

4 Rooting Ritual Regulations in Humaneness
 1 “Emotional Cosmology”
 2 “Immanent Transcendence”?
 3 “Innate Nature” and “Emotion”: Which is Fundamental?
 4 “One-World”
 5 Replacing Confucius and Mencius with the Duke of Zhou and Confucius


1 The Original Symbols of Chinese Culture

2 On the Integration of Confucianism and Legalism

3 Preliminary Remarks on the Deep Structures of Confucianism

4 Combining Kant and Confucius
Both specialists and non-specialists researching Chinese philosophy, comparative thought, intellectual history, or Sinology.