Powerful Arguments

Standards of Validity in Late Imperial China


The essays in Powerful Arguments reconstruct the standards of validity underlying argumentative practices in a wide array of late imperial Chinese discourses, from the Song through the Qing dynasties. The fourteen case studies analyze concrete arguments defended or contested in areas ranging from historiography, philosophy, law, and religion to natural studies, literature, and the civil examination system. By examining uses of evidence, habits of inference, and the criteria by which some arguments were judged to be more persuasive than others, the contributions recreate distinct cultures of reasoning. Together, they lay the foundations for a history of argumentative practice in one of the richest scholarly traditions outside of Europe and add a chapter to the as yet elusive global history of rationality.

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Martin Hofmann, Ph.D. (2007) is Assistant Professor for East Asian Intellectual History at Heidelberg University’s Centre for Asian and Transcultural Studies. He has mainly published on historical cartography, practices of argumentation, and the text-image relation in late imperial China.
Joachim Kurtz, Ph.D. (2003), is Professor of Intellectual History at Heidelberg University. He is the author of The Discovery of Chinese Logic (Brill, 2011), and has published widely on circulations of knowledge between China and Europe.
Ari Daniel Levine, Ph.D (2002) is Associate Professor of History at the University of Georgia. The author of Divided by a Common Language (University of Hawai'i Press, 2008), he is currently the Editor of the Journal of Song-Yuan Studies.

List of Figures
Notes on Contributors

Introduction: Toward a History of Argumentative Practice in Late Imperial China
Martin Hofmann, Joachim Kurtz, and Ari Daniel Levine

Part 1: Comparison, Collation, Validation

 1 Historical and Political Arguments: Debates on the Veritable Records in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644)
  Peter Ditmanson
 2 A Performance of Transparency: Discourses of Veracity and Practices of Verification in Li Tao’s Long Draft
  Ari Daniel Levine
 3 Learning with Metal and Stone: On the Discursive Formation of Song Epigraphy
  Jeffrey Moser

Part 2: Visualization, Demonstration, Calculation

 4 The Persuasive Power of Tu: A Case Study on Commentaries to the Book of Documents
  Martin Hofmann
 5 Inductive Arguments in the Midst of Smoke: “Proving” Rhetorically and Visually That Algorithms Work
  Andrea Bréard
 6 Keeping Your Ear to the Cosmos: Coherence as the Standard of Good Music in the Northern Song
  Ya Zuo
 7 The Textual Nature of Nature: Astronomical Debates in Eighteenth-Century China
  Ori Sela

Part 3: Verification, Evaluation, Authentication

 8 Identity Verification as a Standard of Validity in Late Imperial Civil Service Examinations
  John Williams
 9 Standards of Validity and Essay Grading in Early Qing Civil Service Examinations
  Li Yu虞莉
 10 Some Problems with Corpses: Standards of Validity in Qing Homicide Cases
  Matthew H. Sommer
 11 Value and Validity: Seeing through Silver in Late Imperial China
  Bruce Rusk

Part 4: Corroboration, Refutation, Presentation

 12 Philological Arguments as Religious Suasion: Liu Ning and His Study of Chinese Characters
  Pingyi Chu
 13 A Moral Verdict of Reasonable Doubts: Ouyi Zhixu’s Argumentative Strategies in the Collection of Refutations against Vicious Doctrines
  Manuel Sassmann
 14 Reasoning in Style: The Formation of “Logical Writing” in Late Qing China
  Joachim Kurtz

All interested in the intellectual history of late imperial China, and anyone concerned with the global histories of historiography, philosophy, science, religion, law, reasoning, and argumentation.