Alternatives to monism and dualism: seeking yang substance with yin mode in Heshanggong's commentary on the Daodejing
MetadataShow full item record
This project is a close study and translation of Heshanggong's Commentary on the Daodejing. The text, attributed to the "Old Man by the River" (Heshanggong) and dating from the Eastern Han (25-220 CE), remains one of the most historically influential readings of the Daoist classic the Daodejing. However, in modern times it has received little attention, being dismissed as a superstitious interpretation of the original. This dissertation seeks to amend contemporary scholarship and address the underlying theoretical categories responsible for this situation. These problems largely originate from a common scholarly view of Chinese civilization as foundationally monistic. Because of this bias, any hints of transcendence found in the commentary are read as later "religious" distortions of the original "philosophical" holism of the Daodejing. Rather than engaging with debates over whether Daoism is monistic or dualistic, philosophical or religious, this dissertation shifts focus away from those Western constructs. It instead draws on different binaries found within the commentator's own writings. In particular, the categories of yin and yang become central to a native reading of this tradition. Furthermore, I argue that Heshanggong's approach rests on subdividing both yin and yang into a causal relationship of mode and substance. I use this fourfold conceptual framework to analyze the key themes of the commentary, including cosmology, body, and state. So doing reveals the novelty of Heshanggong's responses to a range of conceptual and historical issues in Early China (6th century BCE-3rd century CE). First, the mode-substance reading of yin-yang challenges depictions of early Daoism as having a solely "correlative cosmos": uncreated, relativistic, and perfectly united through spontaneous resonance. Instead, it suggests a single cosmic substance originating from a first cause, the yin mode of the Way (that includes stillness, emptiness, darkness, and softness). Second, this means that contrary to the often-asserted historical split between monistic "philosophical" Daoism and dualistic "religious" Daoism, one finds a continuous tradition that seeks Heavenly spirit (yang substance) through stillness (yin mode). By excising monism and dualism from the discussion, a greater awareness of historical progression and cosmological nuance appears.