Bao jingyan: Neither Lord Nor Subject

THE CONFUCIAN LITERATI SAY: “Heaven gave birth to the people and then set rulers over them.” But how can High Heaven have said this in so many words? Is it not rather that interested parties make this their pretext? The fact is that the strong oppressed the weak and the weak submitted to them; the cunning tricked the innocent and the innocent served them. It was because there was submission that the relation of lord and subject arose, and because there was servitude that the people, being powerless, could be kept under control. Thus servitude and mastery result from the struggle between the strong and the weak and the contrast between the cunning and the innocent, and Blue Heaven has nothing whatsoever to do with it.

—Bao jingyan (Daoist), whose motto was “Neither Lord Nor Subject,” wrote during the Wei’Jin period, or Period of Disunity, when China was divided into several warring states.


4 thoughts on “Bao jingyan: Neither Lord Nor Subject

  1. I think I know what happened. When you were a kid your parents were really strict with you and they forced you to be part of the choir? Am I in the ballpark? Mine were lax. I need more structure even for a life close to a formless form.

    Jullien thinks that understanding Chinese thinking is about the know-how that skillfully deploys some in-between in whatever concrete situation is at issue. Western thinking would forget this and apply the law of the excluded middle or either/or thinking that has no sense of grey zones. So words like “lord” and “subjected”, in the Western mindset, would have relatively fixed meanings allowing for a dramatic contrast without any nuances. This is a caricature of the difference but I find it helpful. I know that I have been shaped by non-rational modes of being where intelligence is not so stuck in the law of the excluded middle like Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge or Schelling’s intellectual intuition and such. So it is not like Chinese thinking is totally impenetrable. There is ways of blending East and West without reducing to the Same. Nobody can step out of one’s tertiary retentions and pretend to an objective reading that would be non-Western whatever this is. Process thinking is pretty much the paradigm going forward for everyone probably because consciously or not we are acknowledging a more Asian future. Trying to fix the meaning of what Taoism is particularly in opposition to Confucianism is so Western and implies the use of the law of the excluded middle. In reality China has a dizzying variety of philosophical tones… I am trying to paint the tones rather than draw a dramatic contrast.

    In my own manner I am cultivating something like the being of a go-between Lord and Subject. It requires holding oneself back in potentiality and this connects me to the Way understood as an inexhaustible resource. From this dynamic stance there is better responsiveness to whatever a situation requires because I hold myself in a limber and flexible state like a tennis player ready to receive a serve and move in any number of directions depending on how the play evolves. I take this to be how proper conduct (Li or ritual) operates in practice as a repetition holding on to a sort of vibrant tension, the in-between…

    I found this quote from Jullien’s book on the aesthetics of blandness:

    “All flavors disappoint even as they attract… the bland invites us to trace it back to the “inexhaustible” source of that which constantly unfolds without ever allowing itself to be reduced to a concrete manifestation or completely apprehended by the senses: that which transcends all particular actualizations and remains rich in virtuality. Every actualization constitutes a limitation, for it excludes all other becoming… Wisdom consists in perceiving that opposites, far from being sequestered in their exclusive individuality, ceaselessly modify and communicate with each other.”


    • Actually none of the fucking above… a philosopher friend from Shanghai sent me a box of various works for Christmas… haha

      You were looking for something deep when in fact my selection was a random act, nothing more. Decided to use some fillers while I take a break for the holidays! So all your fine diagnosis may have been beneficial for you but was a mere strangeness for my random choice of selections… 🙂


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