Conference: Masters of Disguise? Conceptions and Misconceptions of “Rhetoric” in Chinese Antiquity

Sep 4th – 6th, 2013

Einsiedeln, Switzerland




Conference Outline


The Warring States period (475–221 A.C.) is considered both the golden age of Chinese “rhetoric”, and the epoch of maximum flourishing for early Chinese politicophilosophical debate. This historical period is characterized by

the fragmentation of legitimate central political power as well as by the emergence of  several independent states, ruled by local lords fighting for supremacy. In conjunction with the rise of local rulers and their exercise of patronage, the phenomenon of “wandering persuaders” developed: namely, independent political advisers traveling from court to court in search of employment as officials, diplomats and counselors, and engaging in lively rhetorical activity as part of their political commitment. However, due to the persuaders’ overpowering dialectical skills and their apparent lack of ethical engagement, later tradition often criticized and underrated them as mere “court entertainers”.

The workshop proposes to analyze the role of rhetoric in the Chinese pre-imperial and early imperial period. The event thus loosely situates itself as the continuation of several activities and meetings focused on rhetoric in Early China that have taken place over the last years at Halle, Freiburg, Oxford and Jerusalem. These previous endeavors not only testify to the vivid interest in the topic shared by sinologists all over the world, but also fuel the discussion by highlighting the necessity of rethinking the subject in a more analytical way and by defining new methods for the study of rhetoric in ancient China. Accordingly, the workshop focuses on conceptions as well as  misconceptions of rhetoric, trying to clarify, on the one hand, the extent to which the nature of Chinese rhetoric found support in shared assumptions and, on the other hand, the degree to which such understandings are indebted to later processes of standardization and canonization of received literature in the Chinese empire.

To tackle the multifaceted aspects of this issue, the workshop adopts a mildly comparative perspective that intends to juxtapose the experience of rhetoric in Early China with Classical (i.e. Greek and Roman) rhetorical traditions in the Western world. We therefore intend to bring together a select group of specialists with diverse backgrounds, allowing for genuine interdisciplinary discussion that is primarily – but not exclusively – characterized by a philological approach.

Organized by Wolfgang Behr (Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies, University of Zurich) and Lisa Indraccolo (URPP Asia and Europe, University of Zurich), the workshop will take place at the Werner Oechslin Library in Ensiedeln. In addition to internationally renowned professors, the list of speakers includes several promising young researchers. The contributions are expected to address a few key issues: in particular, how and to what extent the transition from a mainly oral to a predominantlywritten culture influenced the contemporary and successive appreciation of rhetoric; rhetoric as the oral performance of a “text” interpreted by a persuader; the role of the written text (aide-mémoire, didactic treatise, draft for future editions) within the rhetorical tradition in connection with persuaders’ usage of both structural (parallelism, ring composition, formulaic language, prosody, etc.) and rhetorical devices for achieving argumentative force, attending especially to the function of three main kinds of rhetorical tropes (historical anecdotes; “craftmanship” and “natural” metaphors; and paradoxes).

It is hoped that the workshop will cast new light upon and provide fresh insights into understanding and decoding the structure and meaning of early Chinese rhetorical texts, disproving preconceptions about their supposed extemporaneity and lack of structure. It also provides opportunity to consolidate existing academic ties and to develop new ones, enriching the scholarly network of those involved in the study of Chinese rhetorical traditions and laying groundwork for fruitful collaborations in the future.

Wolfgang Behr and Lisa Indraccolo




Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

10:00–10:15 Welcome – Wolfgang Behr/Lisa Indraccolo (University of Zurich)


10:15–12:45 Session 1

Chair: Ralph Weber (University of Zurich)
10:15–10:45 Michael Nylan (University of California, Berkeley)
On the Rhetoric of Friendship
10:45–11:15 Paul van Els (Leiden University)
The Unknown Liquor Vendor
11:15–11:45 Coffee break
11:45–12:15 Attilio Andreini (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice)
The Yang Mo 楊墨 Dualism and the Rhetorical Construction ofHeterodoxy
12:15–12:45 Joachim Gentz (University of Edinburgh)
Rhetoric as the Art of Listening: Concepts of Persuasion in the First Eleven Chapters of the Guiguzi
12:45–14:30 Lunch


14:30–16:45 Session 2

Chair: Suzanne Saïd (Columbia University)
14:30–15:00 Nicolas Zufferey (University of Geneva)
Contradiction and Adaptation in Wang Chong’s Lunheng (Critical Essays)
15:00–15:30 Haun Saussy (University of Chicago)
But Seriously: The Rhetorical Positions of “cheng” 誠 [~sincerity]
15:30–15:45 Coffee break
15:45–16:15 Chen Rudong 陳汝東 (Peking University)
Interpreting Classical Rhetoric in China: A Way to Immortality and a
Social System
16:15–16:45 Robert H. Gassmann (University of Zurich)
“Men for All Seasons” in Late Zhanguo: On the Pertinence and Implications of the Term “Persuader”
16:45–18:00 Plenary discussion
18:00–19:00 Library tour
19:30 Dinner


Thursday, September 5th, 2013

9:00–11:15 Session 3

Chair: Lisa Raphals (University of California at Riverside / National
University of Singapore)
9:00–9:30 Dirk Meyer (University of Oxford)
The Rhetoric of Persuasion: Zhōu Wǔwáng yǒu jí 周武王有疾 (King Wǔ of Zhōu suffered from illness) in the Qīnghuá Manuscripts
9:30–10:00 Martin Kern (Princeton University)
Early Chinese Divination and its Rhetoric
10:00–10:15 Coffee break
10:15–10:45 David Schaberg (University of California, Los Angeles)
She ce 射策, dui ce 對策 and Institutions of Speech in the Western Han Court
10:45–11:15 Christian Schwermann (Bonn University)
Rhetorical Functions of Quotations in Early Imperial Memorials
11:15–12:30 Plenary discussion
12:30–14:30 Lunch


14:30–16:45 Session 4

Chair: Øivind Andersen (University of Oslo)
14:30–15:00 Michael J. Puett (Harvard University)
Making Manifest the Hidden Knowledge of the Past: The Rhetorical Strategies of the Huainanzi
15:00–15:30 Lisa Raphals (University of California at Riverside / National University of Singapore)
Mantic Rhetoric: Chinese and Greek

15:30–15:45 Coffee break
15:45–16:15 Licia Di Giacinto (Ruhr University Bochum)
Religion and Rhetoric under the Han? Some Comments on the Received Taipingjing
16:15–16:45 Zhou Yiqun (Stanford University)
Sensuality, Virtue, and Speech: Three Female Persuaders in Liu Xiang’s Biographies of Women
16:45–18:30 Plenary discussion
19:30 Dinner

Friday, September 6th, 2013


9:00–11:15 Session 5

Chair: Martin Kern (Princeton University)
9:00–9:30 Matthias Richter (University of Colorado at Boulder)
Handling a Double–edged Sword: Controlling Rhetoric in Early China
9:30–10:00 Oliver Weingarten (Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague)
Performing Sagehood: Confucius as Teacher, Example, and Source of Knowledge
10:00–10:15 Coffee break
10:15–10:45 Dennis Schilling (Kainan University, Taipei)
On Validating Arguments in the Zhuāng zǐ
10:45–11:15 Lukáš Zádrapa (Charles University, Prague)
Public Enemy and Battle of Definitions – Legalists and the Art of Rhetoric
11:15–12:30 Plenary discussion


General Information

Location Werner Oechslin Library Foundation
Luegeten 11
CH-8840 Einsiedeln
Organizers Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Behr and Dr. Lisa Indraccolo
Contact Dr. Lisa Indraccolo
University of Zurich
URPP Asia and Europe
Wiesenstrasse 7/9
CH-8008 Zurich
Personal registration to the conference is strictly required.
Internet For further information and any last minute changes please
refer to:







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