Conference: Reading the “Masters”: Contexts, Textual Structures, and Hermeneutic Strategies

reading-the-mastersBrno, Czech Republic
5 – 6th September 2014

The conference focuses on interpretative approaches to the early Chinese “Masters” (zhuzi) in the light of recent developments in philology, textual criticism, manuscript studies, and the history of philosophy. The participants scrutinize approaches to zhuzi writings as “philosophical texts”, a term prone to evoke the image of a single author expressing a coherent set of ideas. The conference highlights aspects such as text production, purpose, use, and circulation that present valuable clues to a constructive reading. Traditionally, the Masters have tended to be understood as unified books. Apparent incongruities resisting easy interpretation were frequently neglected or assimilated into unifying hermeneutic strategies. It is now relatively uncontroversial, however, to consider the Masters texts as heterogeneous in terms of their generic variability, genesis and subsequent textual history. The conference treats this as a starting point for explorations into novel hermeneutic approaches, reading strategies, and methods of meaning construction. For this purpose, various specific questions are addressed by the conference:

  • Compositionality: How can we arrive at a workable definition of compositionality? What motivates compositionality? How does it relate to intertextuality? Is it a feature that emerges from or is encouraged by the physical properties of ancient writing materials and scribal practices, or do we need to look for other motivations, possibly philosophical or cognitive ones?
  • Coherence: Does compositionality undermine coherence? Do structuring devices exist that create coherence in spite of a text’s composite character, and are such devices characteristic of specific genres or purposes?
  • Authorship: Is the ancient Chinese author ‘dead’? Or are we, in posing this question, merely rehashing a problem that has long been settled in Western literary criticism? Does it make sense still to discuss the philosophy of a text if its readers cannot conclusively identify the author, or if they need to assume multiple authorship?
  • Contexts: Assuming that in early China existing textual units were regularly integrated into new compositions, can we still reconstruct these units’ original (or at least earlier) contexts, understood as the co-texts and discourses in which they were embedded and the social constellations in which they were produced? What do such reconstructions tell us about the zhuzi as a bibliographic or generic category?
  • Hermeneutics: In light of what can be inferred about the origins and early history of the zhuzi texts, is it a productive strategy to focus on the reconstruction of coherent philosophical arguments? Would it be more fruitful to single out ideas or textual snippets we are interested in and then use them for philosophical inspiration? Do the texts themselves, through certain features, imply ways to integrate textual data into a coherent understanding?


The list of participants


  • Attilio Andreini, Ca’Foscari University, Italy
  • Scott Cook, Yale-NUS College, Singapore
  • Carine Defoort, KU Leuven, Belgium
  • Joachim Gentz, The University of Edinburgh, UK
  • Paul R. Goldin, University of Pennsylvania, USA
  • Michael Hunter, Yale University, USA
  • Lisa Indraccolo, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • Martin Kern, Princeton University, USA
  • Lee Ting-mien, KU Leuven, Belgium
  • Andrew Meyer, The City University of New York, USA
  • Christian Schwermann, University of Bonn, Germany
  • Dušan Vávra, Masaryk University, Czech Republic
  • Oliver Weingarten, Oriental Institute, Czech Republic


Organizer: Center of Asian Studies, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic & Department of Asian Studies, Palacký University Olomouc, EU project CHINET, reg. no.: CZ.1.07/2.3.00/20.0152



Conference venue: Faculty of Medicine, Masaryk University, Komenského náměstí 2, Brno, Czech Republic



Visit the conference website at: External Link…


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