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China Humanities Seminar Featuring Jeffrey Riegel – Further Reflections on an ‘Unmoved Heart’: Mengzi 2A2 Revisited

November 7, 2022 @ 4:00 pm 6:00 pm

Speaker: Jeffrey Riegel, University of California Berkeley, Emeritus

Mengzi 2A2 consists of Master Meng’s answers to questions put to him by a follower named Gongsun Chou. The first few of these replies relate to bu dong xin, “unmoved heart,”—i.e., mental quietude and equanimity in the face of humiliation or disappointment as well as excitement or promise—and to yang yong, “nurturing fortitude,” the first of several methods Mengzi identifies for achieving an “unmoved heart.” Mengzi attributes to his old rival, Gaozi, a sixteen-word “maxim” and adds to it a filigree of glosses and highly abbreviated explanations meant to justify why he labels the second part of Gaozi’s maxim an acceptable means for achieving an unmoved heart. In responding to subsequent questions, Mengzi introduces and explains yang haoran zhi qi, “nurturing the flood-like ethers,” and zhi yan, “recognizing (the defects in) words,” two pillars of his own self-cultivation method. Mengzi’s elaborations on how to cultivate the ethers show that he believed they would “fill the space between Heaven and Earth” because his passions dwelled together with propriety in a state of conjugal harmony.

I first presented a paper on Mengzi 2A2 at Harvard in the summer of 1976 and subsequently published it in 1980. The present paper is not simply a revision of that effort but rather a thorough reconsideration of its arguments and conclusions. The length of the passage, but even more so its obscure subject, technical vocabulary, rhetorical complexities, elliptical syntax, and resonances for those within the Ruist tradition account for Mengzi 2A2 having generated more discussion in the traditional exegeses and commentaries than other Mengzi passages. The earliest surviving commentary was composed by Zhao Qi (d. 201 CE). The most important of the lengthy treatments is the commentary of Zhu Xi (1130-1200), the Mengzi jizhu, first published in 1190, read together with the lessons on Mengzi 2A2 Zhu Xi provided his disciples and followers toward the end of his life that are preserved in the Zhuzi yulei.

The interpretations and other aspects of the approach to and reception of Mengzi 2A2 by Zhao Qi and Zhu Xi are major subjects of analysis treated in the present study. They are supplemented by consideration of the writings of late Ming and early Qing dynasty authorities, many of whom refute or criticize various points in Zhu Xi’s interpretations. Also important are the detailed lexical notes and other research materials compiled by Jiao Xun (1763-1820) in his Mengzi zhengyi, in a sense a capstone of the Qing dynasty philological approach to the text. Interwoven with the explanations of these earlier commentators are my own attempts to engage with Mengzi’s thought and the often-unique difficulties of understanding the terminology he used in formulating his answers to Gongsun Chou’s questions. While this involves applying the philological tools necessary to any reading of early Chinese literature, my purpose here is not so much to provide a close reading of Mengzi 2A2 but rather to create an interpretation of the text that will encourage readers to explore more deeply its difficulties and complexities. The last word on the text will never be written.

Jeffrey Riegel is retired from professorial positions at the University of California, Berkeley (1979-2007), and The University of Sydney (2007-2017). Jeff has published widely on early Chinese thought, literature, and archaeology, has been a visiting professor at Fudan University, Renmin University, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and still occasionally gives talks in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Australia, and North America. Jeff’s publications include The Annals of Lü Buwei (Stanford, 2000) and Mozi: A Study and Translation of the Ethical and Political Writings (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, 2013). His articles appear in major sinological journals. A selection of them has been translated into Chinese and collected into a volume forthcoming in 2022 from Shanghai’s Guji Press. His recently-completed book-length study of eighteenth-century Chinese historiography on the rise of the Qin empire will be published by Berkeley’s IEAS in early 2023. Jeff spends most of his time at his homes in Siem Reap, Suzhou, and Palm Springs.

Also presented via Zoom. Register at: https://harvard.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAvdeisqzosE9I38t-pSbOjiucNf41cqdob


November 7, 2022
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave.

2 Divinity Ave.
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 United States

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