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Dao: the way –

“Daoism from Laozi to the present”

Munich, 03/29/2011

The right balance of Yin and Yang bestows a sense of harmony, Tai-chi and Qigong contribute to physical wellbeing, and with the help of the martial arts one can make one’s opponents look foolish. Meanwhile, both genuine and spurious elements of Daoism have also found a place in Western lifestyles. On the other hand, the teachings of Daoism, one of five religions that enjoy official recognition in China, remain virtually unknown in the West. In his latest book entitled “Der Daoismus. Von Laozi bis heute”, LMU sinologist Hans van Ess outlines the history of this school of thought over the past 2500 years. In the book he asserts that “Daoism is still a philosophical doctrine that gives the gentle precedence over the harsh, privileges the weak over the strong and prizes non-action more highly than action.” The oldest and most important exposition of Daoism, the Daodejing, is traditionally attributed to the philosopher Laozi, who may have lived in the 6th century BC. Laozi is therefore regarded as the founder of the school, and was later raised to the status of its highest deity. The theme of the Daodejing is the Dao. This term is usually translated as “the way”. The word “way” is perhaps better understood in the sense of a method, a method for refining one’s moral vision by achieving a state of integration with a deeper reality. In Laozi’s lifetime, the ruling Zhou dynasty was in decline, and he argued that one should shun involvement in public life, stressing the importance of detachment and inaction. This stance puts him in clear opposition to the philosopher whom many see as his disciple, Confucius. Confucius holds that one has a duty to serve the State, and this aspect of his thought has had a greater influence on Chinese history and attitudes than all other creeds and philosophies. The overwhelming predominance of Confucius as an arbiter of morals had come to an end by the beginning of the 20th century, as van Ess has shown in his earlier study of Confucianism (“Der Konfuzianismus”). To many people, Confucianism had come to mean only the subjection of the individual to the ruler, the subjugation of the son to the father and the submission of the wife to the husband. The first was incompatible with democracy, the second with revolution, and the third with modernity. “Whenever European and American firms in China run into difficulties, they tend to attribute them to the influence of Confucian ideals, and assume that if only they had a proper grasp of these ideals, they would be able to achieve commercial success in even the most distant regions of the world,” says van Ess. “But the very term 'Confucian' is much too multifarious and contradictory to make it useful as a characterization of modern Chinese or East Asian modes of behavior.” (suwe/PH)

 

Publications/Books:

Der Daoismus. Von Laozi bis heute
Hans van Ess
Beck Verlag, published on 18 February 2011
ISBN-13-978-3406612183

Der Konfuzianismus
Hans van Ess
Beck Verlag, 2009 (second, revised edition)
ISBN-13: 978-3406480065

 

Contact:
Professor Hans van Ess
Institute of Sinology
LMU Munich
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 2180 - 2362 or - 2024
E-mail: vanEss@ostasien.fak12.uni-muenchen.de

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