China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Readers sometimes wonder why China’s first philosophical burgeoning took place during a singularly chaotic period, the aptly named Warring States (Zhanguo). Would people really have taken a break from killing each other in order to engage in refined philosophical debate? The truth is that the people who were doing the refined philosophizing were not the people who were doing the killing: they were advising the people doing the killing, usually for a good salary. We may like to think of ancient Chinese philosophers as high-minded gentlemen rather than venal careerists, but even high-minded gentlemen need to eat, and the necessities of life were most readily obtained by serving a ruler who wished to profit from their expertise. We know from Adam Smith (1723-1790) that markets are driven by self-interest, and Warring States China was no different. Moreover, the most cunning participants in that philosophical marketplace showed little compunction about manipulating gullible victims, especially rulers and others with enough clout to make the deception worthwhile. Thus the themes of self-interest and manipulation frequently went hand in hand, and any account of early Chinese prose would be incomplete without attention to them.