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The Pristine Dao: Metaphysics In Early Daoist Discourse (Suny Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture) (SUNY Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture (Paperback)) Paperback – May 26, 2005

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Editorial Reviews


"The overall argument is a direct challenge to the prevailing tendency to read much early Daoism politically. The author confronts this issue directly and makes a very strong case for an essentially religious reading. As a result of this work, we can now proceed to make more intelligent and interesting comparisons of Chinese Daoism with other religious traditions." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Publisher

The Laozi (Daodejing) and the Zhuangzi have long been familiar to Western readers and have served as basic sources of knowledge about early Chinese Daoism. Modern translations and studies of these works have encouraged a perception of Daoism as a mystical philosophy heavy with political implications that advises kings to become one with the Dao. Breaking with this standard approach, The Pristine Dao argues that the Laozi and the Zhuangzi participated in a much wider tradition of metaphysical discourse that included a larger corpus of early Chinese writings. This book demonstrates that early Daoist discourse possessed a distinct, textually constituted coherence and a religious sensibility that starkly differed from the intellectual background of all other traditions of early China, including Confucianism. The author argues that this discourse is best analyzed through its emergence from the mythological imagination of early China, and that it was unified by a set of notions about the Dao that was shared by all of its participants. The author introduces certain categories from the Western religious and philosophical traditions in order to bring out the distinctive qualities constituting this discourse and to encourage its comparison with other religious and philosophical traditions.

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Product Details

  • Series: SUNY Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture (Paperback)
  • Paperback: 182 pages
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press (May 26, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0791464768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0791464762
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,770,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By John C. Marshell Jr. on August 6, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Daoism is a religious tradition with a long and complicated history. Like all other religious traditions, its march through time has included a lot of adaption and syncretic engagement with religious, philosophical, and political systems. To say something definitive about Daoism in the Tang and Sung dynasties, may not genuinely reflect beliefs from the Warring States period. Trying to decipher what the earliest adherents of Daoism believed requires the researcher to enter into a misty past of myths and ancient symbols, and in a sense, bottle the fog.

Thomas Michael's book is a good and focused study exploring the early beliefs of Daoists. His efforts include an analysis of the earliest available texts, not only the readily recognized "Daodejing" and "Zhuangzi," but discoveries from the Guodian cave finds of 1993 that includes the lesser known "Xicizhuan" and the "Shui Di." He carefully dissects the material and traces symbolic representations and philosophical themes from the earliest writings to later texts, making the case for a clear and coherent body of beliefs existing independent of a growing and competitive Confucian tradition. Generally, there is harmony among the texts, sometimes pleasantly surprising revelations, but Michael's critical analysis also includes points of divergence found in the literature, including the sympathetic but slightly off key "Neiye." I thought Michael's study was fair, well rounded, and comprehensive.

What struck me most about the material was its physicality. Beginning with a cosmogony bound to birthing metaphors rather than Creator and creation mythology, man and the world are seen as body issuing from a mother (Dao), possessing a relationship of dependence and return.
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