A Ku Indeed!

Need Help To Max Out on Min

Posted in Analects, Chinese Philosophy, Ethics, philosophy by Chris on July 21, 2008

Hey Folks: I’m in the middle of putting together a rough schematic blueprint for a paper I’d like to begin developing for this Confucius-Virtue Ethics seminar I’m participating in. A part of the paper would deal with the concept of min (“people,” “populace,” “masses”) in early Confucianism (perhaps in part contrasting it with the notion of xiao ren (“petty” or “little” people). What I need to get hold of are more articles/book chapters that deal with the concept of min. Does anyone out there know of any? I already know of Hall and Ames brief discussion of it in Thinking Through Confucius. Are there any other references that those of you who are familiar with the secondary literature can think of? Thanks in advance!


6 Responses

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  1. Stephen C. Walker said, on July 21, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I might be able to help out a little if I knew what ideas you hope to develop with this issue. Did the Hall/Ames idea of “person-making” grab you? There is abundant lexicographical literature on the precise scope of “ren”, for which cf. most current commentaries on Lunyu, including Brooks.

  2. Chris said, on July 21, 2008 at 6:00 pm


    I have Brooks and Brooks, but I couldn’t find much in it concerning the concept of min (could be that I’m not looking in the right place).

    On Hall and Ames: I do like their overall conception, or at least I am sympathetic to it (it appeals to me politically, for sure, though to be honest it does accord with the general “feel” of the book insofar as I’ve interpreted it).

    On the whole, the case they make in TTC strikes me as convincing in the larger big picture (insofar as the main themes of the Analects), but I’m less persuaded by their case as they try to “spread” their meta-narrative to more and more concepts and ideas as TTC progresses. There were areas that I felt rested on some scant passage support, or at least some creative interpretations.

    Speaking of which: the way I’m thinking of “min” here is similar to the way H&A talk about it. The main speculative idea — still in development here, and so the need for more reading — is this: I’m wondering if there is a use of “min” that applies to a way of inauthentically responding to the role of tradition in one’s life or one’s identity. To use an example from a different school of thought — the Existentialists (some of them, anyway) highlight the fact that inauthentic responses to one’s past lead to a certain way of living one’s life that can be characterized as “herdlike” (Nietzsche) or “immersed in the public” (Kierkegaard) or “lost in the chatter of the They” (Heidegger).

    I’m not looking to make Confucius an Existentialist, for sure, but I’m looking for any treatment of “min” that will help me get a sense of the different ways in which the term has been used. I don’t have H&A here with me, but I do recall that they think of “min” as “blind” and “stupid” and “directionless” in a way that seems at least amenable to the kind of reading I’m implying above.

    Again, of course, I don’t have anything to base this on yet, aside from my own reading of passages and H&A; hence the need for more secondary “spade” work, as it were.

  3. Alexus McLeod said, on July 21, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    One thing to check out (I can email the pdf of this to you if you’re interested): Robert Gassmann’s article “Understanding Ancient Chinese Society: Approaches to Ren and Min” from Journal of the American Oriental Society 20.3 (2000). Geared more toward sinologists rather than philosophers, but the insights there will probably helpful for your project. JStor also has it–that’s where I got my pdf copy.

  4. Chris said, on July 21, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Alexus –

    Strange. I did a JSTOR search just earlier today and came up empty handed. I used my school’s JSTOR — maybe they have fewer journals in their JSTOR “batch” than UConn does.

    Can you send me the PDF? Thanks!

  5. Steve Angle said, on July 22, 2008 at 6:08 am

    Chris — Another thing to look at is Sor-hoon Tan’s book Confucian Democracy. It has a pretty extended discussion of min along lines partly influenced by Hall & Ames.

  6. Chris said, on July 22, 2008 at 6:36 am


    Excellent! I see the library here has it, so I’ll go pick it up today. I’m guessing they will also have a decent string of references to chase down for further reading.

    At some point — but not just yet, I need to sketch the blueprint a bit more — I’d like to run this paper idea past you, if you have time.

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