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Early Confucian philosophy in the light of the Guodian manuscripts

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The relevance of ancient history today

An archaeological excavation in the early 1990s unearthed a number of bamboo-slip manuscripts dating from between the late fourth and the early third century BC. Transcriptions of various Confucian treatises have since been released.

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Discovered in a tomb in the Chinese village of Guodian, the manuscripts offer valuable insights into the formation and evolution of early Confucian philosophy. This information has allowed scholars to reconsider the development of important intellectual debates of the Warring States period (476–221 B.C.). With the support of EU funding, the project 'Early Confucian philosophy in the light of the Guodian manuscripts' (GUODIAN MANUSCRIPTS) was established to carry out a comprehensive philosophical reading of this new written source and produce an annotated translation into Spanish. The palaeographical materials offer the opportunity to study these philosophical texts and explore this particular period of China's ancient intellectual history. Project work thus focused on re-examining various important questions regarding classical Chinese thought through comparison with the theoretical assumptions found in the Guodian manuscripts. Research was organised around a wide range of themes. These included different conceptions on human beings' inherent characteristics, debates on the morally ambivalent orientation of the human natural condition, and evolution and internal tensions concerning self-cultivation. The role of the heart–mind connection as the chief mechanism of bodily control, and emotions and their crucial role in affect regulation and social control were addressed. Other areas covered the relationship between human inherent characteristics and external things or events, music and ritual in the formation of a morally accomplished person. GUODIAN MANUSCRIPTS critically re-examined problems arising as a result of manuscript transcription into modern characters. They investigated the sequence alternatives of the slips in some of the manuscript unities, and carried out a synchronic and diachronic inter-textual analysis of the materials. A tentative Spanish translation was produced of the main manuscript unities, and is accompanied by explanatory notes. Project efforts have offered a new perspective on the intellectual history of pre-imperial China. This is relevant for modern-day debates in the western world on ethical, political and philosophical approaches of the ancient Chinese. On the whole, GUODIAN MANUSCRIPTS has made an important contribution to better understanding the influence of China in a global context.


Confucian philosophy, Guodian manuscripts, palaeographical materials, philosophical texts, intellectual history, classical Chinese thought, textual analysis

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