Research Project


Divinatory Techniques and the Interpretation of Signs in the Political Theory of Han Feizi; Death and Ritual Wailing in Early China; The Concept of Fate in the Zhuangzi

Dr. Albert Galvany

Sorbonne, Paris; PhD Granada University
Research stay: February 2010 – January 2011

Lectures at the IKGF:

  • Death, Weeping, and Divination: The Opacity and Transparency of Tears in Early China, Tuesday lecture, May 4, 2010.
  • Round Table Feature, Annual Conference 2010: Challenging Fate: Body, Divination and Freedom in the Zhuangzi.


Imagining Liberation: On the Problem of Fate and Action in the Zhuangzi, Nov. 2010.

Divinatory Techniques and the Interpretation of Signs in the Political Theory of the Han Feizi.
Death and ritual wailing in Early China.
The Concept of Fate in the Zhuangzi

Galvany concentrated his research on classical Chinese philosophy and the philosopher Zhuangzi's concepts of destiny. His activities at the IKGF during the last 12 months have been organized around the following three axes:

  1. I inquired into the complex relationships established between divinatory techniques and the interpretation of signs at the heart of the political theory of the Han Feizi. In this text, we find a refutation of the explicit resort to divination and its specialists, something that was so widespread in the political writings and practices of the day that it also extends to other forms of prediction deriving from it. However, the reasons for this criticism arise not only from the limited efficacy of augury in comparison with the methods of centralizing the information provided by a full body of ministers and administrators. In a model of the art of politics, where the interests of the governed are antagonistic to those of the governors, the latter must elude the scrutiny to which they are permanently exposed by subjects and ministers alike. Throughout my study, I attempted to throw light on the links between, and the tensions emanating from, the presence of these forms of long-sighted intelligence at the heart of the sovereign power, as they are described in the Han Feizi. This research line has produced a book chapter entitled "Beyond the rule of rules: the foundations of sovereign power in the Han Feizi" that will be integrated into a collective volume edited by Paul R. Goldin and published by Springer in late 2011.
  2. For the second axe, my research work focused on a short fragment of the third chapter of the Zhuangzi concerning the funeral of Lao Dan. I selected this fragment since it is relevant to the three notions which form in the basis of the research project held at the consortium: fate, divination and freedom. First, the anecdote of the Zhuangzi deals with the problem of the acceptance of death and thus it is clearly related to the topic of destiny or fate; second, as I try to demonstrate, tears (which are also mentioned in the text) are subject to a kind of divination or prognostication in early China; and, third, the story of the Zhuangzi is also connected with the topic of freedom, since it proclaims the liberation from the codification of the emotions through ritual and other socially imposed patterns and attitudes. I had the opportunity to demonstrate the preliminary results of this research as a lecture presented at the University of Erlangen the 4th May 2010 before I submitted an article entitled "Death and ritual wailing in early China: around the funeral of Lao Dan" that has been accepted for publication in the international journal "Asia Major" (in late 2012).
  3. For the third axe, I worked again on the Zhuangzi and, more precisely, on the issue of fate. The idea of fate understood as life span, the problem of fatalism, or determinism, the different attitudes towards life and death, both closely linked to the notion of "ming", the predicted margin for human action to alter and modify fate (one's own and that of other people); that is, the ability of each individual to make decisions and, therefore, our capacity or incapacity to escape from a predetermined fate and embrace a freer existence, are just some of the dilemmas often raised in this text. I attempted a first examination of this problem in my presentation "Challenging fate: body, divination, and freedom in the Zhuangzi", held at the First Annual Conference on Fate, Freedom and Prognostication in Erlangen on the 1st July 2010. In order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of this relevant topic, I organized a workshop entitled "Imagining Liberation: On the Problem of Fate and Freedom in the Zhuangzi" (Erlangen, Nov 23, 2010) with the participation of the following invited speakers: Lisa Raphals (U. California), Attilio Andreini (U. Ca'Foscari), Romain Graziani (ENS, Lyon), and Song Gang (ENS, Lyon).

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