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Circle of Fear in Early China

Department of History, University of California–Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Religions 2021, 12(1), 26;
Received: 6 November 2020 / Revised: 15 December 2020 / Accepted: 22 December 2020 / Published: 31 December 2020
Montesquieu wrote that “China is a despotic state whose principle is fear”. And indeed, in the early modern context in China, fear and despotism, on the one hand, were opposed to ziyou 自由 (“freedom”), on the other. These constructs created a discursive space in which theorists of the nation-state felt the need to articulate the complex relations binding despotism to fear. By contrast, during the early empires in China a different set of relations was imagined, wherein salutary fear was aligned against both despotism and freedom and, crucially, with according others a proper sense of dignity. For by the arguments of remote antiquity, “submission to instruction and fear of the gods” functioned both as a vital check on despotism and as the key barrier to the unchecked and unhampered self-assertion by subjects and rulers. Yet this notion of ritual operating within a circle of fear it helped to foster has so far escaped scholarly notice, perhaps because it does not square with the ritual theories that dominate our modern discourse and perhaps because such ritual fear has been dismissed easily as remnant, primitive superstition. View Full-Text
Keywords: ritual theories; fear; classical China; autocratic rule; freedom ritual theories; fear; classical China; autocratic rule; freedom
MDPI and ACS Style

Nylan, M.; Wilson, T. Circle of Fear in Early China. Religions 2021, 12, 26.

AMA Style

Nylan M, Wilson T. Circle of Fear in Early China. Religions. 2021; 12(1):26.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Nylan, Michael, and Trenton Wilson. 2021. "Circle of Fear in Early China" Religions 12, no. 1: 26.

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