Human Agency and the Self in Thought and Politics

Individualism in Early China
Conventional wisdom has it that the concept of individualism was absent in early China. In Individualism in Early China: Human Agency and the Self in Thought and Politics, an uncommon study of the self and human agency in ancient China, Erica Fox Brindley provides an important corrective to this view and persuasively argues that an idea of individualism can be applied to the study of early Chinese thought and politics with intriguing results. She introduces the development of ideological and religious beliefs that link universal, cosmic authority to the individual in ways that may be referred to as individualistic and illustrates how these evolved alongside and potentially helped contribute to larger sociopolitical changes of the time, such as the centralization of political authority and the growth in the social mobility of the educated elite class.

“Contrary to common claims about the absence of individualism in early China and its supposed reification in ‘the West,’ both the Western and Chinese traditions have historically been characterized by diverse and constantly evolving attitudes toward the individual. This book serves as an important corrective to monolithic or essentializing accounts of early Chinese thought, and the narrative concerning the evolution of the concept of the individual in early China is an interesting and novel one. It will appeal widely to people working on early Chinese thought and comparative religion more broadly.” —Edward Slingerland, University of British Columbia

June 2010 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3386-2 / $52.00 (CLOTH)