The Idea of Supreme Peace (Taiping) in Premodern Chinese Philosophies of History
Keywords:taiping, Supreme Peace, Han philosophy, millenarianism, New Text Confucianism
The paper examines the development of the idea of Supreme Peace (taiping 太平) in premodern Chinese philosophies of history. It is shown that while Daoists identified it with the pristine unity of humans and nature, Han Confucians equated Supreme Peace with the harmonious social system under the rule of one of the first Chinese emperors or Confucius. In the latter case, the notion of taiping was reduced to a descriptive category, which was then employed by historiography but ridiculed in the critical thought of Wang Chong. With Huainanzi and the Xiang’er commentary to Laozi, the Daoists started to argue that it is possible to restore the Supreme Peace under new historical conditions. This was systematically developed in the Scripture of Supreme Peace (Taipingjing), which offered a detailed depiction of the future era of equality and freedom. However, after this radicalization, the idea of taiping was utilized by imperial propaganda and disappeared from the dominant philosophical discourse. An exception to this rule was Li Gou (1009–1059), who envisaged Supreme Peace as an ideal socio-economic system resulting from endowing peasants with land and money. A similar vision was expressed by Gong Zizhen (1792–1841), for whom Supreme Peace had to entail land equalization and the reduction of social inequalities. Similarly to Taipingjing, however, Gong Zizhen described taiping as the culmination point of the increase of human knowledge. With such an approach, the premodern Chinese views of Supreme Peace became noticeably close to Western progressivism, and therefore inspired the utopian project of Kang Youwei.
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