The Biopolitics of Nourishing Life

Daoism as Environmental Philosophy


  • Manhua LI Royal Holloway College University of London, United Kingdom



biopolitics, nourishing life, neoliberalism, environment, technology of the self


In this paper, I argue that nourishing life (yangsheng 養生) as a self-cultivating practice stands as an alternative model of biopolitics that challenges the neoliberal one. Existing scholarship on nourishing life focuses much on its ethical significance, for instance, as an effective way to lead a long life, whereas Nelson’s most recent monograph Daoism as Environmental Philosophy: Nourishing Life provides new insights into the socio-political aspect of it, in terms of an ecological way of government. However, Nelson’s discussion of biopolitics rarely engages with the Seven Sages in the Bamboo Forest (zhulin qixian 竹林七賢) that nonetheless practice nourishing life themselves, as an art of living and a political strategy. Focused on nourishing life in Ji Kang as one of the Sages, I situate my position against Jullien’s claim that the self-cultivating sage is uncritical due to his incapacity to think of conflict in the face of power. And in the context of his book I also highlight Heubel’s negligence of the neoliberal political economy underlying Foucauldian biopolitics in the context of his intercultural study of nourishing life as a possible model of biopolitics. As such, based on Nelson’s consideration of the non-coercive ethos and praxis of Dao, I propose a biopolitics of nourishing life as opposed to the neoliberal “environmental technology” that normalizes materialist lifestyle and attitudes, the production of freedom as commodity.


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How to Cite

Li, M. (2023). The Biopolitics of Nourishing Life: Daoism as Environmental Philosophy. Asian Studies, 11(2), 95–116.