Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter January 9, 2015

Handling a double-edged sword: Controlling rhetoric in early China

Matthias L. Richter


The present essay discusses rhetorics as an instrument of both persuasion and deception. Early Chinese political thought shows a keen awareness of the deceptive potential immanent in rhetorical skills. Multiple texts warn against certain types of rhetorical behaviour that entail a potential threat to the ruler's control over political power. Yet, at the same time rhetorical skills were also a desirable qualification. While most texts from early China discuss rhetorical skills in general terms as an asset or a threat to the ruler's power, some texts reflect rhetorical skills in more detail, describing specific types of rhetorical behaviour. This essay introduces examples of such texts that were probably first composed as pragmatic texts for application in political practice, before they were integrated into larger compilations or literary texts for argumentative purposes. The essay also shows that these pragmatic texts used a set of technical terms, some of which were no longer recognized in the later transmission, which often led to changes in the texts.

Published Online: 2015-1-9
Published in Print: 2014-12-19

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Munich/Boston

Scroll Up Arrow