Early China Seminar Lecture Series
Title: “Hunting and Warfare: History of Shi 勢 in Early China”
Speaker: Boqun Zhou, University of Hong Kong
Time: October 20, 2023 (4:30-6:30 PM EST)
Venue: Faculty House
*Please check the announcement board in the first floor lobby for room information.
Shi 勢 stands as one of the most pivotal concepts in early Chinese strategic thinking. It encompasses a spectrum of interconnected meanings in Warring States philosophical texts, spanning from configuration/situation” and “positional advantage” to “power” and ultimately “potential.” Recent advances in paleographic scholarship have unveiled the original meaning of shi as “to set up,” as evident in oracle bone and bronze inscriptions. However, the transformation of this simple meaning into its diverse polysemy in Warring States philosophy remains unclear. In this talk, I aim to address this knowledge gap by synthesizing philosophical investigations into shi, as undertaken by Roger Ames and François Jullien, with etymological studies of the term by Qiu Xigui. I argue that early sources often employed shi within the context of setting up animal traps, and Warring States military thinkers, inspired by the hunter’s experience and technique, adopted this term to articulate their strategic expertise. This appropriation led to a substantial augmentation of the semantic breadth of shi, endowing it with the new meanings enumerated above.