Style and Poetic Diction in the Xunzi

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4 Scopus citations


The Xunzi is widely recognized as a book of well-developed expository prose and hailed as a breakthrough in philosophical cogency and rigorous argument. As such, its twenty-four core chapters are attributed to a single author, Xun Kuang. The present essay challenges these views through a close examination of the Xunzi’s style and rhetoric, including its use of poetic diction, quotations of traditional, authoritative wisdom, metaphors and analogies, rhetorical catalogues, and other features. Focusing specifically on chapter 1, “Quan xue,” the essay unfolds how some of the most prominent parts of the Xunzi are built not as compositions of linear argument but, instead, as collections of mutually independent, modular, and movable units that in their loosely integrated accumulation represent a repertoire of images and expressions associated with particular ideas such as the importance of learning or the moral quality of the noble man (junzi). As such, a chapter such as “Quan xue,” which is largely void of an identifiable authorial voice, may best be seen as a compiled text instead of an original creation. By contrast, chapter 23, “Xing’e,” despite its own problems of textual incoherence and possible corruption, presents an example of stringent expository prose and hard-charging logic, representing a fierce and genuine authorial statement. It is here—in the very chapter for which the Xunzi was rejected by later imperial readers—that we may finally distinguish Xun Kuang the individual thinker. Considering the differences between chapters 1 and 23, with references to a number of other chapters along the way, the essay suggests that as a whole, the Xunzi does not represent the writing of a single person but is an anthology of authored and compiled writings that vary greatly not merely in their themes and philosophical outlook but, even more fundamentally, in their very modes of argumentation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDao Companions to Chinese Philosophy
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages33
StatePublished - 2016

Publication series

NameDao Companions to Chinese Philosophy
ISSN (Print)2211-0275
ISSN (Electronic)2542-8780

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Philosophy


  • Deductive Argument
  • External Thing
  • Present Essay
  • Traditional Authority
  • Traditional Wisdom


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