John A. Rapp, Daoism and Anarchism: Critiques of State Autonomy in Ancient and Modern China.

Author:Jansen, Thomas
Position:Book review

John A. Rapp, Daoism and Anarchism: Critiques of State Autonomy in Ancient and Modern China Contemporary Anarchist Studies series; New York and London: Continuum Books, 2012; 303pp; ISBN 978-1-4411-7880-0.

Daoism and Anarchism is both timely and topical. The book came out just at a time when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), simultaneously engaging Maoist and Confucian themes, began to step up its efforts to re-invigorate and justify its right to rule as the sole representative of the Chinese people whilst dealing harshly with any dissenting claims. Public expression of even the minimal anarchist view, that the socialist state is bound to rule for its own benefit rather than for the benefit of those it is supposed to represent (however they may be defined), constitutes a major political taboo in present day China.

Rapp's study succeeds in showing that China is home to a long tradition of critiquing state autonomy that can be traced back to the Warring States period (475-221 BCE). Anarchism, known in Chinese as wu jun lun, 'doctrine of the absence of a prince', remained alive as a corrective against autocratic state power and resurfaced periodically at crucial historical junctures. Rapp's study is valuable in that it adds to our understanding of the complex texture of twentieth-century Chinese political discourse beneath its Marxist-Leninist-Maoist veneer.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One analyses key anarchist texts from the third century BCE to the ninth century CE, including, amongst others, the 'Daoist' classics Laozi (both in its received version and the Guodian manuscripts) and Zhuangzi, and a short treatise entitled 'Bao Jingyan' (ca. 300 CE), authored by the aristocratic scholar-official and alchemist Ge Hong (283-343), which is probably the most powerful proclamation of anarchism in traditional China, recording an alleged controversy between Ge Hong and his anarchist interlocutor by the name of Bao Jingyan. Finally, situated at the end of the temporal spectrum covered in Part One, is the ninth century text Wunengzi ('Master of No Abilities') which, according to Rapp, marks the decline of radical anarchist ideas into merely passive escapism. English translations of the key texts that form the basis of Part One are added as an appendix.

Part Two comprises chapters 6-9 which analyse Mao Zedong's response to the anarchist critique of Marxism (chapter 6), the denunciation of anarchism in the PRC (chapter 7), as well as two...

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