Mencius vs. Xunzi
The Great Debate
 
Mencius/Xunzi Debate
After exploring the thought of Confucius and his two most important early followers, Mencius and Xunzi, we will have an in-class debate on the question of whether human nature is inherently good or bad. In preparation for the debate, you will write a 4-5 page paper (1000 word minimum, due January 23) in the form of an historical document recording a fictional debate between a follower of Mencius and a follower of Xunzi at the court of Ying Zheng, who reigned as the King of Qin from 247-221 BCE and then as the First Emperor of China (Qin Shi Huang Di) from 221-210 BCE. Since the purpose of such debates was to convince a ruler to adopt a particular political perspective, your “court record” should be dated to the year 240 BCE, when Ying Zheng was mature enough (at the age of nineteen) to develop his own ruling philosophy, but before he had settled on the “Legalist” policies that ultimately led to the unification of China in 221 BCE. Take a look at the “Debate on Salt and Iron” (Sources of Chinese Tradition, 358-363) for a model of how such debates were recorded. Your paper should open with a discussion of the historical context of the debate (i.e. the collapse of the sociopolitical order during the Spring & Autumn and Warring States periods); you should then go on to present arguments for each of the two positions on human nature, illustrating key points with direct quotations from the primary sources and culminating in each debater’s attempt to persuade the king that their own position would help him become a “true ruler” capable of transforming the state of Qin and restoring harmony to China; your paper should then conclude with a summary of the king’s response to the debate, highlighting his own perspective on the issue after hearing the arguments in support of each position. Some of the questions you may wish to reflect on as you write the paper include: How do Mencius and Xunzi define “human nature” (M: 6A1-2, 6A6; X: 180-181); how do they account for “bad” behavior (M:6A6, 6A8-9, 6A15; X: 179-180); how do they feel that “goodness” should be cultivated (M: 6A14-15; X: 179-180, 182); and do they value “humaneness” and “ritual” equally, or do either give priority to one over the other (M: 6A16-19; X: 182-183). Your response should be submitted by e-mail to bhoffert@noctrl.edubefore class on the day of the debate; late submissions will not be accepted without an exceptional excuse. Your written response will be worth 20% of the final grade, and while your participation in the class debate will not be specifically graded, it will contribute to your Class Participation mark.