New Book: Santangelo, Individual Autonomy and Responsibility in Late Imperial China

Paolo Santangelo has published Individual Autonomy and Responsibility in Late Imperial China (Cambria Press 2021). This book is in the Cambria Sinophone World Series headed by Victor H. Mair (University of Pennsylvania).

Individual Autonomy and Responsibility in Late Imperial China is a major new work by one of Europe’s most respected senior scholars of Chinese studies, Paolo Santangelo. In it, he questions the common premise that individualism was lacking in premodern China. It is Santangelo’s contention that not only was the concept of the individual important in traditional China, but that it existed in interesting ways that are different from modes of individualism in the West.

One of the strengths of this study is the masterful manner in which Professor Santangelo treats key terms of his discussion, terms such as xing (“human nature”), xin (“heart-mind”), ji (“self”), and uses them to analyze various texts.

The study deftly weaves together many ideas from history, philosophy, art, and literature, especially the literary dimensions of late imperial history (both classical and vernacular).

Another unusual facet of Santangelo’s investigations is his thorough familiarity with the the Western intellectual tradition and his expert incorporation of the ideas of thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, and the Romantics

This inquiry into the moral philosophy and ethics of the self—seen in both its public and private dimensions—in late imperial China is an important resource for scholars and students in many subfields of Chinese studies, such as history, intellectual history, art history, history of literature, and history of religion.

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