Hostname: page-component-546b4f848f-bvkm5 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-06-04T13:52:04.369Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Ancient Greece, early China: Sino-Hellenic studies and comparative approaches to the classical world. A review article*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 January 2010

Jeremy Tanner
University College London
Get access


Classicists have long been wary of comparisons, partly for ideological reasons related to the incomparability of ‘the Classical’, partly because of the often problematic basis and limited illumination afforded by such efforts as have been made: the (non)-reception of the work of the Cambridge ritualists — such as J.G. Frazer and Jane Harrison — is a case in point in both respects. Interestingly, even the specifically comparative interests of the much more rigorous projects of the Paris School, at the Centre Louis Gernet, have not had much resonance outside France, notwithstanding the enormous influence of their work concerning purely Greek subject matter. In part, perhaps, this was a result of the shift from Vernant's originally Marxist framework, in which societies were comparable in terms of an evolutionary sociological scheme, to a structuralist one, entailing an emphasis on the uniqueness of different cultural traditions. The emphasis on the uniqueness of the Classical world was only reinforced by post-structuralism and post-modernism, which in their strongest forms suggested that cultures, like languages, were fundamentally incommensurable, and thus not accessible to outsider knowledge, let alone comparable. Indeed, so virulent was the post-structuralist virus that disciplines to which we might have expected to be able to turn for guidance, like comparative religion, are only now recovering the courage ‘to compare religious phenomena, theologies or artefacts outside of footnotes or less heavily policed epilogues’.

Research Article
Copyright © The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies 2009

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Abrams, M.H. (1953) The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (Oxford)Google Scholar
Ames, R.T. (2002) ‘Thinking through comparisons: analytic and narrative methods for cultural understanding’, in Shankman and Durrant (2002) 93–110Google Scholar
Anderson, J.T. (2003) To Whom it May Concern: The Dynamics of Address in Ancient Roman, Greek and Chinese Poetry (Ph.D. Diss. Berkeley)Google Scholar
Archer, M.S. (1988) Culture and Agency (Cambridge)Google Scholar
Beecroft, A.J. (2003) The Birth of the Author: Oral Traditions and the Construction of Authorial Identity in Ancient Greece and China (Ph.D. Diss. Harvard)Google Scholar
Bernal, M. (1987) Black Athena. The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. Volume 1: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785–1985 (London)Google Scholar
Bernstein, R.J. (1991) ‘Incommensurability and otherness revisited’, in Deutsch, Eliot (ed.), Culture and Modernity: East-West Philosophic Perspectives (Honolulu) 85103Google Scholar
Blakely, S. (2006) Myth, Ritual and Metallurgy in Ancient Greece and Recent Africa (Cambridge)Google Scholar
Blue, G. (1999) ‘China and Western social thought in the modern period’, in Brook, T. and Blue, G. (eds), China and Historical Capitalism: Genealogies of Sinological Knowledge (Cambridge) 57109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Botz-Bornstein, T. (2006) ‘Ethnophilosophy, comparative philosophy, pragmatism: toward a philosophy of ethnoscapes’, Philosophy East and West 56/1, 153–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bowen, J. (1989) ‘Education, ideology and the ruling class’, in Clarke, G. (ed.), Rediscovering Hellenism: The Hellenic Inheritance and the English Imagination (Cambridge) 161–86Google Scholar
Branham, R.B., Hexter, R., Sissa, G., Selden, D., Dubois, P. and Johnson, W.R. (1997) ‘Classics and comparative literature: agenda for the 1990s’, CPh 92/2, 153–88Google Scholar
Bunnin, N. and Yu., J. (2001) ‘Saving the phenomena: an Aristotelian method in comparative philosophy’, in Mou, B. (ed.), Two Roads to Wisdom? Chinese and Analytic Philosophical Traditions (Chicago) 293312Google Scholar
Cai, Z. (2002) Configurations of Comparative Poetics: Three Perspectives on Western and Chinese Literary Criticism (Honolulu)Google Scholar
Chandler, M. (2003) ‘Meno and Mencius: two philosophical dramas’, Philosophy East and West 53/3, 367–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Csapo, E. and Miller, M.C. (eds) (2007) The Origins of the Theatre in Ancient Greece and Beyond: from Ritual to Drama (Cambridge)Google Scholar
Curtis, D.A. (1997) ‘Translator's foreword’, in Leveque, P. and Vidal-Naquet, P., Cleisthenes the Athenian: an Essay on the Representation of Space and Time in Greek Political Thought from the End of the Sixth Century to the Death of Plato (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey)Google Scholar
Defoort, C. (2001) ‘Is there such a thing as Chinese philosophy?Philosophy East and West 51/3, 393413CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Defoort, C. (2006) ‘Is “Chinese philosophy” a proper name?Philosophy East and West 56/4, 625–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Detienne, M. (2007) The Greeks and Us: A Comparative Anthropology of Ancient Greece (Cambridge)Google Scholar
Dorter, K. (2002) ‘The concept of the mean in Confucius and Plato’, Journal of Chinese Philosophy 29/3, 317–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fan, R. (2002) ‘Reconsidering surrogate decision making: Aristotelianism and Confucianism on ideal human relations’, Philosophy East and West 52/3, 346–72CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fleming, J. (2003) ‘Comparative philosophy: its methods and aims’, Journal of Chinese Philosophy 30/2, 259–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fung, Y. (1966) A Short History of Chinese Philosophy (ed. Bodde, D.) (New York)Google Scholar
Fung, Y. (1983) A History of Chinese Philosophy, Volumes I and II (transl. Bodde, D.) (Princeton, NJ)Google Scholar
Gare, A.E. (1995) ‘Understanding oriental cultures’, Philosophy East and West 45/3, 309–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Graham, A.C. (1989) Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Chicago)Google Scholar
Granet, M. (1934) La Pensée Chinoise (Paris)Google Scholar
Gu, M.D. (2005) ‘Is mimetic theory in literature and art universal?’, Poetics Today 26/3, 459–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hall, D.L. (2001) ‘Just how provincial is Western philosophy? “Truth” in comparative context’, Social Epistemology 15/4, 285–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hall, D.L. and Ames, R.T. (1987) Thinking Through Confucius (SUNY Series in Systematic Philosophy) (Albany, NY)Google Scholar
Hall, D.L. and Ames, R.T. (1995) Anticipating China: Thinking through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture (Albany, NY)Google Scholar
Hall, D.L. and Ames, R.T. (1998) Thinking from the Han: Self, Truth and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture (Albany, NY)Google Scholar
Harbsmeier, C. (1998) Science and Civilisation in Ancient China, Volume 7, Part 1: Language and Logic (Cambridge)Google Scholar
Hung, H.-F. (2003) ‘Orientalist knowledge and social theories: China and European conceptions of East-West differences from 1600 to 1900’, Sociological Theory 21/3, 245–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jiang, X. (2000) ‘What kind of knowledge does a weak-willed person have? A comparative study of Aristotle and the Ch'eng-Chu school’, Philosophy East and West 50/2, 242–53Google Scholar
Johnson, M.R. (2001) ‘Review of W.-R. Mann, The Discovery of Things: Aristotle's Categories and their Context and R. Wardy, Aristotle in China: Language, Categories and Translation’, Ancient Philosophy 21, 188–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jullien, F. (1985) ‘L'oeuvre et l'univers: imitation ou déploiement. Limites à une conception mimétique de la création littéraire dans la tradition Chinoise’, Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident 3, 3788CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jullien, F. (1989) ‘Naissance de “l'imagination”: essai de problématique au travers de la réflexion littéraire de la Chine et de l'Occident’, Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident 6, 2381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jullien, F. (1995) The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China (transl. Lloyd, J.) (New York)Google Scholar
Jullien, F. (2000) Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece (transl. Hawkes, S.) New York.Google Scholar
Jullien, F. (2002) ‘Did philosophers have to become fixated on truth?’ (transl. J. Lloyd), Critical Inquiry 28/4, 803–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jullien, F. (2004) A Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western Thinking and Chinese Thinking (transl. Lloyd, J.) (Honolulu)Google Scholar
Jullien, F. (2007) The Impossible Nude: Chinese Art and Western Aesthetics (Chicago)Google Scholar
Keightley, D.N. (1990) ‘Early civilization in China: reflections on how it became Chinese’, in Ropp, P. (ed.), Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization (Berkeley) 1554Google Scholar
Keightley, D.N. (1993) ‘Clean hands and shining helmets: heroic action in early Chinese and Greek culture’, in Siebers, T. (ed.), Religion and the Authority of the Past (Ann Arbor) 1351Google Scholar
Kim, H. (2009) Ethnicity and Foreigners in Ancient Greece and China (London)Google Scholar
Knox, R. (1862) The Races of Man: a Philosophical Inquiry into the Influence of Race over Destinies of Nations (London)Google Scholar
Kuriyama, S. (1999) The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine (New York)Google Scholar
Lane, M. (2006) ‘Reason, feeling and ethics in Plato's Republic’, paper given at the conference Topics in Ancient Philosophy: Greek and Chinese (Institute for Chinese Studies, University of Oxford, 2224 June 2006)Google Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1979) Magic, Reason and Experience: Studies in the Origin and Development of Greek Science (Cambridge)Google Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1983) Science, Folklore and Ideology: Studies in the Life Sciences in Ancient Greece (Cambridge)Google Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1990) Demystifying Mentalities (Cambridge)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1992) ‘The agora perspective’, Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident 14, 185–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1994a) ‘Adversaries and authorities’, PCPhS n.s. 40, 2748Google Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1994b) ‘Methodological issues in the comparison of East and West’, in Numata, H. and Kawada, S. (eds), Is it Possible to Compare East and West? (Tokyo) 2336Google Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1994c) ‘Learning by numbers’, Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident 16, 153–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1996a) Adversaries and Authorities: Investigations into Ancient Greek and Chinese Science (Cambridge)Google Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1996b) ‘Putting the Greeks in their place’, Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident 18, 177–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1997) ‘Exempli gratia: to make an example of the Greeks’, Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident 19, 139–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1998) ‘Techniques and dialectic. Method in Greek and Chinese science and medicine’, in Gentzler, J. (ed.), Method in Ancient Philosophy (Oxford) 351–76Google Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (1999) ‘Divination: traditions and controversies, Chinese and Greek’, Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident 21, 155–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lloyd, G.E.R. (2002) The Ambitions of Curiosity: Understanding the World in Ancient Greece and China (Cambridge)Google Scholar
Lloyd, G. and Sivin, N. (2002) The Way and the Word: Science and Medicine in Early Greece and China (New Haven)Google Scholar
MacIntyre, A. (1991) ‘Incommensurability, truth and the conversation between Confucians and Aristotelians about virtue’, in Deutsch, E. (ed.), Culture and Modernity: East–West Philosophic Perspectives (Honolulu) 104–22Google Scholar
Mutschler, F.-H. (1997) ‘Vergleichende Beobachtungen zur griechisch-römischen und altchinesischen Geschichtsschreibung’, Saeculum 48, 213–53Google Scholar
Mutschler, F.-H. (2003) ‘Zu Sinnhorizont und Funktion griechischer, römischer und altchinesischer Geshichtsschreibung’, in Hölkeskamp, K.J., Rüsen, J., Stein-Hölkeskamp, E. and Grütter, H.T. (eds), Sinn (in) der Antike: Orientierungssysteme, Leitbilder and Wertkonzepte im Altertum (Mainz) 3345Google Scholar
Patton, K.C. (2000) ‘Juggling torches: why we still need comparative religion’, in Patton and Ray (2000) 153–71Google Scholar
Patton, K.C. and Ray, B.C. (2000) ‘Introduction’, in Patton, K.C. and Ray, B.C. (eds), A Magic Still Dwells: Comparative Religion in the Postmodern Age (Berkeley) 119Google Scholar
Plaks, A. (2002) ‘Means and means: a comparative reading of Aristotle's Ethics and the Zhongyong’, in S. Shankman and S.W. Durrant (2002) 187206Google Scholar
Prusek, J. (1970) ‘History and epics in China and in the West: a study of differences in conception of the human story’, in Prusek, J. (ed.), Chinese History and Literature: Collection of Studies (Dordrecht) 1734CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Puett, M.J. (2002a) To Become a God: Cosmology, Sacrifice and Self-Divinization in Early China (Harvard Yenching Institute Monograph Series 57) (Cambridge, Mass.)Google Scholar
Puett, M.J. (2002b) ‘Humans and god: the theme of self-divinization in early China and early Greece’, in Shankman and Durrant (2002) 5574Google Scholar
Raphals, L. (1992) Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of Greece and China (Ithaca, NY)Google Scholar
Raphals, L. (2002) ‘Gender and virtue in Greece and China’, Journal of Chinese Philosophy 29/3, 415–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Raphals, L. (2003) ‘Fate, fortune, chance and luck in Chinese and Greek: a comparative semantic history’, Philosophy East and West 53/4, 537–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Raphals, L. (2005) ‘Craft analogies in Chinese and Greek argumentation’, in Ziolkowski, E. (ed.), Literature, Religion and East/West Comparison: Essays in Honour of Anthony C. Yu (Cranbury, NJ) 181201Google Scholar
Reding, J.-P. (2004). Comparative Essays in Early Greek and Early Chinese Rational Thinking (Aldershot)Google Scholar
Schaberg, D. (1999) ‘Travel, geography and the imperial imagination in fifth century Athens and Han China,CompLit 51/1, 152–91Google Scholar
Settis, S. (2006) The Future of the Classical (transl. Cameron, A.) (Cambridge)Google Scholar
Shankman, S. and Durrant, S.W. (2000) The Siren and the Sage: Knowledge and Wisdom in Ancient Greece and China (London)Google Scholar
Shankman, S. and Durrant, S.W. (eds) (2002) Early China/Ancient Greece: Thinking Through Comparisons (Albany, NY)Google Scholar
Sim, M. (2007) Remastering Morals with Aristotle and Confucius (Cambridge)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Slingerland, E. (2004) ‘Conceptions of the self in the “Zhuangzi”: conceptual metaphor analysis and comparative thought’, Philosophy East and West 54/3, 322–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sypniewski, B.P. (2001) ‘Notes comparing Aristotelian reasoning with that of the early Confucian school’, Journal of Chinese Philosophy 28/3, 257–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tully, J. and Skinner, Q. (1998) Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and his Critics (Cambridge)Google Scholar
Turner, K. (1990) ‘Sage kings and laws in the Chinese and Greek traditions’, in Ropp, P.S. (ed.), Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization (Berkeley) 86111Google Scholar
Vernant, J.-P. (1988) (o.v. 1979) ‘The tragic subject: historicity and transhistoricity’, in Vernant, J.-P. and Vidal-Naquet, P. (eds), Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece (New York) 237–47Google Scholar
Vernant, J.-P. and Gernet, J. (1980) (o.v. 1964) ‘Social history and the evolution of ideas in China and Greece from the sixth to the second centuries BC’, in Vernant, J.-P. (ed.), Myth and Society in Ancient Greece (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey) 7191Google Scholar
Wang, Y. (2004) ‘The ethical power of music: ancient Greek and Chinese thoughts’, Journal of Aesthetic Education 38/1, 89104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wardy, R. (1992) ‘Chinese whispers’, PCPhS n.s. 38, 149–70Google Scholar
Wardy, R. (2000) Aristotle in China: Language, Categories and Translation (Cambridge)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yu, A.C. (2002) ‘Cratylus and Xunzi on names’, in Shankman and Durrant (2002) 235–50Google Scholar
Yu, J. (1998) ‘Virtue: Confucius and Aristotle’, Philosophy East and West 48/2, 323–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yu, J. (2001) ‘The moral self and the perfect self in Aristotle and Mencius’, Journal of Chinese Philosophy 28/3, 235–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yu, J. (2002) ‘The Aristotelian mean and the Confucian mean’, Journal of Chinese Philosophy 28/3, 337–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yu, J. (2007) The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue (London)Google Scholar
Zhou, Y. (2005) ‘Word and music: conviviality, self-sufficiency and spontaneity in Classical Athens and Song China’, in Ziolkowski, Eric (ed.), Literature, Religion and East/West Comparison: Essays in Honour of Anthony C. Yu (Cranbury, NJ) 202–22Google Scholar