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What do Greek and Chinese Classical Rhetoric have in common?

Ancient Greece and Classical China are cultures of reference as Denecke has said (Denecke 2014) . Both developed an intellectual foundation followed by posterity.. What is this intellectual foundation? It is a system of concepts about knowledge and ethics. It began in the classical period and later philosophers followed it.

The political system of classical China and Greece are quite different. The first is believed to be authoritarian and the second is seen as democratic. In pre-imperial age there were some institutions with democratic features. There is a text in the Zuo Zhuan in that, according with Yuri Pines exegesis (that I completely subscribe), the character xiao 校 it is probably refer to a “kind of community club” in witch people “debate and criticize government actions” (Pines 2009, pp. 195). In Zhan Guo Ce there is other text in that the king of Qi makes a decree that rewarded those who criticized his mistakes.

Although there were no democratic systems in China, people from the lower classes could become officials. This gave rise to struggles for power. Therefore, the Greeks and Chinese thinkers debated how they could avoid manipulation. Of course, the solutions were different since the political systems were also different. However, in both cases the thinkers proposed different solutions in order to avoid manipulation and cheating.

Both in a democratic system and in a monarchy there are tricksters trying to influence the power in order to achieve their goals at the expense of others. However, the way to cheat on both systems is different. In a democracy the objective of the deceiver is a mass of citizens while in a monarchy the main objective is the monarch and the people around him.

For this reason, philosophers dealt with the problem of what is true and what is false. In Classical Greece and China there was a crisis with language (Raphals 1992). Thinkers of both times criticized flattery and cunning. In Greece this phenomenon caused the distinction between philosophy and rhetoric. This dichotomy was not exactly the same in China. However, there was a school of thought related to persuasion based on deception and harming others. This was Zongheng School 縱橫家, represented by Su Qin and Zhang Yi.


Denecke, W., 2014. Classical World Literatures-Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons - New York: Oxford University Press.

Pines, Y., 2009. Envisioning eternal empire :Chinese political thought of the Warring States era, Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Raphals, L.A., 1992. Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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