1. Journey of a Thousand Li: Introduction to Chinese Philosophy

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Introducing Chinese philosophy through the concept of "dao," a fundamental word in classical Chinese philosophy, with a range of meanings across its different traditions.



Further Reading

• M. Puett and C. Gross-Loh, The Path: a New Way to Think About Everything (London: 2017).

For general bibliography see the top page for the whole series.


Duncan Ramage on 10 March 2024

Choice of ending

Very excited for the new series!

Why have you decided to end it with the beginnings of Buddhist philosophy? This is notably sooner than the previous series' end point.

In reply to by Duncan Ramage

Peter Adamson on 10 March 2024


Three reasons, basically: first this material gives us a good number of chapters for the book version, or so we think. Second Karyn is mostly a specialist on Warring States period so this already stretches her a bit historically speaking. And third by touching on Chinese Buddhism we link this story to the series on India (so I wanted to get at least that far). Maybe at some point there will be a further series on later Chinese thought. By the way we will discuss this more in episode 3, an interview with Karyn. 

John Hully on 10 March 2024

Great start to journey of thousands of li

I was so intrigued by your episodes on Nagarjuna that I picked up other pieces on the “MMK”, including Graham Priest’s essay on the Catuskoti; which in turn opened two paths: to non-classical logics, and to Professor Lai’s Introduction to Chinese philosophy.

So I am also very excited by this new series, and look forward to you both carving the subject with the efficiency of a Cook Ting.  

Hearing the proper pronunciation of names and terms is an extra benefit.

Will the series have the space to discuss the extant source materials, and the challenges of sequencing, interpretation and translation?   

In reply to by John Hully

Peter Adamson on 10 March 2024

Chinese episodes

Thanks, I did make an effort to do the pronunciations correctly (with Karyn's help!) though of course it won't be perfect. Translation issues will come up a lot and we will have a whole episode about the nature of the texts and their transmission coming up soon, I think it is episode 5.

Kelvin on 10 March 2024

So stoked you’re starting a…

So stoked you’re starting a series on Chinese philosophy! Will you do Japanese philosophy too? 

In reply to by Kelvin

Peter Adamson on 10 March 2024


Yes I hope so! Once we are done with classical Chinese, there are in my mind three more big topics to do: later China plus Korea and Japan; later Indian; and Philosophy in the Americas. I am leaning toward doing the third after classical China, but not sure yet and I do hope to do series on all these topics eventually.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

mehmet on 11 March 2024

I really hope you will do…

I really hope you will do later india, then later china.. 

BTW, what do you mean by "Philosophy in the Americas"? Pre-Colombian native american mythology or post-colombian thought? In my opinion, these two are not related to each other. I think in its main lines post-colombian american philosophy follows european philosophy (enlightement, marxisim, romanticism etc) and must be done after or in parallel with european philosophy..

In reply to by mehmet

Peter Adamson on 11 March 2024


I mean several things: Native American, Mesoamerican, and post-colonial Latin American philosophy. It would be a lot like the Africana series in that it would look at indigenous (and partially oral) traditions before moving into the story of philosophy within a colonial and post-colonial context. That would obviously involve looking at the impact of European ideas, something else we also saw with Africana (e.g. Africana Marxism). So the unity of the series would be similar though in this case it is perhaps even easier to see, since a lot of our knowledge about Mesoamerican philosophy comes from reports gathered by the first colonialists from Spain (as just being mentioned over on the Counterreformation series as it happens). 

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Kevin on 11 March 2024

Hi Peter,  First off, I…

Hi Peter, 

First off, I loved the episode! Did not at all disappoint--the wait has been worth it!

As for your next topic, can you please open a poll on this? 

Regardless, as a listener my ranked preferences would be 1. for the series to immediately continue on with later China plus Korea and Japan 2. for you to focus on doing more episodes on the main/Western series for a while instead, or 3. later Indian. Loved the India series by the way, and want to hear more of it; I put it as three because I am just so eager for you to get to the Enlightenment for the main/Western episodes. While I greatly admire your work and creative choices, respectfully I would personally not be interested in a Philosophy in the Americas series.

Thanks again for all the amazing work you do as always!

In reply to by Kevin

Peter Adamson on 11 March 2024


Thanks for the feedback! Can I ask, why would you not be interested in the Americas series? The reason it appeals to me most is that it would be a really "new" contribution and thus might make a bigger difference, especially since India and China will now at least have received attention, albeit only partial. Plus I think I'd be relatively able to tackle it, with the Africana series that raised some similar structural and methodological issues (and I can read Spanish, unlike Sanksrit, Chinese, etc). 

It might make sense to put out a poll a while from now; I did that when I was deciding whether to tackle India actually. But ultimately I think I need to go with the topic that would motivate me most personally, since it will take up a few years of my life! Having said that, I do hope to get around to all of these eventually so it is more a matter of the order, I hope. And also of whether qualified co-authors present themselves...

PS I was also thinking today that another option would be the one you mention, i.e. to focus on Europe for a while just to make progress on the vast 17-18th centuries material. So I am pondering that too. 

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Jonathan on 12 March 2024

Dear Peter, For what it's…

Dear Peter,

For what it's worth, I for one got super excited about an Americas series! We are talking about hundreds of languages and traditions of thought that are far more underrepresented than Japanese or Indian philosophy, at least in the English language. Even scratching the surface would be far more than most do who teach the history of philosophy. And I would love to learn more! I think that you have already dealt with many of the challenges in the Africana series: people who argue "this is not philosophy", the danger of using ethnographic sources in European languages, thinking outside of the logic of the modern nation state, etc. Thankfully, this also seems like something of a golden age in scholarship on so called "indigenous" thought, within which Euro-American colonial concepts are deconstructed, opening new ways of knowing history and the world. I am sure that you will find inspiring and eminent scholars to co-write episodes.

Pretty please?

In reply to by Jonathan

Peter Adamson on 12 March 2024


Thanks for the encouragement! This thread shows that I won't be able to make everyone happy, for sure, but I hope that even people who would have preferred something different will follow whatever I do put out, and enjoy it. 

By the pondering this further over the last day or two it occurred to me that it wouldn't be ideal to let the "non-Western" RSS feed go dead for a year or two while I focus on European philosophy, so that is slipping further down the list of options. Though I could do, say, 3 weeks European, 1 week non-Western; that would be a little confusing but would have other advantages I think (e.g. I think working on the Americas, or later Asian traditions, might be more work per episode, for instance if I have to get through literature in Spanish). 

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Spencer on 15 March 2024

Western Philosophy


As someone with no background in philosophy...I may have a different perspective than those commenting above. I vote to move forward with the Western story, as that is the story that means the most to me, the story that I can best understand within the framework of my knowledge base. Also, as you move forward into the 17th century and beyond, I look forward to many episodes on political philosophy and natural philosophy (actually, any topic except theological topics, which, despite your explanation of their importance to philosophy in general, are not my favorite subject). 

I laughed when I read your line about not making everyone happy. It reminded me of a song that came out when I was in high school, with the refrain: "you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself..."

Thank you for your efforts!


In reply to by Peter Adamson

dukeofethereal on 21 March 2024

3 weeks Western + 1 week non Western is best idea

Will it be really feasible for you to cover Latin American philosophy without a partner? looks very complex, especially with the identity situation(Race)/colonialism. There has been a lot of work recently on Mexican Philosophy but not so much in other regions, also you will have to cover Brazil which you covered a bit in Africana but that would require good Portuguese knowledge.  So I expect even more research which will be more time consuming, would quite hard if you are covering 17/18th century European philosophy (complex era especially with more written materials).


Regarding partners for your series, is Ganeri willing to continue past Dignana philosophy/ to cover figures like Thiruvalluvar, Chithalai Chathanar (Tamil Poet Philosopher) both contemporaneous with Dignaga and Indian Mathematics, etc.. it's been 6 years so I'm not familiar if you are still in contact with him. 

I don't know if you have partners lined up for series on Japanese Philosophy as a stand alone series (Enough material for a volume) or Tibetan Philosophy (enough material for a volume) or Korean philosophy. 


Then again doing Latin America once a month should give you the time to conduct the research to churn out episodes and you will have advanced scripts but I do see it being a difficult endeavour without a partner (maybe more enthusiasm for yourself as a researcher), especially as I said when you reach the 19th century with all of the independence movements and post colonial Latin America... 


In reply to by dukeofethereal

Peter Adamson on 21 March 2024


Yes it would make a lot of sense, I am a little worried it would get confusing though (original HoPWaG listeners wondering where the episode is every 4th week, Americas listeners annoyed by having to wait a whole month for the next installment). But I have some time to think about it still!

In reply to by Peter Adamson

dukeofethereal on 23 March 2024

After Chinese, Western Philosophy should take centre stage

Meso-Latin-American listeners should be understanding as this work has less scholarship coverage than Africana, Indian and Chinese Philosophy so it will take more time to research, especially if you have no partner. I am supportive of the 3 weeks Western (since each bloc of 17th/18th century  will take around 50- 70 episodes (Scripted I assume).


Especially when one thinks of the the major philosophers and how many episodes you will devote to them. If Aquinas, Ockham, Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, Ficino, Maimonides, Avicenna, Machiavelli had several and several episodes on them, then I wonder how many will the giant philosophers of these 2 centuries will have, imagine Kant (10+ scripted), Descartes (10+ scripted), Hobbes (5+), Locke (5+), Leibniz (5+ ), Spinoza ( 5+), etc.. let alone other traditional thinkers like Cambridge Platonists, Bohme, Fichte, Bayle, Cartesians, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Wolff, etc..


So please do this series for 3 weeks once you have concluded Classical Chinese Philosophy with Karyn Lai. Otherwise we might spend 10 years on these 2 years alone lol if you dedicate 3 gigantic books. Then again years ago you did envision you'd conclude the series when you reached Kant. 



In reply to by Peter Adamson

Andrew on 23 March 2024

Off topic, but this…

Off topic, but this discussion has made me wonder a bit if you might need a coauthor for western philosophy at some point haha. Like, Plato and Aristotle can get you quite far through the history of western philosophy, but there should be a point where people are no longer really working within the same kind of worldviews/philosophical models that Ancient Philosophy provided and then Medieval philosophy developed right? Not to say that they stop being important, but think of it like this: Given your background in Ancient and Medieval philosophy, a lot of the philosophy you are coming across so far in the Renaissance/Reformation series should be very easy to navigate in, even putting aside how you have basically built up to that point with the earlier series. By contrast, I don't think that background is going to be as useful when you, say, reach Sigmund Freud, Louis Althusser, Edmund Husserl, Judith Butler etc. And I wonder how much just knowing what came directly before is going to be good enough to both understand and produce podcast episodes at the speed you are doing right now to the same level.

Was just a one off thought, but now the more I thought about it, I have half convinced myself it might be a good idea.

In reply to by Andrew

Peter Adamson on 23 March 2024


Yes I have thought about that too, even for early Modern. I do kind of like having half of the episodes just be mine to worry about - my co-authors have all been great but it is just more complicated writing things with a partner. So I think I will press on with European on my own at least for the forseeable future and hope I don't mess it up!

Albrecht on 10 March 2024

issues with RSS feed

Dear professor Adamson,

I have issues with RSS feeds of your podcasts. I am not sure if the issue is on my side. I am using Podcast addict app and recently I am getting error messages. Faulty RSS feed: At line 1, column 0: no element found for the main series. In feed of noneuropean series I have InvalidRedirectionException error. All my other podcasts seems to be updating fine. Were there any changes recently, that could cause this? Is anyone else experiencing these issues?

Thank you for making such a great content,


In reply to by Albrecht

Peter Adamson on 10 March 2024

RSS feed

Hm, no I haven't heard of other listeners with the problem so I suspect it's at your end (I did just change the name of the feed to reflect that it now covers China, so maybe that caused it somehow?). 

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Albrecht on 12 March 2024

RSS feed

The issue got resolved. I think it might have been an issue on Podbean's side, because the link to the XML file  https://feed.podbean.com/hopwag/feed.xml was not working even in my browser and neither of your podcasts was accessible. I assume that change of name should not cause troubles with the other one. Time to catch up with latest episodes! :)

In reply to by Albrecht

Peter Adamson on 12 March 2024

RSS feed

OK great, happy listening!

Alexander Johnson on 12 March 2024

Been Through the Forest on a Dao with no Goal

Even if Daoists were right, I wonder why one would choose to follow that way.  Afterall, if the whole point is to not have a destination, then it seems that doing it in order to live a good life is defeating the whole point, since then you have a destination, and the wandering itself ceases to be be for itself.  And if there is no reason to follow the true path, there is no reason why one couldn't just not follow it.


post script:  reminder to myself to later compare Daoist dao vs Hindu brahman.  

In reply to by Alexander Johnson

Peter Adamson on 12 March 2024

Daoist path

Yes that is very much a key issue, and actually one we have sort of seen before with the Buddhist (and more generally Indian) idea of detached action, which is maybe what you have in mind with your PS! We will obviously explore this when we devote episodes to Daoism in its own right.

Howard on 13 March 2024

May the fourth be with you

Just a couple of comments on future possibilities,  as this is the turn the discussion is taking at the moment - though I am really focussed for Classical China!

Regarding later China,  I would suggest that  a natural dividing point would be substantive contact with Western philosophy.  So perhaps one series on Chinese Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism, plus Japan,  then another incorporating Western influence, from Ricci to the May 4th movement and beyond?

If we are looking at more non-Western philosophies I would also like to put Central Asia in the mix. The region was more than touched on, of course, in the Islamicate series.  But it has as much claim as any to be underrepresented.  I am not sure, however,  where good sources can be found.

Regarding  Western or non-Western, I would really like to live to see you cover my favourite modern Western philosophers..  However I will enjoy the journey whatever paths are taken.



In reply to by Howard

Peter Adamson on 13 March 2024

Future plans

Thanks for the input! Just want to mention that Ricci already got covered, only just now in the Counterreformation series, the episode on exploration.

Tim Roettiger on 14 March 2024

Chinese Philosophy and Wu Wei


I am really glad you are starting this new series. I have loved everything so far, but have been eagerly anticipating this.

I do have one difference with your introduction,(though it may be more apparent than real) regarding the interpretation of "wu wei". Here is what I wrote for Martial Journal:

"First, let’s begin with the concept itself. Wu wei is translated many different ways. The most literal translation is “no action”. More often, it is rendered as “non-action” or “non-doing” in an effort to capture its deeper metaphysical meaning. Some authors go so far as to render it as “effortless action” or “spontaneous action”. I feel that getting a bit far afield and tending toward the later Chan (Zen) concept of mushin (no-mind), which does have its roots in the syncretization of Daoist and Buddhist thought.

I am going to stick with the more conservative translation of “non-action” as I feel it captures the essence of the original idea, that it is more than just “doing nothing”. From my personal studies, I have come to see the concept of wu wei as meaning avoiding unnecessary action and not forcing action when we do act. Further, it embodies an awareness and abiding that allows one to recognize when it is appropriate to act, but also to use their non-action as an active tool."

Here is the full article: https://www.martialjournal.com/nothing-doing-the-daoist-wu-wei-and-the-martial-arts/

Thanks for the great podcast and books. Looking forward to more!



In reply to by Tim Roettiger

Peter Adamson on 14 March 2024

We wei

Thanks for getting in touch! This idea of wu wei is going to come up a lot, I think, and my impression is that it is not just one idea but a kind of label that was used by different schools for various forms of "detachment." Still, I agree that it does not always (or even mostly) just mean "non action," especially in Daoism it is more like the idea of acting while remaining somehow "detached." The history of that idea is a massively complex one and would take us through a couple millenia of Chinese thought, so there's a lot to say about it.

G. Tarun on 16 March 2024

Books page

Would it help to add a Books page, and link to it in the footer, alongside Blog, Themes, etc? Seems like it can amplify the fact that HOPWAG books are as wonderful as the podcast, and, for referencing and citation, even better!

This page could also list the tentative publication dates for forthcoming titles (Africana).

In reply to by G. Tarun

Peter Adamson on 16 March 2024


Thanks, that's a good idea!


WEI before WU WEI

I love your site and admire your work, and I have been waiting for the Chinese Philosophy part for a while. Thank you!

If I may, I would like to bring the perspective of a practitioner on this topic, since all spiritual traditions have an exoteric/gnosis and an esoteric/praxis aspect, and Daoism is certainly no exception to this.

Wei/action and Wu Wei/non action are taught together in authentic Daoist schools ;       Wu wei is a Quality of the mind obtained through assiduous Wei.

Wei/doing, occupies for at least the first 3 years of training, the majority of the practice of a Daoist adept. In the Long Men tradition, there is a lot of Doing before getting into the Non doing (i.e. martial arts, calligraphy, qi gong, nei gong, nei dan, meditation,Chinese medicine, Feng Shui...etc). First, these activities are all engaged with a strong intention of mastering the technical aspects (wei), while understanding the common principle underlying them (wu wei). But, at this preliminary stage Wu wei is just a concept. First we must observe how the mind and body work together during the learning process, and second we learn how to make them function efficiently through song-kai/relaxed/open intention during the process.That initial intention is forceful; there is no way around this. Effort must be made before the intention can fade out of the action. This leaves a "casual attention" and the tasks will be carried out with increased efficiency in this second stage. More energy is saved and constantly reinvested in the process. As for the mind/mental effort, a deep regression, not unlike dimming the light with a switch, must be allowed to take place. This takes some time for most people. This process of refinement is called "cultivation". The effects are more than just being in the "zone", which any person who has engaged seriously with a sport has sometimes felt. Since, as it is happening, the unconscious and conscious start to communicate, and tensions/stress are disappearing while performing all daily actions, but also while resting or sleeping (the number of dreams diminish drastically overtime). View in this way, Non-doing is a quality (not a concept), which is built internally through countless hours of learning how to release physical and mental tensions. It has radical transformative consequences on the body and mind. The perceptual aspect changes, the body physiology is changed...etc

We can run into 2 main problems in the west when studying Daoism : 1) the solely conceptual study of Daoism which mostly births mystical paradoxes. 2) The New Age movement riding on whatever misinterpretation of the Dao which fits its sensualist oriented approach. 

Many Daoist teachers also think that the Daoist "philosophical" works were meant for people who had already done the preliminary wei/work. To them, these texts act as hidden metaphorical and mnemotechnic instructions. Chinese masters have always been known to be extremely secretive about their advance cultivation practices, and they found a way to hide in plein sight through metaphors, poetic and flowery language. This is enhanced by the classical Chinese language used which is almost impregnable in its absence of clear markers, über flexible syntax, and characters filled with endless meanings.

I do not mean to dismiss a priori analytical analysis of the texts, but I want to point out the possible limitations in understanding that may arise if not accompanied by praxis.


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