By J. J. Clarke

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A] reflective dissociation from everything hitherto valid’. It bore the marks of a deep crisis in Chinese political and cultural life, a collision of values and world-views that, as with contemporaneous philosophical debate in Greece, was crucial in shaping the intellectual agenda of China for the following millennia (1993: 5–6; see also Cua 1985; Graham 1989). A further period of intellectual agitation followed the decline and fall of the Han dynasty, the arrival of Buddhism on the scene and the emergence of Daoism as a significant cultural force.

What will become apparent is the sheer complexity of this hermeneutical phenomenon, parallel in this respect too to its career in its ancestral land, a cultural odyssey which is still unfolding beneath our inquisitive gaze. By the time the Renaissance had run its course and the first outlines of what we now think of as the modern world were emerging in Europe, the image of China as a place of marvel and mystery had already imprinted itself on the European mind through the writings of Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville, as well as from the reports of European traders (Mackerras 1989: ch.

Isabelle Robinet, for example, argues that while ‘it is meaningless to speak of Taoism as a whole’, Daoism represents a coherent, if diversified, tradition. 6 Alongside this integrative interpretation of Daoism there is also the recognition that it was a highly eclectic phenomenon, drawing into its ‘single thread’ not only the philosophical strands of Laozi and Zhuangzi but also shamanistic and magical traditions from an earlier period, as well as the Confucian classics and Buddhist ideas and practices.

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