SOAS University of London

SOAS China Institute

Ziran or Nature: In the Laozi and Contemporary Usage

Professor Liu Xiaogan (Chinese University Hong Kong)

Date: 23 February 2011Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 23 February 2011Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Lecture

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Ziran or Nature: in the Laozi and Contemporary Usage


This presentation attempts a thorough examination of the term ziran 自然 and its evolution. The purpose of this exercise is to prepare the ground for a clearer understanding of Laozi’s concept of ziran. The paper is divided into four main sections.

I will first outline the divergencies in scholarly interpretations of Laozi’s ziran. Then, I will conduct a detailed philological discussion of the term ziran as well as its use in contemporary Chinese and translations. I will also point out some difficulties associated with comparative discussion of the Western concept of “nature” and Laozi’s ziran. In the last section, I will propose an experimental reading that adopts three dimensional approaches to present a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the term ziran in the Laozi text.


Liu Xiaogan 劉笑敢is currently the director of the Research Centre for Chinese Philosophy and Culture, and a professor at the Department of Philosophy, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Before joining CUHK, he taught and conducted research at Peking University, Harvard, Princeton, and the National University of Singapore.

He is the author, editor, and contributor of numerous books and journals in Chinese and English, including Laozi Gujin 老子古今 (The Laozi from the ancient to the Modern: comparative studies of the five versions, including introductory analyses and criticism), Classifying the Zhuangzi Chapters, Daoism and Ecology, Companion to Daoist Philosophy (in progress) and “From Bamboo Slips to Received Versions: Common Features in the Transformation of the Laozi” (Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 2003).

He has received awards and prizes for teaching and research excellence in Beijing, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Quite a few of his works have been translated into English, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.


All Welcome; the lecture is open to the public, no booking is required. 


Bernhard Fuehrer,

Sponsor: London Confucius Institute