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Meaning, reception, and the use of classics: theoritical considerations in a Chinese context

Reception seems to have invigorated classic studies and become a major way to talk about the history and function of classics in the past and in our own time. Reception theory maintains that meaning is always mediated, and that there is no originary moment when the classics are what they “really are” before any reading and interpretation. In the history of reception, classics have indeed been interpreted from different ideological and political stances and made use of in different time periods. Facing the various uses of classics, some of which evidently deviate from the textual meaning in an allegorical interpretation, it becomes a significant problem—how does one define the validity of interpretation and guard against “overinterpretation” (Umberto Eco) or “hermeneutic nihilism” (H. G. Gadamer)? This paper will discuss such theoretical issues in the context of Chinese reading and commentaries on the classics, both Chinese and Western, and suggest a way to reach a balance between the classics and their interpretations.

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