In early Chinese texts, straightness often indicates correctness, hence many things are said to be zhèng 正.1 But among them, only zhèngmíng 正名 emerged as a rhetorical slogan promising the production of order and elimination of human confusion and fakeness.2 In scholarship on Chinese ethics, the slogan is usually understood as working toward these goals by making behavior accord with names or by making “names” (norms or social roles) accord with behavior. By contrast, on the assumption that uses of the term “míng” (name/title/fame) involved what something is called or what is heard about it, the chapter focuses on interpreting zhèngmíng in in light of ideas about speech, music, tones, and sound in general—items that are distinct from, but related to, míng 名.3 The chapter considers zhèngmíng as part of a textual tradition wherein recurring poetic “sound-effects” appear in a variety of genres. In light of this context, it argues that the power of the sovereign’s zhèngmíng stems from participating in such effects.
Copyright © 2011 Hong Kong University Press. This chapter first appeared in Ethics in Early China: An Anthology.
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Geaney, Jane. "The Sounds of Zhèngmíng: Setting Names Straight in Early Chinese Texts." In Ethics in Early China: An Anthology, edited by Chris Fraser, Dan Robins, and Timothy O'Leary, 125-141. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2011.