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This article makes the following comparative claims about the contributions of Song- and Ming-dynasty Chinese discourses to recent work in the related fields of new materialism and speculative realism: (1) emerging trends in so-called new materialism can be understood through the Chinese study of qi (氣), which can be translated as “lively material” or “vital stuff”; and (2) the notion of “speculation” as this is used in recent speculative realism can be understood as the study of, engagement with, and ultimate transformation by li (理), a term meaning “principle” or “structure.” However, the focus of the article is as much polemical as it is comparative. By arguing that these contemporary Western movements be categorized by Chinese schools, I challenge and reverse the tendency to subsume non-Western philosophies under Western categories and intervene in the academic practices that continue to define the “new” on Eurocentric models alone.
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