This process climaxed with the compilation of Huangfu Mi's (215-282) Lives of High-Minded Men (Gaoshi zhuan), which for the first time defined the recluse as someone who resol utely shunned office and chose eremitism
as a way of life, and which set the standard for a genre that spawned at least sixteen other similar compositions by the mid-sixth century.
In part I, the author deals with Syrian asceticism before the rise of eremitism
162) Finally, Ying Shao also accepts the Classic of Filial Piety's injunction to "keep oneself intact" under almost any circumstances, since the "body, hair, and skin are received from one's parents," while he inexplicably rejects the application of that phrase to justify most forms of eremitism, which he tends to equate with a denial of the "normal" familial and bureaucratic obligations of the shih.
The growth of eremitism among Eastern Han shih, although usually attributed to the growth of religious Taoism among the common people, is equally likely to have stemmed from some recognition among the gentry of the sheer impossibility of prioritizing individual duties, when so many claimants to "absolute loyalty" existed within a single bureaucratic and social structure.
74 I suggest below that eremitism also occurred when the individual found himself unable to decide between conflicting goals of equal weight.
Hearkening back directly to Han "exemplary eremitism,"(14) during the Six Dynasties the nomination of candidates whose forte was feigning the lofty conduct of a man-in-reclusion continued as a sort of mutated vestige of the earlier recommendatory system.
14) On "exemplary eremitism," see Vervoorn, Men of the Cliffs and Caves, 116-25, 139, 233.
As a guidepost for his study, Vervoorn cogently defines eremitism as involving
w]e can go some way towards understanding eremitism by considering it as a series of strategies for reconciling conflicting ideals in such a way as to make those ideals attainable.
In a number of places Vervoorn astutely points out parallels between reclusion in China and reclusion in the Western tradition; Chinese eremitism, however, is predominantly non-religious in character.
The book is divided into four chapters ("The Origins of Eremitism and Its Development in the Warring States Period," "The Former Han and the Wang Mang Period," "The Later Han," "Eremitism at Court"), plus an introduction and conclusion.
The nature of the sources for the pre-Han period leads him rightly to focus discussion not on the lives or motives of individual legendary "hermits" (whose historicity is all too problematic), but on the philosophical and socio-political circumstances that gave rise to the various philosophies of eremitism; the pre-Confucian period, then, is sort of a pre-history of eremitism.
According to Vervoorn, Gong Sheng "actually embodies |the~ shift from the exemplary but rather theoretical Confucian eremitism
of the last part of the Former Han to the equally exemplary but deadly serious Confucian eremitism
of the Wang Mang period and its aftermath".