The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition

The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition

Li Zehou
translated by Maija Bell Samei
Copyright Date: 2010
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  • Book Info
    The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition
    Book Description:

    Li Zehou (b. 1930) has been an influential thinker in China since the 1950s. Before moving to the U.S. in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, Li published works on Kant and traditional and contemporary Chinese philosophy. The present volume, a translation of hisHuaxia meixue(1989), is considered among Li's most significant works. Apart from its value as an introduction to the philosophy of one of contemporary China's foremost intellectuals,The Chinese Aesthetic Traditionfills an important gap in the literature of Chinese aesthetics in English. It presents Li's synthesis of the entire trajectory of Chinese aesthetic thought, from ancient times to the early modern period, incorporating pre-Confucian and Confucian ideas, Daoism, Chan Buddhism, and the influence of Western philosophy during the late-imperial period. As one of China's As one of China's major contemporary philosophers and preeminent authority on Kant, Li is uniquely positioned to observe this trajectory and make it intelligible to today's readers.

    The Chinese Aesthetic Traditiontouches on all areas of artistic activity, including poetry, painting, calligraphy, architecture, and the "art of living." Right government, the ideal human being, and the path to spiritual transcendence all come under the provenance of aesthetic thought. According to Li this was the case from early Confucian explanations of poetry as that which gives expression to intent, through Zhuangzi's artistic depictions of the ideal personality who discerns the natural way of things and lives according to it, to Chan Buddhist-inspired notions that nature and words can come together to yield insight and enlightenment. In this enduring and stimulating work, Li demonstrates conclusively the fundamental role of aesthetics in the development of the cultural and psychological structures in Chinese culture that define "humanity."

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3762-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface to the First Edition
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Translator’s Introduction
    (pp. ix-xx)

    Contemporary Chinese philosopher Li Zehou (b. 1930) has been an influential thinker in China since the 1950s, but became a particularly important figure on the cultural scene during the “culture fever” of the 1980s. A member of the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Li left China for the United States after his works were banned in China following the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, as authorities feared their possible role in inspiring dissent against the leadership of the Communist Party. The present volume is a translation of Li’sHuaxia meixue(1989), a work he regards...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Rites and Music Tradition
    (pp. 1-38)

    The word “beautiful” (mei) is always appealing to the ear and without exception elicits a pleasurable response in those to whom it is applied. This is equally true of young ladies praised for their beauty as of artists or authors who gladly accept such praise for their works—to say nothing of its use for beautiful landscapes, residences, clothing, and so on. But whether in art criticism or in the language in general, the scope of the term is so broad, and the instances of its use so numerous, that any discussion of the history of Chinese aesthetics (which in...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Confucian Humanism
    (pp. 39-75)

    Confucius said of himself, “I transmit, I do not create” (Analects7.1).¹ This statement is partly true, for Confucius’ ambitions, actions, and achievements all were directed toward the preservation and restoration of the rituals of the Zhou, the same tradition of rites and music discussed in the previous chapter. Legend has it that Confucius preserved, popularized, and gave legitimacy to the ancient classics, rites, and traditional culture in general. He is said to have “revised theBook of Songsand theBook of Documents,” and to have “fixed the rites and music,” in addition to taking on disciples and traveling...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Daoist-Confucian Synthesis
    (pp. 76-116)

    InThe Path of Beauty, I put forward the concept of the mutual complementarity of Confucianism and Daoism. After coming under some degree of criticism, it seems this idea has become widely accepted. Actually, numerous commentators have recognized this fact over the years. It is possible for Confucianism and Daoism to be mutually complementary because, fundamentally, both arose out of the same ancient non-Dionysian cultural tradition. Although Daoists opposed the rites and music, theirs was certainly not a spirit of sensuous indulgence or revelry. From the perspective of the history of thought, the primary representative of Daoism, Zhuangzi, is but...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Beauty in Deep Emotion
    (pp. 117-159)

    Unlike the North China plain, the site of most of the philosophical debates of pre-Qin China, the ancient state of Chu in South China was an area in which shamanism continued unabated for quite some time. Primitive culture and practices in general persisted longer in this region. The north-south cultural divide in China has deep historical roots, on which I will not dwell here other than to point out that southern culture was from the start marked by its own splendid color. The major representative of this tradition is Qu Yuan (ca. 340–278 B.C.), to whom the authorship of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Metaphysical Pursuits
    (pp. 160-193)

    The arrival of Buddhism in China was an event of tremendous significance for the history of Chinese culture. How to receive the new religion became a crucial ideological question that would occupy the Confucian-centered Chinese cultural tradition for hundreds of years and evoke a brilliant array of responses. In every field, from literature and art to faith and philosophy, the question arose as to whether to reject or assimilate, convert to or adapt the new system—whether to use Buddhism to explicate Zhuangzi, whether to set Confucianism and Buddhism in opposition, and so on. In addition to heated theorizing about...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Toward Modernity
    (pp. 194-222)

    After a peak, a decline always begins. The decline will end either in a gradual disappearance or in change. This was the case for traditional Confucianism and also for the literary and aesthetic tradition that developed under the tutelage of Confucian thought.

    By “decline” here I refer to the fact that, having attained a summit of sorts in the work of Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming (1472–1529), and other Song and Ming thinkers, Confucian philosophy never again experienced the same level of development and innovation. Corresponding to this, traditional poetry and painting also can be said to have experienced a...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 223-224)

    Confucius said, “One who warms up the old in order to know the new can be a teacher” (Analects2.11). The purpose of looking back is in order, through history, to discover oneself, grasp the present, and determine the future. It is the means of understanding one’s current situation and of looking ahead to one’s prospects for the future. All of these actions will bear the marks of one’s own historical prejudices—prejudices that result from the sedimentation of a certain cultural-psychological formation and noumenal consciousness.

    What is the noumenon? It is ultimate reality, the origin of everything. According to...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 225-248)
  13. Index
    (pp. 249-257)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 258-259)