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Chinese Aesthetics

Chinese Aesthetics: The Ordering of Literature, the Arts, and the Universe in the Six Dynasties

Edited by Zong-qi Cai
Copyright Date: 2004
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  • Book Info
    Chinese Aesthetics
    Book Description:

    This singular work presents the most comprehensive and nuanced studies available in any Western language of Chinese aesthetic thought and practice during the Six Dynasties (A.D. 220–589). Despite a succession of dynastic and social upheavals, the literati preoccupied themselves with both the sensuous and the transcendent and strove for cultural dominance. By the end of the sixth century, their reflections would evolve into a sophisticated system of aesthetic discourse characterized by its own rhetoric and concepts. A prologue details the historical context in which Six Dynasties aesthetics arose and sketches out its major stages of development. The ten essays that follow bring fresh perspectives to bear on important writings on literature, music, painting, calligraphy, and gardening. Grounded in close readings of primary texts, they reveal the complex, dynamic interplay between life and art, the sensuous and the metaphysical, and the artistic and the philosophicaleligious that lies at the heart of the aesthetic thought and practice of the time. As a whole, the collection demonstrates that Six Dynasties achieved a sophistication in aesthetic thought comparable in many ways to that of the West: The discussion of disinterestedness in art, aesthetic judgment, and how mental images mediate between the supersensible and the sensible are reminiscent of Kant. The findings of various Chinese critics provide much food for thought in the broad fields of comparative literature and aesthetics. Chinese Aesthetics will fill a gap in Western sinological studies of the period. It will appeal to scholars and students in premodern Chinese literary studies, comparative aesthetics, and cultural studies and be a welcome reference to anyone interested in ancient Chinese culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6184-1
    Subjects: History, Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Prologue: A Historical Overview of Six Dynasties Aesthetics
    (pp. 1-28)
    Zong-qi Cai

    After centuries in which it played at best a subordinate role to historiography, sociopolitical theory, and philosophy, aesthetic inquiry finally emerged in the Six Dynasties (220–589) as a distinct, independent concern.¹ Although Chinese literati did not begin to discuss literature and the arts in their own right until early in the third century, by the end of the sixth century their reflections would evolve into a sophisticated system of aesthetic discourse characterized by its own rhetoric, concepts, and evaluative criteria.

    Like Western aesthetics, that of the Six Dynasties is often silent about the ethical, sociopolitical, and utilitarian.² Yet it...

  5. Part I: Images and Representations:: Painting, Calligraphy, and Garden Construction

    • Chapter 1 Replication and Deception in Calligraphy of the Six Dynasties Period
      (pp. 31-59)
      Robert E. Harrist Jr.

      The epigram that introduces this essay comes from Hillel Schwartz’s freewheeling survey of the history of duplication in all its forms,The Culture of the Copy.¹ His memorable expression, “an exuberant world of copies,” refers to contemporary life in the West; it could apply as well to the history of calligraphy in China during the Six Dynasties period, when copies and their disreputable kin, forgeries, proliferated as never before, changing the way people viewed, collected, marketed, and wrote about the visual arts. A vivid account of how one notable figure of the fourth century responded to a copy appears in...

    • Chapter 2 The Essay on Painting by Wang Wei 王微 (415–453) in Context
      (pp. 60-80)
      Susan Bush

      The “Xu hua” 敘畫 (Discussion of Painting), by Wang Wei 王微 (415–453), has been classified with the “Hua shanshui xu” 畫山水序 (Preface on Landscape Painting), by Zong Bing 宗炳 (375–443), under the heading of “landscape Daoism.” These two texts are often discussed along with a third, “Hua Yuntaishan ji” 畫雲臺山記 (The Record of Painting the Cloud Terrace Mountain), attributed to the famous contemporary artist Gu Kaizhi 顧愷之. Of the trio, the third is definitely Daoist in character since it illustrates a story about the Five Pecks of Rice sect founder Zhang Daoling 張道陵 and his disciples that takes...

    • Chapter 3 Xie He’s “Six Laws” of Painting and Their Indian Parallels
      (pp. 81-122)
      Victor H. Mair

      There is universal agreement that Xie He’s 謝赫 “Liu fa” 六、法 (Six Laws) constitute the first systematic exposition of painting theory in China.¹ Toward the end of the Tang dynasty, the great art critic and historian Zhang Yanyuan 張彥遠 (ca. 810–880), in his enormously influentialLidai minghua ji歷代名畫記 (A Record of the Famous Painters of Successive Dynasties, ca. 847) makes the Six Laws the centerpiece of his discussion of painting criticism. During the Five Dynasties, Jing Hao 荊浩 (ca. 870–ca. 930) elaborated upon the Six Laws in his “Liu yao” 六要 (Six Essentials). Guo Ruoxu 郭若虛 (eleventh...

    • Chapter 4 A Good Place Need Not Be a Nowhere: The Garden and Utopian Thought in the Six Dynasties
      (pp. 123-166)
      Shuen-fu Lin

      The following quotation, which may at first appear totally irrelevant to the topic of this essay, is from the early Daoist textZhuang Zi莊子.

      Huizi said to Zhuang Zi, “I have a big tree people call ailanthus. Its trunk is too gnarled and knotted to measure with the inked line. Its branches are too curly and twisted to fit a compass or an L-square. It stands in the road but no carpenter would even look at it. Now your talk, too, is big and useless—it will be dismissed by everyone alike!”

      Zhuang Zi said, “Have you never seen...

  6. Part II. Words and Patterns:: Poetry and Prose

    • Chapter 5 The Unmasking of Tao Qian and the Indeterminacy of Interpretation
      (pp. 169-190)
      Kang-i Sun Chang

      This chapter will examine the history of the reception of Tao Qian 陶潛 (365?–427), a Six Dynasties poet who became one of the greatest figures in the Chinese literary canon—surprisingly, since in his own time Tao Qian was practically unknown as a poet, and it was only a succession of readers over the centuries who eventually canonized him. Such a dramatic case of historic reception has ramifications that go far beyond the literary position of a single poet, as it touches on all the cultural and aesthetic questions that are implicit in the act of reading and rereading....

    • Chapter 6 Crossing Boundaries: Transcendents and Aesthetics in the Six Dynasties
      (pp. 191-221)
      Rania Huntington

      At the same time as the establishment of aesthetics,xian仙 (transcendents) became an important literary topic. Although literary portrayal of transcendents began before the Han, during the Six Dynasties the range of portrayals in poetry, prose, and philosophical and scriptural texts expanded greatly.¹ However, the relevance of this topic to aesthetics has generally been neglected. This chapter will explore two aspects of that relevance: first, it will consider the relationship between concepts of transcendents and theoretical ideas about literature, and second, it will analyze the aesthetic value of various portrayals of transcendents.

      As Zong-qi Cai argues in the prologue,...

    • Chapter 7 Literary Games and Religious Practice at the End of the Six Dynasties: The Baguanzhai Poems by Xiao Gang and His Followers
      (pp. 222-234)
      François Martin

      Intellectual life during the latter part of the Six Dynasties period, notably from about 450 onward, may be said to be dominated by two salient cultural (and at the same time social) phenomena. One is the unprecedented development of both literary theory and practice. Among the members of the leading gentry, literary talent, especially notably poetic ability, tended to become a requisite. Literary pursuits, rarely individual, were rather a social practice with many political connotations and were centered upon the courts of emperors and princes. The core of literary life was constituted by salon activities in which literary games, especially...

  7. Part III. The Parameters of Six Dynasties Aesthetics:: Modes of Discourse

    • Chapter 8 Shishuo xinyu and the Emergence of Aesthetic Self-Consciousness in the Chinese Tradition
      (pp. 237-276)
      Wai-yee Li

      Shishuo xinyu世説新語 (A New Account of Tales of the World, ca. 430) plunges us into a finely observed and deftly articulated world of variations on human sensations, perceptions, and actions.¹ Its dominant concern is the compass of beauty—the discernment, judgment, and delineation of physical, moral, verbal, intellectual, and spiritual beauty and the connections (or apparent lack thereof) among these categories. Lu Xun’s 魯迅 statement that Wei-Jin is “the era of literary self-consciousness” is by now something of a truism.² Histories of Chinese literary thought never fail to note the rise of new aesthetic categories in works such as...

    • Chapter 9 Nature and Higher Ideals in Texts on Calligraphy, Music, and Painting
      (pp. 277-309)
      Ronald Egan

      The first and perhaps most lasting impression made by the Han and Wei period texts on calligraphy is that of the verbal amplitude of their descriptions of the various scripts. These descriptions typically occupy the largest portion of the texts and in most cases are clearly that to which the author primarily devoted his attention and energy.

      The world of nature is the primary trope in these elaborate characterizations of the scripts. Both animate and inanimate nature supply the material for the long strings of metaphors and analogies that constitute the bulk of each account. A representative passage is given...

    • Chapter 10 The Conceptual Origins and Aesthetic Significance of “Shen” in Six Dynasties Texts on Literature and Painting
      (pp. 310-342)
      Zong-qi Cai

      Shen” 神 is one of the most ubiquitous and polysemous terms in both philosophical and aesthetic discourses of premodern China. In many ways, its ubiquity has obscured its polysemy. As we frequently come across it in texts of all kinds, we become rather unmindful of its polysemous nature. We tend to see it as carrying the same nebulous import no matter where it appears. In translating it into English, therefore, we often choose the catchall term “spirit.” This tendency to ignore the polysemy of “shen” is particularly conspicuous in literary and art criticism. Scholars of Chinese philosophy often seek to...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 343-346)
  9. Index
    (pp. 347-360)