KEY CONCEPTS IN CHINESE THOUGHT AND CULTURE

  • 发愤著书 Fafen-zhushu

    This term means suffering injustice in life can spur one to create great works. It originated from the “Preface by the Grand Historian toRecords of the Historian.” After Sima Qian, an official in the Western Han Dynasty, suffered the unjust punishment of castration, his indignation spurred him to write the great work, Records of the Historian. In t...

  • 格调 Form and Melody

    The term refers to the form and metrical patterns, as well as content, of poetry. It relates to artistic taste and appeal in poetry criticism. Ge(格) refers to the need to satisfy established metrical rules, while diao(调) refers to the need to follow tone and rhyme schemes in poetry. Some poetry critics of the Tang and Song dynasties stressed the im...

  • 肌理 Reasoning and Structure

    The term originally refers to the texture of muscle, and later by extension it refers to well-organized principles in things. As a literary term, it was first used by Weng Fanggang, a Qing-dynasty scholar, to refer to two aspects: yili(义理reasoning)andwenli(文理structure). The former is about views or reasoning, primarily concerning Confucian thinking...

  • 江山 Rivers and Mountains/Country or state Power

    The term, similar in meaning to heshan(河山), literarily means rivers and mountains. It is used to refer to the sovereignty of a state and all its territory. The term has these implications: rivers and mountains provide natural barriers that protect the country and its sovereignty; territory is the key feature of a state.   Citation &nb...

  • 理 lǐ

    The original meaning of li(理) was the texture of jade; later it was extended to contain three meanings: 1) the physical forms or proprieties of things, such as length, size, shape, tensile strength, weight, and color; 2) the universal laws followed by all things and beings; and 3) the original source or ontological existence of things. The last two...

  • 华夏 Huaxia

    The forefathers of Han people living in the Central Plains referred to themselves by this term. Earlier on they called themselves Hua (华), Zhuhua (诸华), Xia (夏) or Zhuxia (诸夏). The term Huaxia (华夏) embodies the common identity of the way of life, language, and culture of the people living in the Central Plains, mainly the Han people, and the inherit...

  • 良知 Liangzhi(Conscience)

    Humans are born with innate conscience and the ability to know and act upon it. The term liangzhi (良知) was first used by Mencius, who believed that what man knew by instinct was liangzhi (knowledge of goodness). The term includes ren (仁), i.e. love for one’s parents and yi (义), i.e. respect for one’s elder brothers. The concept is an important comp...

  • 美刺 Extolment and Satirical Criticism

    This literary term is used in poetry to comment on a ruler’s moral character, policies, decrees, and performance, either in praise or criticism. Confucius was the first to point out that poetry could be used to vent resentment and thus established a basic function of poetry writing by emphasizing the role The Book of Songs played in voicing grievan...

  • 情 Qing

    The term has three different meanings. First, it means human emotions and desires, referring to the natural and instinctive reaction to external circumstances, not a learned response. Second it refers to specific human emotions and desires, commonly known as the six human emotions: love, hatred, happiness, anger, sadness, and joy, or as the seven h...

  • 情景 Qing Jing

    This term refers to the mutual dependence and integration of an author’s description of scenery and objects, and his expression of feelings in his literary creation. Qing (情) is an author’s inner feelings, and jing(景) refers to external scenery or an object cannot be appreciated without sentiment. This term appeared in the Song Dynasty. Compared wi...

  • 趣 Qu

    Qu is the aspirations, emotions and interests expressed in the work of a writer or artist. His pursuit of qu determines his unique perception and comprehension of nature and life. It also determines what theme he chooses for his work and how he gives expression to it. Qu is invisible but manifests its value and appeal through aesthetic appreciation...

  • 人文化成 Ren Wen Hua Cheng

    The term is used to describe efforts to teach people essential ideals and principles of ren wen(人文)and guide them to embrace goodness with the aim of building a harmonious – albeit hierarchical – social order, according to the level of development of a civilization and the specifics of the society. Ren wen refers to poetry, books, social norms, mus...

  • 德 De

    The term has two different meanings. One is an individual’sfine moral character, or his proper conduct in society. At first de(德) was only related to an individual’s behavior, referring to his external moral conduct. Later, it also referred to something that combined external behavior with internal emotions and moral consciousness. The other meanin...

  • 道 Dao (Way)

    In its original meaning, dao(道) is the way or path taken by people. It has three extended meanings: 1) the general laws followed by things in different spheres, e.g. the natural order by which the sun, moon and stars move is called the way of heaven; the rules that govern human activities are the way of man; 2) the universal patterns followed by al...

  • 诚 Sincerity

    Sincerity is among the core concepts of the Confucian school of thought. Basically, it means truthfulness without deceit. Confucians believed that sincerity is the essence of the “way of heaven” or “principles of heaven,” a basis on which everything else is built. At the same time, sincerity is also the root and foundation of morality. All moral de...

  • 不学《诗》,无以言 You Won’t Be Able to Talk Properly with Others Without Studying The Book of Songs.

    In Confucius’ time, how well one understood The Book of Songswas a sign of his social status and cultural attainment. If one did not study it, one would find it difficult to improve one’s ability to express oneself and to converse with people of high social status. Confucius’ elaboration on the relationship between studying The Book of Songsand soc...

  • 悲慨 Melancholy and Resentment

    Melancholy and resentment, which here refers to a sense of helplessness found in poems, is one of the 24 poetic styles summarized by Sikong Tu, a poet in the late Tang Dynasty. Faced with frustrations and tough challenges in life, or overwhelmed by the immensity of nature or major events, poets were often seized by dejection, grief, sadness, and an...

  • 般若 Buddhist Wisdom

    The term is the transliteration of the Sanskrit word prajñā, meaning wisdom. It refers to the supreme wisdom with insight into the nature and reality of all things. Buddhism believes that such wisdom surpasses all secular understandings, and therefore is the guide for or the essence of the effort aimed at achieving enlightenment and attaining Buddh...

  • 本末 Ben and Mo (The Fundamental and the Incidental)

    The two characters literally mean the different parts of a plant, namely, its root and its foliage. The extended meaning is an important concept in Chinese philosophical discourse. The term can be understood in three different ways. 1)Ben(本) refers to what is fundamental or essential, while mo(末) means what is minor or incidental, two qualities tha...

  • 发愤著书 Fafen-zhushu

    This term means suffering injustice in life can spur one to create great works. It originated from the “Preface by the Grand Historian toRecords of the Historian.” After Sima Qian, an official in the Western Han Dynasty, suffered the unjust punishment of castration, his indignation spurred him to write the great work, Records of the Historian. In t...

  • 格调 Form and Melody

    The term refers to the form and metrical patterns, as well as content, of poetry. It relates to artistic taste and appeal in poetry criticism. Ge(格) refers to the need to satisfy established metrical rules, while diao(调) refers to the need to follow tone and rhyme schemes in poetry. Some poetry critics of the Tang and Song dynasties stressed the im...

  • 肌理 Reasoning and Structure

    The term originally refers to the texture of muscle, and later by extension it refers to well-organized principles in things. As a literary term, it was first used by Weng Fanggang, a Qing-dynasty scholar, to refer to two aspects: yili(义理reasoning)andwenli(文理structure). The former is about views or reasoning, primarily concerning Confucian thinking...

  • 江山 Rivers and Mountains/Country or state Power

    The term, similar in meaning to heshan(河山), literarily means rivers and mountains. It is used to refer to the sovereignty of a state and all its territory. The term has these implications: rivers and mountains provide natural barriers that protect the country and its sovereignty; territory is the key feature of a state.   Citation &nb...

  • 理 lǐ

    The original meaning of li(理) was the texture of jade; later it was extended to contain three meanings: 1) the physical forms or proprieties of things, such as length, size, shape, tensile strength, weight, and color; 2) the universal laws followed by all things and beings; and 3) the original source or ontological existence of things. The last two...

  • 华夏 Huaxia

    The forefathers of Han people living in the Central Plains referred to themselves by this term. Earlier on they called themselves Hua (华), Zhuhua (诸华), Xia (夏) or Zhuxia (诸夏). The term Huaxia (华夏) embodies the common identity of the way of life, language, and culture of the people living in the Central Plains, mainly the Han people, and the inherit...

  • 良知 Liangzhi(Conscience)

    Humans are born with innate conscience and the ability to know and act upon it. The term liangzhi (良知) was first used by Mencius, who believed that what man knew by instinct was liangzhi (knowledge of goodness). The term includes ren (仁), i.e. love for one’s parents and yi (义), i.e. respect for one’s elder brothers. The concept is an important comp...

  • 美刺 Extolment and Satirical Criticism

    This literary term is used in poetry to comment on a ruler’s moral character, policies, decrees, and performance, either in praise or criticism. Confucius was the first to point out that poetry could be used to vent resentment and thus established a basic function of poetry writing by emphasizing the role The Book of Songs played in voicing grievan...

  • 情 Qing

    The term has three different meanings. First, it means human emotions and desires, referring to the natural and instinctive reaction to external circumstances, not a learned response. Second it refers to specific human emotions and desires, commonly known as the six human emotions: love, hatred, happiness, anger, sadness, and joy, or as the seven h...

  • 情景 Qing Jing

    This term refers to the mutual dependence and integration of an author’s description of scenery and objects, and his expression of feelings in his literary creation. Qing (情) is an author’s inner feelings, and jing(景) refers to external scenery or an object cannot be appreciated without sentiment. This term appeared in the Song Dynasty. Compared wi...

  • 趣 Qu

    Qu is the aspirations, emotions and interests expressed in the work of a writer or artist. His pursuit of qu determines his unique perception and comprehension of nature and life. It also determines what theme he chooses for his work and how he gives expression to it. Qu is invisible but manifests its value and appeal through aesthetic appreciation...

  • 人文化成 Ren Wen Hua Cheng

    The term is used to describe efforts to teach people essential ideals and principles of ren wen(人文)and guide them to embrace goodness with the aim of building a harmonious – albeit hierarchical – social order, according to the level of development of a civilization and the specifics of the society. Ren wen refers to poetry, books, social norms, mus...

  • 德 De

    The term has two different meanings. One is an individual’sfine moral character, or his proper conduct in society. At first de(德) was only related to an individual’s behavior, referring to his external moral conduct. Later, it also referred to something that combined external behavior with internal emotions and moral consciousness. The other meanin...

  • 道 Dao (Way)

    In its original meaning, dao(道) is the way or path taken by people. It has three extended meanings: 1) the general laws followed by things in different spheres, e.g. the natural order by which the sun, moon and stars move is called the way of heaven; the rules that govern human activities are the way of man; 2) the universal patterns followed by al...

  • 诚 Sincerity

    Sincerity is among the core concepts of the Confucian school of thought. Basically, it means truthfulness without deceit. Confucians believed that sincerity is the essence of the “way of heaven” or “principles of heaven,” a basis on which everything else is built. At the same time, sincerity is also the root and foundation of morality. All moral de...

  • 不学《诗》,无以言 You Won’t Be Able to Talk Properly with Others Without Studying The Book of Songs.

    In Confucius’ time, how well one understood The Book of Songswas a sign of his social status and cultural attainment. If one did not study it, one would find it difficult to improve one’s ability to express oneself and to converse with people of high social status. Confucius’ elaboration on the relationship between studying The Book of Songsand soc...

  • 悲慨 Melancholy and Resentment

    Melancholy and resentment, which here refers to a sense of helplessness found in poems, is one of the 24 poetic styles summarized by Sikong Tu, a poet in the late Tang Dynasty. Faced with frustrations and tough challenges in life, or overwhelmed by the immensity of nature or major events, poets were often seized by dejection, grief, sadness, and an...

  • 般若 Buddhist Wisdom

    The term is the transliteration of the Sanskrit word prajñā, meaning wisdom. It refers to the supreme wisdom with insight into the nature and reality of all things. Buddhism believes that such wisdom surpasses all secular understandings, and therefore is the guide for or the essence of the effort aimed at achieving enlightenment and attaining Buddh...

  • 本末 Ben and Mo (The Fundamental and the Incidental)

    The two characters literally mean the different parts of a plant, namely, its root and its foliage. The extended meaning is an important concept in Chinese philosophical discourse. The term can be understood in three different ways. 1)Ben(本) refers to what is fundamental or essential, while mo(末) means what is minor or incidental, two qualities tha...

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