We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Chinese Aesthetics

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

Zong-qi Cai

Publication Year: 2004

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (36.7 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (36.7 KB)
pp. vii

The ten essays collected in this volume are revised versions of papers presented at an international conference on Six Dynasties aesthetics held at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, November 3–4, 2000. This conference was a sequel...

read more

Prologue: A Historical Overview of Six Dynasties Aesthetics

pdf iconDownload PDF (269.2 KB)
pp. 1-28

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 ...

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

read more

Chapter 1. Replication and Deception in Calligraphy of the Six Dynasties Period

pdf iconDownload PDF (326.3 KB)
pp. 31-59

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 ...

read more

Chapter 2. The Essay on Painting by Wang Wei (415–453) in Context

pdf iconDownload PDF (263.7 KB)
pp. 60-80

The “Xu hua” (Discussion of Painting), by Wang Wei (415–453), has been classified with the “Hua shanshui xu” (Preface on Landscape Painting), by Zong Bing (375–443), under the heading of “landscape Daoism.” These two texts are often discussed along with a third,...

read more

Chapter 3. Xie He’s “Six Laws” of Painting and Their Indian Parallels

pdf iconDownload PDF (353.7 KB)
pp. 81-122

There is universal agreement that Xie He’s “Liu fa” (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...

read more

Chapter 4. A Good Place Need Not Be a Nowhere: The Garden and Utopian Thought in the Six Dynasties

pdf iconDownload PDF (420.5 KB)
pp. 123-166

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

Part II: Words and Patterns: Poetry and Prose

read more

Chapter 5. The Unmasking of Tao Qian and the Indeterminacy of Interpretation

pdf iconDownload PDF (328.8 KB)
pp. 169-190

This chapter will examine the history of the reception of Tao Qian (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...

read more

Chapter 6. Crossing Boundaries: Transcendents and Aesthetics in the Six Dynasties

pdf iconDownload PDF (356.7 KB)
pp. 191-221

At the same time as the establishment of aesthetics, xian (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,...

read more

Chapter 7. Literary Games and Religious Practice at the End of the Six Dynasties: The Baguanzhai Poems by Xiao Gang and His Followers

pdf iconDownload PDF (214.2 KB)
pp. 222-234

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...

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

read more

Chapter 8. Shishuo xinyu and the Emergence of Aesthetic Self-Consciousness in the Chinese Tradition

pdf iconDownload PDF (512.1 KB)
pp. 237-276

Shishuo xinyu (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—...

read more

Chapter 9. Nature and Higher Ideals in Texts on Calligraphy, Music, and Painting

pdf iconDownload PDF (334.8 KB)
pp. 277-309

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...

read more

Chapter 10. The Conceptual Origins and Aesthetic Significance of “Shen” in Six Dynasties Texts on Literature and Painting

pdf iconDownload PDF (326.3 KB)
pp. 310-342

Shen” 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...

List of Contributors

pdf iconDownload PDF (40.0 KB)
pp. 343-345


pdf iconDownload PDF (83.9 KB)
pp. 347-359

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861841
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824827915

Publication Year: 2004