Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

"Literary Mind" as a Primary Notion in Chinese Narrative Thought

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

"Literary Mind" as a Primary Notion in Chinese Narrative Thought

Article excerpt


ClassicalChinese philosophies, be they Confticianist, Taoist, or Buddhist, have all made preeminent the concept of xin (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.), or "heart", which, instead of the brain, was thought to be the organ of the mind. Recognizing this etymological background, the translation of Chinese notion xin ... in the following shall adopt a juxtaposed form: heart/mind. For relevance and brevity, thepresent research shall mainlyrelate to the Confucianistschool, whose conceptualization of xin began with Mencius (B.C. 372 - 289), who proclaimed:


What belongs by his nature to the Superior Man are Benevolence, Righteousness, Propriety, and Knowledge. These are rooted in his heart.

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) 4

If one fully exploreshismind, he will know hisnature. If he knowshisNature, he knowsheaven.

From the above quotations, it seems clear that, according to Mencius, for the classical Confucianist thinker, "heart/mind" plays a fundamental part in man's understanding of his own nature and all structures external to it. In fact, in Mencian thought, xin ..., "heart/ mind", is highly métonymie to another core concept, which is xing ..., "naturality". Both concepts are formulated by Mencius as "an ontological concept with axiological content grounded in epistemology".5

Neo-Confucianists of the much later Song and Ming Dynasties, most notably Lu Jiuyuan (1139-1193) and Wang Yangming (1427-1529), carried forward the "heart/mind" conception and established "the School of heart/mind" (xinxue, ...). For example, Lu Jiuyuan claimed "The myriadthings are out there for me"6 (...), "The universe is my heart; my heart is the universe" (... Wang Yangming described human intellectual pursuit as "searching themind proper" (...) and "attaining good conscience" (...). Both Lu Jiuyuan and Wang Yangming have proposed that li ... (principle or rationality) is the embodiment of xin ... (heart/mind). In another school of Neo-Confucianism, Zhu Xi (1130 - 1200) and the Cheng brothers8 maintained that li ... (principle or rationality) is the embodiment of xing fÉ (naturality), rather than of xin ... (heart/mind). But this divergence should not be considered as a fundamental difference between the two schools, given the métonymie relationship that I have proposed earlier on between the two terms. Therefore, it should be reasonable to assume that the Confucianist conceptualization of "heart/mind" has actually positioned it somewhere between the personal and impersonal zones of consciousness. This would further on facilitate later inception of wenxin ... (literary mind), as an inter subjective mediating entity in the process of literary imagination, creation and interpretation.

Having briefly discussed the philosophical development of "heart/mind", it is now necessary to explore how the concept has been incorporated into traditional Chinese literary theory and its narrative portion. The earliest discussion of "heart/mind" as a literary term is found in Wen Fu ... The Poetic Exposition on Literature)by Lu Ji (261-303) of the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316). He begins the exposition by saying:

... 9

Whenever I consider what is made by persons of talent, there is something within me that lets me grasp their strenuous efforts (or "use ofmind"). Though there are indeed many mutations in the way they let loose their words and express phrases, still we can grasp and speak of value and beauty in them.10

While there is such strenuous reification of the "heart/mind", there is also a comparatively untrammelled aspect. Hence another notion that Lu Jideveloped fromxin is xinyou ... (the travel ofmind). He made use of this notion to describe the preliminary stage as well as the entire mental process of literary composition. In his The Poetic Exposition on Literature such a process is represented with exquisite symmetry and rhetorical exuberance:

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