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Aesthetics, Chinese

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G010-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

In China, poetry, painting and calligraphy are traditionally known as the ‘Three Perfections’ of the cultivated scholar. They are construed as ethico-aesthetic acts of self-signification and are evaluated as to their efficacy in fostering harmonious relations of social exchange within the concrete circumstances of particular social contexts. In contrast to Western notions of mimesis, the Chinese poetic tradition assumes the existence of fundamental, mutually implicating correlations between the patterns (wen) immanent in nature and those of human culture.

This gives rise to two traditions of Chinese poetics. First, there is the canonical tradition of Confucian exegesis, in which a poem was assumed to invoke a network of pre-established categorical correlations (lei) between poet and world, which enabled the imagery to be read as verbal indices of both personal feeling and the relative stability of the social and natural order. Second, there is the non-canonical tradition of neo-Daoist and Buddhist-inspired poetics which represented a shift from the didactic to the affective power of natural imagery to make reference to the poet’s state of mind.

Calligraphy and painting were adopted by the gentleman-scholar as ethico-aesthetic practices of xiushen (self-cultivation) and self-expression, and for promotion of social exchange. Early writings describing calligraphy and painting deploy metaphorical imagery that makes reference to both nature and the body. This imagery invoked the indigenous correlative rhetoric that sought consonance between the patterns immanent within the natural order and those of the human realm. The embodiment of tradition, through the practice of making artistic references to the past, was fundamental to the art of the scholar-painter, for it served to establish one’s artistic lineage and to sanction or authorize one’s own self-presentation within a particular historical situation.

Citing this article:
Goldberg, Stephen J.. Aesthetics, Chinese, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G010-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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