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Author(s) Unknown, , . Yue Ji 樂記—Record of Music: Introduction, Translation, Notes, and Commentary
1995, Asian Music 26(2): 1-96.
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Summary: The earliest extant Chinese treatise on music. The Yue Ji presents largely Confucian ideas on the connections between music, self-cultivation, proper governance, and the realization of natural patterns. Human character is described as a musical progression with ties to the transformation of sound into a kind of music that is distinguished by its relationship to virtue. The exact identity of the author(s) is debated, and it is believed to have been compiled from various sources no later than the middle of the Western Han dynasty (206BCE-24CE).

Comment: This text is appropriate for an aesthetics (especially philosophy of music) and/or Chinese philosophy course. It is best accessed by a reader with a basic understanding of early Chinese philosophy (especially Confucianism).

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Chung-Yuan Chang, , . Immeasurable potentialities of creativity
2011, In Chung-Yuan Chang (ed.). Creativity and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry. London & Philadelphia: Singing Dragon.
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Summary: A study of the Taoist (Daoist) concept of creativity as a non-instrumental process in which all things create themselves. Chang argues for the foundational place of this understanding of self-emergent creativity in the aesthetics of Chinese art.

Comment: Can be used as both an introduction to Daoism and to Chinese aesthetics.

Related reading:

  • Laozi, Tao Te Ching. D. C. Lau, trans. New York: Addison Wesley, 2000.
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Eva Kit Wah Man, , . Issues of Contemporary Art and Aesthetics in Chinese Context
2015, Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
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Publisher’s Note: This book discusses how China’s transformations in the last century have shaped its arts and its philosophical aesthetics. For instance, how have political, economic and cultural changes shaped its aesthetic developments? Further, how have its long-standing beliefs and traditions clashed with modernizing desires and forces, and how have these changes materialized in artistic manifestations? In addition to answering these questions, this book also brings Chinese philosophical concepts on aesthetics into dialogue with those of the West, making an important contribution to the fields of art, comparative aesthetics and philosophy.

Comment: A timely discussion of the influence of the last century’s political, economic, and cultural changes in China upon its philosophical aesthetics. Man’s book addresses a number of key neglected topics of comparative aesthetics between China and the West, contemporary aesthetics and art in Hong Kong, the relation of gender and art in the politics of identity, and the role of tradition in new creative practices. Chapter 4 introduces the leaders of the major schools of aesthetics in new China, including Li Zehou. This text is best used in a comparative aesthetics context, especially in discussions of contemporary aesthetic mediums.

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Hsi K’ang, , . Music Has Neither Grief Nor Joy
1983, In Philosophy and Argumentation in Third-Century China. Princeton: Princeton University Press
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Summary: The controversial essay in which Xi Kang offered a distinct counterargument to the orthodox Confucian view that music contains and transfers emotions between musicians and listeners. Xi Kang crafts a series of arguments against the presence of emotions and images in music and contends that the widespread belief to the contrary leads to the misuse of music for political and moral agendas.

Comment: This text is best used in a course on aesthetics (especially philosophy of music) and/or Chinese philosophy. A basic understanding of Daoism is helpful.

Related reading:

  • Essay on Music. Ruan Ji. In Reed Andrew Criddle’s “Rectifying Lasciviousness through Mystical Learning: An Exposition and Translation of Ruan Ji’s Essay on Music.” Asian Music 38(2), 2007.
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Li Zehou, , . The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition
2009, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press
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Publisher’s Note: The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition touches on all areas of artistic activity, including poetry, painting, calligraphy, architecture, and the “art of living.” Right government, the ideal human being, and the path to spiritual transcendence all come under the provenance of aesthetic thought. According to Li this was the case from early Confucian explanations of poetry as that which gives expression to intent, through Zhuangzi’s artistic depictions of the ideal personality who discerns the natural way of things and lives according to it, to Chan Buddhist-inspired notions that nature and words can come together to yield insight and enlightenment. In this enduring and stimulating work, Li demonstrates conclusively the fundamental role of aesthetics in the development of the cultural and psychological structures in Chinese culture that define “humanity.”

Comment: Li’s synthesis of Chinese aesthetic thought from ancient to early modern times. Li incorporates pre-Confucian, Confucian, Daoist, and Chan Buddhist ideas to discuss art and the central role of aesthetics in Chinese culture and philosophy. Government, self-cultivation and realization, and ethics are all approached here as aesthetic activities. This text is well-suited to an aesthetics or Chinese philosophy course in which there is some introduction to key philosophical concepts from Chinese philosophy. It provides excellent material for cross-cultural aesthetics.

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Man, Eva Kit Wah, , . Female bodily aesthetics, politics, and feminine ideals of beauty in China
2000, In Beauty Matters, Peg Zeglin Brand (ed.), Indiana University Press, p169-196.
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Abstract: A long and scholarly piece by Eva Kitt Wah Man covers the history of Chinese conventions governing female ‘beauty’ from Confucius through Maoism to the present day. Classical manuals provide highly specific requirements forc ourtesans and concubines. The shrunken, pulpy appendages produced by foot-binding practiceswere regarded as the most sexually stimulating features of the female body. In 1949, following the inauguration of the Communist regime, women were expected to shun ornament and make-up, to have short hair, wear party uniforms, and to look as much like men as possible. The ideal for the contemporary Chinese woman is quite a lot like the ideal for the courtesan of tradition, but the de-tails are drawn from western fashion magazines. Wah believes that such liberation, although it has its advantages, is mainly nominal and fosters confusion. She writes: ‘Although Chinese women today are developing new self-confidence, they do not seem to be aware of the fact that one can be-come a slave of the fashion industry, which merely repeats the bodily constraints of past times in a new form’ (p. 194). [review by Mary Mothersill, 2001 – Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59 (2):211-214.] Feminist Review volume 75, pages145-147, 2003)

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Peng Feng, , . Li Yu’s Theory of Drama: A Moderate Moralism
2016, Philosophy East and West 66(1): 73-91.
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Abstract: This essay presents an interpretation of Li Yu’s theory of drama that takes it to be a moderate moralism that is different from Confucian radical moralism, Daoist radical autonomism, and the moderate autonomism of fiction. In addition to practical considerations, Li Yu’s moderate moralism of drama is based on his awareness of the ontological difference between drama and music, poetry, and fiction. Drama was seen by Li Yu as a synthetic art that includes music, poetry, and fiction. If radical autonomism is appropriate for the evaluation of music, radical moralism for poetry and prose, and moderate autonomism for fiction, then moderate moralism would be most appropriate in the evaluation of drama.

Comment: Peng gives an account of the development of Chinese drama according to a contrast between Confucian moralism, in which morality controls aesthetics, and Daoist autonomism, in which aesthetics are autonomous from morality. He argues for an understanding of Li Yu’s theory of drama as a moderate moralism that evaluates drama according to a possible, yet contingent and unnecessary relation between moral and aesthetic virtue. This text is appropriate for a course on aesthetics and/or Chinese philosophy. It is particularly useful in discussions of the relationship between ethics and aesthetics.

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Wang Bi, , . Clarifying the Images (Ming xiang)
2004, In Richard John Lynn (ed.). The Classic of Changes: A New Translation of the I Ching as Interpreted by Wang Bi.
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Summary: From Wang Bi’s (226-249) seminal commentary on the Yi Jing (I Ching) or Classic of Changes. Bi catalogues and explains the relationship between images, ideas, language, and meaning. A key text that continues to be of importance in Chinese aesthetics, philosophy of language, and hermeneutics.

Comment: This text requires a basic understanding of early Chinese philosophy. It would be appropriate in an advanced undergraduate or graduate seminar on Chinese philosophy and/or aesthetics.

Related reading:

  • Ch. 26 of the Zhuangzi in Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters. A.C. Graham, trans. Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2001.
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