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The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition
280pp. November 2009
The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition
Author: Li Zehou; Translator: Samei, Maija Bell;
Li Zehou (b. 1930) has been an influential thinker in China since the 1950s. Before moving to the U.S. in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, Li published works on Kant and traditional and contemporary Chinese philosophy. The present volume, a translation of his Huaxia meixue (1989), is considered among Li’s most significant works. Apart from its value as an introduction to the philosophy of one of contemporary China’s foremost intellectuals, The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition fills an important gap in the literature of Chinese aesthetics in English. It presents Li’s synthesis of the entire trajectory of Chinese aesthetic thought, from ancient times to the early modern period, incorporating pre-Confucian and Confucian ideas, Daoism, Chan Buddhism, and the influence of Western philosophy during the late-imperial period. As one of China’s As one of China's major contemporary philosophers and preeminent authority on Kant, Li is uniquely positioned to observe this trajectory and make it intelligible to today’s readers.

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."

“A fascinating explanation of why Chinese philosophy and culture are ‘aesthetic’ rather than scientific and logical. This is a wonderful book—for the questions it asks, the answers it proposes, and the possibilities it leaves open.” —Philosophy East & West (62:1, January 2012)
Author: Li Zehou; Translator: Samei, Maija Bell;
Li Zehou was a key figure in the intellectual foment of the 1980s. A philosopher of aesthetics and historian of Chinese thought, as well as China’s preeminent authority on Kant, Li is the author of The Path of Beauty: A Study of Chinese Aesthetics (1995), and Four Essays on Aesthetics: Toward a Global View (with Jane Cauvel; Lexington Books, 2006). A senior research fellow and retired professor of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Li has since 1991 resided in the United States, where he makes his home in Boulder, Colorado.

Maija Bell Samei is an independent scholar. She is the author of Gendered Persona and the Poetic Voice: The Abandoned Woman in Early Chinese Song Lyrics (Lexington Books, 2004) and holds a doctorate in Chinese literature from the University of Michigan.

Preface to the First Edition

Translator’s Introduction

Chapter 1. The Rites and Music Tradition
Society and Nature: The Pre-Confucian Tradition
Feeling and Form in the Rites and Music Tradition
Politics and Art

Chapter 2. Confucian Humanism
Conscious Humanity in the Analects
The Perfection of Human Personality
Time, Emotion, and the Apprehension of Mortality
Morality and Vitality in Mencius
The Unity of Heaven and Humans in Xunzi and the Book of Changes

Chapter 3. The Daoist-Confucian Synthesis
"Free and easy wandering": Zhuangzi’s Aesthetic View of Life
The Broadening of the Aesthetic Object
The Unconscious

Chapter 4. Beauty in Deep Emotion
A New Reflection on Mortality
Noumenal Inquiry and Experience
Imaginary Reality

Chapter 5. Metaphysical Pursuits
Eternity and Subtle Awakening
Lingering Flavor and Blandness
The Return to Confucianism and Daoism

Chapter 6. Toward Modernity
From Desire to Innate Sensibility
The Influence of Western Aesthetics
Media and Categorization