Key Chinese Concepts

2018-11-02 10:29:00 Source:China Today Author:
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Chinese Dictionary





Heaven and Man Are United as One




The term represents a world outlook and a way of thinking which hold that heaven and earth and man are interconnected. This world outlook emphasizes the integration and inherent relationship between heaven, earth, and man. It highlights the fundamental significance of nature to man or human affairs, and describes the endeavor made by man to pursue life, order, and values through interaction with nature. The term has different ways of expression in history, such as heaven and man are of the same category, sharing the same vital energy, or sharing the same principles. Mencius, for one, believed that through mental reflection one could gain understanding of human nature and heaven, emphasizing the unity of mind, human nature, and heaven. Confucian scholars of the Song Dynasty sought to connect the principles of heaven, human nature, and the human mind. Laozi maintained that “man’s law is earthly, earth’s law is natural, and heaven’s law is Dao.” Depending on a different understanding of heaven and man, the term may have different meanings.


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In terms of integration of categories, heaven and man are one. (Dong Zhongshu: Luxuriant Gems of The Spring and Autumn Annals)






A Confucian scholar is sincere because of his understanding, and he achieves understanding because of his sincerity. That is why heaven and man are united as one. One can become a sage through studies, and master heaven’s law without losing understanding of man’s law. (Zhang Zai: Enlightenment Through Confucian Teachings)





Distinction Between Man and Heaven




This term refers to a world outlook and a way of thinking which hold that heaven and man are different. This explanation was first put forward by Xunzi, who did not believe that human morality and the order of human society emanated from heaven. He argued that heaven and man each had a different role and that they should not be mixed. Temporal changes of heaven and earth as well as the occurrence of seasonal changes in temperature and rainfall all belonged to the domain of heaven. They had their normal path, unrelated to human affairs, and were beyond the reach of human power. On the other hand, man’s morality and order in the world belonged to the realm of man. People should be responsible for moral development and social order. Only by making a clear distinction between heaven and man could one develop his abilities on the basis established by heaven, without overstepping into a domain where man was unable to exert his power.

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Nature’s ways are constant. They did not exist because Yao was on the throne or disappear because Jie was the ruler... When you work diligently in agriculture and are frugal in expenditures, nature cannot impoverish you. When you are well provided for with what you need and work at the proper time, nature cannot make you sick. When you firmly follow the right path, nature cannot bring you disaster... Therefore, he who understands the distinction between nature and man may be called the wisest man. (Xunzi)


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