Key Chinese Concepts










The basic meaning of yi (义) is “reasonable” and “proper.” It has two extended meanings. One is the proper basis and standard for people’s actions. The other is to adjust one’s words or deeds to meet certain standards, under the guidance of mo0ral judgments. Scholars in the Song Dynasty used li (理) or “principles of heaven” to interpret yi, and considered yi to be the reasonable standard defined by the “principles of heaven,” and hoped that people’s words and deeds would fall in line with these principles.


引例 Citations:


君子喻于义。(《论语 里仁》) (君子知晓并遵循义。)


Junzi (a man of virtue) understands things and acts in accordance with righteousness. (The Analects)


义者,心之制,事之宜也。(朱熹《孟子集注》) (义就是约束自己的内心,使事情合宜。)


Righteousness means exercising self-restraint in order to do everyting properly. (Zhu Xi: Mencius Variorum)










Ti (体), which generally refers to bodies, shapes, and the forms of characters, has three different meanings in the study of literature, art, and aesthetics. First, it refers to the features that distinguish one particular category, form, or school of literary works from others. These features represent the overall form and artistic characteristics, including the structure, content, language, style, and other essential elements. Second, it can refer to only the style of literary and artistic works, not their form or shape. Third, it can refer to the basic form of literary and artistic works, i.e., the writing style and literary genre. Scholars of literary theory in different historical periods did not use the same standards to classify the styles of literary works. For example, Xiao Tong of the Southern Liang proposed to classify literary and artistic works into 38 styles or categories in his Literary Anthology. There is a wide range of writing styles and literary genres in Chinese classical literature, each with basic style and writing requirements. It is believed that the style of a literary work reflects the author’s individual artistic character and sometimes also the literary and artistic features of a school in a particular era. This term is often used together with the name of a person or a dynasty to describe literary and artistic features relevant to a particular school of literature. Examples are the Sao Style (represented by the signature poem, Li Sao, written by famous poet Qu Yuan), the Tao Style (represented by poet Tao Yuanming), and the Jian’an Style (named after the reign period called Jian’an during the Han Dynasty). The term has been widely used in literary criticism and appreciation.


引例 Citations:


◇夫人善于自见,而文非一体,鲜能备善,是以各以所长,相轻所短。(曹丕《典论 论文》)




People are always quick to see their own strengths. However, given the number of styles of literary works, few people are accomplished in all the literary styles. Therefore, people always write in the styles they are good at while underestimating others’ works written in the styles they happen to be weak in. (Cao Pi: On Literary Classics)


◇自汉至魏,四百余年,辞人才子,文体三变。(《宋书 谢灵运传论》)




For more than 400 years from the Han to the Wei dynasties, there had been numerous talented poets and three major transformations in poetic styles. (The History of Song)


Selected from Key Concepts in Chinese Thought and Culture published by Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.