Person, community, Tian: the emergence of order and harmony in Chinese philosophy

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Yu, Lan
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University College Cork
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This thesis clarifies how the concept of tian functions in Chinese thought, and what tianren heyi (the continuity between tian and humans) means in the Chinese context. With a new interpretation about tianren heyi, I provide a new contribution for understanding these Chinese concepts for an English speaking audience. Tian is not a fixed concept like the idea of heaven, rather, it can be the principle for one’s immanent world. The meaning of the term changes depending on the context it is being used in, and can also be neutral when necessary. Continuity means that there is a resonance and reciprocity in the way these aspects of cosmology emerge together. Humans and tian are not being unified or connected—there is simply continuity between them. What happens is that a productive relationship between them produces depth, harmony, and enhanced significance. Through the interaction between humanity and tian, the human world gains order, and from the perspective of tian, gains harmony. This different understanding the continuity between humanity and tian leads to a new understanding of timing or the appropriateness in li. In the process of practice and self cultivation, it is seen that li is also an idea that is not fixed to one single interpretation as it is connected with timing and appropriateness. The Classical Chinese concept of “Person” (ren 人), as the concrete context of li, is the centre of this practice. Because of the unfixed natures of tian and li, one needs to be flexible in order to cater to their demands. This embodies the freedom of the subject in Chinese thought. As the outcome of li, the social and political structure is shaped in this process, the examples being the models of “great union” and “small tranquillity” (Chapter 3) in Chinese tradition.
Person , Tian , Order , Harmony
Lan, Y. 2016 Person, community, Tian: the emergence of order and harmony in Chinese philosophy. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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