Distinguishing “Chan” and “Quan”——A Discussion of the Publicness of Chanshi

Social Sciences in China, 2018

Vol. 39, No. 4, 2018


Distinguishing “Chan” and “Quan”——A Discussion of the Publicness of Chanshi



Zhang Jiang


The way written hanyu (language of China’s Han people; Chinese) forms its characters places a high value on intuition, openness and sharing. “Publicness” is an essential characteristic of chanshi 阐释 and this attests to our argument. The chan in chanshi 阐释 (free interpretation) and the quan in quanshi 诠释 (exegesis) have profound philosophical and historical sources. The openness and publicness of chan seek outwardness, explicitness and clarity, holding firmly to the basic claims of dialogue and negotiation, thus containing some brilliant and constructive ideas to the cutting edge of contemporary hermeneutics. Quan is oriented toward the real, the detailed, the full and the demonstrable, qualities that look to the thing in itself, and it holds firmly to moving from textual research to meaning and significance; it shines forth in the national spirit of seeking truth. There were two approaches to hermeneutics in ancient China: one stressed the quan of research on ancient texts, the other the chan of intent. Each has its merits, and the two are compatible. With Chinese discourse as the mainstay, classical hermeneutics as a resource, and contemporary Western hermeneutics as a reference, we can use comparison, selection and the ascertaining of meaning to start from concepts and go on to categories, and then to propositions followed by schemata and thence to systems, finally realizing the modern metamorphosis of the views and theories of traditional hermeneutics, establishing a contemporary Chinese hermeneutics that highlights Chinese concepts, thought and theories.


Keywords: Shuowen Jiezi, chanshi, quanshi, Chinese hermeneutics