Distinguishing between Li and Xing

Social Sciences in China

Vol. 40, No. 4, 2019


Distinguishing between Li and Xing



Zhang Jiang


In ancient China, the morphemes li and xing were monosyllables, and both literally and semantically, their signifiers and signified greatly differed from lixing 理性 (reason) as a holistic concept in the sense of pragmatics. The concept of li in Chinese culture was the principle of practical reason, and the intuitive expression of practical wisdom; reason in the West is a theoretical reason, the logical expression of theoretical wisdom. The concept of xing in ancient China strictly delimited human nature and biological properties; for li and de within the concept of xing, what was more important was the ethical and value meanings embodied in xing that highlighted man’s conscious moral pursuit. The xing of ancient China can be taken to be ethical. The discrimination and analysis of li and xing in ancient China, and the discrimination and analysis of li in ancient China and lixing or reason in the present, provide new clues for the construction of a hermeneutic theory and system. In view of the original meaning of li in the East, interpretation starts from xing, proceeds in light of li, and reveals the origin of xing; respecting the original meaning of li (principle) in the West, hermeneutics starts with principles and sets to work with analysis, featuring synthetization. Oriental practical wisdom and Occidental theoretical reason complement, refer to and are integrated with each other, revealing the full value and meaning of interpretation, and approaching the cognition of truth in endless reflection. Following the cultural and philosophical tradition of ancient China while referring to Western philosophy and its method of reason can serve as an important ground for the basic rules of contemporary hermeneutics.


Keywords: li , xing , reason, interpretation