Distinguishing between “Jie” and “Shi”

Social Sciences in China, 2020

Vol. 41, No. 3, 2020


Distinguishing between “Jie” and “Shi



Zhang Jiang


Taking the genesis of the ancient characters as a starting point and clarifying the approach to the development of hermeneutics in ancient China by examining the original forms of the relevant Chinese characters may provide a reliable philological basis for the overall construction of contemporary Chinese hermeneutics. Chanshi 阐释 is a process that starts with jie , goes through quan and then reaches chan , fulfilling the highest goal of chan. Jie means to dismantle an object by means of external force; it remains at the level of fen ( split) and lacks an overall grasp. At all events, such interpretations must be precise; they are not chanshi. Quan is philological research on the original form underlying phenomena; it seeks precision, completeness and authenticity. The representation of the original forms underlying phenomena should follow quan as a standard. Chan means the interpretation of Yi Li (义理 argumentation), seeking for enlargement and expansion on the basis of the original form, i.e., the derived meaning. The aim and meaning of chan converge and are fulfilled right here. To put it simply, chan starts with jie, and is established on the basis of fen; quan begins with jie, and is zheng ( verified or finalized) in accordance with philological research; and quan must give rise to chan, in the great opening up of meanings. Jie means fen, quan means zheng, and chan means yan ( spread out). Going from jie to quan, and thence from quan to chan, the entire course of chan is finished and it reaches the final aim. Chan arises from and realizes jie and quan. Deeply investigating the meaning of jieshi, especially the original meaning of the monosyllables jie and shi, and comparing them with the meanings and usages of chan and quan, we find that it is necessary and sufficient to select chanshixue 阐释学 rather than quanshixue 诠释学, or still less jieshixue 解释学, as the appellation of contemporary Chinese hermeneutics.


Keywords: jie , shi , jieshi 解释, chanshi 阐释, Chinese hermeneutics