"Poetry can stimulate the mind" : an investigation into the confucian hermeneutic tradition

詩可以興 : 儒家闡釋傳統析論

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date3 Oct 2006


This dissertation seeks to examine an important issue in the Confucian hermeneutic tradition—that is, how poetry can stimulate the mind. The word “stimulate” is connected with the Confucian program of moral education or self-cultivation. In the Confucian hermeneutic tradition, how to be stimulated by poetry is usually prior to how to understand poetry. The study is based on the analysis of a particular term xing 興and a statement proposed by Confucius, shi ke yi xing 詩可以興 (poetry can stimulate the mind). In fact, the concept xing has been developed in three orientations: as a rhetorical device, as a creative process, and as an evocative function of poetry. Although Confucius’ statement seems to have been concerned only with the last orientation, the author argues that it indeed provides a hermeneutic principle not merely integrating the three orientations of xing but shaping later critical tradition. Confucius’ statement has given rise to the Confucian allegorical reading strategies. The interpretative practices found in some newly excavated manuscripts, such as the bamboo manuscripts preserved in the Shanghai Museum, will be discussed in this light. These analyses constitute the first half of the study, i.e. Chapter One, Two and Three. The second half of the study, namely Chapter Four and Five, attempts to explore a historical manifestation of the concept of xing and its implicit theoretical foundation. In the Han dynasty, the interaction between the text and the reader is manifested in that between poetry and the ruler. The discussion of xing as a rhetorical technique in the Mao School is nothing more than a response to the anxiety about how to influence the ruler by means of poetry. On the other hand, xing is often seen as an unmediated process in which a particular scene stirs up the poet’s emotions; this conception has been generally accepted as a characteristic of classical Chinese poetry. In fact, this conception is predicated on the assumption that emotional sincerity can equip poetry with the power of stimulation. When xing is linked with the poet’s spontaneous and sincere responses to external objects, the Confucian concern with how poetry can stimulate the mind finds its solution.

    Research areas

  • Hermeneutics, Confucianism, Shi jing