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Contemporary Chinese Aesthetics


Edited By Zhu Liyuan and Gene Blocker

This book is a collection of translations of recent work by contemporary Chinese aestheticians. Because of the relative isolation of China until recently, little is known of this rich and ongoing aesthetics tradition in China. Although some of the articles are concerned with the traditional ancient Chinese theories of art and beauty, many are inspired by Western aesthetics, including Marxism, and all are involved in cross-cultural comparisons of Chinese and Western aesthetic traditions.


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The Essence of Beauty: Liu Gangji 189


The Essence of Beauty Liu Gangji Western aesthetic schools before and after the advent of Marxist aesthetics are complex and various in their accounts of the essence of beauty. However, philosophically, they did not go beyond two main theories. One was materialism, whether ancient naive materialism or modem mechanical materialism, which traced beauty to its source in the physical properties of the aesthetic object itself; the other was idealism, whether of the subjective or the objective variety, which identified beauty with subjective consciousness. The former referred beauty to the historical development of society and certain physical properties of matter, while the latter identified beauty as a spiritual phenomenon, without recognizing the physical properties of beauty. Both types of theory advanced human understanding of the essence of beauty, especially the idealist aesthetics of Kant and Hegel, on which most modem aesthetics was based. Since Hegel's time idealist aesthetics has become increasingly predominant. From the standpoint of everyday experience, aesthetic feeling seems to be aroused by physical properties of matter, and therefore the idea that beauty lies in the physical properties of aesthetic objects has a long history which is easily supported by common sense. But on further analysis, this theory which seems so obvious to common sense turns out to be invalid. If beauty is in the physical properties of an object, any object with the same properties should evoke the same aesthetic feeling, but we fmd this is not the case. The same property may be beautiful in one situation,...

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