Expressing the Heart's Intent

Explorations in Chinese Aesthetics

By Marthe Atwater Chandler

Subjects: Chinese Studies, Asian Studies, Aesthetics, Philosophy, Asian Art
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9781438466583, 284 pages, July 2018
Hardcover : 9781438466576, 284 pages, September 2017

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Note on Transcriptions

1. Introduction: Expressing the Heart’s Intent
Classical Understandings of shi yan zhi
The Canon of Shun
Reformulation in the “Great Preface”
Six Dynasty Literary Theory: The Wenxin Diaolong of Liu Xie
The Wénxīn Diāolóng and the Expressive Theory of Art
Zhi in Contemporary Aesthetics
Plan of the Book

2. The Aesthetic Theory of Li Zehou
Kant in China
Kant and Confucian Practical Reasoning
Kant and Marx
Sedimentation (jidian 積淀)
The Sense of Beauty
Aesthetic Attitude (Pleasing the Ear and Eye)
Aesthetic Attention (Pleasing the Heart-Mind and Mood)
Aesthetic Experience (Pleasing the Will and Spirit)
Aesthetics and Religion
Religion and Spiritual Experiences
Mystical Experiences
Aesthetic Experiences

3. Chinese Buddhism: Art and Religion in the Northern Wei
Northern Wei Buddhas
Art and Religion
Li Zehou: Confucius, Kant, and Marx
History of Buddhism in Northern China
The Sculptural Tradition of China
From India to China
Translators and Missionaries
Missionaries in the North
Rise of the Northern Wei
Aesthetic Experience and Religion

4. The Meaning of “Horse”
Theories of Meaning in Language and Aesthetics
Horses in Early China
Horse painting in the Tang Dynasty
Tang Royalty and Their Horses
Ideal Horses in Chinese and Western Painting
Chinese and Western Painting Theory
Literati Painting of the Song and Yuan
China Modernizes: Ming and Qing Dynasties
China and the West
Chinese Revolutions and the Global Art Market
Conclusion: Art or Propaganda?

5. The Red Cliff Odes: Poetry and Philosophy
Su Shi’s Life and Exile in Huangzhou
Su Shi and Tao Qian
Su Shi and Buddhism
The Red Cliff Poems
Su Shi and the Neo-Confucian Synthesis: The Failure of Philosophy
Su Shi and Cheng Yi
Su Shi and Zhu Xi
Philosophy and Poetry


Using Li Zehou’s theories of aesthetics, argues for the importance of the arts to philosophy.


In this wide-ranging examination of the concept of zhi ("the heart's intent") as the foundation of Chinese aesthetics, Marthe Atwater Chandler places traditional Chinese aesthetics in conversation with contemporary Chinese theory and traditional western philosophy. Poetry, music, painting, and calligraphy played much the same role in the development of thought in China as science did for philosophy in the west, with important implications for the relationship between art, religion, politics, and morality. Inspired by the work of Li Zehou, a leading contemporary Chinese philosopher and scholar of Kant who traced the relationship between philosophy and art throughout Chinese history, Chandler applies Li's theoretical structure to specific traditions in Chinese art. Throughout the book she considers the relationship of aesthetics and religion in the Chinese adoption of Buddhism, the aesthetics of horse painting, and the personal and political in philosophy in the work of Su Dongpo. By examining particular works of art, Expressing the Heart's Intent argues that if philosophy ignores the arts, it is immeasurably impoverished.

Marthe Atwater Chandler is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Asian Studies at DePauw University and the coeditor (with Ronnie Littlejohn) of Polishing the Chinese Mirror: Essays in Honor of Henry Rosemont, Jr.