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Exploring the Inner Relationships between Modern Chinese Aesthetics and the Confucian Mind-Soul (心性) Framework
Modern Chinese aesthetics promotes the utilitarian function of the arts and artistic appreciation via aesthetic education and an arts-infused lifestyle. This utilitarian orientation has not originated from European aesthetics, but rather reflects a localized awareness of the “humanistic enhancement of citizens” through the arts, which, derived from the Confucian tradition, expands on its “mind-soul” theory. This conceptual framework finds its roots in the Song-Ming philosophy of mind and pays particular attention to the cultivation of individual morals and personal character as the essential pathway towards restoring conscience. This positioning of values and valuations, to a large extent, was the inspiration, as well as the traditional philosophical source, for such well-known scholars as Wang Guowei, Cai Yuanpei, Liang Qichao, and Zhu Guangqian, who advocated aesthetic education and aesthetic disinterestedness. In other words, it is possible to distinguish an explicit historical continuum between the traditions of the Confucian philosophy of mind and soul, and the conception of modern Chinese aesthetics. With a central focus upon aesthetic utilitarianism, modern Chinese aesthetics can be understood as the “Aesthetics of the Mind,” which, in turn, draws upon “ancient Chinese aesthetics.” This aesthetic theoretical approach provides the foundation for modern Chinese philosophy, and even constitutes the whole edifice of “Chinese aesthetics.” “The aesthetics of the mind,” its value positioning, its philosophical orientation, and its keen awareness of localized problems serves as an important reference point for contemporary aesthetic studies in China.