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On the origin and development of the idea of “de” in Pre-Qin times

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image of Frontiers of Philosophy in China

In ancient Chinese thoughts, de is a comparatively complicated idea. Most of the researchers translated it directly into “virtue”, but this translation is not accurate for our understanding of the idea of “de” in pre-Qin times. Generally speaking, in Pre-Qin times, the idea of “de” underwent three developmental periods. The first is the de of Heaven, the de of ancestors; the second the de of system; and the third the de of spirit and moral conducts. In a long period of history, the idea of “de” never cast off the influence of tian Dao (the way of Heaven). It was in Western Zhou Dynasty that the idea of “de” shook off the dense fog of the mandate of Heaven. However, it was the thinkers in Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States who made contributions to bring it deep into people’s mind. The ancient Chinese thoughts were mainly concerned with people’s recognition and development of their own abilities, with people’s seeking harmony and balance between human-beings and nature, and with people’s seeking harmonious and balanced human relations. The development of the idea of “de” played a very important role in this context.


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