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The roots of Chinese philosophy and culture — An introduction to “xiang” and “xiang thinking”

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To grasp the truth in traditional Chinese classics, we need to uncover the long obscured “xiang” 象 (image) thinking, which has long been overshadowed by Occidentalism. “xiang thinking” is the most fundamental thought of human beings. The logic of linguistics all comes from “xiang thinking”. Through conceptual thinking, people can understand Western classics on metaphysics, yet they may not completely understand the various schools of Chinese classics. The difference between Chinese and Western ways of thinking originated in the difference of the basic views developed in the “Axial period”. Since Aristotle, Western metaphysical ideas have all been manifested in substantiality, objectivity, and being ready-made, whereas Chinese Taiji, Dao, Xin-xing, and Zen were manifested in the non-substantiality, non-objectivity, and non-ready-made-ness of a dynamic whole. To grasp substance, rational and logical thinking such as definition, judgment, and reasoning is necessary. On the other hand, to grasp Taiji, Dao, etc., which is a dynamic whole or non-substances, “xiang thinking”, which is related to perception and rich in poetic association, is essential. History has taught us a lesson, i.e., when we opened the window to logical thought, we closed that of “xiang thinking”. We should remember the words of Xu Guangqi, i.e., “To mingle harmoniously and understand thoroughly so as to excel”.

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