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Wang Fuzhi’s Interpretation of Spirit/Shen in His Annotation on the Zhuangzi

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This essay systematically explores the concept “spirit” (shen 神) in Wang Fuzhi’s Annotation on the Zhuangzi (Zhuangzi Jie 莊子解). Following Zhuangzi, Wang Fuzhi interprets spirit as a mass of vital force/jingqi, and regards spirit as the master of human life and human body. Through preserving one’s spirit, one will not only be able to preserve one’s body, but also keep all creatures immune from sickness and plague. This can be accomplished, since a well-preserved spirit will contribute harmonious and pure qi to the universe and make the whole universe more harmonious. In an effort to achieve this purpose, Wang Fuzhi proposes “forgetting all external things” and aiming for an empty and detached mind, on one hand, and asks a person to concentrate his spirit with a constant will, one the other hand. Once one’s spirit is well concentrated, one will be a spiritual person (shenren 神人), who will transcend life and death, fortune and misfortune, always living a leisurely and carefree life. One will also forget all cognitive distinctions and fully become one with the transformation of things and Heaven (tian 天). In this way, one’s spirit will achieve eternity, and fully realize the meaning of human life.

Affiliations: 1: School of Philosophy and Social Development, Shandong University, Ji’nan 250100, China


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