Prologue: A Historical Overview of Six Dynasties Aesthetics

Zong Qi Cai

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


After centuries in which it played at best a subordinate role to historiography, sociopolitical theory, and philosophy, aesthetic inquiry finally emerged in the Six Dynasties (220-589) as a distinct, independent concern. 1 Although Chinese literati did not begin to discuss literature and the arts in their own right until early in the third century, by the end of the sixth century their reflections would evolve into a sophisticated system of aesthetic discourse characterized by its own rhetoric, concepts, and evaluative criteria. Like Western aesthetics, that of the Six Dynasties is often silent about the ethical, sociopolitical, and utilitarian.2 Yet it was precisely these factors that made its birth and rapid growth possible. In particular, the rise of an aristocratic literati culture after the collapse of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) was crucial. The evolution of such a culture would more or less shape the trajectory of Six Dynasties aesthetics. For that reason, it seems useful to look at how aristocratic culture influenced the Wei-Jin, (Liu) Song, and Qi-Liang periods, especially as exemplified by works discussed in the ten essays assembled here.3 As I examine the common concerns and themes in these works, I will address the larger issue of aesthetic ideals for these periods and consider how those ideals may be traced to different philosophical sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationChinese aesthetics
Subtitle of host publicationThe Ordering of Literature, the Arts, and the Universe in the Six Dynasties
EditorsZong-qi Cai
PublisherUniversity of Hawaii Press
Number of pages28
ISBN (Print)9780824827915
StatePublished - 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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