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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


On Mencius’s Theory of Body Fulfillment: The Moral Practice of “Directing Will and Cultivating Ch’i”

Vol. 20 No. 1   6/1990


On Mencius’s Theory of Body Fulfillment: The Moral Practice of “Directing Will and Cultivating Ch’i” 


Rur-bin Yang 









Key words



Mencius claimed that we can discern one’s personality by observing one eyes. Clear bright eyes indicate an upright character; dull and murky eyes show its absence. Realization of one nature fully manifests itself in one face, in one back, and throughout one four limbs; no words are required for its expression. 

    This essay probes into how it is that values come to be incarnated in one’s body, Scrutinizes of the Mencius and later commentator’s interpretations reveal Mencius’s peculiar theory of the body. Mencius claimed that our moral will transforms our physical body into spiritual one. This is what I would call a theory of body fulfillment. 

    This theory presupposes that our empirical body is yet to be completed, and its fulfillment (completion, perfection) makes a sage. This view is impossible if mind and body are taken as mutually exclusive. Mencius regarded the body as an organic unity of will, ch’i, and (corporeal) form. 

    Their triune relation is as follows: “The will is in command over the ch’i; the ch’i imbues the body.” Wherever the will arrives, the ch’i follows; as the moral will-the “four buddings” – grows and flows forth, the inner ch’i – life energy – accompanies closely, to transform and assimilate the bodily ch’i. this results in the cultivated ch’i which in turn spiritualizes the corporeal body. This whole operation is called moral practice. It is through moral practice that the sage integrates his body, will, and ch’i – phenomenon logically distinct “substances” – into a perfect holistic unity. 

    Such a transformation of the body enables the sage to experience a mystical aura and ecstasy, in which all categorical boundaries disappear; the sage identifies him with “the same flow of the heaven above through the Earth below”. The sage thus becomes egoless; his ch’i is now a vast flood suffusing the Heaven and Earth. The sage is the man in the perfect stage; his ch’i imbues his body, leavening his will into the egoless flood of cosmic ch’i. Such a moral ontological transformation fulfills, transcendentally, both his outer body and his inner nature - his personal integrity



Author: Rur-bin Yang
Genre: Article
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