Jump to the main content block
Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


Examining the Prevalence of shenxin xingming in the Late Ming Period from an Intellectual Historical Perspective

Vol. 44 No. 2   6/2014    


Examining the Prevalence of shenxin xingming in the Late Ming Period from an Intellectual Historical Perspective


Wu, Meng-qian









Key words



    The phrase shenxin xingming, which is familiar to Chinese speakers today, consists of the concepts “Mind-Body” (shenxin 身心), which denote one’s physical state of being, and “Nature-Destiny” (xingming 性命), which describe one’s metaphysical condition. Taken together, shenxin and xingming represent a branch of learning which concerns not only one’s physical and spiritual well-being, but also the ultimate meaning of life.

    These two concepts started to be combined during the Wanli reign of the Ming dynasty (1573-1620), as indicated by the prevalence of the term shenxin xingming in writings of that time. This essay argues that following the rise of the Yangming school of thought during the mid-Ming, the essence of xingming learning underwent a shift from relentlessly investigating the principles (li ) of all things, to self-reflection and the verification of one’s innate knowledge (liangzhi 良知), which was thought to encapsulate all principle. Moreover, the open attitude Wang Yangming adopted towards Buddhism and Taoism meant that Buddhist and Taoist thought were now free to commingle with Confucian concepts. Henceforth, the problem of shenxin xingming became an important platform on which syncretism transpired.

    In addition to analyzing this important intellectual shift, this essay will seek to demonstrate that the idea of transcendence (chaotuo yishi超脫意識) in the Yangming school of thought informed the problem of shenxin xingming in three ways; namely, with regards to the ultimate goal of self-cultivation, the casting away of worldly cares in pursuit of the Tao, and the transcendence of life and death in the spirit of universal salvation.

    Finally, in an effort to show the significance of late Ming scholars’ concern with shenxin xingming, this essay will describe the historical factors that brought about the increased emphasis on the idea of transcendence in Neo-Confucian philosophy.



Author: Wu, Meng-qian
Genre: Article
Click Num: