Binaries in early Chinese texts: locating entities on continuums


DOI 10.1007/s40636-015-0046-6


This article presents a new interpretation of the role of binary oppositions in sense perception in early Chinese texts. It proposes an explanation for the ubiquitous appearance of oppositions like short-long, light-heavy, and black-white in the way early Chinese texts describe the process of sensing entities. Rather than explaining these binaries as “segments” or “clusters” that the human sense faculties carve out of masses, I argue that these are polarities (not structural either/or options) that reflect aspects of a world of transforming entities existing at relative levels of condensation or containment. My claim is that visually discriminated shapes and patterns can be cut with precision, resulting in standard measurements. By contrast, sounds and smells locate things more vaguely in place on binary continuums. The contained-uncontained continuum of entities implied in this contrast of visible and audible is what accounts for the prevalence of sensory binaries. A break in a range constitutes the identity of the thing in question.

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Copyright © 2016, Academy for International Communication of Chinese Culture and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. Article first published online: 7 JAN 2016. DOI 10.1007/s40636-015-0046-6