Li Chih

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Li Chih


(second name, Li Cho-wu). Born 1527, in the district of Chin-chiang, province of Fukien; died 1602, in Peking. Chinese philosopher, poet, and literary critic.

Li Chih was the son of a merchant. In his Hidden Book (1599), he attacked neo-Confucianism. He upheld the relativity of truth and, in particular, of ideas of good and evil. An exposition of Li Chih’s aesthetic principles is contained in his The Burnt Book (1600) and in the sequel of The Burnt Book (1618), in which he sets forth the idea that environment is the determining factor in human development; he also defended equal rights for women. Li Chih’s poetic legacy, his Burnt Book and other works, is distinguished by its depth and lack of pretentiousness.

Li Chih considered the highest virtue of poetry to be the naturalness of feeling that it expressed. As head of the humanistic movement, he exerted a profound influence on progressive Chinese writers. Li Chih was persecuted as a heretic and arrested; he committed suicide in prison. Copies of his books were burned and his works were prohibited until the 20th century.


Manukhin, V. S. “Rol’ stilia v bor’be kitaiskikh vol’nodumtsev pozdnego srednevekov’ia.” In Zhanry i stili literatur Kitaia i Korei. Moscow, 1969.
Manukhin, V. S. “Vzgliady Li Chzhi i tvorchestvo ego sovremennikov.” In Trudy Mezhvuzovskoi nauchnoi konferentsii po istorii literatur zarubezhnogo Vostoka. [Moscow] 1970.
Jung Chao-tsu. Li Chih nien-pu. Peking, 1957.
De Bary, W. T. Self and Society in Ming Thought. New York-London, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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For explicating the rationale of li (li chih li *), we attend to overlapping questions concerning its (1) significance (li chih yi), (2) justification (li chih li-cheng), and (3) foundation of li (li chih pen).
In his essay on li, Hsun Tzu points out that the rationale of li * (li chih li *) is truly profound.
For appreciating the significance of li (li chih yi), it is instructive to consider its principal functions by pondering Hsun Tzu's remark on the origin of li.
The foregoing discussion on the significance of li, which centers on its principal functions, implicitly provides partial answers to reasonable questions that may be raised on the acceptability of li; for example, the question concerning change or modification of the scope of li (li chih shu).
Because of this vision, Hsun Tzu exalts (lung) the li as "joining Heaven and Earth in harmony." (85) He is emphatic, however, that the profound rationale of li (li chih li*) cannot be captured by the practitioners of the School of Names (Ming-chia), arguing over such topics as "hardness and whiteness" or "similarity and difference," nor by "uncouth and inane theories of the system-makers," nor by "the violent and arrogant ways of those who despise customs and consider themselves to be above other men." (86) Hsun Tzu continues: He who dwells in li and can ponder it well may be said to know how to think; he who dwells in li and does not change his ways may be said to be steadfast, and in addition has a true love for li--he is a sage.
In his essay "Li chih fen-hsi" ("An Analysis of Li"), Ch'en distinguishes three layers of li, ranging from the superficial to the profound: (1) the outer layer or the numerousness of li (li chih shu), (2) the middle layer or significance of li (li chih yi), and (3) the inner layer or foundation of li (li chih pen), which stresses the appropriate attitude in human intercourse.
A few pieces, especially one by Li Chih and one by Chang Tai, while sharing many of the attitudes of the hsiao-p'in writers, are longer and more explicit in their development of a line of thinking.
He did interview Dylan, who told him, "Bob Dylan has always been here....Before I was born, there was Bob Dylan." Taking that statement to heart, Cott has found the earlier Bob Dylans, going back to "the first known troubadour poet, the eleventh-century Guillaume IX," who, like Dylan, "revealed many faces and voices." Cott also finds something of Dylan in the thirteenth-century Carmina Burana, in the fifteenth-century French poet Francois villon, the sixteenth-century Chinese philosopher Li Chih and the eighteenth-century Hasidic master Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav.