CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 29, March 2012


Jing | China Heritage Quarterly


Duncan Campbell

'[I]in certain words, tones and rhythms', argues Raymond Williams in the 'Introduction' to his Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (London: Fontana, 1976), 'meanings are offered, felt for, tested, confirmed, asserted, qualified, changed.' His influential book was intended as 'the record of an inquiry into a vocabulary', understood in two senses: 'the available and developing meanings of known words, which needed to be set down; and the explicit but as often implicit connections which people were making…again and again, particular formulations of meaning—ways not only of discussing but at another level of seeing many of our central experiences.'(p.15)

As noted in the above, Lin Yutang speaks of the particular difficulties of vocabulary encountered when working between languages: 'In my efforts at translation of Chinese literature…I have constantly run across phases or terms that are extremely difficult to render into English. This has made me think that perhaps a list of Chinese critical terms with explanatory comments will be both useful and enlightening'. One word that Lin defines plays a particular role in the present issue of China Heritage Quarterly with its focus on West Lake in Hangzhou. That word is jing 景, 'scene/scenery/vista':

Jing 景: a picture, a scene, particularly a beautiful scene, as of summer clouds or stars at night. This idea of 'picture' is highly subjective, and borrows its charm from human thoughts and sentiments. If one determines to see as a picture, then it becomes a picture. A story of convalescence or of a night on the desert or storm at sea is often more beautiful than the experience itself.
—from Lin Yutang, 'A Chinese Critical Vocabulary'.[1]

Here Lin Yutang seems much influenced by the influential Qing-dynasty critic Wang Fuzhi 王夫之 (1619-92) in whose Notes on Poetry from Ginger Studio (Jiangzhai shihua 薑齋詩話, Item A16) we can find the following passage:

Although the Visible World (景) focuses the poet's Feeling, [they are not unrelated but rather are] magnetically pulled to each other like amber and the blade of grass. And in spite of the fact that one of them rests in the poet and the other lies outside, the Feeling and the Visible world do engender each other. Whether the Feeling is joy or sorrow, and whether the Visible World thrives or withers, they meet each other, and enter into each other's habitat. In the interaction between natural Feeling and the reality of things, joy and sorrow are equally possible, equally inexhaustible, so long as the interaction continues to flow without stagnation. Some men do feel exhausted and stagnant, but that is only because they are unwise.[2]

This understanding of the terms was later emphasised also by Wang Guowei 王國維 (1877-1927) in his Notes on the Lyric Poetry of the Human World (Renjian cihua 人間詞話):

…when the ancients discussed poetry they made a distinction between scenic description and expression of emotion. What they did not realise was that all scenic description involves expression of emotions.[3]

More recently in a series of articles, Zou Hui has addressed the issue of the term jing in the context of the aesthetics of garden design. On the basis of his philosophically informed reading of classical sources, Zou defines the term jing as being a 'bounded brightness'.[4] Etymologically, the character is understood to represent the sun at its highest point and can mean—according to the Hanyu da cidian 漢語大詞典—variously: light, the sun, brightness, situation or circumstances, scenery, scenery (of a theatre), section of a play where, in the same scene, the scenery is changed, time, large, to look up to, auspicious sign, an outer layer of clothing to protect the wearer from the dust, and teats of a bell.[5] The character, classically, was also understood to be interchangeable with the term Jing 京 (capital) and, more resonantly, Ying 影 (shadow, reflection).

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[1] Lin Yutang, 'A Chinese Critical Vocabulary', The Importance of Living, p.476.

[2] From Siu-kit Wong, Notes on Poetry from the Ginger Studio, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1987, p.52. Wong's discussion of the terms 'Feeling' (qing 情) and 'Visible World' (jing), both here and in his earlier article on the topic in Adele Rickett, ed., Chinese Literary Criticism from Confucius to Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978, is excellent.

[3] Adele Rickett, trans., Wang Kuo-wei's Jen-chien Tz'u-hua: A Study in Chinese Literary Criticism, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1977, p.71.

[4] Hui Zou, 'The Jing of a Perspective Garden', Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, 22.4 (2002):293-326; and, 'Jing (景): A Phenomenological Reflection on Chinese Landscape and Qing (情)', Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 35.2 (2008):353-68.

[5] Hanyu da cidian 漢語大詞典, Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Chubanshe, 1997, vol.2, p.3060.