Force of Psyche: Electricity or Void? Re-examination of the Hermeneutics of the Force of Psyche in Late Qing China

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The aim of this paper is to discuss the contrasting hermeneutics concerning the concept of psyche among the late Qing intellectuals. Late Qing intellectuals developed a mode of hermeneutics that viewed xin li, or ”psyche force,” as utilizable, tamable, self-adaptable (in the manner of electricity) and capable of evolving. Also, the ”weak mind” has to be exercised as a muscle and all socalled ”vile thoughts” must be erased. This Christianized version of the psyche descends, at least in part, from some of the vast range of western knowledge which was introduced into China during the modernization movement, mostly through second-hand translations (based on Japanese translations), as well as through translations by the missionaries in China. John Fryer's Zhixin mianbingfa (治心免病法A Method for the Avoidance of Illness by Controlling the Mind), published in Shanghai in 1896, was the first text that introduced the term xin li (心力) into the Chinese contexts and represented the emblematic text of this trend of hermeneutics. Liang Qichao fully absorbed this mode of interpretation and elaborated the concept of xin li in such a way that this utilizable and tamable force of psyche could be governed and exercised so as to save the nation and to create a new people. Tan Sitong, though a close friend to Liang Qichao and a member of the Hundred Days’ Reform in 1898 and died as a martyr, held a totally different concept of xin li. In his Buddhist-inspired vision of the xin li, the force of psyche was presented as void, a site for ”microappearing- disappearing,” that was possible of subverting any fixed nominal system. This paper discusses the political implications in Tan's anarchistic vision of xin li. This paper argues that Lacan's topological formulation of the psyche and ex-sistenceas well as Alain Badiou's concept of void and the force of subtraction can help us explicate the radicality of Tan's notions of the psyche.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-276
Number of pages32
Journal同心圓:文學與文化研究 Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2009


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