On the Human in the Zhuangzi's Concept of Qi

Kevin J. Turner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Qi has generally been understood to be the source or origin of human life and the ten thousand things.1 However, a facet of qi that has been left out of such discussions is the "anthropological contribution"2 to the shape of qi. In this essay, I will argue that the concept of qi in the Zhuangzi3 is a field-substance with vertical and horizontal dimensions and illustrate the role humans play in giving shape to qi. In the first part, I rehearse the common understandings of qi and its historical significance, introduce the problem of understanding qi within the language of substance ontologies, and provide an example of such language interfering with an accurate understanding of qi. In the second part, while avoiding the language of substance ontologies, I show that qi is substantial in terms of a vertical dimension of refinement. I next argue that qi's horizontal dimension manifests as an "empty" field composed of complementary yinyang relations. Finally, I draw on resonances between the Zhuangzi and phenomenology4 to analyze the heart-mind and the body in relation to qi. Through this I show that human beings not only constitute a center within the field of qi, but also orient and provide it with certain shapes through their embodied activity. Through an analysis of the dual-axis structure of qi and its relation to the heart-mind and body, I hope to demonstrate the significance of the human element in the shape of qi.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1089-1108
Number of pages20
JournalPhilosophy East and West
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Philosophy


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