Xin (Heart-Mind)

Joern Peter Grundmann

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionarypeer-review


In the early Chinese system of ideas, the organ of the heart (xin) was associated with human sentiments, intentions, and dispositions, but also with cognitive and evaluative activities, hence the alternative English rendering as “heart-mind.” Judging from extant epigraphic sources, the heart was initially regarded as the seat of personal loyalty and political responsibility in the context of political bonds forged between the Zhou king and his vassals at the beginning of the first millennium BCE. In this particular function it remained a crucial factor throughout the period of interstate and interlineage covenants after 771 BCE. With the decline of the covenant-based aristocratic society around 450 BCE, the heart began to play a major role again in the development of Confucian moral and political philosophy. Ruist models of sociopolitical order worked on the premise that the evaluative and controlling functions of the heart potentially enabled each person to become an accountable social being. The parameters of well-ordered social coexistence, it was believed, were either rooted in, or could be conceived with and approved of by, the heart. On the contrary, the early Daoist tradition advocated a decoupling of the heart from the realm of sociopolitical order and moral evaluative activity, which it regarded as ephemeral and obstructive for humans to arrive at a stage where they could discover the true Way (dao) within themselves and comprehend their place, not only in human society, but in the cosmos as a whole.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Encyclopedia of Ancient History
Subtitle of host publicationAsia and Africa
EditorsDaniel T. Potts, Jason Neelis, Roderick James Mcintosh, Ethan Harkness
ISBN (Electronic)9781119399919
Publication statusPublished - 29 Dec 2021


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