Even those historians of Chinese thought, who are capable of both masterly analyses and great synthetic surveys of pre-modern Chinese philosophy, such an Anne Cheng, author of The history of Chinese thought, mostly remain in the grip of enduring stereotypes about Chinese language and Chinese letters. This is true despite the fact that old Chinese linguistics has progressed in the last 50 years at an unforeseen rate, and practically no experts on that language fail to take these advances seriously. At issue, above all, are the immensely popular analyses of characters, which authors treat as the path to uncovering the etymology of a given concept under research. Emancipation from written characters is, it would seem, a basic precondition for a better understanding of language, including the lexicon of philosophical concepts. This article aims to give a broad acccount of the inadequacy of character-etymology and, in contrast to this method, to describe which direction we should take if we wish to understand the conceptual apparatus of ancient Chinese thinkers.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.