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Ji Kang’s Ideas about Life Nurturing (Ⅰ)

Ji Kang (224-263), with the courtesy name as Shuye, was born in Zhi County (now is in Suixi, Anhui province), Qiaojun, Wei Kingdom during Three Kingdoms Period. He was an extraordinary think, writer and musician. Ji Kang was born in a family which enjoyed a fame in the study of Confucius. He took the position of Langzhong (like chief director of sub ministry department, just below Prime Minister) and Zhongsan Dafu (a position which is given to your fame with honor but of no duty or power), so he was also called with the title as “Ji Zhongsan”. When Sima family took over the government, he was furious with them and refused to be an official any more.

It was a dark time in Wei&Jin Dynasty. With the declining of Confucius in Xihan and Donghan Dynasties, the philosophy of Laozi and Zhuanzi (Taoism) came to flourish once again. In the academic fields, it’s more and more popular if you are good at Xuanxue (originated in Taoism, but it focuses more on origins of the universe and metaphysics). The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove were the most popular ones while Ji Kang was the soul figure of them. Not only did he make outstanding contributions in the field of thought, literature and music, but also promoted the development in Chinese traditional health-preservation. If we analyzed his ideas about Life Nurturing (“Yang Sheng (养生)” in Chinese, i.e. life nourishing), we can find out the following characteristics:

I. His ideas of Life Nurturing are deeply influenced by Taoism

If we read Ji Kang’s poems, we can find out that he quotes a lot from the classics of Laozi and Zhuangzi, which is an important clue of his under-influence by Taoism. He expresses his thoughts about Life Nurturing in these poems as well. From what mentioned above, it is obvious that Taoism is a source of his poems as well as the thoughts about Life Nurturing.

In the poem Four-word Poem XIV. to My Brother Ji Xi, he wrote “Living with the nature of nature without any binding, exploring ‘Xuan’ without any limitation, I admire Zhuangzi the fisherman, who catches the fish but not the nets (forget the means by which the end is attained)” here the fisherman refers to Zhuangzi. In Zhuangzi. Autumn Water, it’s said that Zhuangzi fishes in Pu Water while catches the fish but not the nets is from the allusion in Zhuangzi. Waiwu. In this poem, it is a way to praise his elder brother Ji Xi is a person who knows the subtle nature so well and his own longing for the freedom Zhuangzi described.

In his Indignant Poem, he expresses himself as “my favorite is Taoism, the worst is materialism while the best is life-nurturing. I will keep life as simple as I can, while the simplest will nurturing my life again.” At the end of the poem he depicted his ideals as “picking potherb on the hill, strolling around the mountain. Singing and whistling, enjoying a long life.” From all the words, Ji Kang shows that life-nurturing is part of his theory and a guide of his life.

In the My Dreams I, Ji Kang writes “human-beings, human-beings, you are always busy as bees. You should know mundane glory is not worthing, while being indifferent to fame and wealth is the only way to well-being.” In My Dreams II, he expresses his willing as “associating with bosom friends, exploring the secrets of universe, recluses are in caves, where I can find my models. Climbing up the Jishan Mountains in the morning, forgetting about hunger until the evening. Xuan is the nutrients for vitality, inner serenity is the way to longevity." All these ideas are from Taoism because it is the Taoism that always focus on quietness and serenity in deep heart. Laozi mentions it in Daodejing and Taoism is rooted in the theory like: “Serenity overcomes agitation”, “none-action”, “Only by being quiet can man achieve vitality.” and “Calm water is clear what quiet spirits is pure.” Ji Kang is deeply impressed by the theory and take the idea that serenity can help nurture spirits and lead a way to a long life.

(By Niu Aijun)

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