What Is qi, and Why Was It a Good Idea?
Keywords:氣, 五行, 陰陽, 中國政治理論, 中醫理論, Qi, Five Phases, Yinyang, Chinese political theory, Chinese medical theory
LANGUAGE NOTE | Document text in Chinese; abstract also in English.
“氣”作爲一個含義豐富的字，與相當多的概念相互關聯，表現出極爲複雜的内涵。但“氣”是中國哲學中的重要命題，所以歷來的研究者都希望梳理出“氣”的概念史。最近白一平（William H. Baxter）和沙加爾（Laurent Sagart）重構“氣”爲*C. qhəp-s，其中*C-表示不確定的輔音，與“吸”顯示出明顯的聯繫；而*qhəp則表示呼吸。毫無疑問，“氣”的基本含義是“呼吸”（breath），而所有其他感官（senses）都從它派生出來。本文在此基礎上繼續對“氣”及其相關概念如陰陽、五行等進行研究，闡述“氣”之所以在中國上古時期能夠作爲重要概念的三個主要原因及其積極意義：（1）“氣”以“神靈”的形式允許了疾病的概念化；（2）“氣”能賦予“天命”政治承襲理論合法性的地位；（3）傳統認爲可藉學習控制“氣”以獲得非凡力量。最後爲求使研究更完整，本文亦對“氣”的局限性作一討論。
The prolific Chinese word qi 氣 has so many interrelated but distinct senses that any student of Chinese philosophy will want to unravel them so as to understand the history of the concept. William H. Baxter and Laurent Sagart reconstruct qi as *C. qhəp-s (where *C- represents an indeterminate consonant), which shows a manifest connection with xi 吸, *qhəp, “to breathe.” Little doubt can remain that the basic meaning of qi is “breath,” and all its other senses are derived from it. This paper goes on to survey associated concepts, such as yinyang 陰陽and the Five Phases 五行, and discusses the three main reasons why qi was regarded as a useful idea in ancient China: (1) it helped replace the conceptualization of disease as possession by a ghost or spirit; (2) it permitted an alternative theory of dynastic succession to that of Heaven’s Mandate (tianming 天命); and (3) some traditions promised practitioners extraordinary power by learning how to control qi. The paper concludes with a discussion of the limitations.
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