The Chinese heart as the central faculty of cognition

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28 Scopus citations


This paper studies the Chinese xin 'heart', traditionally conceptualized as the centre for cognitive activities. In Chinese, the word xin, which primarily denotes the heart organ, means both "heart" and "mind" as understood in English, and by metonymic association it can also mean "thoughts; ideas; emotions; feelings". In ancient Chinese philosophy, the heart is regarded as the thinking and reasoning organ. It unifies human will, desire, emotion, intuition, reason and thought. The attribution of such supreme mental power to the heart results in a popular conceptual metaphor THE HEART IS THE RULER OF THE BODY. In traditional Chinese medicine, the heart is also said to be the "monarch" of the body, governing various types of intellectual and emotional activities. A linguistic survey shows that the cultural conceptualization of the heart as the centre for both emotional and intellectual activities is reflected in the Chinese language. A historical look at the evolution of the concept of heart in English indicates that the Chinese conception of heart is in fact quite similar to that found in the Old and Middle English periods, when the English heart was also conceptualized as the seat of both feeling and thought. A cross-cultural comparison of the four-humour and five-element theories reveals both similarities and differences between these two cultural systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCulture, Body, and Language
Subtitle of host publicationConceptualizations of Internal Body Organs across Cultures and Languages
PublisherDe Gruyter Mouton
Number of pages38
ISBN (Electronic)9783110199109
ISBN (Print)9783110196221
StatePublished - Nov 3 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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