The Han-dynastic aesthetics serves as a transitional stage from the Pre-Qin dynastic aesthetics to the Southern & Northern dynastic aesthetics. The two most important classic philosophical works of the Han-dynasty are Huai Nan Tzu by Liu An and Lun Heng by Wang Chong.
Wang Chong considers that everything is made up of pneuma, the primal element of the Universe, therefore, everything is unique owing to its distinctive pneuma-content, including the human beings. As a result, there are wise men and foolish men on the Earth. Wang Chong intensively criticizes the religious idealism and mystic philosophy by employing his pneuma naturalism, which has a great influence on the Southern & Northern dynastic aesthetics and even history of the Chinese aesthetics.
The Theory of Form and Spirit
The form and spirit are discussed in Huai Nan Tzu from the perspective of pneuma naturalism, and it’s considered that both form and spirit are made up energy, while the spirit of human beings is composed of primordial energy, which comes and goes out of our body anytime. According to Huai Nan Tzu, the spirit values more than the form and dominates it.
Wang Chong thinks that both form and spirit of human beings are composed of energy, of which the form is actually made up of Yin-energy, while the spirit is constituted of Yang-energy, most importantly, the Yang-energy must depend on form.
Beauty and Aesthetic Sense in Huai Nan Tzu
According to Huai Nan Tzu, both beauty and ugliness are innate values of an object, which are independent of man’s will and are closely related to the overall image of the object. Neither the beautiful object nor the ugly object is pure, which means there is neither absolute beauty nor ugliness, cause’ the beauty and ugliness are relative and differentiable. The forms of beauty are rich and varied, so it is with the forms of artistic expression.
As for the relation between beauty and humans’ labor, it’s believed that beauty is created in the course of laboring of our human beings according to Huai Nan Tzu, and the aesthetic feeling is different from one person to another owing to their differences in psychological condition and cultural accomplishments. An object is aesthetic only for those who are able to appreciate beauty.