Chinese Corner

Two Shades of Pleasure

How ancient Chinese thought influenced pleasure and delight – Michael Nylan

“Pleasure,” wrote Oscar Wilde, the 19th-century English aesthete, “is the only thing worth having a theory about.” More recently, Andre Malraux asked in The Temptation of the West, “Of all his ideas, is there any one more revealing of a man’s sensibilities than his concept of pleasure?” Both formulations could be plausibly ascribed to some of the most important classical philosophers in China, who deemed pleasure to be one of the most effective tools to motivate right action, as each defined it, as well as to discern a person’s character.

To signify acts of pleasure-seeking, pleasure-taking, and imparting pleasure, a wide range of thinkers from the fourth century BCE to the eleventh century CE deployed the single graph, .