This chapter examines the artistic and philosophical trends of the mid-Ming and later periods, with particular emphasis on the philosophical outworkings of the trend toward the affirmation of desire in Ming–Qing aesthetics. The aesthetic does not begin to truly diverge from the ethical realm of Confucianism until the Ming dynasty, when desire begins to emerge as an artistic subject in its own right. The roots of this affirmation of desire can be traced to the contradictions inherent in Wang Yangming's theory of Mind. This chapter first considers Yuan Mei's notion of “innate sensibility” and Wang Guowei's concept of the jingjie, or aesthetic realm, before discussing how the individualistic strain that entered Chinese art and literature helped set the stage for the transition to modernity. It argues that Chinese aesthetics submits realism to beauty and excludes “unrestrained desire, instinctive impulses, intense emotion … purgative distress … any objectionable emotional form (or art) that serves up the ugly, weird, evil, and so on.”
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