Glossary of Terms and Translations

Here is a list of key Neo-Confucian philosophical terms, together with our preferred translations (in bold) and other common translations. To see these terms used in context, we suggest doing a search on a given term, in Chinese or in English, on this site’s Translations with Chinese Text page. We periodically discuss one of these terms on this site’s Blog page, and when we do so we will add a link from this table to that discussion.

Pinyin Wade-Giles Traditional


Simplified Chinese (where different) English translations (our preferred translation is given first, in bold)
běn pen inherent, original
běntǐ pen-t’i 本體 本体 inherent reality
cái tsai endowment
cèyǐn  tse-yin  惻隱 alarm and commiseration (one of the four beginnings)
chéng ch’eng sincerity, integrity
dào tao Way
dàotǒng tao-t’ung 道統 道统 succession of the Way
duān tuan beginning (as in four beginnings)
gan kan receptivity
géwù ko-wu 格物 格物 getting a handle on things, investigation of things
gōng k’ung impartial, public, public minded
chi incipience
jìng ching tranquility, quiesence
jìng ching reverential attention, reverence, seriousness
li Pattern, coherence, principle
li ritual, ritual propriety (as a virtue)
li yi fen shu li i fen shu 理一分殊 Pattern is one and its particularizations are many
liángzhī liang-chih 良知 good knowing, pure knowing, innate knowledge of the good
mìng ming decree, mandate, destiny, fate
ch’i vital stuff, material force,
qiongli ch’iong-li 窮理 穷理 exhaustively investigate Pattern
qìzhi chi-chih 氣質 气质 contingent constitution
qíng ch’ing emotion, feeling
rén jen humaneness, benevolence
shen shen spirit
shēngshēng sheng-sheng 生生 life-giving generativity
shí shih substantial
ssu selfish, self-centered, private, personal
tàihé t’ai-ho 太和 supreme harmony
ixu t’ai-hsu 太虛 supreme void
ijí t’ai-chi 太極 太极 supreme pivot, Supreme polarity, Great Ultimate, Supreme Ultimate
t’i inherent reality (because short for benti), substance, body, fundamental state, essence
tiān t’ien cosmos, Heaven
tiānlǐ t’ien-li 天理 cosmic Pattern, Heavenly Pattern, Heavenly Principle, Universal Coherence
tiānmìng t’ien-ming 天命 cosmic decree, Heaven’s decree, mandate of Heaven, destiny, fate
wèifā wei-fa 未發 未发 not yet manifest
e o bad, evil
xīn hsin heartmind, heart, mind
xìn hsin trustworthiness
xìng hsing nature
xíng er shang hsing-er-shang 形而上 formless, above form
xing er xia hsing-er-hsia 形而下 within form
xu hsü tenuous
i righteousness, appropriateness
yǐfā i-fa  已發 已发 already manifest(ed) 
yòng yung function, functional process, application
zhī chih knowing
zhì chih wisdom