Personal ethics and aesthetics

 Suzhou garden structures
Qing Period (1644-1911)
The mind and body are two aspects of an inseparable event, a 'mind-body' (心身) that is in a continuous process of becoming. The health and abilities of one’s body condition consciousness and self, while the mind both directs and subjectively influences physical well-being. Through this mind-body event an individual is prepared for particular sensations and acquires mental framings. Self is shaped by the repetition of experiences and interpretations.

In consequence of this perspective, literati were concerned with regular customs and self-cultivation (養生). Value-driven considerations permeate daily life design, with no clear line between being and becoming, between reflection and action, between structured work and being at ease. Herein is the masterwork of literati action in the world, the combination of physical and mental conditions in moral states where ‘aesthetics’ and ‘ethics’ are inseparable.

Among the most ambitious moral projects of the literati were domestic residences that combined personal refuge, familial life and official work. These were conceived as comprehensive containers and sites for living - with family in close proximity to where one prepared documents, undertook creative work, and interviewed colleagues or subordinates.

Instead of being defined by a utilitarian programme of space allied to narrow purposes, domestic residences were defined by successive temporal events in which objects were opportunistically used. These events expressed a humanistic project of poetry and rhythm, managed with erudition and elegant wit, and allowed for distinctive personal tastes. During a pause in writing, one might prepare tea, wander among flowers, or savour seasonal incense in conversation with a friend or lover.