“Let me explain for you the origin of Chinese psychology. Chinese psychology is the psychology that exist within Chinese medicine. When we only speak about seven emotions we normally use the term Chinese medicine, but when we start speaking a little deeper the word Chinese psychology is better”
Chinese psychology is the understanding of the human brain and its functions by the use of Chinese medical science. This understanding can be used both as an analytical – and/ or therapeutical tool. Many of the theories within the Chinese psychology are a timely matter to understand completely (if ever possible).
To be direct, it is complicated to understand fully the philosophical foundation of the Chinese psychology. Philosophical aspects often tend to become very waterish. It is like going down to the same river two times. It is (of course) the same river, but the water is different. The lack of constants gives us difficulties to grasp central points and accomodate. At the same time an all including philosophy creates a feeling of “everything is possible correct or – wrong”, and what do I do with that. In the end, it does not exist any absolute understanding of anything, but rather a diffuse feeling of a type of understanding of something partial, and a total lack of completeness. This partial grows the more you understand, and in the end you know a lot of partial and very litte complete. Then many run and hide behind complicated words and accessibility. Let us create a useful mosaique of the Chinese psychology theories. I want you to feel very complete and just a little partial. To get a taste of this complexness, let us look on the two main aspects 魂 (Hun) and 魄 (Po) within Chinese psychology or the psychology within Chinese medicine.
Hun is “the cloud soul” and Po is seen as “the white soul”. The two souls will interact in a dualistic sense. Traditionally Hun is presented to us as the eternal soul or a Yang charged soul. Hun is the soul that enters our body at birth, lives in your body, but that leaves the body when you die. Po on the other side is regarded as the corporeal soul or a Yin charged soul. Po is the soul that manifests as your physical body. Po were created at conception, and when you die Po will again become soil. In a way, is it possible to say that po is your “physical” brain and hun is your “mental” thoughts; of course simplified.
In literature we find notations about something called 三魂七魄 (San Hun Qi Po). This is a taoistic way of counting the souls. San Hun and Qi Po means “Three Hun” and “Seven Po”. Practically this is a way to separate aspect regarding souls and to simplify the inner understandings. Let us dig deep into this two words. Hun and Po are seen as the Chinese understanding of a soul. A soul that exist in the living and passes on to the afterlife. The writing manifests some interesting aspects. An elegant combination of a radical – and a phonetic graph we grasp some deeper aspects of the words. Hun (魂 or 䰟) is combined by two characters 云 and 鬼.The first 云 Yun is the phonetic that suggest the pronunciation and means cloud or cloudy. Yun is the reason why we speak about “The Cloud soul”. The radical is 鬼 Gui that means ghost or devil. Po (魄 or 霸) is combined by two characters. Where the first character白 or “bai” indicates white pure and clear. The other character po (粕,霸 or 魄) are of more interest. Po is connected to the word soul, but also a lunar phase and dregs. The use of the character 霸signify “The dark aspect of the moon” a character who normally means 霸 Ba or Overlord. The character of 魂 (hun) and 魄 (po) was used during the Warring states period (475 – 221 BC) as the soul/ spirit characters, but already during the Zhou Dynasty (1045-256 BC) they were adapted as lunar characters. An interesting explanation of Hun and Po can be found in Bai Hu Tang, a book published in year 80. We find Hun explained through the word 傳 Zhuan and 芸 Yun (Yun as mentioned before). Zhuan indicates something that deliver, spreads or passes on something. Yun is something that was used to keep insects out of books or a phonetic sign. Po was not explained as the classical 魄 but rather through two other Chinese characters 迫 Po that means to compel or urgent and 白 Bai that means white and bright. This explanation builds up under the understanding that Hun is the externalization of the human being and Po is the forces that works within the person. Hun is the active and conscious use of the brain, and Po on the other side is more connected to the physical aspects of the brain and the subconscious. It has been indicated that Po is connected to personality and Hun to the external environments infiliation with the personality. Therefore Po is classified as yin and Hun as yang. Po is more related to Li and Hun more related to Qi.
Po has traditionally been closely connected an abstraction of the moon. The moon has a close association with Po both as a metaphor and an astrological element for the ancient cultures in the old China. New moon will afflict the Po element and make the persons personality change or manifest stronger. Within the philosophy we see that Po is connected to the bright soul and Hun to the dark soul. There are two explanations of this aspects. Po can be seen as the soul given by nature, and therefore we find Po more close to perfect than the Hun given soul that is more coloured by the individuals and its habitat. It is also possible to see Hun as the dark soul, because some regard this soul to be the one that continues to live after death, in the world of shadows.
As you might have discovered, it is many ways to describe Hun and Po. This psycho-physiological concept is often interpreted as the intersection between the brains motor- and sensory activity and the autonomic processes in the brain and the personal distinct personality. Different translations in dictionaries often create confusion. It exist interpretations that give some understanding; one of my favourites is the development of Hun and Po within the foetus. The foetus starts to develop due to Po. First the form or Yin is given by Po; this is the Li aspect. Then the soul Hun or Yang starts to develop; this is the Qi. Then trough life Po will be the physical body and Hun the mental soul that govern the body. When death arrives it is thought that Hun and Po will reunite. In China they have a ritual called 復 (fu), 招魂 (zhaohun) and 招魂復魄 (zhaohun fupo). This names indicate the gathering of Hun and the reunite with Po.
Within Chinese medicine it is normal to connect Hun with the zang fu organ liver and Po with the zang fu organ lung. The traditional explenation is as follows: the liver stores xue (blood) and xue houses Hun. If liver zang is in a state of Qi xu this will result in fear, and if the Qi is stagnated it will result in anger. The lung stores Qing qi (air) and Qing qi houses Po. (Note: that this is Qing qi (oxygen in the lung) and not Zong qi (oxygen in xue) or – Kong qi (air outside your body)). If lung zang is in a Qi xu a state, this will result in a blocked nose and problems with breathing. If the Qi is stagnated it will result in fullness in the chest and difficulties in breathing with the head down. If liver – and lung zang goes into a conflict we will allways find a disharmony between Hun and Po. The most common symptom will be dreaming (Hun imbalance) and restlessness (Po imbalance). If Hun or Po win in this imbalance we find disease develop in the body. The relative balance between the two souls is crusal within the body to remain health. Making the Hun-Po dualism an important marker for the development of disease.
I have taken the liberty to skip a lot of historical connections and timely explanations to issues within Chinese psychology that is not needed for the understanding of the theories. The main goal is the understanding of Chinese psychology and not the history of China or the history of the theories.
To understand the field of Chinese psychology we have to understand some limited historical aspects. Chinas rich history within psychology is coloured by the old Chinese philosofists. One of the most important ones are Confusius (551-479 BC). Through his philosophy he created a teaching commonly known as Confusianism. And thereby also the dominating base for Chinese thinking, reasoning and being today. The essence of confusianism is that our behavior and – excistence are given by nature. Within the nature humans are closely related, but in the modern world they are separated through forming and learning. Therefore should all human beings be educated said Confusius. Of course, all according to their abilities postulated the philosopher. As we all know this is closely related to some of the core political ideas of communism, but confusianism is not the same! But communism has embraced confusianism for certain compatible aspects.
Confusianism divide humans into three levels; superior, medium and inferior. Everybody should be educated according to their level and according to their individual differences. In this way, the complete society will gain on everybody, and not only rely on a few. All to their abilities and nothing more required. Confusius continued with saying that education and learning is a lifelong process, and with that he in a way contradicts some of the theories postulated by Freud, Piaget and Erikson. They basically wrote that development is mainly a part of the early childhood process, and little changes later.
Chinese psychology is also strongly rooted within Taoism, Buddhism and Traditional folk religion. Most coloring beside the Confucianism has been Taoism. Taoism was founded by 老子,Lao Tzu, (570-490 B.C.). (To complicate it is discussed if Lao Tzu existed. Possible he was only is a fantasy figure). The basic idea of Taoism is that the nature keeps the balance in all its parts. This dynamic process is often described through the everchanging balance between Yin and Yang. Exactly the moment of change and the possibility of change have been one of the taoistic bestsellers; like seen in the laws of yin-yang and through the hexagrams in the book 易经 (Yìjīng) I Ching, The book of changes. A hexagram is a combination of two trigrams, and a trigram is in fact a combination of three yin-yang pairs.
A crash course in understanding Chinese philosophy and their way of thinking goes through Lao Tzu and 28 of his quotations. An article will be published about this later.
The writer of this article gives seminars in Chinese medicine and Chinese psychology all over the world! Go to this page to find out how.