I am working on the translation of a Chinese text and I'm stuck with this expression: "辨人禽界,立天地心". I think it means something like "recognize the human (bird?) world, and establishing/building heaven and earth".

I often see 为天地立心,为生民立命, 为往圣继绝学,为万世开太平 as well. Thanks for telling me what this may mean too. I heard it was used by 张载 and wish to grasp its true meaning.

If someone has an idea of its precise meaning, please let me know. I wish I could make sure of it for me to deeply understand what this article is about and make the whole translation accurate.

  • the verse is, like federation flag, might be controversial. so, may i ask, "辨人禽界立天地心" is in what context? it's meaning would be ranged from "as is", "han-chinese-supremacy", to "non-han-chinese-hostile". – 水巷孑蠻 Jun 15 at 17:00

I originally had this as a comment but it seems like it has become an answer.


Confucianism likes to talk about the separation of man (人) and beast (禽), so that would be the crux of the first sentence, i.e.: separating the human and animal worlds.

立天地心 should be talking about setting a standard or a principle for heaven and earth, there are many translations that put similar ideas as: ordaining a conscience for Heaven and Earth.


In relation to your edit:

There are a couple of well-known translations for 为天地立心,为生民立命, 为往圣继绝学,为万世开太平

To ordain conscience for Heaven and Earth
To secure life and fortune for the people
To continue lost teachings for past sages
To establish peace for all future generations

another would be:

To ordain conscience for Heaven and Earth
To secure life and fortune for the populace
To carry on lost teachings of ancient sages
To build peace for posterity

  • Thanks. Could we say then "raise your consciousness for Heaven and Earth" ? It seems proper since there's also a distinction between Men and beasts, right ? Would you mind elaborating about 为天地立心,为生民立命, 为往圣继绝学,为万世开太平 too ? – Mat Jun 15 at 8:41
  • Thanks for the translations of 为天地立心,为生民立命, 为往圣继绝学,为万世开太平 :) – Mat Jun 15 at 8:42
  • @Mat 立心 is defined as 树立准则 in《汉语大词典》: 树立+准则 is a simple combo of set-up & standard, does that equate to raise your consciousness, probably not? – user3306356 Jun 15 at 8:46
  • So what do you mean by "ordain conscience" ? I don't get the use of "ordain"... I don't understand this "To ordain conscience for Heaven and Earth" – Mat Jun 15 at 9:06
  • This isn’t my translation, and it is, albeit, quite archaic but you can understand ordain as establish or enact. – user3306356 Jun 15 at 12:41

辨人禽界,立天地心

Simple translation:

天地 = natural world, people and society = 天下

辨人禽界,= 辨别人和禽兽的界限,
distinguish the boundaries between people and animals
立天地心 = become a good person

Have a look here:

"其实,“为天地立心”是指为社会建立一套以“仁”、“孝”等道德伦理为核心的精神价值系统。 “立心”也就是“立天理”之心,因为天理“能使天下悦且通”,从而使“天下”(社会)必然会普遍接受仁孝之理等道德价值。“为天地立心”的涵义其重点不在认识论,而在价值论。"

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