There is this sentence from the opening of the fist chapterof 语类 by Zhu Xi:


Baihua version seems to treat the "不是" part as if it ment "是不是" So the sentence would mean something like:

"Does Tai Ji mean that before Heaven and Earth there was a certain mixture of things and is it [i.e. tai ji] a general name for li of Heaven Earth and all things"

But I do not understand why "不是" should have such meaning? Is it a feature of classical Chinese? Why shouldn't it mean:

"Tai Ji is not (不是) a mixture of things that existed before Heaven and Earth, is it [then] a general name for Li of Heaven earth and all things?"

or soemthing like that???

2 Answers 2


the text from 朱子語類 卷一 理氣上 has the structure: a is not b, [because] a is c; isn’t it?


it would be interpreted as:

[someone] asked (問): “tai chi (太極) is not (不是) [exist] before the universe (未有天地之先), as a (有箇) turbid (渾成) thing (之物), [tai chi] is (是) the name (名) of the set (總) of principles (理) of everything (萬物) in the universe (天地); isn’t it (否)?

the logic of the second verse is:

thing-1 in the universe has the principle 1 (p1), thing-2 in the universe has the principle 2 (p2), . . . thing-n in the universe has the principle n (pn).

so, the set (mathematics) of these principles is the collection of each principle; a pantheism view.

back to the question, the quoted explanation of baidu is incorrect

have fun :)

enter image description here

  • Ah, many thanks - this is a very clear explanation.
    – McCzajnik
    Mar 20, 2020 at 16:31

No classical training, but this is fun to look at. I would break it down like this:

I think 浑成之物 alludes to: 浑然天成:natural, like nature

太极: the supreme
不是: is not
未有天地之先: not have universe before = before the universe existed
有个浑成之物,: that nature
是: it is
天地万物之理总名: universe all things total
否?: no?

Maybe as a cross reference: The Diamond Sutra, 第七品 无得无说分

(Read 太极 for Truth)

"the Tathagata has said that Truth is not a thing that can be differentiated or contained and therefore Truth cannot be grasped or expressed. The Truth neither is nor is not."

Or the breath-taking words of 惠能:


  • excellent, you chopped the 否 separately :) my salute 👍 Mar 20, 2020 at 12:25
  • Coming from an expert such as yourself, I take that as a great compliment, thank you.
    – Pedroski
    Mar 20, 2020 at 23:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.