Volume 16, Issue 2, 2019
Conceptual History: China, Asia, and the Global
Changes in the Concept of “Jian” in the Pre-Qin Period
From Political Norm to Means of Acquiring Wealth
The conceptual changes of Jian儉 in the pre-Qin period were the results of changes in the social and political structure. It originally referred to Jian virtue, which was a kind of political norm of clan states. This required the aristocrats to be moderate in accordance with the patriarchal hierarchy and generously share their wealth with their own clansmen. The opposite of Jian virtue is Tan (貪greed) and Chi (侈extravagance). In the middle of the Spring and Autumn Period, many states formed their politics based on ministerial families. The aristocrats glorified greed and extravagance as Fu (富riches), and stigmatized Jian virtue as Pin (貧poverty). After the collapse of the clan-based state order, the states in the Warring States Period gradually developed into territorial states, and the institutional political norm became a new, abstract concept, indicated by the compound Jian Yue (儉約economy) and was used to describe the consumption attitudes of individuals and families. Meanwhile, with the increase of social mobility, the pursuit of riches was highly popular in the ideological world. The new expression of “means-ends” advocated by Legalists, which stipulated that individuals and families acquire wealth through Jian Yue (economy), took shape and endures to this day.