Research Article

Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 3-24

First online:

Happiness, ownership, naming: Reflections on Northern Song cultural history

  • Stephen OwenAffiliated withDepartment of Comparative Literature, Harvard University Email author 


This essay talks about a significant moment in Chinese intellectual and literary history, centrally involving the nature of human happiness, which remains one of the great questions in all philosophical traditions. The Northern Song version of this question continues to have resonance in the contemporary world because we often still link happiness with particular situations and often, like our Northern Song predecessors, with particular sites and possessions. These questions can indeed be found earlier in the Chinese tradition, but in the major social transformations of the Northern Song-a growing commercial culture, and an elite defined by cultural prestige rather than by family background-this question came to enjoy a new intensity of discursive reflection.


happiness ownership naming