CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 29, March 2012


Yun | China Heritage Quarterly

Yun 藴/蕴

Geremie R. Barmé

Yun 蕴 is one of those multifaceted terms that abound in Chinese. These are words with ancient origins far pre-dating the Christian era, and which through different uses and changing circumstances have, over the centuries, gathered layers of meaning, sediments of significance. Yun can signify to gather, contain, collect, hoard and store. In early translations of Buddhist texts it was used to translate the Sanskrit term skanda, the wuyun being the 'five aggregates' or constituent elements of existence. Its other extended meanings cover such concepts such as dissatisfaction and ire.

作为积聚意义,《后汉书•周荥传》有:蕴匮古今,博物多闻。 作为深奥意义,《宋史•范祖禹传》有:平易明白,洞见底蕴。 作为郁怨意义,《后汉书•王符传》有:志意蕴愤,乃隐居著书三十余篇。 至于现代用法,不外:蕴含、蕴蓄、蕴藏、蕴藉之类。

Of these, perhaps, the most relevant is a usage from the Song Dynasty, around the tenth century, in the expression diyun 底蕴: concealed possibility or inner sentiment; as it is put in modern Chinese: 蕴藏的才识或修养. It also means 内情或蕴藏的内容. Diyun is still used—often as a description of an aesthetic quality in an artistic work–with the sense of resonance or layered depth. To be without diyun is to be shallow, derivative and evanescent. 

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This material is from Barmé, '蘊: What Is and Isn't Possible?', Shanghai, 20 April 2008, online, at: