International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics

2nd Edition, as published by Charles François 2004 Presented by the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science Vienna for public access.


The International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics was first edited and published by the system scientist Charles François in 1997. The online version that is provided here was based on the 2nd edition in 2004. It was uploaded and gifted to the center by ASC president Michael Lissack in 2019; the BCSSS purchased the rights for the re-publication of this volume in 200?. In 2018, the original editor expressed his wish to pass on the stewardship over the maintenance and further development of the encyclopedia to the Bertalanffy Center. In the future, the BCSSS seeks to further develop the encyclopedia by open collaboration within the systems sciences. Until the center has found and been able to implement an adequate technical solution for this, the static website is made accessible for the benefit of public scholarship and education.


WU-LI, SHI-LI, REN-LI (WSR): an Oriental Approach to Systems 1)4)

The following note is merely a too short summary of a very significative and original development taking place mainly in China.

GU Jifa and ZHU Zhichang write: "Chinese philosophy since the ancient times has been characterised by its belief and intention towards integration, harmony and holism. The three major ancient Chinese philosophical traditions (Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism) all emphasize harmony e.g., the unity of TIEN (objective existence), TAO (mechanism of the Universe) and REN (human intention); the unity of YIN (negative, lunar, feminine, soft, etc) and YANG (positive, solar, masculine, hard, etc); the unity of ZHI (knowing) and XING (doing), etc. All of these believe that human beings simultaneously understand and create the world,. Therefore the life world of human conception, intention and action, cannot be properly investigate and researched as if separated from their surroundings. The philosophies also suggest that the TAO (moral), ZHI (knowledge), and XING (action) of human beings are systematically related to the conditioning and support of one another, and therefore cannot be "artificially" isolated from one another"(1995, p. 31)

The authors also explain the Chinese medical notion of QI: "…all organic parts and sub-systems in a human body are integrated by QI. QI has no physical form. Nor is it a type of object matter. Yet it has effects like an electronic or magnetic field. It is QI that co-ordinates interactive performances through-out all parts of the human body. Subsequently problems in one part of the body may find their behavioral causes in another part of the body, or in the environment. Compared with their Western counterparts, the Chinese uphold a cultural tradition which focuses more on GUANXI (relationships), which may be between members of a family, within or between organizations, and within society as a whole" (ibid, p. 32)

The authors present WSR in the following terms: "The philosophy underlying the WSR approach suggests that social situations are constituted by WU (objective existence) SHI (mechanisms of the universe), and REN (human intentions).

Therefore any project tackling such situations should consider all WU-Ll, SHI-Ll, and REN-LI elements in a holistic manner, although a single LI may manifest itself as dominant or a more urgent element than the others of certain stages "(Ibid)

In a graphical representation the authors consider:

WU-LI (Objective existence) as the subject of knowing and studying

SHI-LI (Mechanisms of the universe) as being in need of understanding and modelling)

REN-LI (Human relations) as in need of co-ordination and compromise

WSR also presents dynamical aspects that the authors represent in a closed circle:

- understanding desires

- investigating conditions

- formulating objectives

- creating models

- co-ordinating relations

- implementing proposals

… and back to understanding desires. The similarity with WARFIELD's generic design or FLOOD's and JACKSON's Total Systems Intervention seems obvious.

Finally, the authors state that "the WSR process should not be read as a step-by-step Chinese "cookbook", (but) rather it should be tailored by participants in accordance with their situational requirements"(p. 37) and give examples of the practice of WSR.

For more information, see also PRESSMAN, TE.(1992)


  • 1) General information
  • 2) Methodology or model
  • 3) Epistemology, ontology and semantics
  • 4) Human sciences
  • 5) Discipline oriented


Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science(2020).

To cite this page, please use the following information:

Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]

We thank the following partners for making the open access of this volume possible: