井底之蛙

5/13/2014

Confucius say….

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:32 am

For many years I have wanted to find a fortune cookie that actually had a piece of paper with “Confucius Say:…” followed by an actual quote from Confucius. I am not betting on it, one because the ‘Confucius Say’ thing is dead in U.S. fortune cookies1 and, more importantly, because Confucius has still not become a historical figure in the West. By this I mean that quotes from the big C are usually the standard “You wantee eggwoll with that?” Eastern Wisdom stuff. Just like there are lots of people who think that the main take away from Socrates is “Like sands of the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” and that the central message of Buddhism is “Every man for himself.” there are lots of people who are happy to quote Confucius without making any effort to find out what the text actually says, in a way they would never do with Emerson or Henry Kissinger.

This came to mind while reading about the Confucius Institute in the Times Higher Education supplement. Here I learned that “The wheel of fortune turns round incessantly, the Chinese philosopher Confucius said.” I didn’t remember that from Analects, or anywhere else, and while it turns up on Google lists of quotes from Confucius the locus classicus seems to be Oliver Goldsmith who cites Confucius as saying “The wheel of fortune turns incessantly round; and who can say within himself I shall to-day be uppermost”. I was actually pretty happy to find this, as it is an actual classical source for this quote2 I assume the author was using the quote to make some sort of subtle point about the differences between Confucius and foreign understandings of his ideas, but I am not quite sure what that point was.

So, what are your favourite bits of Eastern Wisdom, and have you been able to figure out where they come from?

 

  1. Was it ever common? I don’t remember ever seeing it. []
  2. Goldsmith counts []

3/6/2014

Exemplary Women

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:13 am

A new translation of the Lienu zhuan is out, under the title Exemplary Women of Early China The book was compiled by Liu Xiang, mostly from older sources, so it is both an anthology of Pre-Han stories about women and one of the most important influences on post-Han women’s education.

The translator, Anne Behnke Kinney, says that the organizing principle of the book is dynastics, “an ideology for reinforcing habits of deference to a family-based hierarchy for the sake of its ongoing continuity and prestige.” It is thus broader than the usual understanding of filial piety and is not the same as patriarchy, although it often overlaps with it. Most of the stories portray women dealing with some sort of crisis that threatens the family or dynasty.

Sometimes of course women -are- a threat to the family and dynasty, as in this story from the section on the Depraved and the Favored.

The Songstress Queen of King Dao of Zhao

The Songstress Queen was a singer from Handan and the queen of King Daoxiang of Zhao. At an earlier time, she had brought disorder to an entire clan. When she became widowed, King Daoxiang was struck by her beauty and married her. Li Mu remonstrated with him, saying, “This won’t do. A woman’s impropriety is the means by which state and family are turned upside down and made unstable. This woman has brought disorder to her clan. Shouldn’t Your Majesty be alarmed ?”- The king said, “Whether there is disorder or not depends on how I govern.” He then proceeded to marry her.

Earlier, King Daoxiang’s queen had given birth to a son named Jia who became heir apparent. After the Songstress Queen entered the court at the rank of consort, she gave birth to a son named Qian. The Songstress Queen then became a great favorite of the king and secretly slandered the queen and the heir apparent to the king. She [also] arranged for someone to offend the heir apparent and thus provoke him into committing a crime. The king thereupon dismissed Jia and set up Qian [in his place], and deposed the queen and established the songstress as queen. When King Daoxiang died, Qian was enthroned as King Youmin.

The Songstress Queen was dissolute and immoral. She developed an illicit connection with the Lord of Chunping and frequently received bribes from Qin. She made the king execute his great general, the Lord of Wuan, Li Mu. Afterward, when Qin troops marched in, no one could stop them. Qian was then taken prisoner by Qin, and Zhao was destroyed. The grandees, resentful that th eSongstress Queen had slandered the heir apparent and killed Li Mu had her killed and exterminated her family. Together they enthroned Jia at Dai. After seven years they could not defeat Qin. Zhao was then annihilated and became a commandery [of Qin].

The Odes says, “If a man have not dignity of demeanor /What should he do but die. These words apply well to her.

The Verse Summary says,

The Songstress Queen of King Daoxiang of Zhao

Was insatiably covetous.

She destroyed the true queen and heir,

Working her deceit with guile.

She was debauched with Lord Chunping,

And ruthlessly pursued what she desired.

She received bribes, ravaged Zhao,

And died in the kingdom she destroyed

This story gives a nice sample of both court politics in the Warring States and pretty traditional views about the dangers of marrying beautiful women. It also reflects one of the reasons the book was complied, since Liu Xiang seems to have been worried that too many Han emperors were marrying low-born women who did not understand proper family behaviour. These women needed to be either avoided or educated, and this book could help with either. We also get a sample of one of the verse summaries that one can memorize to keep the lessons of the story in mind.

Much different is this story, from the section on Accomplished Rhetoricians

The Wife of the Bow Maker of Jin

The bow maker’s wife was the daughter of an armor craftsman of Jin. In the time of Duke Ping, the duke ordered her husband to make a bow. After three years it was finished. When the duke drew the bow and shot, the arrow did not pierce even one layer of armor. The duke was angry and was about to execute the bow maker.

The bow maker’s wife thereupon begged for an audience, saying, “I am the daughter of an armor craftsman and the wife of the bow maker. I would like to be granted an audience.” When Duke Ping met with her she said, “Have you heard of Gong Liu’s conduct in former times ? Whenever the sheep and oxen trampled their rushes and reeds, he felt great pity for the common people, and his concern even extended to plants and trees. Would he have countenanced the killing of an innocent person? Duke Mu of Qin encountered bandits who ate the meat of his fine steed, but he gave them wine to drink. When an officer of King Zhuang of Chu tugged at his consort’s robe, she tore off his hat tassel. But the king later drank with him quite happily. As for these three rulers, their benevolence became known to the entire world. Eventually each one was requited [for their kindness], and their names have been passed down to present times.

“Formerly, Yao did not trim the thatch of his roof or carve its mottled beams. He had earthen steps of only three levels.Even so, he felt that his workmen had toiled hard and that he was living in great comfort. Now, when my husband made this bow, his efforts were also laborious. The bow’s shaft came from wood grown on the slopes of Mount Tai, and each day he would examine it three times in both the sunlight and the shade. It is decorated with the horn of oxen from Yan, bound with the tendons of deer from Jing, and glued together with adhesive derived from Yellow River fish. Since these four things are among the most select and extraordinary materials in the world, your inability to pierce even one layer of armor must be due to your inability to shoot. Yet you want to kill my husband. Isn’t this mistaken?

“I have heard that in the Way of Archery, one’s left hand should be held as firm as a rock, while the right hand should be held like a diagonal support beam. When the right hand releases the arrow, the left hand should not be aware of it. This is the Way of Archery.”

When Duke Ping did what she said and shot, the arrow pierced seven layers of armor. The woman’s husband was immediately set free and given three yi in cash. A man of discernment would say, “The bow maker’s wife was able to offer assistance in difficulty.” The Odes says, “The ornamented bows are strong;’ and “They discharge the arrows and all hit.”This phrase describes the methods of archery.

The Verse Summary says,

Duke Ping Jin commissioned a bow,

Which took three years to complete.

But he became angry with the bow maker

And was on the verge of punishing him.

The wife went and spoke tothe duke,

And explained what materials were used in the bow.

She set forth the labor and difficulty involved,

And the duke thereupon released him.

So we have another commoner woman, but this one is an expert on bows, archery, rare materials and persuading rulers. She also has the courage to tell the Duke he is lousy at one of the Six Arts (Archery) and is eloquent enough to both get away with it and improve him. Even men could take her as an example!

As a result this is a really useful book to use when teaching about Chinese women. Students come in with a lot of ideas about women in traditional China being powerless and oppressed. That’s not wrong, but getting them to go beyond that is often pretty hard. These stories mostly deal with female agency, but always in a family or dynastic context, so we are getting neither Passive Lady Plum Blossom nor Disney’s Mulan. It is also a good book for Early China. It’s always had to find something to do for the early part of a China class, given that a lot of the secondary stuff is pretty technical and the translated primary sources tend to be philosophical texts that are hard for undergrads to deal with. This seems just about perfect.

Of course, even if you are not going to teach with it, you could still read it. Its a good book.

10/5/2013

Ancient Music in the Academy

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:28 pm
Han DrummerConfucius liked to talk about Rites and Music. Thus I have to spend a lot of time explaining to students why. Most Americans are more like Mozi
Mozi asked a Confucian, saying ‘What is the reason for music (樂)?’ The reply was: “Music is performed for the sake of joy ()1 Mozi said: ‘You have not answered me. Suppose I asked: Why build houses? And you answered: It is to keep off cold in winter, and the heat in summer, and to separate men from women. They you would have told me the reason for building houses. Now I am asking: Why perform music? And you answer: Music is performed for music’s sake. This is like saying : Why build houses? And answering Houses are built for houses’ sake.” Mozi 43
So Mozi can see no point in music, just like most most American parents can’t see the point in being a music major.
I won’t get into the whole modern defence of Music (and Art), but in early China music was magic. All my evidence here comes from the Lushi Chunqiu, which is basically a philosophical encyclopedia compiled at the very end of the Warring States period.
Music is a way to keep track of the state of the world

Thus, the tones of an orderly age are peaceful and joyous because its policies are stable. The tones of a chaotic age are resentful and angry because its policies are perverse. The tones of a doomed state are sad and mournful because its policies are dangerous. It is a general principle that music is influenced by government and affected by customs. When customs are fixed, music adjusts itself to them. Thus, in an age that possesses the Dao one has only to observe its music to know its customs, to observe its customs to know its government, and observe its government to know its ruler. The First Kings were, therefore, certain to rely on music as a means of professing their teachings. LSCQ 5/4.4B

O.k., this is not too hard to grasp. Just like “Rap Music is Black America’s CNN” you can learn about a society by listening to its music. I particularly like this quote because I remember reading something along the lines of “Thus, the tones of an orderly age are peaceful and joyous because its policies are stable. The tones of a chaotic age are resentful and angry because its policies are perverse.” on the liner notes of a Jefferson Airplane album2
Here is another

   When Yu ascended the throne he toiled and laboured on behalf of the world. He rested neither day nor night, opening up the great streams, cutting through obstructions and blockages, boring out the Dragon Gate, and circulating the flowing waters by guiding them to the Yellow River. He dredged the Three Rivers and the Five Lakes and made their waters flow to the Eastern Sea, to benefit the black-headed people. At this, Yu commanded Gaoyao to compose all nine movements of the Xia Flute” in order to celebrate his achievement. LSCQ 5/5.10

O.k., so you can use music as political propaganda, so that people will never forget Yu taming the flood or the bombs bursting in air. Also not too complex. The next two are a little harder.

In the past, at the inception of the Yinkang clan, the Yin had coagulated in great amounts and accumulated excessively. The watercourses were blocked and obstructed, and water could not flow out from springs. The ethers of the people became thick and clogged up, and their muscles and bones tight and constricted. They therefore invented a dance with which to spread and guide the Yin .LSCQ 5/ 5.4

In the past, when the ancient Zhuxiang clan ruled the world, there was an excess of wind that caused the Yang ether to gather and accumulate, the myriad things to disperse and scatter, and the fruits and nuts not to ripen. Knight Da therefore invented a five-string zither with which to attract the Yin ether and arrange the survival of the various living things. LSCQ 5/ 5.2

These two are a  lot more magical. Music actually changes the world. In the first one we can see it changing people, which makes a bit of sense. Then in the second one it changes the universe. There are actually a bunch of passages in here about how inventing new instruments gave humans new ways to control the world. This is not our idea of music at all (unless you are a follower of the Church of Les Paul), but it does help a bit with Early China.

 

  1. same word! []
  2. not sure which album or if I am remembering this right. My memories of the 60′s are mostly a blur. Still, it fits pretty well. []

1/13/2013

Ungraded Love or Double Standards? Stanley Fish, Stephen Asma, and Confucius

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 8:10 am

Stanley Fish, no stranger to controversy, has a piece on the New York Times online blog, Opinionator, Favoritism Is Good (January 9, 2013). Fish is known for such books as There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech: And a Good Thing Too,  He vigorously responds to the critics of his March 2012 Two Cheers for Double Standards, published during the early phases of the presidential campaign when Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher both made colorful and offensive remarks. Many said that we had to condemn both the right and the left in order to be fair.

“Enlightenment liberalism!”  cried Fish, and proceeded to explain why even-handed treatment of friend and foe was wrong.  The classic liberal stance was “the transposition into the political realm of the Golden Rule: do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Don’t give your friends a pass you wouldn’t give to your enemies.” That is, “fairness is the great liberal virtue.” Dangerous, says Fish: “Limbaugh is the bad guy… why should he get an even break?” If you treat the good guys and the bad guys the same way, you are withdrawing from moral judgment.

That argument outraged more readers than any column he had written. An avalanche of comments asserted that merit and a single standard should rule. Fish responds by defending the double standard: “it’s not only O.K. but positively good to favor those on your side, members of your tribe. These are the people who look out for you, who have your back, who share your history, who stand for the same things you do. Why would you not prefer them to strangers?”

Giving preference is not prejudice but morally grounded, he continued. The classic liberal sees the individual as “what remains after race, gender, ethnicity and filial relationships have been discounted.” This is wrong:  “personhood is the sum of all these, and it makes no sense to disregard everything that connects you to someone and to treat him or her as if the two of you had never met.”

Pop quiz: Does this remind you of anyone? Confucius called for “graded love.” You don’t treat your family the same way you treat a stranger. (more…)

9/23/2012

Reconsidering Marco Polo

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:07 am

“Marco Polo’s reports of China, now judged mostly hearsay….” Perry Anderson, LRB

MMA 2012 - China - Tang - late 7c - Camel and RidersI got an email from a student who found my blog post in which I make a highly critical case regarding the historicity of Marco Polo’s adventures. They wanted to confirm (since some data was lost in the latest HNN transition) that it was mine for citation purposes. I’ve been considering revisiting it for a while now,1 and this seems like a good time, because my views on the subject have evolved a bit since: I’m still highly skeptical of Polo, but more importantly, I think the very structure of the argument and nature of the sources makes it highly unlikely that the believers and skeptics will come to a consensus.

When I expressed my doubts, lo those many years ago, I was informed that there was still some life left in Polo’s tale. It turns out that there is so much scholarship on aspects of Polo’s text that there’s even a term for it — “Polan scholarship” and if there’s one thing Polan scholars can’t stand, it’s to have Polo’s work seriously questioned. All the errors are “honest”; all the omissions are “explicable”; all the unconfirmed and untranslated stuff are just waiting to be decoded if only we had better Chinese sources; and incomprehensible bits are the result of Polo listening to the wrong people. That’s the attitude going in, and it’s the same attitude coming out.2 There seem to be lots of Euro-centric scholars with strong attachments to Polo, but a lot of Sino-centric scholars were very dubious.3

Foreigners were involved in Qin construction, and travel in China was common and widespread: the idea that China was closed or that people never migrated are both vestiges of simplistic thinking rather than historical verities. Even the harshest critics of Polo’s historicity admit that he got some thing right, and must have had some valid sources. The question is whether he was an eyewitness and participant in the history and culture he described, and, most importantly, whether he can be considered a credible independent source for the study of Chinese history and culture. I think the answer is still “no.” The story is great, but even if you take it seriously, it’s fantastical.4

Still, having entered this fray, I feel an intellectual obligation to stay informed. So when I ran across a catalog blurb for Stephen Haw’s Marco Polo’s China: a Venetian in the realm of Khubilai Khan (Routledge, 2006), it piqued my interest; thanks to inter-library loan, I finally got hold of it. Only for a week, unfortunately, but it was an interesting ride.
(more…)

  1. You can tell by the dates on the articles linked here, this has been in draft for quite a while []
  2. there’s a lot of emotion in Polan defenses, though if I’d made a life’s work on a complex source and found a lot of scholars who hadn’t attacking it as fraudulent, I might be emotional about it as well []
  3. E.g. Obituary of John Larner, historian of Marco Polo. And “New archeological data highlights Polo errors.” []
  4. WaPo review of new Polo bio []

7/5/2010

Huainanzi

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:01 am

Columbia University Press is publishing a complete translation of the Huainanzi, a Han-dynasty compendium of philosophy and statecraft which has been of great interest to scholars for many years but is only now receiving a full English translation

We are lucky enough to have John Major, one of the translators here for a guest post on the process of translation and also to answer a few questions.

In March of this year Columbia University Press published The Huainanzi: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Government in Early Han China, a translation of a classic work of early Chinese philosophy written under the general editorship of Liu An, King of Huainan, and presented to the Han imperial throne in 139 BCE. My colleagues and I in the translation team hope and expect that this first-ever translation of The Huainanzi into English will make an important contribution to the study of Chinese intellectual history by opening a fascinating window into currents of thought in the early Han dynasty.

The process of translating this massive and challenging work may be of interest.

In about 1994 I mentioned to my friend Hal Roth (Harold D. Roth, Brown University) that I was thinking of doing a full Huainanzi translation, and he replied that he was thinking of doing the same. So we decided to join forces; that’s how the project got started. Both of us had already devoted large amounts of our professional attention to the Huainanzi. We believed that it was under-appreciated in the field of early China studies; everyone in the field knew of Liu An’s great work and perhaps consulted it for comparative purposes when working on other texts, but few people at that time had made The Huainanzi the focus of their research. It was the last really major work of Chinese philosophy from the early imperial period that still lacked a complete English translation. (A Paris-based group beat us to the distinction of publishing the first Western-language translation; their French translation was published in 2002.)

We landed a Chiang Ching-kuo fellowship to begin the work in 1996-98. Jay Sailey, an independent scholar who also had a longstanding interest in The Huainanzi was initially part of the project but later dropped out; a few years into the project two additional participants came on board. The final team consisted of John Major, Sarah Queen (Connecticut College), Andrew Meyer (Brooklyn College) and Hal Roth. Michael Puett (Harvard) participated in the translation of chapter 13, and Judson Murray (Wright State U.) participated in the translation of chapter 21. But the core team was the four of us.

The project took so long — about fifteen years — partly because the text is quite large (the published translation runs to just over 1000 pages) and also quite difficult (it is in standard Classical Chinese but there are many textual issues to deal with and some of the language and the technical terminology is far from transparent). Also all of the participants had other ongoing obligations; it was never possible for everyone on the team to work on the project full-time, all the time. The last three years or so were very intense and we all basically put aside as much as possible of our other research and writing to concentrate on the Huainanzi, but even so, there were courses to prepare and teach, administrative work to be done, other research and writing commitments to honor, and so on. But we were determined to work as a team rather than simply dividing up and parceling out the work (as the French group had done); we were convinced that approaching the text in a truly collaborative fashion was the key to making the translation as accurate and graceful as possible. The procedure that we adopted was complicated. We began by dividing up responsibility for doing first-draft translations of all of the 21 chapters. Then each draft was read and critiqued by all other members of the team, revised, read and critiqued again, and further revised. The aim was to make the final versions as complete, accurate, and seamless as possible, no matter who did the initial draft. From 1998 to 2009 we met for four or five very hard-working weekends per year at Brown to hash out difficult passages and discuss, for example, uniform ways of translating important terms. The last stage of translation consisted of reading the entire work aloud — taking turns, one person would read while the other three followed along in the classical Chinese text, looking for errors. That took many, many hours, but it proved to be extremely worthwhile.

Manuscript preparation itself was a big job that took about two years: peer review, revision; copy-editing, more revision; page proofs, corrections; appendices, index, etc. It was a huge undertaking just in the physical sense; the final typescript ran to over 1600 double-spaced pages.

Working as a team was really essential to the project; it was a much more complicated way of doing the task than a solo effort might have been, but the result is much better than any of us could have done alone. Intensive, long-term collaborative work is quite common in the natural sciences but relatively rare in other fields; I think that the success of this project demonstrates the merits of such close collaboration in the humanities despite its complexity and the hard work required to implement it.

The Huainanzi is full of fascinating material, and the effort of translating it was more than repaid by the intellectual challenge of doing the work and the satisfaction of having it turn out well. And we are delighted with the actual published volume, which was extremely handsomely produced by Columbia University Press. It is gratifying that the first printing sold out within three months, and the book is already in its second printing. It is very satisfying to have this work finally out in the world.

John S. Major

3/7/2009

Zhou Confucianism? Ming Quality Control?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:26 pm

In an absolutely fascinating article on the modern petition redress system1 focusing on attempts by regional officials to prevent petitions from reaching a national office, the Financial Times sidebar, “Confucian Accountability” says

China’s petition system dates back to the Zhou dynasty 3,000 years ago. It embodies a Confucian tradition that idealises an authoritarian yet benevolent ruler who puts the concerns of his subjects above the interests of corrupt officials.

There’s the obvious point, that the Zhou dynasty predates Confucianism by a half-millenium or more. Confucius never dealt with the issue of petitions2, nor can I recall any pre-Han thinker postulating such an active (and literate) role for commoners. All of them, though, put the welfare of the people and the state above that of individual (especially dishonest) officials. One of the principle concerns of the more institutionally-minded figures (Mozi, Xunzi, Hanfeizi) is how to pick honest officials, and root out (or work around) dishonest ones, but none of them argue for violating the chain of command, even in extraordinary circumstances. They want a monitoring system which works well in normal circumstances, not something which encourages disorder.

The sidebar continues

After the 1911 republican revolution, petitioning was abolished by the Nationalist government. The Communists reinstated it soon after their 1949 revolution.

Experts say petitioning remains basically unchanged from the system in place 500 years ago in the Ming dynasty, when the formal evaluation of government officials began to take into account the number of petitioners who travelled to the capital from their region.

Since the Nationalist government was a democratic/republican system, presumably petitioning wouldn’t be necessary. I’m a bit surprised that the article didn’t take a slightly more critical approach to the idea that petitioning was a normal process over the last sixty years and only recently has started to break down. I can’t imagine that petitioning for redress in the era of Mao or Deng wasn’t fraught with danger for the petitioner, from the problem of unauthorized travel to the assumption that Party officials are always in the right. The responses that the article describes — detention, harassment, false imprisonment under the guise of mental illness — are classic Communist party tools for handling dissension, used widely in the Soviet Union as well as in China.

The last point in the sidebar — the use of petitions as a metric of administrative quality — is central to the article: the extralegal attempts by local officials to suppress petitions and petitioners is rooted in systemic self-protection, the avoidance of the appearance of trouble. Modern transportation technology, as the article notes, makes travel easier for petitioners, and has contributed to the rise in numbers. But, of course, the nature of modern society is such that it is also much easier to identify, track, monitor petitioners now than it was even fifty years ago, much less five hundred. The problem of danson minpi (“honoring officials, despising the people” as the Japanese put it) was intense during the latter half of the 20th century in China: the scaling up of suppression efforts to match the scaling up of petitions is pretty much par for the course, but the information environment is very different now, and the question of government legitimacy more intense.

  1. via, where the discussion quickly veered into the surreal, with participants unsure whether China’s petition system made it a more responsive and fair political system than the republicanism of the US. []
  2. One of the many issues Confucius never dealt with. []

1/23/2009

Like mixing water with water

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:35 am

Students often come to classes on China looking for the Timeless Wisdom of the Easttm As a historian I tend to dislike giving it to them, since the point of history is not to take wisdom out of historical context and apply it to your life.1 Still, I do like providing timeless wisdom when I can, and as we are talking about the origins of bureaucracy in China today I will be using this quote from the Zuo2 to talk about the difference between a minister and a toady. I suspect this will be one of the things that they can actually apply in their lives, if only as a great put-down.

Yan Ying on harmony and conformity

“Only [Liangqiu] Ju is harmonious (he) with me.”

[Yan Ying] answered: “Ju conforms (tong) with you; how can he be harmonious?”

The lord asked: “Are harmony and conformity different?”

[Yan Ying] answered: “They are different. Harmony is like a stew. Water, fire, jerky, mincemeat, salt, and plum [vinegar] are used to cook fish and meat; they are cooked over firewood. Then the master chef harmonizes them, mixes them according to taste, compensating for what is insufficient and diminishing what is too strong. The superior man (junzi) eats it to calm (ping) his heart.

It is the same with the ruler and minister. When there is something unacceptable about what the ruler considers acceptable, the minister points out the unacceptable in order to perfect the acceptability [of the ruler's plan]. When there is something acceptable in what the ruler considers unacceptable, the minister points out the acceptable in order to eliminate the unacceptable. In this way the government is equalized (ping) and without transgressions, and the people have no contending (zheng) heart. …

As for Ju, he is not like this. Whatever you consider acceptable, Ju also says it is acceptable, whatever you consider unacceptable, Ju also says it is unacceptable. This is like complementing water with more water: who will be able to drink it? If the zithers and dulcimers were to hold a single tone, who could listen to it? This is how conformity (tong) is unacceptable.”

Zuo Zhao 20, cited in Pines 160-161

  1. Well, not the only point anyway []
  2. via Pines, Yuri. Foundations of Confucian Thought: Intellectual Life in the Chunqiu Period, 722-453 B.C.E. University of Hawaii Press, 2002.
    []

12/22/2008

I like sex better than bear paws

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:17 pm

Over at A Ku Indeed people, including myself, have been discussing Daniel Bell’s East Meets West which looks at the importation of foreign concepts of human rights into East Asia. So far I have not been that impressed with the book and one of the reasons became clearer to me when I found a review of Bell’s more recent book “China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society.” via CDT

One thing that bothered me is that he seems to be using the word “Confucianism” to mean “traditional Chinese culture”, which I find to be sloppy. More importantly, I find his reading of Confucianism to be…odd. Apparently  part of the book is about Karaoke bars as part of the modern Confucian culture, since Confucians saw music as having a vital role in creating a proper society. From the review.

It is within the karaoke bar that the bonding properties of music – so beloved of Confucians – become manifest. If the hostesses offer sex as well as harmonious conversation, that too is as the Sage Master might wish. “I never met anyone,” he told his 5th-century BC students approvingly, “who values virtue more than physical beauty.”

Wow. Chinese Text Project translates it (9.18) differently 子曰:“吾未見好德如好色者也. The Master said, “I have not seen one who loves virtue as he loves beauty.” Almost all the translators I have looked at either read this as Confucius criticizing people for liking sex over virtue, or as recomending you to pursue virtue with the same eagerness you pursue sex (Brooks). Where is Bell’s reading coming from? I suppose if you totally ignored the Confucian dislike of sexual licentiousness you might be able to come up with this. You would also have to ignore all the Confucian stuff about how music is not -good- but -powerful- and that music can both inspire virute and inspire bad behavior. (Such as sex and excessive drinking). There are lots of ways of explaining the sex culture of China, but I would not think of Confucius as being one of them. Has anyone read this book? Is it really as bad as the review makes it look?

12/10/2008

The origins of World Beat (Lu Buwei on music)

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:52 am

I’ve been talking about rites and music in Xunzi. To sort of finish off I want to look at some stuff from Lu Buwei. For those of you who don’t know the text, Annals of Lu Buwei is a late Warring States encyclopedic text that includes a little bit of everything and is a one stop shop for cool stuff about Warring States philosophy.

Of course there is a lot on music in here, especially in chapter six, where the origins of different regional musics are described.

6/3.1
Once when Kongjia, a sovereign of the house of Xia, was hunting at Mount Fu in Dongyang, there was a great wind and the sky darkened. Kongjia, lost and confused, entered the house of a commoner. At that very moment the woman of the house was giving birth. Someone said, “When the sovereign comes, it is a lucky day. Your son is certain to enjoy extraordinarily good fortune.” Another person said, “He is not equal to it. Your son is certain to suffer some catastrophe.” The sovereign thereupon seized the child and returned home with him, saying, “If I make him my son, who will dare harm him?” When the boy grew to maturity, it happened that a tent shifted, causing its supporting post to split, and a falling ax chopped off his foot. The boy was fit only to become a gatekeeper. Kongjia cried, “Alas! Suffering affliction is a matter of fate after all!” He then composed the song entitled, “Grinding an Ax.” This marked the beginning of the tunes in the eastern style.

6/3.2
While inspecting his work for controlling the floods, Yu saw a girl at Mount Tu; but before he could formally propose to her, he left to make a tour of inspection of the southern lands. The girl ordered a slave to spy on Yu at the southern slopes of Mount Tu. The girl then composed a song that went, “Spying on a man, ah!” This marked the beginning of the tunes in the southern style. The Dukes of Zhou and of Shao selected from these tunes the airs that came to be known as “Zhou nan” and “Shao nan”

6/3.3
King Zhao of Zhou personally led an attack of chastisement against Chu. Xin Yumi, who was both tall and very strong, was on the king’s right. On the way back, while they were crossing the Han River, the bridge collapsed. Both the king and the Duke of Cai were tossed into the river. Pulling the king, Xin Yumi crossed to the north bank. Then he went back to pull out the Duke of Cai. The Duke of Zhou then enfeoffed Xin Yumi as a marquis in the region of the West Di barbarians and thus he became senior duke among the feudal lords. When Zhengjia of the Yin dynasty moved to West of the River, he still missed his old home, and as a result created tunes in the western style. The senior duke continued to write these tunes when he resided in the western mountains. When Duke Mu of Qin collected these airs, it marked the beginning of the tunes of Qin.

6/3.4
The head of the Song barbarians had two lovely daughters and built the Terrace of Nine Tiers for them to live in. They had to have music played whenever they ate or drank. The Supreme Sovereign ordered a swallow to spy on them. Its cry sounded like “jik-rik” Loving this, the two girls struggled to catch the swallow. Putting it in a jade canister, they would take it out to look at it for a short time. The swallow, having laid two eggs, flew off to the north, never to return. The two girls wrote a song, with a refrain that went, “Swallow, swallow, flew away.” This marked the beginning of the tunes in the northern style.

6/3.5
As a general rule, runes are products of the heart and mind of man. When feelings are aroused in the heart, they are expressed in melody. Melody that takes shape without is a transformation of what is within. This explains how one knows the customs of a people from hearing their music. By examining their customs, one knows their intentions. By observing their intentions, one knows their Powers. Whether a person is ascending or declining, worthy or unworthy, a gentleman or a petty man is given visible form in music and cannot be hidden. Hence, it is said, “What is visible in music is profound indeed!”

To me this is yet another reason why music is the better part of Rites and Music. Music is more universal. Although some texts suggest that different dynasties had different rites they certainly don’t vary by region or the quality of the individual. You could not tell much about a person from their ritual behavior. They either kept up the rites or they did not. Outsiders either adopted Chinese rites or they did not. How boring.

Music is far more expressive and interesting. You can tell a lot about a man or a state by its music, just as you could laterd by their calligraphy. Rites don’t give you much to think about, but music does. As a historian when I teach about Rites and Music I tend to focus on rites, since in the Shang and Early Zhou it was ritual that mattered in creating the state and the elite, but I am starting to think I should talk more about music going forward.

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