井底之蛙

10/30/2006

Ancient Chinese sex advice

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:12 pm

One scholar who has had a lot of influence on my teaching on Early China is Mark Edward Lewis. I sometimes assign Sanctioned Violence in Early China, and if I had the courage I would assign Writing and Authority. The thing I like about his work is that not only does he know literally everything about everything, his work centers around figuring out what the categories of early Chinese thought were. It is a commonplace that the Han dynasty distinctions between the 100 schools of philosophy are to some extent false divisions forced on a much more complex history. Lewis takes this further and tries to uncover what the categories of thought were in Han and pre-Han China. Part of this, particularly in Writing and Authority, is the importance of patterns. There are patterns that govern the changes in the universe, human affairs and the body, and understanding and adjusting and adjusting to these patterns is what knowledge is all about. (Lewis explains all this a lot better than I do.)

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7/16/2006

We’re not in Hebei anymore, Toto

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:21 pm

A Chinese Peasant

Pearl Buck has been getting a good deal more attention in China of late. Part of it is no doubt the fact that she wrote about China and won the Nobel Prize, but also because attitudes towards “friends of China” are changing. Buck was persona non grata in the Maoist period. She was also not all that popular with Chinese before 1949. Attempts to film The Good Earth in China were met with constant trouble. Authorities were unhappy that there would be scenes with a water buffalo, as this would make China look medeival. In the end all of the film shot in China was vandalized and the scenes had to be re-shot in the U.S. A lot of the criticisms seem typical of what Chinese intellectuals said about Buck. I somewhere reading a Chinese author who claimed that Buck’s picture of China was nonsense because she only talked to ignorant peasants rather than real Chinese i.e. educated people. Pearl Buck, in turn, thought that the real China had almost nothing to do with “the ice-pure pages of her wisdom literature…the teachings of sages and philosophers, put away safely into volumes and reverenced devoutly by a few hermit scholars and abstractly through hearsay by the multitudes, is China as she sees herself and as she wishes the world to see her, China in her decorous best, China as she is quoted and above all as she likes to quote herself, well-regulated, emotionally disciplined, the superior man”1 She rejected this China and wrote about the “real” China Both she and her opponents drew a razor-sharp line between elite and popular culture and located the “real” China on one side of it. (more…)

12/10/2005

Cheng-Zhu or Chengs v. Zhu?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 10:37 pm

I didn’t make a big thing of it in class, and nobody seems to have noticed the discrepancy, but there’s something of a disparity between my World History textbook (Brummet, et al., Civilization: Past and Present, 11e) and my own understanding of the development of Neo-Confucianism. Now that the semester’s (almost) over, I’d like to throw it open for comment.

My understanding, based in no small part on the new editions of the Columbia Sourcebooks, is that Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi were largely in agreement on the matter of li [principle] and qi [essence, force, energy, etc.], but that Cheng Yi emphasized qi as the most important consideration in personal development while Cheng Hao emphasized jen [humaneness] as the key to education and moral understanding. Zhu Xi, then, while a student of both brothers, was more a follower of Cheng Yi, focusing on the function of qi; thus the term Cheng-Zhu Confucianism.

Cheng Hao, on the other hand, was the progenitor of the Cheng-Lu strain, emphasizing, along with Lu Xiangshan, the unity of xin [mind, soul, heart, etc] with the Ultimate substrate of existence and the li principle. This is important particularly because it’s the foundation for the development of Wang Yangming thought, which was very influential in Japan.

Civilization, though, puts the Cheng brothers together as developers of li-qi theory, and claims that Zhu Xi “differed from the Chengs by ascribing greater importance to li over qi and by positing the existence of a Supreme Ultimate to which all li was connected.” (304)

Am I splitting hairs to see the textbook as oversimplifying to the point of error? How do you teach the Song Renaissance?

8/16/2005

Define “Successful”

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:37 pm

There are signs that China’s government is going to resurrect Confucianism as a source of social ethics and harmony [via Simon World]. It was, after all, the dominant social ideology for centuries, even millenia (though not exactly consecutively), and it retains a great deal of power in Chinese society (though, as the article has pointed out, hardly nobody’s been formally taught this stuff for some time) and is indeed a great system of social ethics in a fundamentally hierarchical society.

But it does beg the question: to what extent did Confucianism work better than less formal systems of social ethics? Is it something to go back to because it was effective and adaptable, or is it just “there” and available for rhetorical recycling without requiring a strong committment to the principles of reciprocality, responsibility and compassionate effectiveness that it should entail?

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