井底之蛙

11/21/2013

Confucius does Powerpoint

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 3:05 pm Print

 There is an old Chinese story concerning three young men who are too lazy to study. Their father builds them a hut on a mountain figuring that isolation will help them concentrate. It does not work. They meet a divine lady, who wants, of course, to marry them to her three beautiful daughters. She is also willing to give them study help.

The Lady said to the three youths: “What men treat seriously is life; what they desire is honor. Now before a hundred days have been lost to mankind, I shall bring life to you, lords, enduring beyond this world, and position far beyond that of any mortal magnate.” The three youths saluted once more and gave thanks, but were anxious lest their ignorance be a hindrance and their dull wits an obstacle. The Lady said, “Do not be anxious, milords, for this is a simple thing!” Then she enjoined her manager on earth, commanding him to summon K’ung Hsuan-fu (Confucius). In a moment Master K’ung came, equipped with hat and sword. The Lady approached the staircase, and Hsuan-fu presented himself with a respectful salutation. Standing erect, the Lady asked if she might impose a slight task on him, addressing him thus: “My three sons-in-law desire to study. Will you guide them, milord?” Then Hsuan-fu gave commands to the three youths. He showed the chapter titles of the Six Registers (The Six Classics) to them with his finger-and they awoke to an understanding of their overall meaning without missing a single detail, thoroughly conversant with all as if they had always been rehearsing them. Then Hsuan-fu gave thanks, and departed. Now the Lady commanded Chou Shang-fu to show them “The Mystic Woman’s Talisman and Secret Esoterica of the Yellow  Pendants.” The three youths acquired these too without missing anything. She sat and spoke with them again, and found that their studious penetration of all the civil and military arts was now as far-reaching as that of a Heavenly Person. Inspecting each other, the three youths were aware that now their air and poise were balanced and expansive, while their spiritual illumination was uninhibited and buoyant-they were in all respects equipped to become Commanders or Ministers.

 There are a couple of things that struck me here. One is Confucius’ mad Powerpoint skills.

He showed the chapter titles of the Six Registers (The Six Classics) to them with his finger-and they awoke to an understanding of their overall meaning without missing a single detail.

Apparently Confucius can teach someone the Rites Classic just by pointing his finger at the chapter titles. Suck on that Edward Tufte. Also, of course, we have magical learning. Students who have been goofing off all semester are magically transformed into people who know it all, or can at least pass the final. They (or their father) try isolating themselves from distraction (get away from your phone. Go to the library) but it does not work. But then a miracle occurs. My students are of course quite familiar with this idea, since they know that you can learn a lot in just one night of frantic studying. They are also not at all surprised that I, their teacher, once learned a whole semester of geography in one night. They always seem to understand the logic behind the Great Leap Forward, the idea that a red heart can achieve miracles, if you compare it to cramming for an exam.

Sadly, unlink most things on this blog this is not something I will probably ever use to teach with. It comes from Edward H Schafer’s Pacing the Void: Tʻang Approaches to the Stars. ((The lady is in fact a star-lady. Of course the boys end up telling their father about her, as she had told them not to, and she makes them drink something that makes them stupid again.)) As always with his many1 works I feel entirely inadequate to do anything with them in class other than say “cut class next time and go read all his books.”

 

On Amazon I see

Schafer, Edward H. Pacing the Void: Tʻang Approaches to the Stars. [Warren, Conn.]: Floating World Editions, 2005.

———. Shore of Pearls. [Warren, Conn.]: Floating World Editions, 2010.

———. The Divine Woman: Dragon Ladies and Rain Maidens in Tʻang Literature. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1980.

———. The Vermilion Bird: T’ang Images of the South. Warren, Conn.; Abingdon: Floating World ; Marston [distributor], 2006.

Schafer, Edward Hetzel. The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T’ang Exotics. Berkeley Calif.; London [etc.]: Univ. of California Press, 1985.

  1. often reprinted []

11/7/2013

China in Cartoons II

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:42 am Print

The second volume of Understanding China Through Comics is out.1 I ‘reviewed‘ the first volume and concluded that Jing Liu is no Larry Gonick, but it’s not bad. My short review of the new volume is that he is still no Larry Gonick, but this volume is even better than the first one, and you should certainly buy it.

The art has many of the same problems as the first volume, but is better in general. There are still too many places where what is going on in the story is not represented graphically. So, the struggle between Shu, Wu and Wei is represented, in part, by three guys getting ready to fight on a map.

Wu-Strategy

Obviously a lot of history is hard to represent well in pictures, but that’s the whole point of being a cartoonist, that you are better at this then we are. Although there are some clunkers in here there are also some quite serviceable bits, like this one on corruption.

Corruption

A better one on the Three Kingdoms, showing backstabbing and armies being destroyed

Shu

And even some quite good ones, like this on street fighting in Chang-an, which looks like it might have been inspired by a WWII movie but at least gives you a nice feeling of tension.

Fighting

(more…)

  1. Been out for a while, actually []

7/25/2010

Restoring China’s past glory

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:18 pm Print

Via CDT a report on gated communities for the poor outside Beijing. In theory the purpose is to protect residents from crime, but of course the main goal is to keep migrant workers under control.

That road into Shoubaozhuang is guarded 24 hours a day by two uniformed guards and partially barred by an accordion gate that closes tight at 11 p.m. each night. Until 6 a.m. the next day, the residents are sealed in. Only those with passes are allowed to come and go, their movements recorded by a video camera stationed over the entrance.

Gated communities for the rich are of course nothing new in China. Dividing an entire city into walled wards to keep the population under control is also not new. Charles Benn describes the system in the Tang.1

The function of ward walls was to provide internal security by preventing the movement of people. The law clearly asserted the principle. Ninety blows with a thick rod was the punishment for climbing over ward walls. Each of a ward’s roads terminated in gates that a headman, who was in charge of affairs within the ward, barred at dusk. As the sun went down in Changan, a tattoo of 400 beats on a drum signaled the closing of palace gates and a second, of 600 beats, the closing of ward and city gates. The length of the tattoos gave people ample time to return to their dwellings before the ward gates closed. In the predawn hours drummers beat another tattoo of 3,000 beats that was the signal for opening the gates. Each of the avenues also had drums that sounded at curfew. The law forbade citizens to travel on the main thoroughfares of the cities outside the wards during curfew, but it did not restrict their nocturnal movements within the wards. The statute, however, permitted public commissioners bearing official documents, as well as marriage processions, to use the avenues and streets after curfew. In both cases they had to obtain a permit from the county government first. It also allowed private citizens who needed to find a doctor or procure medicine for the treatment of the ill to travel, as well as those who needed to leave their ward to announce a death. However, they had to have a certificate issued by the ward headman. Anyone else found wandering outside the wards during the night by the Gold Bird Guard was subject to twenty blows of the thin rod. In 808, however, the throne had a eunuch who got drunk and violated the curfew beaten to death. The emperor also demoted the officer in charge of the Gold Bird Guard and banished him from the capital.

Sadly for the Tang rulers weakening government power after the An Lushan rebellion and then the greater commercialization and fluidity of society made it impossible to keep up the system. In the Song and after the system of gated wards could not be re-imposed. The current Chinese government, however, is at least making an effort at restoring the glory of the Tang.

  1. the system of urban wards goes back at least to the Han. []

10/7/2009

What do you really think Mr. Jiang?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 2:50 am Print

Chinese museums are one of the best places to look at the changing interpretation of historical figures and events. Last weekend I went to Famen temple outside Xian. This was a fairly major temple in the Tang, being much visited by emperors, but by the Song they were supporting themselves by offering baths in a pool that seated up to 1000 and holding tea parties. The main pagoda was rebuilt in the early Ming, but the place seems to have declined a lot by then.

That all changed in 1981,when half of the Ming pagoda collapsed.Collapse

When digging out the foundation to re-build the pagoda they found the relic the temple was originally built around, a bone of the Buddha, inside a series of ornate caskets and accompanied by a bunch of other neat stuff. It is a really magnificent find, and it was nice to see some of these things in person.

Rel1

Of course this changed the temple’s position in the Buddhist world radically. In addition to re-building the pagoda a huge new Buddhist center was built next to it. You need a better camera than mine to do it justice. You come in through a massive golden gateway, which makes you expect to see Cecil B. DeMille around somewhere.

Gate1

It is a long walk to the main hall, and most people take the trolley. You whiz past a series of 3-story tall golden fiberglass1 Buddhas that represent the different sects of world Buddhism, and get to the main hall, which is in the shape of a pair of praying hands, and was designed by a Taiwanese architect. I suspect a lot of Taiwanese and Japanese money went into this place. They bought out an entire village to get the land, and the villagers mostly work in the temple cleaning up or whatever. The one I talked to got 600 yuan and 3 days off a month. The place is not entirely finished yet, and when it is done there will be a Buddhist retreat center and they hope to rival the Terracotta Warriors as the biggest tourist draw in the province.

Hands

What really interested me, of course, were the relics and the museum. The presentation was a little schizophrenic, perhaps because current policy is a little schizophrenic. On the one hand China is still officially more or less atheist. On the other hand, Buddhism is part of China’s 5000 glorious years of glorious culture. How to deal with this?

Not all the relics were there, but those that were were mostly presented as examples of the exquisite craftsmanship and high technology of China. There is also a fair amount about Buddhism. In discussing the Tang emperor’s worship of the bone the text mentions that it had the beneficial effects of solidifying state power, (always an unalloyed good), 凝聚人心 (which they translate as “increasing the cohesive force of the Chinese nation”) and spreading culture. On the other hand it also led to a great waste of society’s resources, and also increased the people’s religious fanaticism. These critiques sound eerily similar to Han Yu’s criticism of the finger bone when it was first brought to Chang-an. As a good Neo-Confucian Han Yu thought Buddhism complete nonsense that deluded the people

Of course Han Yu was not reckoning with the power of the tourist dollar, and he also had a somewhat different view of what is worth preserving in Chinese culture than the current government does. The Nationalist general who restored the temple in 1939 is praised in the exhibit, as is the monk who burned himself to death to protect it during the Cultural Revolution. The monk probably had a religious view of the place, and the general a cultural one. The latter seems more of a fit with the current interpretation. There is, of course, an inscription by Jiang Zemin, done when he came here in 1993. He encourages them to use the cultural relics that have been unearthed to expand Chinese culture and strengthen the spirit of patriotism. Apparently as long as religion is subsumed in culture and culture is put in the service of the nation, the Buddha is just alright.Jiang

  1. I assume []

7/15/2009

Old pots

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 6:44 am Print

Rachel at AHC has a nice post up on her visit to the Hua Song Museum in Singapore, and what they are doing with one of the largerst marine archeology finds ever, a Tang period cargo of porcelin that was carried in an Arab ship that sank in what is now Indonesia in the 9th Century. If you enjoy picutres of Tang dynasty Fiestaware, accounts of shady types bickering over sunken treasure (no mention of rum is included) or discussions of how we make history out of things it is worth reading.

5/7/2009

The Lady’s Army

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:29 am Print

In teaching the Tang dynasty one thing I like to talk about is the Princess of Pingyang, d. 623 who assisted her father the Tang founder Gaozu in setting up the empire by recruiting an army of 70, 00o bandits (the Lady’s Army 娘子軍) who assisted in the overthrow of the Sui and the establishment of  the new dynasty. One reason to talk about this is that an imperial princess leading an army of 70,000 bandits is a cool story. Unfortunately we don’t know much about her other than that. The Tang Shu (scroll down) biography is quite short, but it does bring up the other event that makes her good to talk about in class. By the Song the old system of aristocratic family-based politics was replaced by a new, more bureaucratic and exclusively male political world. In the early Tang we are still back in the period of disunion in that women were still political actors in their own right. When the princess died some officials pointed out that as a woman she should not have drums at her funeral. 以礼,妇以礼,妇人无鼓吹. Implicitly they are saying that drums are male music. The emperor disagreed saying that drums were martial music 高祖曰:“鼓吹,军乐也1 Given that she had herself used drums to command troops in battle it was quite appropriate to have drums at her funeral. The categories of male and female, general and bandit would be a lot less permiable later in the dynasty

太常奏议,以礼,妇人无鼓吹。高祖曰:“鼓吹,军乐也。往者公主于司竹举兵以应义旗,亲执金鼓,有克定之勋。周之文母,列于十乱;公主功参佐命,非常妇人之所匹也。何得无鼓吹!”遂特加之,以旌殊绩;仍令所司按谥法“明德有功曰昭”,

  1. i.e. not necessarily male or female, just associated with the military []

Powered by WordPress