"Ancient" = "irrelevant"?

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"Ancient" = "irrelevant"?

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1Fogies
Ene 8, 2007, 12:38pm

Both belleyang and wildbill have expressed firmly their idea that there is such strong continuity in Chinese culture that we must know China's past to understand the present. The Chairman seemed to agree with that when he made the aim of the Cultural Revolution that of breaking continuity with the past. The idea seems like common sense, and the Fogies are inclined to agree with it, but yet...

We see so many stark differences between ancient and modern China that we tend to wonder if there is very much continuity. It often seems to us that trying to understand modern China by reading Confucius is like trying to understand modern England by reading The Venerable Bede.

Comments?

2belleyang
Editado: Ene 8, 2007, 4:12pm

If you read about historical corruption of gentries and officials who grab vast areas of the peasantry's land, or peasants going unpaid for their labor, these are perfectly mirrored and magnified in modern China.

See this link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/video/2005/06/14/VI2005061401932.ht...

Don’t believe the stories about China’s economic boom, shining cities like Shanghai.

金玉其外﹐ 敗絮其中
明朝 劉基

It’s an orange with a pretty exterior, but it’s desiccated within. There are 4 million poor migrants among Shanghai's 17 million (nearly 1/4). The Chinese themselves know the society is hollow. As the pendulum swings back the other way, Confucianism will have to make a return in order for the society to become more humane. If not Confucianism, what else can possibly normalize the China? And, perhaps, it is already too late. I envision collapse.

3Fogies
Editado: Ene 8, 2007, 6:56pm

>2 belleyang: corruption of gentries and officials who grab vast areas of the peasantry's land, or peasants going unpaid for their labor

Indeed that is a tragic continuity, but it's important to realize that that is not Chinese, it is human. It happens in all societies in which those who control production gain control of the government--which is to say, sooner or later, every human society, whether communist, capitalist, socialist, theocratic, what-have-you.

What the Fogies mean ties in with the topic "Can anything be called 'typically Chinese'?" The continuity of China with the rest of humanity is a thing we take for granted--would like to think that everyone takes it for granted. What we're talking about is the continuity of China with itself--if it even makes sense to speak in those terms.

Consider the proposition, "Confucius was not a Confucian."

4belleyang
Editado: Ene 8, 2007, 6:46pm

>1 Fogies:"We see so many stark differences between ancient and modern China that we tend to wonder if there is very much continuity. It often seems to us that trying to understand modern China by reading Confucius is like trying to understand modern England by reading The Venerable Bede."

Mostly the continuity of 忍--tolerance, endurance--of the general populace.

5MMcM
Ene 8, 2007, 5:11pm

Isn't part of understanding any culture getting a sense of their self-image? (This need not imply moral relativism or any kind of relativism. It is perfectly consistent to recognize what others believe and see it as wrong in some way. Particularly as regards scientific facts; and for this in particular linguistics is a science.)

So, do modern day Chinese (or self-identified Han or whatever the right group designator is; no judgement or offense intended) in general see the ancient past as important or not?

To take other examples. Many a proud European tradition from the mists of time can actually be traced in its specific details to the middle of the nineteenth century. Conversely, Americans think of themselves as young and tend to ignore what was already present before nationhood.

6belleyang
Editado: Ene 10, 2007, 12:18pm

>5 MMcM: continuation. But then the Fogies are only speaking of the cities? I can't imagine the Miao minorities I lived with 20 years ago in Hunan and the majority Han in the countryside who live by farming have not retained their folk beliefs, the dependency on family to work the land, the veneration of ancestors, basic Confucian beliefs. 2/3 of the population continue to live in the countryside. When the Communists took over in the time my father was walking out of China, the Kitchen Gods were replaced by the portraits of Mao and Zhu De. The portraits changed, but the need for icons did not.

7belleyang
Editado: Ene 8, 2007, 6:18pm

>5 MMcM: MMcM In the past decade, China has been churning out lavishily produced TV dramas that go on for 40 to 50 episodes, as in the one about the first Emperor of China, about Han Wudi, Kangxi, Yong Zheng, etc. They extoll the might of old dynasties, the glory of the Chinese past. When I was in China 20 years ago, there were mostly films like Huang Tu Di, about Communists in rural Shaanxi. So, yes, the modern Chinese take huge pride in the past. The government like the films because they support the need of central rule, but film makers, like Shakespeare, were able to blatantly point out the corruption inherent in the current Chinese state by tellng about historical corruption.

8belleyang
Editado: Ene 8, 2007, 6:49pm

Confucius was not Confucian. Since the time of Han Wudi,Confucius's thoughts have been turned into the state religion known as Confucianism for the purpose of state control. Mao got rid of Confucianism in name only. (New bottle, old content.) Confucianism is still alive and well as a tool of the current regime.

9belleyang
Editado: Ene 8, 2007, 7:11pm

Looking back to Yao, Yun Shun, the legendary rulers who were responsible for flood control, one sees current regime's attempt to control the Yangtze with the Three Gorges Dam project. Subsequent Chinese rulers were expected to controll the rivers, and so the current regime express their might and legitimacy by building the dams.

10pechmerle
Ene 10, 2007, 4:53am

"like trying to understand modern England by reading The Venerable Bede": This example only highlights the point about continuity in China. There has been so much greater social change in England than in China (particularly in the rural areas) that Bede as relevant guide seems ridiculous, while Confucius is much less so. Chinese-Americans of my acquaintance still insert "four character classics" into their conversation now and then. One can hardly imagine any ordinary Englishman doing the same with Bede.

I do understand Fogies' point about the great differences between ancient and modern China. The question of 'when the thing has so changed that is not the thing any more' is very difficult.

What is much less debatable: There has been a tremendous self-perception of continuity among the Chinese, and a truly enormous ideological effort aimed at painting continuity over the picture.

11MMcM
Editado: Ene 11, 2007, 1:27am

Este mensaje fue borrado por su autor.

12belleyang
Editado: Ene 11, 2007, 12:56am

>1 Fogies: Perhaps what we read of history, especially the Confucian past, was only an ideal; it was never reality. If we try to compare what we think of the ancient with modern China we will, of course, find little in common.

13pechmerle
Ene 11, 2007, 1:24am

>1 Fogies: Perhaps Fogies could help give this thread some focus by providing a few examples of the "stark differences between ancient and modern China" that they have in mind.

14Fogies
Editado: Ene 11, 2007, 9:45am

Bit surprising to find a discussion question "Was Confucius a Confucian?" treated as a yes-or-no question and left behind.

Let's for the moment ignore village life; that question gets into comparing the anthropology of modern villages with archaeology of ancient villages, and takes us away from reading ancient texts. Let's narrow the focus to a point pechmerle mentioned earlier, the pervasiveness of bureaucracy through Chinese history. An icon of the Qing dynasty is the mandarin, the bureaucrat selected by written examination. Consider one well-known example, Lin Zexu, and contrast him to a well-known example of a strikingly similar character in the Tang dynasty, Han Yu. Call both these mandarins. Then was Confucius a mandarin? How about Mencius? How about Han Fei? Can you think of even one example from the Han dynasty who is indisputably a mandarin in the sense of Lin Zexu and Han Yu?

We suggest that the mandarin, a figure so integral to what we think of as the polity of China, is largely a creation of the Tang dynasty, brought to completion by the Song. Government by mandarins is only one type of bureaucracy, and is one of the things that distinguishes ancient China from pre-modern China.

On a different aspect of this point, when in history does the phrase zhongguo "the states of the central (plain)" become the word Zhonguo "China"?

15pechmerle
Ene 12, 2007, 5:35am

The point about the role of the mandarins is concrete, useful, and persuasive. Our natural interest in the eventually enormous influence of Confucian thought does distract us from what society was really like in his time, or in the Han.

On the question, when does the meaning of zhongguo definitively become "China," the whole country as something that is, or should be, a unity -- I have no idea. Fogies, are you positing that as an inherently unanswerable question, or do you have a textual reference point for when you think the shift can be said to have definitively occurred?

16belleyang
Editado: Ene 12, 2007, 10:59pm

I imagine Zhongzuo became Zhonguo after Qianlong with increased foreign contact. There was joke about Li Hongzhang who had been asked by foreigners what was China's national anthem. There wasn't one so he sang a little country ditty about a little cowherd.

17belleyang
Ene 12, 2007, 3:25pm

I am now armed with Confucianism and Chinese Civilization edited by Arthur Wright and a book I ordered from Asquonk's recommended Chinese website, The Analects from the Library of Chinse Cassics which has the orginal Chinese supported by modern Chinese paprphrasing and Waley's English translations. Nice to be able to read Wright's anthology and refer to the original. I think I am finally settling into consistent reading after much floundering.

18pechmerle
Ene 12, 2007, 9:28pm

Fogies, I know you know better, but: discontinuity does not equal irrelevant. The discontinuity from the Roman Empire to modern France is of course quite great. A knowledge of Roman history and culture is nevertheless helpful to an understanding of modern France.

Similarly, despite great discontinuities, knowledge of ancient China remains distinctly helpful to an understanding of modern China. Of course, so are other bodies of knowledge, such as history of Leninist parties, history of European imperial policies, etc., etc.

19belleyang
Editado: Ene 13, 2007, 12:35am

I expect to be whacked by the Fogie's ruler for being a dull student.

Consider the proposition, "Confucius was not a Confucian."

Confucius thinking was all about achieving highest virtues, becoming a "superior man" for the purpose of bringing order and harmony to society. If a junzi, a gentleman, did not have opportunity to serve in an official capacity, he should effect change by teaching. Confucius served ony briefly in the capacity as an official, but was was a teacher most of his life. So in this aspect Confucius was a Confucian.

20Fogies
Ene 13, 2007, 6:58am

>19 belleyang: I expect to be whacked by the Fogie's ruler for being a dull student.

Wha-a-at? What did we say to deserve that?

21belleyang
Ene 13, 2007, 1:17pm

>14 Fogies: Bit surprising to find a discussion question "Was Confucius a Confucian?" treated as a yes-or-no question and left behind.

Ruler said in humor.

22wildbill
Editado: Ene 21, 2007, 4:09am

The continuity in China is that since 221 b.c.e. it has been a state run by scholar officials. I am not sure about Confucius but Mencius was certainly a Confucian when he wrote," Great men have their proper business and little men their proper business..... Some labor with their minds and some labor with their strength. Those who labor with their minds govern others; those who labor with their strength are governed by others. Those who are governed by others support them; those who govern others are supported by them." cited in Chinese Civilization and Bureaucracy p. 17, in the essay "China as a Bureaucratic Society. It is that bureaucracy that Chairman Mao was trying to destroy but, that bureaucracy still holds ultimate power in present day China.

23belleyang
Editado: Ene 26, 2007, 6:21pm

(My computer crashed immediately after my last entry in Ancient China Group. Not completey back online yet.)

Am reading "The Analects" with Waley's translations and modern Chinese translation from the series Asquonk had recommended. I'm finding a lot of mistranslations in the modern Chinese and Waley's English. It's amazing to me how much my own behavior in the 21st Century attempts to follow Confucius's dictates. I've been writing a book for ten years, a sort of Chinese "King Lear," trying to reclaim the past and bring justice on paper to my forebears who disappeared in the chaos of time and war without a complaint. As soon as I heard positive news from my targeted publisher, I lit three sticks of incense, kowtowed and felt a sense of relief that I've been able to comfort the ghost of my "Capitalist" great grandfather who died a beggar.

Chapter 1.9 Annalect, translated by Waley

Master Zeng said, "When proper respect towards the dead is shown at the end and continued after they are far away, the moral force of a people has reached ts highest point."

24MMcM
Feb 13, 2007, 10:58am

Which do educated young people from the mainland more strongly associate with traditional Chinese characters, the olden days or Taiwan?

25asquonk
Editado: Feb 15, 2007, 5:07am

"I imagine Zhongzuo became Zhonguo after Qianlong with increased foreign contact. There was joke about Li Hongzhang who had been asked by foreigners what was China's national anthem. There wasn't one so he sang a little country ditty about a little cowherd."

That's the funniest thing I've heard all week!

>5 MMcM: MMcM In the past decade, China has been churning out lavishily produced TV dramas that go on for 40 to 50 episodes, as in the one about the first Emperor of China, about Han Wudi, Kangxi, Yong Zheng, etc. They extoll the might of old dynasties, the glory of the Chinese past. When I was in China 20 years ago, there were mostly films like Huang Tu Di, about Communists in rural Shaanxi. So, yes, the modern Chinese take huge pride in the past. The government like the films because they support the need of central rule, but film makers, like Shakespeare, were able to blatantly point out the corruption inherent in the current Chinese state by tellng about historical corruption.

I'd always thought of those shows as a canvas on which the present reinscribes itself within the past, rather than being something which actually tells of the past in the present. Alongside the grand historical dramas there are also Laurel and Hardy-type comedy shows about the intrigues of imperial ministers and eunuchs, Stephen Chow spoofs based on wuxia models (which are, in turn, distortions of the past), light soap operas like Judge Bao, the really popular one involving the switching of the daughter of a Qing dynasty emperor, whose name I can't remember, etc. etc.

I suppose one could say that the pervasiveness of historical imagery in those shows demonstrates the influence and continuity of the historical past, but that seems to me like saying that the preservation of the Forbidden City demonstrates the imperial character of the CCP, which is a argument (maybe more urban legend) I hear often. It seems more correct to argue that the Chinese past constitutes a problem which everybody is compelled to reinterpret the present through, e.g. to take the Forbidden City as an example again, that the CCP interprets modernity and the present through the vehicle of the F.C., among other things of course.

One example I remember reading about is the calligraphic style of upper ranking CP cadres - Mao's inscription on the painting "This Land So Rich in Beauty" (sorry, I can't give the Chinese because his handwriting is illegible to me), the standard style for inscribing steles and (I imagine this is the same thing) the standard font used above the doorways of official buildings. The idea was that CP calligraphy was a style with alternative but standardized rules that defined itself against previous notions of calligraphic beauty - instead of elegance, individuality and precision honed through long practice, one was supposed to be hurried in the best revolutionary tradition, and a little bit careless, perfunctory or even ugly, with the understanding that just having done the writing intelligibly was enough (Jiang Zemin was given as an example of the "ugly"). So the past remains present, if you'll pardon the pun, but only as a body of data which needs to be dealt with and which one has to stake out a position against.

26asquonk
Editado: Feb 15, 2007, 8:12pm

As an addendum to that, if one were to claim that the persistence of the historical Chinese past is the fact of the past itself, it would seem to indicate that the nature of that past, rather than any specific characteristics of it, is the element which is pervasive, which points towards rules of transmission or the gesture of transmission, whether intergenerational or disciplinary.

One could go a number of ways with that, but I find myself wondering about the influence of family structure in establishing the continuity of the past. Filial piety, for example, likely has different rules depending on how many generations removed from the putative "origin" one is positioned, e.g. Nissei, Issei, Sansei, which bears both on the actual (material and verifiable) historical continuity and one's mode of relating to classic texts or episodes. Speaking for myself, for example, Chinese revolutionary history is much more the "alive" past even though its manifest content is actually rather minimal . . . I would expect that the collapse of the extended family has a significant bearing on answering the question of how the historical past looks, materially or otherwise.

I also wonder about the rural/urban division in conceptualizing the past. Somebody already mentioned the closer relationship of rural communities to the (Confucian) past . . . but I wonder how much of that is historical, how much anthropological and how much an extension of the (19th century? modernist?) construction of the rural past as being this esoteric world where time and space become fungible, e.g. that line from the opera Parsifal "Here time becomes space". It connects this argument to the whole modernist edifice concerning the folk and the tribal. I'm not learned enough to get into specifics, but certainly the alleged closeness of rural communities to the past has been abused in numerous contexts, not just the Chinese, and that is a contemporary issue rather than a purely historical one.

27keigu
Editado: Oct 18, 2007, 6:03pm

The question about continuity is a good one.

i was once too busy deconstructing stereotypes of difference in japan/ese to give much thought to what might be national character, but i did come to feel vaguely that the occident (and that includes the so called middle east) had the idea of "look at the lilly" and saw doing nothing as the natural state (despite the idea of condemation to toil because of original sin), while japanese found toil the natural state of man and then, a decade or two later (the books i am known for were published between 1984-9), and when i finally got around to reading the 16th century reports on China as part of my research for translating and explaining Luis Frois SJ's TRATADO (Topsy-turvy 1585) , I was amazed by the description of a people hard at work and not only agriculturally speaking but in every way imaginable -- even barges with nurses giving enemas plying the rivers!

Does not this industry go way way back and how does it relate to the various classes?