speech, writing, and poetry in early china (volume a)

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  • Speech, Writing, and Poetry in Early China (Volume A)

  • Chinese Writing System3,200-year historyShang Dynastylogographicbrush talk

  • Confuciusmoral educationanalectsDaoismClassic of Poetrythink no evilpoor yet cheerful, rich yet considerate

  • Classic of Poetrypoetry and self-expressionfeng (wind, customs, influence, criticism)inside intention/ outside manifestationqi (vital breath)mirror of poets cultureYa (proper)

  • ZhuangziDaoismanecdotedangers of persuasionnecessity of language

  • veneration of the written wordoral persuasionapplicable knowledge The difficult thing about persuasion is to know the mind of the person one is trying to persuade and to be able to fit ones words to it (p. 1428). learn how to play up the aspects that the person you are talking to is proud of, and play down aspects he is ashamed of (p. 1429). Praise other men whose deeds are like those of the person you are talking too; commend actions of which are based upon the same policies as his (p. 1429)Han Feizi

  • To what degree is the proper and/or beautiful use of language considered an art in these texts, and to what degree is it considered a natural talent? What important distinctions ought to be made regarding this question?

    Discussion Questions

  • Is there an essential element of the poetic that all cultures acknowledge? Does the common appreciation of poetry across cultures indicate anything important about human nature?

    Discussion Questions

  • Would Han Feizis tips on persuading others work successfully in your culture? Why or why not?Discussion Questions

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    Chinese script originated 3,200 years ago during the Shang Dynasty, originally written on animal bones and tortoise shells as oracle-bone inscriptions with a divinatory purpose to advise Shang kings on political decisions and to restore harmony between the human and spirit worlds. Chinese script is nonalphabetic, with sounds holding dozens of meanings that are also represented by multiple characters. Chinese is a logographic language, consisting of sound syllables and radicals (concepts), rather than pictographic or ideographic characters that directly refer to a thing or concept. The script was used in East Asia until the twentieth century; though characters were pronounced differently and languages were orally unintelligible among nations, foreigners could communicate through brush talk, in which ideas were communicated via script rather than spoken language.

    The image shows Chinese characters in oracle script. The caption reads: Oracle script were engraved in oxen shoulder blades and turtles shells. They are the first style of Chinese characters discovered, ca. 1500 B.C.E. *Much like Horaces prescription that poetry must be dulce et utile, Confucius and The Great Preface understand poetry both as a beautiful thing that pleases humans and as an instructive, serious source of knowledge and understanding. The mind, Confucius indicates, is broadened through the reading and study (17.9) of poetry, both intellectually in stimulation and socially in communion. Analects are collections of sayings, in Confuciuss case compiled by his disciples rather than written down by Confucius; the reluctance to commit his ideas to writing may show Confuciuss Daoist thinking, which sometimes doubts the reliability of written and spoken words. In the provided analects, Confucius importantly emphasizes proper thought and encourages all moral learning through study of the Classic of Poetry.

    Image shows the tomb of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong Province, China. The writing reads, according to the caption: The Lord Propagator of Culture, Ultimate Sage and Great Accomplisher. *In an important and influential claim, The Great Preface indicates that poetry not only betters oneself, but it provides a proper language for inspiration and criticism within the political realm. The Great Preface does argue that poetry is an educational good for rulers and for the populace by bettering each individual. It also suggests that poetry provides a proper political language for situations where no adequate form had existed previously. Feng appears as an important concept in the Preface, linked not only to criticism, but also to Chinese concepts about the physiology of the body, structure of society, and power of language. The state is bolstered by its own political language, as each individual also learns that which teaches virtue, understanding, and communion. According to the Preface, poetry is a release of emotional intensity or the vital breath (qi), and dance, song, and gesture may be incorporated if words alone cannot express emotional intensity. Poems also serve as artifacts that give clues on the poets historical and cultural place. Ya is the proper representation of the worlds affairs and customs, showing both greater and lesser aspects.

    The image is, according to the caption, Strip 22 of Kongzi Shilun, a critique of the Classic of Poetry. The text reads downward and from right to left and is written with brush on bamboo strips during the Warring States Period (475221 B.C.E.). Held by the Shanghai Museum. *Zhuangzi expresses skepticism regarding ones ability to learn from writing (a Daoist trait); it is also apparent that it expresses this skepticism through writing itself and thus challenges any simple condemnation or approval. Rather, it might indicate the proper caution that ought to be used in grappling with the dregs of the ancients (p. 1424), for not only might such writing contain as much thought as Zhuangzi, but it might be rhetorically forceful in the manner of Han Feizi. In the final story Zhuangzi demonstrates the utter necessity of using language, and using it well. A tyrant with a destructive proclivity for deadly sports must be corrected in some manner, and it is precisely Zhuangzis rhetorical, meaningful speech that is the cause of conversion.

    The image is titled Cabbages and Butterflies (China, ca. 15th century) and its caption explains the symbolism behind the butterfly based on a story told by Zhuangzi: In China, the butterfly can be a symbol of happiness in marriage. This comes from a story told by the Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi, in which a young student chases a butterfly into the garden of a retired official. There, he sees the officials daughter and is so taken with her beauty and charm that he vows to dedicate himself to his work so that he may one day marry her. His hard work not only wins him his bride but also results in his obtaining a high-ranking position. Zhuangzis dream of the butterfly is depicted in numerous artworks, particularly of the 15th and 16th centuries. *Han Feizi understands the power of rhetoric and advises that one use it for personal advantage, regardless of truth. Feizi suggests that one should disregard the true and good, and rather than seek to better others through rhetoric, he suggests that one give only true and prudent advice when that also betters oneself; he thereby makes rhetoric a tool of manipulation and self-interest.

    *Students might compare the use of language in these texts to the theories put forth by Horace in the Ars Poetica (word play, reintroducing common words in a new light, and inventing new terms for obscure material are encouraged). Chinese poets of this period see poetry as having a higher moral purpose and allowing the poet to bring the inner self forth through language. Feng appears as an important concept in the Preface, linked not only to criticism, but also to Chinese concepts about the physiology of the body, structure of society, and power of language. How does feng inspire a certain type of language in the creation of poetry?*Students might refer back to the poetry criticism of Horace and Callimachus in (pp. 115359), noting the Western attention to brevity, fluidity, unity of thought, and attention to style and word choice. Callimachus makes reference to several poets and cultures and uses epithets to illustrate his points: first, that poetry should be invested with the poets deepest effort and conviction, but should also be precise and concise; second, that excess embellishment and ornament should be avoided, even at the cost of imagination. For Horace, the poet should adapt language to the current culture (the right to produce terms which are marked with the current stamp, but also respect the meter and structure for verse forms (i.e., tragic meter is not appropriate for comedy).

    *Students should note the main tenets that Han Feizi offers: recognizing the audiences views and tailoring his statements to those values, avoid guessing the persons true agenda when he requests your input, avoid bluntness and pretention, and play up aspects of others characters that the person values in himself. *


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