- “Shi” configuration or potential born of configuration
We’re going to talk today all about Chinese painting as a broad topic. The style of Chinese painting we’re all familiar with really has its roots in the Song dynasty, and is done in the rest of Imperial Chinese history. So, it’s a topic that lends itself to a general non-chronological treatment.
This atypical painting of the Emperor tilling the earth is that it’s a straightforward painting of a narrative scene and that it’s been influenced by European art. There are too many people for a traditional Chinese painting, it’s too dense, and only the clouds looks abstract and Chinese. Also, linear point perspective identifies it as Western.
If you look at a typical abstract Chinese painting, they’re basically monochrome with big empty spaces and then detailed space. Typically Chinese landscape paintings give a distinct partition of the white space, in contrast to small sections of dense, dark, intricate detail.
Prominent features include mist, twisted trees, and mountains. The distinct feature is the ability to render in 2 dimensions something lifelike and energetic.
Writing in Chinese calligraphy is said to reveal the moral nature of your soul. Until you are able to produce living words, you teacher will have you write the same character over and over.
“Shi” is a word that has not been well translated into English. This is a kind of potential energy that is inherent in the overall configuration of any given event or scenario. Imagine a crossbow cocked and ready to go—this has huge “shi.” Painters use this to describe how they hang large rocks over the heads over their victims, or rather, the potential energy of the layouts of their paintings.
These lecture notes are compliments of the lovely Julie Geng.
- Zhu Xi (1130-1200)
- 5 Classics – Changes; Poetry; Documents; Spring & Autumn; Ritual
- 4 Books – Analects (Confucius); Mencius; Doctrine of the Mean; Great Learning
- After Tang, An Lushan Rebellion, government backs off locally … how will court deal with this?
I. Question of the Day: After the An Lushan Rebellion, the government is unable to exercise control over much of its territory;
a. It was never clear whether the Tang had complete control over their land
b. There’s an agreement amongst the families: we all want social stability and the status quo and peaceful society, which can be achieved through Confucian ideas such as filial piety and morals and values
i. It doesn’t matter whether they’re on the government payroll, and they can still collect taxes and have a say in the local government anyway
ii. Mutual responsibility system: a notion that in any village or community that agrees if any single individual does something wrong, everyone in that community is blamed for it; everyone keeps a check on everyone else
1. This allows the government to stay back from the rest of society
iii. Everyone is socialized to memorize and think like a Confucian (especially for the examination system)
iv. They’re convinced that these sagely texts contain the solutions to real world problems like floods and other disasters
II. Five Classics
a. Problems — The classics are very hard to read; the language is constantly changing over time; the language is very old and the examinations were written in this classical language which only made it more difficult
b. Some believed that Confucius had a hand in editing these five classics; but as time went on, they realized this was probably not true
i. Complex questions about the universe such as “how did the universe come about?” did not get answered by the five classics or by Confucius
ii. In the Song Dynasty, people began to think that Confucius needed a sophisticated response to such questions as how to deal with the converts to Buddhism, Daoism, etc. and political questions of the time
iii. The theory then becomes that the Han, celebrating the five classics, got it wrong; that they’re reading the wrong set of books
III. Instead they’ve looked to 4 books:
a. Analects (Confucian sayings) – very bizarre snippets of Confucius to get a sense of his personality
b. Mencius (the next great Confucian thinker) — human nature is good; juxtapose ourselves from Buddhism (Xunzi is too similar)
i. Zhu Xi really doesn’t like the Buddhist sense that life is just suffering
ii. Neo-Confucians will tell you that the basis of reality is li (principle); which is inherent pattern or structure
1. Li is like the veins in a jade stone
c. Ritual texts (Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning)
i. The ancient sages began ruling with their own village; their own families, themselves
ii. You start with self-cultivation, and self-examination and then move on
d. A slow movement towards a reformulation of the Confucian texts; easier to manage, to read, to understand; more appropriate to the times
i. Reduces the amount of information that people will be tested on for the examination system
ii. Nowadays, most people go looking to study Confucius’ Analects and Mencius, but very rarely anybody studies the five classics
- Economic revolution
- An Lushan rebellion (755)
- Tang (618 – 960 AD)
- 5 dynasties (907 – 960)
- Changes in Taxation
- 2 million registered households in 760
- 9 million in 755
Important news about the Quiz scheduled for 2 weeks from now. There will be no quiz. There’s a reason for this—most of you are doing well, but in recognition of the TAs hard work, we’re sparing them grading another round of quizzes. That quiz will be treated as an extra 5 points on your grade. This is the last good news, ever.
The medieval economic revolution! We will see this topic appear over and over again, this chunk of Tang / Song time during which everything goes from whatever it was to whatever it’s going to become.
Improvements in irrigation, terraforming, economic changes, southern migration, and the change to rice all come together in this period and allow us and look back to say that the revenues in the Song available are dramatically higher than any previous time. Strangely, the government doesn’t become richer; China becomes wealthier. This will be true into the late imperial period.
By the Tang/Song period, the south is unified with north under a regular system. A 20th century scholar (Skinner) looking back tried to trace back various economic markets and networks. He came up with a set of macro regions. These overlap with the geographic people groups of the Neolithic and all of Chinese historical group categorizations. These also delineate linguistic and cultural boundaries. We can observe two kinds of trends: increasing complexity of networks (religious, markets, transportation), and the founding of Tang infrastructure in these regions. Then, what’s going on everywhere else?
The simple answer is they are hilly and remote. When you get above cultivated land, you find a different ethnic group. There was a constant encroachment on their territory by Chinese over the centuries. However, it’s hard to distinguish them from Chinese after slow assimilation, because they pay taxes and serve the king, but sinification/sinicization isn’t total and they speak different languages than most of the Chinese. So, there’s a long process of chipping away at diversity inside China.
Pre-sui taxation was done by equal-land share, where all land was divided into equal plots and lend by the government to your family. You were taxed based on the number of plots you held. This creates a predictable tax base for the early Sui and Tang. To do so, they require annual census, a huge administrative process. This changes in the An Lushan rebellion.
The Tang manage to survive the rebellion by allying with a handful of remaining groups to come together to prop that Tang back up, but the nature of the Tang state is radically changed. At this point, the administration decides to offer the power to emperor in exchange for local autonomy and taxation. The government also abandons artificial control over the markets. Thus, there is a process of federalization. However, the exam and value systems remained the same, even though the national elite lost their power base, because they are popular and useful. A new set of players have come to the same game.
Reading #35 is removed for this week, since we won’t get there in class. Questions are due before the class begins, not after. It’s unfair to listen to class discussion and then write up your paper based on the themes you have stolen in class.
- Reunification under Sui dynasty (589 – 618 AD)
- Linking north to south
- Canal System, taxes, grain, and finance
- Tang dynasty (618 – 907 AD)
- Move north to south
- New kind of economy
There is a shift of population towards the south, which was being increasingly developed over time, also due to immigration pressures from central Asia. In the Tang (742 AD) you see that two things have happened. First, there’s a general increase in population so everywhere is more populated, and more land is covered to the north. Second, the Yangtze river delta region has really taken off. Part of the reason is that powerful families from the North don’t want to compete with immigrant warlords from the north, and simply move south. Also, this warmer wetter climate is easier for growing crops, giving two to four harvests per year instead of the one in the north.
The reunification of China is a dream of all the lords holding former Han land. However, China at this time is a large, diverse region. At the end of the 6th century, there was a state called the northern Zhou, who produced a charismatic leader (Sui Wendi) to found a new dynasty, the Sui, in Northern Zhou. Once he takes the throne, he has to put to death some 40-50 Zhou princes who might object to his dynasty. Then, he launches repeated military campaigns against the southern ministers. When Sui finally takes Nanjing, he forcibly relocates the migrated old aristocracy back to the old northern capital in Chang’an, and rules himself from Luyang. Thus, there’s a constant interchange of human capital between north and south.
However, reunification would require a reunification of the infrastructure of China. The Sui want to recreate the glory of the Han—that requires redoing the work of the Qin. Bringing southern revenue (the economic base) north was a major problem, as southern rice became the economic force of China. First, you must build canals to link the north and south to move grain. Behind all of this is a major change in Chinese economy and society that is usually hidden from view. Rice was not a big part of Chinese food until the Tang dynasty—it didn’t grow in the drier north. The basis of the economy shifts from millet and wheat to rice at this time, because rice more than doubles the yields of the grain. However, the standing water required to grow rice also breeds mosquitoes. Over time, the people become resistant to malaria, and choose foods to increase resistance.
Just as reunification exhausted the Qin over two emperors, the Sui lasted two emperors as well. The Sui tried to expand into Vietnam and Korea, but kept failing and trying again. From that, rebellion rose up uncorrected and an administrator was able to rise up and found the Tang dynasty. The Tang is considered a golden age because it contains the components we consider uniquely Chinese: Buddhism, Taoism, the southern economy, ties to non-Chinese groups, literati culture, and the examination system.
In the Han, you were recommended to office by a local who knew you to be evaluate for a position by higherups. In the period of disunity, you were born into one of nine ranks and stuck into a particular role based on your birth. The strategy was to slowly work up the rank of your family. In the Sui, since aristocracy was quite damaged, old aristocrats were on their was out. The Tang beefed up the civil service exam, making it the method of preference to put good people in high positions. You were tested on classical knowledge, and literary composition.
Chinese put their money into land and educating their children, as well as local religious institutions. Money given to the temple increases the family’s prestige. A family’s prestige allows them to build a library, hire tutors, bribe officials on the exams. That the exam system is a meritocracy is a myth—the reality is complicated by humans. It is popular because it allows the possibility of widening the pool for drawing up a meritocracy. It also allows the state to promulgate state values through exam preparations. Brainwashing! Cogs in the machine! Social harmony!
We are going to move backwards in time, briefly. Last time we discussed in broad terms the fall of the Han, but we should go back and talk a little about a tomb discovery and motifs from the Western Han. Also note that the idea that writing (such as the Shang oracle bones) influences speech is ridiculous. Because the Shang wrote short snippets on Oracle bones doesn’t imply they were a race of short-spoken stuttering Chinese.
Mawangdui tomb finds (W. Han, 2nd Century BCE)
Mawangdui is in Central China in Changsha of Hunan, where there was the very well preserved corpse of a still-pliant woman. Then they disemboweled her and placed her and her organs into a museum. The most exciting thing from this find was a library of texts written on silk. Silk was more prestigious than bamboo for texts. There were two full copies of the Laozi text, some artwork and astrological charts, and charts of exercises with animal movements corresponding to the positions (see martial arts) found in the philosophical / cosmological portion of the library.
Immortality and Longevity
Dating back to the warring states period there is a growing fascination with immortality. Even the Zhou bronzes contained appeals of longevity for the family to the ancestors. In the Han, this notion has exploded among the elite, and you find that the Han elite are almost always buried in jade suits made from squares of jade sewn together with gold thread. To this day, Jade is considered protective auspicious stones. Cicadas carved from Jade were sometimes placed on the tongue, as the shedding skin is a symbol of rebirth.
How the journey to the afterlife was made is more complicated. There is a large silk banner draped over the coffin of the Mawangdui Lady Dai, an elaborate painting on silk. It took quite a while to interpret this properly, but over time we’ve learned more. From older dynasties back to the Shang we see two male and female deities carved in stone holding the Sun with a raven and the Moon with a toad.
Random rant: “Everyone seems to think humans are nothing but dirt.”
Another carving shows a 9-tailed fox arranged in an upper register, and human forms in a lower register. Xiwangmu (West King Mother), is found in the upper panel. By the Han, she is some kind of Queen mother goddess. There is also a mortar and pestle being ground by a hare in the top-left who is creating the elixir of life. This image of the hare reappears (sometimes in the moon) grinding the elixir of life.
There’s also an ancient Shang myth about there being 10 suns (they had a 10 day week). The notion was that each day was a different sun coming out, and there’s a myth where all 10 suns come out at once and an archer comes to shoot down the other 9.
Past two guardians we see something being pulled up in front of some deity in the silk. From the normal human realm, a creature is being pulled through the canopy of heaven into the celestial sphere. Indeed, the tomb occupant is drawn in the human register, and above, waiting for her, again is the tomb occupant showing her successful transformation into a spirit with a dragon tail, an arms length away from the elixir of immortality. There’s an additional register below which includes long-furry tailed turtles representing the watery depths, the underworld. Thus, this silk is a depiction of Han dynasty beliefs about the afterlife.
Alchemy (inner v.s. outer)
In a quest to transform themselves, members of the elite tried to ingest all kinds of things. In the west, alchemist wanted to turn lead into gold, but the Chinese notion of alchemy was more inclusive. They believed that there must be a process to turn a mortal into an immortal. Inner alchemy is a meditation to transform the energies inside of you to become immortal in a strange sort of way. This concern explodes following the Han.
For example, there are lots of sexual manuals (some of these are called “The manual of how to ride many young women in one day”) which describe how ?? de jing (essence, vital energy) can be saved to become immortal. Having sex will cause your jing to leave you and become depleted. Instead, they allow themselves to have promiscuous sex but never allow themselves to finish. This becomes a physical exercise, like stretching or eating foods. To most of us, this is an unattractive notion, but it was considered a legitimate method of attaining immortality.
Taoist religious practice
By and large, we associate these practices with the Taoists. Buddhist texts are generally critical of these activities. However, the deviant sexual practices and orgiastic sexual initiation rites of the Taoists are confirmed by texts from both sources.
Revealed texts to the Taoists come from the so-called spirits of former teachers initiating people into various techniques. Thus, Taoist sects take off at the time because a Taoist master can claim authority through the spirits of ancestors.
To this day, Chinese want to deny that Taoism has a link to breathing techniques, sexuality, or other practices that are non-philosophical and more religious.