I was absent for lecture 12. I hope to eventually acquire notes from a friend. Julie Geng kindly writes in with fantastic notes:
It’s very difficult to determine exactly qualifies as “Chinese” as there are dozens of languages that exist in this area of the Gansu corridor and the Silk Road. It’s very problematic to trace direct ancestry from today’s Chinese to the Han dynasty, primarily because there are just waves upon waves of people from Central Asia migrating into China.
Students kept saying that Nirvana is like the Matrix. However, McNeal says this is untrue. There is some denial of reality, but other than that the similarities end. Buddhism is saying that reality is quite convincing, but all of this is just not real. Ultimately there really isn’t any significance in this world. It’s defined by impermanence, imbalance and suffering.
There’s a painting of three philosophers standing around a cauldron of soup: the Buddhist, the Daoist, and the Confucian. The Buddhist says the soup (of life) is bitter all the time, while the Daoist and the Confucian are arguing off to the side. This painting depiction isn’t entirely accurate: The Buddhists aren’t saying life is horrible, but rather that life is okay, and it makes you keep looking for better.
For example, when you’re doing homework, and you begin to think about the candy bar in the vending machine upstairs. When you go to get the candy bar, for a moment, life is not suffering anymore. You go back to your work, and in the end, you’re brought back to suffering. Nothing will really fulfill you, they’ll just pull you deeper down.
Imbalance & Suffering
But, Buddhism says there is a path out of this: learn to break away from attachments in this world, learning to disappear from this world. If this world isn’t real, neither are you. None of you are lasting, permanent.
Another example of this cycle is that “Humans are piles of shit.” We’re just something that’s in transition. All you are is a cycle. (There are piles of shit outside the city, and then you take the shit back into your garden and you grow some plants and you eat the plants and you shit and you bring it back outside and you bring it into your garden etc.). The path from escaping all of this is a very arduous lengthy process: there is faith to find someone who’s already well on the path who is willing to help others to find the way, with a big boat called Mahayana.
Period of Disunion
Just following the Han, there is a breakdown to three large powerful kingdoms. These maps are not all that meaningful. This period of disunion there is a constant shuffle of changing of boundaries (The Three Kingdoms). Most of what we know about the Three Kingdoms is literature that is written much later. There’s no doubt it’s been romanticized. This is the prime time for Buddhism to take a good hold in China. At the end of the Three Kingdoms, China is reunified.
New religions have easier access when there is social breakdown (as the Han collapses); Daoism becomes a popular religion because there is indeed a social and political vacuum caused by the decline of central authority.
There is an enormous endeavor to figure out a way to translate Buddhism into Chinese. They took a lot of Indian words and phonetically kept it the same when translating it to Chinese. They also look to Daoism to find ready-made terms that can be used in Buddhism. You begin to see that Buddhism goes in phases: there is a time when it is very foreign, then it’s somewhat Daoist, then it slowly becomes more indigenous and nowadays Mandarin has many terms borrowed from Buddhism/Sanskrit.
The power of the Han court has been somewhat diminished, and suffers a little bit because of the reappearance of the aristocracy (which had disappeared). This is a different aristocracy/nobility that had wiped itself out while trying to compete with itself in the state of Jin. They formed clans while trying to fight each other in the Spring and Autumn period but eventually conglomerate into three states. The three states chose to slice up the state of Jin, but this continues to weaken them and eventually eradicate them. The Han dynasty tried to restrict the intervening lineages (that were reemerging) and they envisioned themselves as the protector of the commoners from the aristocracy. They are successful to a certain extent, but eventually a powerful nobility emerges in the Eastern Han which sends its sons into the Han’s capital and dramatically weakens the Han’s central bureaucracy.
The Han ruled for 206 BCE – 220 AD, a considerably long time, with a minor break for a temporary usurper. To this day, the Han are remembers for their imprint on modern Chinese civilization, primarily the notion of the unified empire. This notion never goes away–to this day, China is one large politically unified entity, more or less. Ethnically, the Chinese people call themselves Han, after this dynasty. Their empire reaches into the Korean peninsula and down into the south east and an arm into the north west–the silk road, carved into the mountains above Tibet. Vis-a-vis the Turkish middlemen, the Chinese are able to interact with the rest of the world. This has been very much downplayed in China in the way the Chinese civilization is taught.
Sima Qian writes about the Xiongniu mostly as a nuisance, but it’s clear that the Xiongniu were major economic threat to the empire. In Europe, we would have called them the Huns. We suspect that the Xiongniu were around in the Zhou period and only became a major nuisance in the Han.
Liubo, “Cosmic board game”
A board game invented in the Warring States period and is enormously popular in the Han. The board is an intricate carved board with a square in the center, and an L shaped tile in the corners, a T shaped tile in the sides, almost like Tetris pieces. It is also a microcosm of the way the cosmos works, with constellations, planetary bodies, comets, cardinal directions, the sun, and the moon.
Why was this made a board game and not an instructional manual? To play this game with 18-sided dice and move your tigers and dragons was difficult and we no longer are sure what the goal was. A few people who paid attention to divination suggested that there is a connection between divination and gambling, and this game may have been involved in a notion of dice-throwing energy in divination and explaining the universe.
The vast majority of people in the Chinese empire, according to a Han census, live either around the capital or the North China plain. There are others around the Delta as well as what is now Sichuan. The Han is spreading out, but by and large, when we talk about Han, we talk about the North China plain.
The other way we see the configuring of space is in official documents, where everything is made organized and symmetrical. For example, marketplaces are not laid out in a grid pattern and are not orderly. They are governed by no rules, and do not take an official shape. However, in the Han, rows of shops and lanes are laid out to systematize and well-order everything. Although this was contrary to fact, it gave the higher-ups a feeling of peace at night.
The fundamental principles of Feng Shui involved positioning the house or positioning the grave. Underlying all of this is a belief that events can be explained by the great unseen energies of the world. Cosmic order requires regular human effort to draw it out. The role assigned to humans is to mediate the relations between heaven, earth, and the spirits. Even today you can find the notion that people must perform duties at an assigned time and place–this is so efficacious that it sets the system in motion.
High v.s. Low culture
Rise of Religious Daoism
By the end of the Han, they appear. There is a lot of popular folky religion going on in China at this time. At the local level, you’re more susceptible to charismatic local leaders than to a traditional theology due to a shortage of scholars. As the government loses power in the late Han to do public works, the new group of religious Daoists is able to.
Arrival of Buddhism
We will discuss this in more detail next time. However, Buddhism and Daoism arrive at the same time!
Until the Han, there aren’t depictions of earlier things–such as Yu the Great–so we turn to this period for imagery of earlier times. Somehow, China is held together in the Qin and other periods even in spite of the different people and languages. In particular, a story of the failed assassination of the first Emperor fascinates Chinese because if the assassination had occurred, Chinese unity may not have come about.
The Han tell stories about the Qin, including that they do not have the mandate to rule, because they lose the 9 cauldrons of Yu to the Yellow River. The story explains why the Han don’t have the mythical 9 cauldrons, as well, because the 9 cauldrons probably don’t actually exist.
Urgent news!! The grading of section papers only rewards 6/6 for a perfect, brilliantly written paper. Scores in the range of 5-5.5 are within A, but not A+ range. Here is sample quiz, like what we’ll have on Tueday:
ASIAN 212: Introduction to China
The sample Quiz 1: total 30 points, 10 per question.
1. Comment on the significance to early Chinese civilization of any TWO of the following in paragraph form:
Book of Changes
The Zhou administered a large territory by sending out the brothers and sons of the king out to small feudal states. They became rulers of these states, and owed loyalty to the Zhou throne. They had to pay regular visits to the Zhou court and had to defend the Zhou interests in their area. Each local ruler had a small replica of the Zhou court, with all its rituals and sacrifices, and sharing in these Zhou rituals was supposed to keep all the states united. Over time, local rulers felt less connection to the Zhou and more connection to local concerns. States competed with each other for local resources, and even inside the states, powerful families competed with one another, so that by the 8th century BC, the Zhou feudal realm was at war with itself constantly. Despite this war, Zhou culture remained strong and even spread, even as the Zhou rulers themselves became powerless.
2. Briefly discuss the significance of one of the images below. (followed by a slideshow image)
Qin unification (221 – 207 BCE)
Around 300 BC thinkers are beginning to consider a unification of the warring factions. Remember, they had this half memory half fantasy of the Zhou being like that in the past. They imagined a time in the past where everyone lived harmoniously under an empire. So they looked both forward and backwards in time to try to find a new model for unification. The Qin state, in 3rd century BC, was a place to try and get away with new administrative ideas. Xunzi wrote in his book, there’s something about Qin that has a powerful state apparatus–watch out for them!
In 256 BC, the Qin ends the old Zhou. They had been kept alive as figureheads representing the old ways and Divine authority. The new Qin founder was portrayed a brutal tyrant, which is probably also inaccurate, him falling somewhere between both extremes. Since the Han come immediately after the Qin, we can’t trust their account of him.
The story that the Qin Emperor’s tomb was extremely well protected prevented it from plundering. We will not see the riches of the tomb until China has the archaeological resources to open and catalogue it. It is supposed to be a microcosm of the universe around us, with a great flowing ocean of mercury. Surrounded by individually crafted and painted terra cotta warriors, the Qin Emperor wanted to live on and carry over his earthly status. In the next world, an emperor would need an army.
Qin stele inscriptions
The striking relic of the Qin are a set of inscriptions made after conquering the east, when the Emperor tours the eastern lands and visits all the sacred sites. At various locations, he erected large stones with inscriptions on them, celebrating his creation of a unified empire. The text of the inscriptions was recorded by Sima Qian in his history of the period and survived to this day. By comparison with the steles and other texts, we are convinced the Sima Qian is correct. A snippet:
“Now in his 26th year, Huangdi has created a new beginning. He rectified and balanced the rules and measures as … He has made manifest the way and the inner pattern. Eastward he tours the eastern lands to inspect the soldiers and officers… he looks down on the land by the eastern sea–he has great merit. The people he enriches, everywhere under heaven he unifies their minds. [Everywhere] there is none that does not achieve his ambitions under the guidance of the first Emperor.”
Concern with order, uniformity
The ordering of space and time
There is an increasing focus culminating in the Qin and Han to paying attention to the physical organization of space. This is the extension of the uniformity and order over everything. In the Qin, all the states were connected by new roads into one unified empire–these roads partially existed, but the emperor unified the width of all carts. This allowed carts to travel between kingdoms. In all ways–the size of official script, measures and weights–the Qin create a single unified empire.
They both understand that they are imposing order on something, and also finding the natural order in things.
Magic square, numerology, and the five phases (earth, water, metal, fire, wood)
The elements were not physical things but rather physical processes–earth was pounding earth, for example, metal the process of smelting, wood the process of growing or bending. These were then mapped onto the five directions so that you can make easy associations with all kinds of other objects. The list never stops. Everything you can ever find in the universe can be mapped onto this. This becomes a proto-scientific way of categorizing the world.
The magic square:
4 9 2 3 5 7 8 1 6
Every directional sum = 15. But, for the Chinese, they believed this is divine revelation. It’s not just mathematical, it’s magical. The number three is aesthetically pleasing to human beings. Nine is one of the IChing manipulations, the nine tripods of Yu. Five maps to the number of elements. So, they decided to divide their fields to look like this, build buildings like this, and play board games that look like this.
Note: there a quiz next week on Tuesday, which we will review for a little bit on Thursday in class.
Warring States Period (478 – 221 BCE)
These dates aren’t meaning except that we call this the warring states period. These dates are not significant, except that Confucius may have died around 478, and the Qin dynasty is founded at 221. But, there’s a certain artificiality to the period. However, there are changes from the Spring & Autumn period, which saw the increase of the scope of war and the breakdown of nobility. Now, instead of lots of competing smaller states, at the start of 5th century BC you find conglomerations of larger states. Comparing to the Zhou King, who had a lot of symbolic power, had to spread his power diffused through the network of feudal ties, and is only real power in that the players in the game agree that symbolic power is real power. But, the warring states see rules who find new ways to create new administrative forums where they don’t have to divide their power among family but through appointed officials.
The Chinese invented bureaucracy, with more complexity until 17th century Europe. How do you govern your territories? Not like the Zhou did, sending out their relatives to rule them, thus creating competition for yourself. Instead, you hire bureaucrats you can dismiss on whim. Each of these minor cogs can be dispensed with or kept at the ruler’s will, thus consolidating power. However, this change took a long time. There is still patriarchal transmission of power as fathers in office found easier appointments in their sons.
Move from Aristocracy to Meritocracy
This matches the Confucian desire to evaluate men based on their inherent virtue, and not on their birthline. So now with the emergence of bureaucracy, rulers were looking for men of merit to bring into positions of power.
“100 Schools of Thought:”
- Confucianism: A group of people using rituals to train themselves to become moral and sagelike.
- Mohism: A competing school to Confucianism, but they disagreed with Confucians on grading concern for people based on familial hierarchies. I.e., I should be more concerned about my child than his classmate, or his classmate than a random student. The Mohists believed you should love all people universally; the Confucians believed this was ridiculous. Very influential, they argued against overspending on state festivals, rather wanting to give the money to the poor.
- Daoism: Not a school proper, because there were no students formal. Best defined by mystical interspection and physical meditative practices. They sit quietly and breathe, much like yoga. It seems to be that the Chinese came up with this before India. There is a set of physiological responses that can be mapped when you sit still for days and empty your mind and concentrate on your breathing, that you know the secrets of the universe. Zhuangzi would say that you can eat your granola or stick it in your nose–it doesn’t matter, just leave me alone! 1) There are text that obviously talk about breathing techniques and 2) In the eastern Han there is a religious form of Taoism with meditation that can only be explained by early Daoist principles.
- Legalism: Han Feizi, at the end of the Warring States period invents legalism by looking back to statesman and intellectuals and finding elements in them that contribute to his vision of statecraft. His point was you a ruler of the state, but you can’t trust anyone–the Confucians, your family–only yourself. You should become an omniscient ruler sitting on top of the machine of the state, but keep everyone under you relatively stupid except at the specific function they perform. The ruler should be completely mysterious, to prevent undue influence. This is vaguely similar to Machiavellian politics: all that matters is pure political power.
Everyone has already adopted legalism before Han Feizi writes down its rulers on paper, so Han Feizi is simply synthesizing the facts of the world around him and producing a summary.
Move to Centralization & a more complex form of Bureaucracy
Emergence of rational, orderly vision of cosmos
For the western Zhou thinkers, the universe was a moral place, for the Shang the universe could be approached through rituals and divination, but in this period it’s harder to believe that the universe operates in a moral or ritual fashion. In fact, people who do bad things often do well and people who do good sometimes suffer misfortune.
There are advances in proto-sciences that lead people to see that the cosmos is orderly and natural, that continue whether the sacrifices are performed or not. By the time of Xunzi, he himself embraces this notion, writing an “Essay on heaven” that says “if it’s going to rain, it will rain. If it’s not going to rain, and you perform rain rituals, it’s still not going to rain.” Every now and again, he says, there are storms which are part of the natural order of things.