We continue our study of remonstrance with a series of posts that grew out of my participation in the Tenth East-West Philosophers Conference in Honolulu in May 2011. The theme was “Business Practice in a Global World,” and it was an exhilarating ten days of discussion and contention with philosophers, administrators, and entrepreneurs. My own work there centered on remonstrance, and my specific task was to convey the richness of the concept to philosophers, on the one had, and practicing business people, on the other. The next dozen or so posts under this “remonstrance” header will deal with that material.
Remonstrance 1 Remonstrance 2 Remonstrance 3
Remonstrance 4 Remonstrance 5 Remonstrance 6
Remonstrance 7 Remonstrance 8 Remonstrance 9
Above all, remonstrance needs context, and these first few posts will tease out the implications of the concept through the lens of a skillful and idiosyncratic interpreter of the Chinese tradition, Marcel Granet (1884-1940). A French scholar of Durkehimian sociology and Chinese studies, Marcel Granet understood the full power of remonstrance, and articulated it in several of his books. He is one of the most interesting intellectual figures of the twentieth century, and I will have much more to say about him on Round and Square.
We will examine closely several pages on the aesthetics of critique that are embedded in his work, La civilisation chinoise (Chinese Civilization). To the extent that the subject of remonstrance has been treated in the past, my approach could be considered out of the ordinary—and that is precisely my point. Rushing to “the heart of the matter” (“…but how does it work?”) would set us off course in ways that would make it difficult to engage the full potential of the concept. It will change your business and personal life. Read on.
In the presence of parents, gravity is requisite: one must therefore be careful
not to belch, to sneeze, to cough, to yawn, to blow one’s nose nor to spit.
Every expectoration would run the risk of soiling the parental sanctity. It would
be a crime to show the lining of one’s garment. To show the father that one is
treating him as a chief, one ought always to stand in his presence, the eyes
right, the body upright upon the two legs, never daring to lean upon any object,
nor to bend, not to stand on one foot. It is thus that with the low and humble
voice that becomes a follower, one comes night and morning to pay homage.
After which, one waits for orders.
From these basic guidelines, we move to proper conduct in the presence of the father, careful to note that the son is not to be a quavering sycophant. From the start, we see an elaborate balancing act between loyalty and rebuke, deference and assertion.
One cannot avoid executing [the father’s orders], but one is expected to give
one’s opinion. The son, like the vassal, should offer advice in all sincerity and
not hesitate to administer reproofs: only, come what may, he must preserve a
gentle tone of voice, a pleasant expression, and a modest air. If the parents
persist in their decision, the children must only redouble their gentleness, that
they may return to favor and so be able to renew their warnings. When wounded
to the quick, they feel neither indignation nor resentment, and they obey....
Even from these first images of the remonstrance concept, it is clear that the son is to give his opinion, all the while striving to stay in the father’s good graces—and this for the greater good. The larger social unit is of ultimate importance, but it cannot be protected unless the key relationship between father and son is preserved. It is incumbent upon the son not to burn the bridges to his father’s good will. It is, in many ways, the son’s duty to steer the ship of family (or of state)…from the back of the boat, as it were.