|[a] Whole RF|
|[b] Embodied RF|
He was not alone in this, of course, because that very generosity lay at the heart of the Année sociologique approach to social phenomena. Rather than pointing out the quite obvious confusion of even basic issues in Primitive Classification, Granet saw its interpretive potential, conceptual rigor, and creativity. These were things that he brought to his own work, and the criticism of his Chinese scholarship often reflect an irritation with his attempt to find wholes, where (for many readers) parts would do.
|[c] Round-square RF|
Our focus must be reversed if we are to bring out the full impact of Granet’s work, and that requires a thorough understanding of his early work on Chinese religion and seasonal festivals, his careful studies of Chinese sociology, and his almost forgotten blend of sociological insight and sinological depth, Danses et légendes de la Chine ancienne. For, as one prominent scholar has noted, Granet was “a historian by training and a sinologist by accident…spiritually and intellectually a sociologist in the sense given that term in the 1920s.
|[d] Ritual RF|
The spirit of Danses et légendes can best be summarized by Granet’s student, Rolf Stein, who has done as much as anyone—even while producing a formidable scholarly reputation of his own—to preserve the memory of Granet’s work. Here it is in Stein's words.
In his courses, Granet forced us to analyze texts on our own, to examine
them critically, and to draw from them the maximum amount of knowledge.
The questions he asked were designed to elicit not necessarily an immediate
solution to any single problem, but rather a slow, progressive journey toward
personal discovery. If he was not always pleased with our replies, this was
simply because even the most advanced student could not hope to reach the
high level of a master like Granet.
In order to work as Granet did, a student would have to have complete
knowledge of ancient Chinese literature, for Granet set down this general
principle: no single detail of any civilization can be understood and explained
except in the context of the entire civilization, just as in a jigsaw puzzle the
meaning of a piece can be seen only when it is put into it place in the larger
picture. Any interpretation from the outside, based on a priori principles, was
immediately rejected. Only those who have completely misunderstood Granet
could accuse him of holding preconceived ideas. He always refused, for
example, to “explain” a legend or a myth on the basis of any “theory.”
But he did actually have one preconceived idea: that of the importance of his
method of working. He would accept only explanations that resulted from
casting a new light on facts by putting them side by side, revealing their
relationship to each other, and finally grouping them into a whole.
|[e] Steps RF|
Although it is the purpose of series of posts—as a whole—to make a detailed analysis of Granet’s sociological sinology (or sinological sociology), I turn briefly to one of the most cited sections of Danses et légendes for an introductory example. As part of the book’s final section on “Heroic Sacrifice and Dynastic Dance,” Granet analyzes the Yubu—the “step of Yu.” Beginning memorably with the phrase: “He knew how to dance,” Yu, the great sage king and founder of the Xia, “dragged a leg as he walked,” the result of his toil on behalf of the fledgling empire as he worked without respite to quell the flood waters ravaging all under heaven. The “Yu Step” is a Daoist dance and ritual that celebrates, in precise motions—left foot trailing, right foot in front—the toils of Yu.
|[f] Coordinates RF|
For Granet, the example of toiling Yu follows hundred of pages dealing with the context of Chinese history and political life in the Zhou period, and grows directly out of a chapter that begins with an analysis of agnatic and uterine kinship as they connect to sacrificial ritual. Unlike even Edouard Chavannes, his “other” mentor, Marcel Granet showed little interest in the scholarly “trinkets” of Chinese texts. He was not inclined to polish and admire them in relative isolation, as have been many of his predecessors and successors. For Granet, the “Step of Yu” was instead part of a great jigsaw puzzle of Chinese society that must be understood—indeed, could only be understood—as part of an embodied whole.
 Marcel Granet, Danses et légendes de la Chine ancienne [Introduction by Rémi Mathieu] (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1926), vi. Rémi Mathieu writes in the préface à Danses et légendes... « Quoique historien de formation et Sinologue par accident, M. Granet est spirituellement et intellectuellement sociologue au sens donné à ce terme dans les années vingt du XXe siècle. Sa méthode est essentiellement « sociologique », c’est a dire, à ses yeux, durkheimienne et maussienne, mais cette adhésion est autant rationnelle qu’affective. »
Granet, Marcel. Danses et légendes de la Chine ancienne [Introduction by Rémi Mathieu]. Paris:
Presses Universitaires de France, 1926.
Granet, Marcel. The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated with an introduction by Maurice
Freedman]. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.