From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fieldnotes From History (57)—Provincial Elections-r

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Fieldnotes From History."
[a] Rocky RF
Click below for other fieldnotes dealing with Taiwan's 1985 provincial elections:
Election 1         Election 2          Election 3          Election 4          Election 5          Election 6
Election 7         Election 8          Election 9          Election 10        Election 11        Election 12
Election 13       Election 14        Election 15        Election 16        Election 17        Election 18
Election 19       Election 20
Part of an occasional Round and Square series that follows the blog’s main theme (east meets west, round meets square, and past meets present), these snippets from my early fieldnotes are reproduced as they were written by hand—and then revised on an ancient desktop computer—during my first fieldwork stay in Taiwan (1985-1987).  All entries are the way that I left them when I returned to the United States in 1987—some nicely-stated and some embarrassing. Although the series began with my assumption that the entries can stand alone, I have found that separate comments and notes might help readers understand a world that is now, well, history. These are always separate from the original fieldnote.

The next several dozen entries in this series represent my memories—in the form of fieldnotes that were already well on their way to being letters—of Taiwan's provincial elections in November 1985. I had taken down what I call "jottings" at the time, and "now," two months later, I was ready to get a little bit more detail down in the form of fieldnotes. If you are somewhat unfamiliar with the five-stage process that framed my work habits even back then, it might be worth a quick look at the introduction to this series. Suffice to say here that in Taiwan in 1985 I was working from "jottings" to "fieldnotes" most of the time. Every month or so, I would write a letter that made it all into a more sustained narrative. Even early on, I realized how powerfully the knowledge that I would be writing letters influenced my fieldnotes. You may see it, too. It has remained my method to this day.

[b] Disputation RF
Like many fieldnotes, these were "written up" (a term I dislike, but am occasionally willing to use) after the fact. I wonder if most students of anthropology know how common this is. The implications for research, eye-witness authenticity, and historiography are numerous. It is a reality that has never gone away for field researchers of all kinds, though, and I suspect that it never will. 

I am a little uneasy with the simplistic rendering here of the term "Confucian." As I have stated elsewhere in this series, I was much "faster and looser" with such characterizations back in the day. Still, my overall point about the Guomindang leadership's self image comes through clearly; they saw themselves as strong, benevolent, and productive. What struck me most powerfully when I lived in Taiwan in the mid-1980s was the "tone" of that governmental rhetoric. I was trying to capture it here—a combination of compassion and "knowing better" that was at least somewhat at odds with the electoral process. Again, this is not unusual in political discourse, and a quick study of historical examples (or international relations today) should provide sufficient examples.

That the Guomindang leadership saw a need to open the process back then...well, this still surprises me, and the fact that I did not see it coming is clear enough in these fieldnotes. For me, the linkage to a long philosophical tradition was also important. The quotations from Confucius's Analects summed up what I saw as the "studied privilege" (I mean that in several ways) perspective of the Guomindang leadership. One had to work at it, and stay good at it. This wasn't a perspective that merely rubber-stamped existing privilege. No, it was something thought to be earned through careful attention to the arts of rulership. The second quotation makes that abundantly clear.

Yet, in the end, this same process—throughout Chinese history—created a group (I hesitate to say "class") of people who were quite taken with their abilities and successes. In time, they sought to perpetuate it. Does that sound familiar today? Just read the papers, all over the world.

[c] Outlet RF
[1] The "still point of the turning world" reference is from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. I still think that it sums up the ruling philosophy in early Chinese philosophy as well as anything. Let me add that Eliot was not referring to China, unless he had somehow channeled some knowledge from Ezra Pound in over the decades.

[2] In some ways, I would take exception to my third sentence. There was the language of competing political philosophies, especially as what we call the Spring and Autumn period (771-403 BCE) gave way to the Warring States period (403-221 BCE).* This latter period is the backdrop for one of the most interesting books in Chinese studies in the last thirty years—A.C. Graham's Disputers of the Tao. This was contended—and often contentious—discourse. My overall point in the note, however, still holds. The Guomindang leadership in 1985 was extremely suspicious of competition, even as it planned to open the process further, and this can clearly be seen in some of the government newspaper editorials in my previous fieldnotes about provincial elections. 
*I have my reasons for using these dates, not the least because the partition of Jin in 403 BCE was the most important event of the period. My professional opinion.

16 February 1986
It is not easy to resolve democratic and Confucian values. Like the imperial leadership of the Chinese dynasties, Taiwan’s Guomindang leadership sees its role as the guidance of the masses and, ultimately, the country toward a more perfect society. This is not the language of competing parties. Underlying Confucian rhetoric is the assumption that some people are better positioned to lead than others. In their virtue, their scholarship, and their moral rectitude they show distinctive capabilities for leading the country. 

The Analects state the matter clearly. Rulers—the still point of the turning world—guide the ruled through sagacity and force of virtue. The government’s political vision must be accepted by a unified populace and instituted by enlightened scholar-officials. Two closely connected passages in the Analects succinctly state both the privileges and responsibilities of leaders. If all works well, society prospers.
          The Master said, He who rules by moral force is like the pole star, which 
          remains in its place while all the lesser stars do homage to it 
                                                                             —Analects II,i

          The Master said, Govern the people by regulations, keep order among 
          them by chastisements, and they will flee from you. Govern them by moral 
          force, keep order among them by ritual and they will keep their self respect 
          and come to you of their own accord 
                                                                             —Analects II,iii
[d] Bridged RF

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