Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Rural Religion in Early China."
|[a] Autumn RF|
The Autumn Festivals
The festivals emerged from the “self-confidence” that was at the core of the domestic order when it reached the height of its collective experience—the harvest. Working together, each family displayed its “fortune,” and “the fruits of its labor.” Here we enter a new plane in the discussion of collective action and social solidarity. Granet notes that “neighboring groups came together in a communal assembly.” How, though, does something like that happen?
If we are to follow the train of Granet’s thought, it happens as a direct response to the harvest itself. It is not planned or premeditated, any more than is autumn itself. It is anticipated, though, and that distinction makes all of the difference. Communal assembly allows the closed domestic order to open to its widest point, welcoming ideas and even conflicts that would otherwise have been rejected by all parties.
And it was not at all an interchange that sought only direct and material advantage: each
family, proud of the fruits of its labor, wished to display its fortune; neighboring groups came
together in a communal assembly, each inviting the others to make use of all its riches: it
won recognition of its prestige by its generosity.
Et non point d'un commerce qui ne cherche que l'intérêt direct et matériel : fière des fruits
de son travail, chaque famille voulait étaler sa Fortune ; les groupes voisins se réunissaient
en une assemblée de communauté, chacun invitait les autres à user de toutes ses richesses :
par ses largesses, il faisait reconnaître son prestige.
The families reach a high point of communal awareness, opening the otherwise closed domestic order to others. Usually situated in the closed kin network and turned inward to their daily concerns, at the festival they move outward at the highest point of their collective confidence. Not only, according to Granet, do they lose the “usual” feelings of enmity toward neighboring groups, but the very confidence and warmth toward outsiders that they otherwise lack is engendered through public display. That is the most important point of all. What Granet seeks to articulate is not a mere shift in “attitude” or an individual’s proclivity toward outsiders. It has nothing to do with individuals at all. It is a shared response to the collective work of the harvest and a shared outpouring toward others assembled together.
In these solemn meetings of families usually withdrawn into themselves and shut up within
the circle of their daily cares, each of them, becoming aware of its power at a time of plenty
and feeling it to be increased by its public display, lost its usual feelings of enmity towards
the neighboring families at the moment when its self-confidence was carried to its highest
Dans ces réunions solennelles de familles habituellement repliées sur elles-mêmes et
enfermées dans le souci des intérêts quotidiens, chacune d'elles, prenant conscience de
sa puissance à un moment de plénitude, et la sentant encore accrue par son étalage en
public, perdait, dès l'instant où sa confiance en elle-même était portée au plus haut point,
ses sentiments usuels de défiance à l'égard des familles voisines.
Granet notes the profound alteration (which is, of course linked to the structural alternation of the seasons) of the typical modes of interaction found in the domestic order.
The interpenetration of the different groups was more intense, more moving, more intimate,
and more absolute for their isolation and self-contained nature being in normal times more
plus intime, plus absolue que leur isolement et leur occlusion étaient, en temps normal,
|[c] Alternation RF|
The intensity of the interaction, notes Granet, is an outgrowth of the very isolation of the closed domestic order. It is as though the closed social grouping burst forth twice a year (in perfect seasonal rhythm) in an elaborate dance of matrimonial and gustatory bliss. The central idea of the closed domestic order must be understood as the heart of this experience. Granet maintains that it is itself the key to the flourishing of intimacy and social intensity experienced during the festivals.
There is a deep form of power in the rural gatherings of which Granet writes. These “orgies” affirmed the closed domestic orders as well as a wider “political” order that ultimately was created by the interaction between otherwise closed groups. “Political” order, in this sense, emerges from the interaction of otherwise independent entities.
The gatherings of rural communities consisted in powerful orgies in which were affirmed, at
one and the same time, the strength of the family grouping and that of the political grouping.
Marking the beat of the rhythm by which female and male work alternated, the gatherings
had the character of great sexual festivals in which were effected the great matrimonial
exchanges by which each group permanently held hostages from all the others and sent them
delegates. These festivals of peasant harmony were also festivals of marriage and fertility.
Les assises des communautés rurales consistaient en de puissantes orgies où s'affirmait à la
fois la force du groupement familial et du, groupement politique. Marquant les temps du rythme
selon lequel alternait le travail féminin et masculin, elles avaient le caractère de grandes fêtes
sexuelles où s'opéraient les échanges matrimoniaux, grâce auxquels chaque groupe possédait
de façon permanente des otages de tous les autres et leur envoyait des délégués : ces fêtes
de la concorde paysanne étaient aussi des fêtes du mariage, des fêtes de la fécondité.
|[d] Affirmed RF|
Marking the time of rustic work, inaugurating the success to come, celebrating the success
achieved, they were moreover great agrarian festivals in which orgies of food were mingled
with sexual orgies. They snatched people suddenly away from their monotonous lives; they
sharply awoke within them the profoundest hopes to be conceived by an agricultural people;
they excited the creative activity of inner life to the highest degree.
Marquant les temps du travail rustique, inaugurant son succès à venir, célébrant son succès
passé, c'étaient encore de grandes fêtes agraires où l'orgie alimentaire se mêlait à l'orgie
sexuelle. Elles arrachaient soudain les individus à leur vie monotone ; elles suscitaient
brusquement chez eux les plus profonde espérances que puisse concevoir un peuple
agricole : elles excitaient au plus haut degré l'activité créatrice de la vie intérieure.
|[e] Height RF|
The autumn harvest represents the peak of intensity in rural social life, and Granet treats it at the very beginning of La religion des chinois because he resists the saying from the Book of Ritual that he quotes earlier in the chapter—that the rites do not go down to the common people. He argues for a social foundation of a profound order, and, in effect, argues that a narrow focus on rites and the highest practices has made us lose our way in understanding the foundations of Chinese religious life.
The practices and beliefs born of this extraordinary activity governed the development of
Chinese religion: public and family cults, ancestor and agrarian cults, even the cult of
heaven, emerged from these festivals of human and natural fertility in which the domestic
spirit was revealed in all its strength while the sense of society was created.
Les pratiques et les croyances, qui naquirent de cette activité exceptionnelle, ont commandé
le développement de la religion chinoise : cultes publics et cultes familiaux, cultes des ancêtres
et cultes agraires, voire même culte du ciel sont sortis de ces fêtes de la fécondité humaine et
naturelle où l'esprit domestique se révélait dans toute sa force, tandis que se créait le sens
Everything “religious,” which is almost to say “everything corporate,” in Chinese life has at its foundation the closed domestic order and the rhythmic interaction of groupings in the great communal gatherings. The very power of the domestic spirit emerges from this opposition and this alternation. We would do well to note the profoundly Durkheimian final statement: the closed order is reaffirmed, even as the sense of a wider society is created. This, for Granet, is the solid, if distant, foundation of even the most esoteric of rites and the most minute details of religious practice in early Chinese society.
Harper & Row, 1975.