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Sunday, August 19, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (15)

[a] Cosmology RF
Click here for other posts in Round and Square's "Rural Religion in China" series:
Rural 1          Rural 2          Rural 3          Rural 4          Rural 5          Rural 6          Rural 7          Rural 8
Rural 9          Rural 10        Rural 11        Rural 12        Rural 13        Rural 14        Rural 15

Thanksgiving and Winter Returns 
Giving thanks goes far beyond the food itself.  It is necessary to give thanks to the land, from whence the bounty of the autumn festival came. Even though these small rituals are hardly of the same detail and complexity as those used by “higher orders” of Chinese society, they partake of the same spirit, for they are created by the very nature of society and the communion of its members. Society, in turn, was one with the natural world, and the beneficent forces there needed to be called upon—from the roaming animals to flourishing vegetation—to bring fullness to the communion feast. The songs of autumn—in which adults appear to take the lead, accompanied by their own instruments—are those of joy mixed with relief. The labors of summer are over, and the harvest is complete. If sufficient, the harvest will carry them through the isolation of the winter to next spring’s festival.

          And the workers in the fields gave thanks to the tilled land.   
          Accompanying themselves on clay tambourines, they sang of their 
          labors and of the days of the year gone by; they called upon all 
          the helpful forces of Nature to take part in the communion feast; in 
          their dances they represented the animals which to them seemed 
          beneficent: cats and leopards.  

          Grâces aussi étaient rendues par les travailleurs des champs à la 
          terre cultivée. S'accompagnant du tambourin d'argile, ils chantaient 
          les travaux et les jours de l'année écoulée ; ils appelaient à prendre 
          part au repas communiel toutes les forces secourables de la Nature ; 
          pendant leurs danses, ils figuraient les animaux qui leur semblaient 
          bienfaisants, chats et léopards.

[b] Excitement RF
The pitch of excitement that Granet describes comes from the intoxicating vibrancy of the feasts, the social communion, and the religious excitement of the natural setting. It is not spring, though. The calendar, the society, and the body itself all seem to “understand the nature of the feast of harvest. As the year slowly moves toward its end, so, too, do the individuals who many years earlier had celebrated their budding strength and sexuality in the rows of chanting adolescents in springtime. In the autumn, all come together in a way that is fundamentally different from the springtime gatherings, with their emphasis on youth and fertility. The autumn festival, however vibrant, is of a much more practical nature, for the bounty precedes a change of society, as well. It was as though the year and society aged at once, with the youthful excitement of springtime giving way to a mature excitement of autumn.

          In their religious fervor they got to such a pitch of excitement that a 
          town philosopher could then say of them that “they were all as though 
          mad.” But the excitement was very different from that which animated 
          the spring gatherings. At the festivals of plenty it was the heads of 
          villages, the elders, who presided, and the celebrations appeared as 
          festivals of old age. And they appeared too as festivals of “the 
          aging year.”  

          Dans leur ferveur religieuse, ils en arrivaient à un tel degré d'excitation 
          qu'un philosophe de la ville pouvait alors dire d'eux « qu'ils étaient tous 
          comme fous ». Mais cette excitation était bien différente de celle qui 
          animait les réunions de prin­temps. Aux fêtes de l'abondance, c'étaient 
          les chefs des villages, c'étaient les anciens qui présidaient et elles 
          apparaissaient comme des fêtes de la vieillesse. Elles apparaissaient 
          aussi comme des fêtes de « l'année vieillissante ». 

[c] Framed RF
The aging year and the exchange of marriage partners were part of another transition in the fabric of the domestic order—the aging and dying of family members. Birth and death thus framed the very structure of the gatherings and the flow of social movement. Society would change in even more ways than could be seen by the acquisition of new daughters-in-law and the loss of several village daughters. The very same people who presided over the autumn festivals, beating their clay tambourines with frenzied animation in years past, would begin to die, and to pass to another realm of society that was no less important for the fact that it was hidden from view.

Granet explains these fundamental cycles of birth and death with precision. In the “practical” world, people can and do die at any time. In the rhythmic world attuned to the flow of nature, people (and animals and vegetation) die in the autumn and winter. The harvest was completed, and that which was used was sent back to its place of origin.  The winter dwellings represented a new, but muted, kind of social life. There was real change, though.  New members joined the villages and some members died. There would be no births for another nine or ten months. Even their old and worn out belongings were given back to their own “winter quarters.” It is not the newness of spring, with the freshly sewn clothes that were made in anticipation of the festival, to be sure. It was an important newness nonetheless—one that was signaled by the abundant food and sharing of the autumn gatherings, just as people were about to return to their communities. 

          While spring signified “love, union, joy,” autumn signified “death,  
          separation, mourning.” An end was put to cultivation; earth was 
          sacralized; “old things,” worn out by service, were taken leave of; they  
          were exhorted to go, like men, to their winter quarters, withdrawing 
          into their original dwellings according to their kind.  

          Tandis que printemps signifiait : amour, union, joie, automne signifia : 
          mort, sépara­tion, deuil. On mettait fin aux cultures, on sacralisait la 
          terre, on donnait congé « aux choses vieillies » et fatiguées d'avoir 
          servi ; on les exhortait à prendre, ainsi que faisaient les hommes, 
          leurs quartiers d'hiver, en se retirant par espèces dans leurs 
          demeures originelles.

[d] Nature RF
Nature, too, was given the opportunity to return to its winter quarters, for society and nature were one. It was all “the universe,” in any case, and that is the connection to even Granet’s most abstruse works, such as La pensée chinoise, where numbers and colors represent all of the themes that have been foreshadowed in his writings on peasant religion. The universe was one, but (as anyone familiar with Chinese symbolic divisions from yin-yang through the sixty-four hexagrams of the Yijing knows) it was no less complex for that.

          The time of cold and drought was come; the water was invited “to 
          withdraw into its channels;” wand of hazelnut wood in hand, in mourning 
          attire, the old saw the year out to its end. In this way the dead season 
          was established by a festival of old age, just as spring had been by 
          the festivals of youth  And the rural communities, by sanctifying their 
          time-honored harmony, had once again succeeded in ensuring the 
          order of Nature.  

          Le temps du froid et de la sécheresse était venu ; on invitait « l'eau à
          se retirer dans ses conduits » : baguette de coudrier en main, en 
          vêtements de deuil, les vieillards reconduisaient l'année à sa fin. Ainsi, 
          par une fête de la vieillesse était constituée la morte-saison, com­me 
          l'avait été le renouveau par les fêtes de la jeunesse. Et les communautés 
          rurales, en sanctifiant leur concorde séculaire, avaient encore réussi à 
          assurer l'ordre de la Nature. 

The “dead season” was connected to the “festival of old age.” The calendar and the elements of society worked in concert, just as nature did the same. It is the order of nature that is at the heart of this rhythm. Society and nature retreat in the winter, but they are subtly changed during that time, as well. There is growth in society in the winter, just as there is renewal in nature. Change is constant and rhythmic, and death is just as much a part of the process as birth. In short, society and nature “need” winter, for it is another phase of the great regenerative cycle of the universe—always the same, yet always changing.
[e] Retreat RF
Click here for other posts in Round and Square's "Rural Religion in China" series:
Rural 1          Rural 2          Rural 3          Rural 4          Rural 5          Rural 6          Rural 7          Rural 8
Rural 9          Rural 10        Rural 11        Rural 12        Rural 13        Rural 14        Rural 15 
[1] Marcel Granet, The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman] (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 42.
[2] Marcel Granet, La religion des chinois (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922), 15.
[3] Granet, Religion, 42.
[4] Granet, La religion, 15.
[5] Granet, Religion, 2-43.
[6] Granet, La religion, 15.

Granet, Marcel. The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman]. New York: 
     Harper & Row, 1975.
Granet, Marcel. La religion des chinois. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922.

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