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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (3)

[a] Household 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        Rural 16        Rural 17        Rural 18        Rural 19        Rural 20        Rural 21        Rural 22         Rural 23        Rural 24
Rural 25        Rural 26        Rural 27        Rural 28        Rural 29        Rural 30         Rural 31        Rural 32        Rural 33
Foundations of Household and Community
Marcel Granet’s sociological and sinological imagination is powerfully at work in his description of peasant life in The Religion of the Chinese People. From the first lines of the book, Granet establishes the very foundation of his Durkheimian argument about the nature of the domestic order and the importance of the homestead in the rural world. He builds a set of images that uses direct reference to the lines of the Shijing in describing the roof, the kiln, and the walls.  

          The peasants occupied villages situated on high ground and usually enclosed by quickset 
          hedges. Some of them were cave-dwellers, and perhaps all of them were in ancient times.   
          Most commonly they built their houses in the shape of a kiln, out of mud and rammed earth. 
          The walls and the roofs were so thin that a rat or a sparrow could pierce them.[1] 

          Les paysans habitaient dans des villages placés sur une hauteur et enclos en général 
          d'une haie vive. Certains étaient troglodytes, peut-être presque tous le furent-ils 
          anciennement. Le plus souvent ils bâtissaient en torchis et en pisé des maisons qui 
          avaient la forme d'un four. Les murs et la toiture étaient si frêles qu'un rat ou un 
          moineau pouvaient les percer.[2]

[b] Community RF
He proceeds to describe the structure of the house itself, and the manner in which its architecture corresponds to the life of the family, on the one hand, and the cosmos as a whole, on the other. It is important to note both the importance of locations in the south of the house as well as the (seeming) practicality of the hole in the roof. Granet makes no mention yet of the cosmic importance of these features, instead choosing to build an image of the household structure from relevant lines in the Classic of Poetry.

          A square opening in the middle of the roof allowed the smoke of the hearth to pass out 
          and the rain to fall through and be collected. On the south side a door opened to the 
          east and a little window to the west. The house was just one room. In the southwest 
          corner, the darkest, the grain was stored; there too people slept, on straw or reed mats.[3] 

          Au centre du toit une ouverture carrée laissait passer la fumée du foyer et l'eau de pluie,
          qu'on recueillait. Sur la face méridionale s'ouvraient une porte à l'Est, une petite fenêtre 

          à l'Ouest. La maison ne formait qu'une seule pièce. Dans le coin Sud-Ouest, le plus sombre, 
         on conservait les semences; c'était là aussi qu'on allait dormir, sur des nattes de paille ou 
         de jonc.[4] 

Granet appears here as a textual anthropologist with a straight description (right from his “fieldnotes,” as it were) of peasant households. In fact, at the very time of the composition of Religion, several early ethnographers around the world—such as Bronislaw Malinowski in New Guinea—were writing just such accounts of dwellings in their own notes.
[c] Direction RF

In just two statements, and less than a full paragraph of text, Granet has provided a description that will provide a foundation for the rhythms of social and religious (for they are the same thing for a good Durkheimian) life. The roof opens to the heavens and the south-side door opens to powerful “calendrical” directions leading to east and west.  It is extremely important, however, to note that these directions are only referred to in practical terms for the moment. Their cosmic importance will emerge in due course. 

          Every house had its own compound.  Round it was an orchard planted principally with 
          mulberries. The low-lying lands were kept for cultivation; the furrows crossed, running 
          from East to West and South to North, and the fields were square, separated by the 
          uncultivated edges that were used as paths and where small huts were built; these last 
          sheltered the workers who lived there to watch over their harvests and who never left 
          their fields except during the dead season. They saw their wives only at meals, which 
          were brought by them with the help of their children. As long as the rains allowed work 
          to go on, the peasants drew from the fertile alluvium hemp, peas, and cereals, principally 
          millet, which were their staple foodstuffs. When the grain was threshed and stored, they 
          returned to the village, repaired their roofs, blocked cracks in the walls, and shut themselves 
          up in their housed during the hard and dry cold of the winter: they rested, as did the soil, 
          worn out by the effort of production. But for the women on the other hand it was then by 
          no means the dead season: they spun hemp and wove clothes.[5] 

          Chaque maison avait son enceinte particulière. Tout autour était un verger planté surtout 
          de mûriers. Les basses terres étaient réservées aux cultures ; les sillons, tracés de l'Est à 
          l'Ouest et du Sud au Nord, se croisaient, et les champs étaient carrés, séparés par des 
          bordures en friche qui servaient de chemins, et où étaient construites de petites cabanes : 
          elles abritaient les travailleurs, ils y demeuraient pour surveiller leurs récoltes, et, sauf 
          pendant la morte-saison, ils ne quittaient point leurs champs. Ils ne voyaient leurs femmes 
          qu'aux repas : elles les leur apportaient, aidées des enfants. Tant que les pluies rendaient 
          possible le travail, les paysans tiraient du limon fertile chanvre, pois, céréales, le millet 
          surtout, qui était le fond de leur nourriture. Le grain battu et engrangé, ils remontaient au 
          village, réparaient les toitures, bouchaient les fentes des murs et s'enfermaient dans les 
          maisons pour laisser passer les froids durs et secs de l'hiver : ils se reposaient, comme la 
          terre, fatigués d'avoir produit. Pour les femmes, au contraire, ce n'était point alors la 
          morte-saison : elles filaient le chanvre et tissaient les vêtements.[6] 

From the solid domestic foundation of the home and hearth (and I do not use those terms as clichés), we proceed in Granet’s account to the movements of people, specifically in the forms of their work. Here, the work that gives people sustenance emerges from a rhythmic response to (and creation of) the patterns of nature, specifically the wet and dry seasons. The yin-yang breakdown of the year begins with the gender division in humans.

          The two sexes took it in turns to labor: the work, regulated by an alternating rhythm, was 
          modeled on the succession of wet and dry seasons well marked on the plains of eastern 

          Les deux sexes se relayaient au travail : celui-ci, réglé par un rythme alternant, se 
          modelait sur la succession des saisons humides et sèches, si bien marquée dans les 
          plaines de l'Asie orientale.[8]

[d] Foundation RF
It is the balance of work within and between the sexes—divided by each to fit the needs of the seasons and of human society—that gives shape to the system of village life that Granet is about to describe. We have a world of segmented divisions based closely on nature itself, with gender and seasonal alternation lying at the heart of family organization. 

From the foundation that Granet has developed in the preceding entries, we can begin to see the outlines of village organization within the world of nature. Up until this point, we have seen only division of labor between men and women and the architectural solidity of the domestic order (rats and sparrows breaking through the compound’s walls to the contrary). Before we proceed, however, it is important to note that the foundations of which Granet speaks when dealing with nature and society are neither Darwinian nor Marxian. They are of a different order altogether. They reject typical distinctions of “ideal” and “real” in the social and natural worlds.

          Throughout the year, in fields cultivated in common as in their shut-off villages, the 
          peasants had dealings only with their kinsmen. A village enclosed a close-knit unit and 
          homogeneous great family.  Ties of blood, natural filiations, did not introduce true divisions 
          into this large community: a nephew was not less than a son nor a father more than an 

          Tout au long de l'année, dans les champs cultivés en commun, comme dans leur village 
          enclos, les paysans n'ont de rapports qu'avec les membres de leur parenté. Un village 
          enferme une vaste famille très unie et très homogène. Les liens du sang, la filiation naturelle 
          n'introduisent pas de véritables divi­sions dans cette large communauté : un neveu n'est pas 
          moins qu'un fils ni un père plus qu'un oncle.[10]   

[e] Ties RF
The description begins to gain energy as we move from fields cultivated in common (adjacent to villages relatively closed to outside contact) to peasants having dealings almost exclusively with their own kinsmen. Although we certainly have seen work and social life divided along gender lines to this point, it is difficult to see divisions within society of a greater order. For Granet, the village is a “homogeneous great family.” Ties of blood in such a community do not introduce divisions of a serious nature, and he goes on to show a startling example of that, in which common kinship distinctions such as father-son and uncle-nephew, are (at least within the closed community he takes pains to describe in his account of rural life) of no significant difference.   

One suspects at least a bit of hyperbole here, but Granet’s point remains important. The kinds of jealousy and possessiveness that we can see in fragmented and skewed social settings (Rousseau could be quoted here just as easily could the author of China’s great novel of decadence, the Jin Ping Mei) is lacking because the domestic order is driven by the rhythmic order of the seasons—one that places the larger unit (the work unit divided by gender) above smaller divisions within the household and community. Granet’s rhetoric is pointed:

          Domestic life had no exclusive sentiments: all the young people of one generation, 
          brothers or cousins (it was all one) married women who were equally sisters and cousins. 
          In this huge family maternal affection itself did not take on an appearance of jealous 
          affection: if anybody was preferred it was the children of the eldest sister.[11] 

          La vie de ménage elle-même n'entraîne guère de sentiments exclusifs : tous les jeunes 
          gens d'une génération, frères ou cousins (c'est tout un), épousent des femmes également 
          sœurs ou cousines. Dans cette vaste famille, l'affection maternelle elle-même n'arrive pas 
          à prendre un air d'affection jalouse : s'il y a préférence, elle va aux enfants de la sœur 

Male or female, it is really only the generation of the village head, or father, that has any kind of ascendancy at all, and that is of an order that fits the natural rhythms. 

          In like fashion, all the aunts were called mothers: the mother most respected was not the 
          woman who gave one birth but the woman who by her age (or her husband’s) occupied 
          the rank of mother of the family.  Indeed, age and generation were the sole principles of 
          classification within the domestic community, which was led, or better still, represented by 
          the oldest member of the most senior generation. This latter was called head or father.[13] 

          De même, toutes les tantes sont appelées mères : la plus respectée n'est point celle dont 
          on est né, mais celle qui par son âge (ou par l'âge de son mari) a rang de mère de famille.            
          L'âge et la généra­tion, en effet, tels sont les seuls principes de classement à l'intérieur 
          de la communauté domestique ; elle est dirigée ou, pour dire mieux, représentée par le 
          membre le plus âgé de la génération la plus ancienne : on l'appelle le doyen ou le père.[14] 

Granet has given us a picture of a closed system, in which exchange took place between linked partners who worked in concert (at least within their gendered units) and prospered as a group. The integration is deceptive, though, as Granet will show. 

          That term, which has the meaning of “chieftain,” was used after the family name, which 
          seems also to have been that of the village. The name, emblem of the community, was 
          the sign of a sort of identity of substance, specific and incommunicable, which, maintained 
          by commensality, was the very essence of this kind of kinship.[15] 

          Ce dernier mot, qui a le sens de chef, s'emploie à la suite du nom de la famille, lequel 
          semble être aussi celui du village. Le nom, emblème de la communauté, est le signe 
          d'une sorte d'identité substantielle, spécifique, incommunicable, qui, entretenue par la 
          commensalité, est l'essence même de ce type de parenté.[16]
[f] Courtyard 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        Rural 16        Rural 17        Rural 18        Rural 19        Rural 20        Rural 21        Rural 22         Rural 23        Rural 24
Rural 25        Rural 26        Rural 27        Rural 28        Rural 29        Rural 30         Rural 31        Rural 32        Rural 33
[1] Marcel Granet, The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman] (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), xx. 
[2] Marcel Granet, La religion des chinois (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922), xx.
[3] Granet, Religion, xxx.
[4] Granet, La religion, xxx.
[5] Granet, Religion, xxx.
[6] Granet, La religion, xxx.
[7] Granet, Religion, xxx.
[8] Granet, La religion, xxx.
[9] Granet, Religion, xxx.
[10] Granet, La religion, xxx.
[11] Granet, Religion, xxx.
[12] Granet, La religion, xxx.
[13] Granet, Religion, xxx.
[14] Granet, La religion, xxx.
[15] Granet, Religion, xxx.
[16] Granet, La religion, xxx.

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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