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Thursday, August 9, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (5)

[a] Regeneration 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 
The Harvest and Social Solidarity
Granet’s careful descriptions of the architectural and social order of the domestic unit, followed by the necessity of exchange, has a purpose—the description of the great peasant festivals that both reflected the natural order of the seasons and, seemingly, provided momentum to them in the form of enlivened social existence. We are not quite there yet. Beyond the renewal that we find in the small but constant influx (and discharge) of female members, a much more profound kind of renewal is also necessary to regenerate human society and break families from their inward-looking ways. 

          The complex unity of this higher grouping did not rest upon sentiments 
          as simple as those lying at the base of domestic solidarity: these other 
          sentiments did not arise from constant contact, from identity of interests, 
          from common work, and daily commensality.[1]   

          L'unité complexe de ce groupement supérieur ne repose point sur des 
          sentiments aussi simples que ceux qui sont au fond de la solidarité 
          domes­tique : ces sentiments ne sortent pas d'un contact de tous les instants, 
          de l'identité des intérêts, du travail en commun et d'une commensalité 

It is important to see here another Granetian theme. He underlines the reasons for unity in the domestic order very clearly. The sentiments that form domestic solidarity arise from constant contact, from identity of interests, and from daily commensality.

[b] Sharing RF
Considering each of these items in turn, we see that constant contact, at least within gender groupings, is common, but the reasons become more profound (and more Durkheimian) as we proceed. Identity of interest can be seen in the protection of a community and the fostering of a common bond through common goals. Most important of all are common work and daily commensality. Toiling in the fields, as well as cooking and raising children) gives a foundation to the kinds of interaction that form the village community. The sharing of meals—even when those meals are shared only by members of one gender, as they were in times of agricultural work—forge further bonds. It does not merely contribute to solidarity or help to create it. It is the very thing itself.

Social solidarity is profoundly important in any Durkheimian understanding of the family group, but it is almost never expressed in isolation. Granet makes the point that the individual belonged completely to his family, and that such feelings of belonging contributed directly toward “a habitual feeling of opposition towards neighbors.” In ordinary times, such feelings of opposition would not necessarily be a problem, and could even be healthy. Nevertheless, an inward-looking distrust can easily grow to the point that creates a kind of stagnation that is intellectual as much as it is biological.[3]  

Marcel Granet pinpoints a much more powerful form of renewal—one that comes at the very height of the closed unit’s “self-confidence.” This is far more than a psychological concept, however. It is essentially a social and agricultural one. Harvest and joint labor point to the integration of larger (and usually distrustful) social groupings. It is not an act of will, but rather a manner of relenting to (and reshaping) the forces of nature. It is as though the very forces of nature brought people together in a kind of productive and reproductive communion mandated by the very pattering of the seasons—and concerted human action.

[c] Rhythm RF
The joint labor that takes place within the sexual divisions of society creates a bounty that gives a rich and unusual kind of “sentiment,” to use Granet’s term, that exudes the very self-confidence of which he speaks. It is as though the bounty of the harvest creates an outward-looking social body that is starving for a kind of communion that goes far beyond the needs of the physical body. In short, more than grain and another year’s sustenance was reaped every autumn at the great harvests.

          From day to day the individual belonged completely to his family, and the awareness of this belonging entailed 
          a habitual feeling of opposition towards neighbors. It was only on 
          exceptional occasions that family egoism could feel itself mastered by the 
          vision, then sudden and dazzling, of higher interests never clearly seen in 
          ordinary circumstances. Their rhythmic life provided the Chinese peasants 
          with these occasions at two points in the year: when they finished and when 
          they began domestic work and labor in the fields, when men and women, 
          their activity alternating, changed their mode of life, at the beginning of spring 
          and at the end of autumn.[4]

          L'individu, au jour le jour, appartient tout entier à sa famille et la conscience 
          de cette appartenance implique à l'égard du voisin un sentiment habituel 
          d'op­position. Ce n'est qu'en des occasions exceptionnelles que l'égoïsme 
          familial peut se sentir dominé par la vision, qui est alors soudaine et éclatante, 
          des intérêts supérieurs qu'il n'aperçoit point clairement d'ordinaire. Ces 
          occasions, la vie rythmée qu'ils menaient les fournissait aux paysans chinois 
          à deux moments de l'année : c'était aux temps où finissaient et où 
          commençaient les travaux d'intérieur ou les travaux des champs, aux temps 
          où hommes et femmes, dont l'activité se relayait, changeaient de genre de 
          vie, au début du printemps et à la fin de l'automne.[5]

This “higher interest” is the kind of nourishment of the body and mind (social and individual combined) that comes from complete integration. It is the very fact of the alternating rhythms of the natural world that leads to such interaction, just as it, in turn, creates the agricultural rhythm of the seasons. There is a collective confidence and desire for communion that is generated by this alternation, and it is as though the very change of the seasons compels people who otherwise distrust one another to join together in something larger and far more profound than ordinary life.

[d] Harvest RF
Granet cites the many practical issues here, but it is almost as an overlay to more important matters that he does so. There were, indeed, practical benefits to the harvest, and its completion brought individual and collective relief (one need only think of the term “sigh of collective relief” for the Durkheimian connections). The autumn festivals beckon just at the point at which the domestic group is strongest. The grain was harvested and the weaving was done. Relatively speaking, there was abundance. The joy of which Granet writes is surely collective, as is the relaxation from harsh, personal, and “practical” concerns. 

          The weaving done or the grain harvest brought in, each family group was 
          put in possession of an abundance of riches: these were moments of joy, 
          moments when the harshness of practical concerns was relaxed, moments 
          favorable to large gestures, propitious to generous exchanges, welcome 
          periods of large-scale social intercourse.[6] 

          Le tissage fini ou les grains récoltés met­taient alors chaque groupe familial 
          en possession d'une abondance de richesses : moments de joie, moments 
          où l'âpreté des intérêts se relâche, moments favorables aux gestes larges, 
          propices aux échanges généreux, époques bienvenues d'un vaste 
          commerce social.[7]

Now we see the “moment(s) favorable to large gestures.” It is the “generous exchanges” and “welcome periods of large-scale social intercourse” that make the difference between a closed society with occasional exchanges of women from other villages and a society that is, in rhythmic and seasonal alternation, imbued with the sacrality and regeneration that can only come from social interaction on a large scale. Even visits between communities cannot create the kind of teeming excitement and regenerative energy as a festival in a sacred setting.
[e] Imbued 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), xx.
[2] Marcel Granet, La religion des chinois (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922), xx.
[3] Harold Bells Wright, Shepherd of the Hills (New York: Pelican Books), 1907 provides an example of this dynamic. Set in the early twentieth century Ozarks, Shepherd of the Hills shows the very foundation of domestic solidarity and the enormous risks of a group remaining “untainted” by the outside. In that novel, renewal comes from the outside, but hardly willingly. What we see, instead, is an inbred group of rebels, along with decent “folk” who are rightly afraid of outside forces (which they see in terms of tax collection and other governmental connections). There is not a great deal of “movement” in the world of that novel, and there are almost no forms of interaction that make possible the regeneration of the social body. There are dances, to be sure, and a few comings and goings of city folk. There is nothing to create a sustained growth of the domestic order, however, aside from the strange minister from the city who chose to live among the people of the hills. Harold Bells Wright, Shepherd of the Hills (New York: Pelican Books), 1907.
[4] Granet, Religion, xxx.
[5] Granet, La religion, xxx.
[6] Granet, Religion, xxx.
[7] 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. 
Wright, Harold Bell. Shepherd of the Hills. New York: Pelican Books, 1907.

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