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Monday, October 8, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (16)

[a] Ancient
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

Ancient Beliefs 
Many people have noted that the natural and social worlds are closely linked in Chinese thought. Few people, however, have shown it with such unrelenting enthusiasm and theoretical rigor as Marcel Granet. In the preceding pages, he has shown a complex mix of agricultural work, social gathering, and renewal of the domestic order. The spring and autumn festivals lie at the very foundation of peasant thought, and they give shape, as it were, to time itself. The rhythm of work is time for the peasant, and the most basic division of the year is straight in half. It is decidedly equinoctial.

          The sense that the natural world and human society were closely bonded 
          has been the basic element of all Chinese beliefs. We have been able to 
          see how this sense could come about. Among Chinese peasants the life 
          of feeling became intense, the creative power of the mind truly showed 
          itself, only on the occasion of the Festivals of Spring and Autumn; now, 
          these gatherings stamped time with the rhythm by which the work in the 
          countryside was divided up and which coincided with the rhythm of the 

          Le sentiment que le monde naturel et la société humaine sont étroitement 
          solidaires a été l'élément de fond de toutes les croyances chinoises. On a 
          pu voir comment ce sentiment a dû naître. La vie sentimentale des paysans 
          chi­nois ne prenait d'intensité, la puissance créatrice de l'esprit ne se 
          manifestait véritablement qu'à l'occasion des Fêtes de printemps et 
          d'automne ; or, ces réunions marquaient les temps du rythme selon 
          lequel se distribuait le travail rural et qui se trouvait coïncider avec le 
          rythme saisonnier.[2]
The rhythm of the year is the rhythm of intensity and relaxation. Creativity flows directly from social gathering, and even “the mind” of which Granet speaks is influenced powerfully by the fact of human connection. Consciousness and gathering are intimately linked. The gatherings occurred precisely when (because work was set aside…indeed, had to be set aside, for it was not a conscious decision) the pressures of working the natural soil allowed for respite. Consciousness of society flowed directly from enforced leisure and the gatherings that grew out of them in an agricultural world.

          The communities gathered together, at the very moment when 
          consciousness of the social bond could surge up within them, noted 
          infallible recurrences in Nature: the thought of harmony dominating their 
           hearts appeared to them as a reality with two closely linked aspects, human 
          and natural order. But they distinguished the Order of the world from the 
          desires of their hearts no more than they thought of society independently 
          of its natural setting.[3] 

          Les communautés assemblées, au moment même où pouvait surgir en 
          elle la conscience du lien social, constataient dans la Nature des 
          récurrences immanquables : la pensée d'harmonie, qui dominait les 
          cœurs, leur apparaissait comme une réalité à deux aspects étroitement 
          solidaires, l'ordre humain et l'ordre naturel. Mais pas plus que la société 
          n'était conçue par eux indépendamment de son milieu naturel, pas, plus 
          l'Ordre du monde n'était vraiment distingué des vœux de leurs âmes.[4] 
The cycles were those of nature. They were “infallible.”  We are getting quite close to a sense of causality here, but Granet backs away and moves toward a much more powerful conception by noting that the social and natural orders were indistinguishable for those human beings. Gathering was a natural process. Social interaction was a natural process. The changes of the seasons and the greening of the countryside were also natural processes, as were the rains that gave the fields moisture and the warming sun that gained intensity as the second month passed to the third. Blossoms on the trees were a sure sign, and that natural process itself plays an enormous rhetorical role in Granet’s major source—the poems of the Shijing— for his writings on rural religion.

Let there be no mistake about it. The origins of complex Chinese philosophy remains the social gathering and natural rhythms of the universe. It took centuries to craft the basic cycles of social life and emotional thought into a system such as that articulated in the Han by Dong Zhongshu.

          It was a completely emotional conception that was to be turned into a 
          system of dogma only after a slow process of reflection. In peasant 
          thought it was only the basis (scarcely perceived in itself) of the efficacy 
          common to all the practices at the times of the festivals, an always dual 
          efficacy, reaching men through things and conversely reaching things 
          through men, an indefinite and indeterminate efficacy in kind and essentially 

          Conception toute émotive, qui ne se transformera en système dogmatique 
          qu'après un lent travail de réflexion. Elle n'était dans la pensée paysanne 
          que le principe premier (à peine entrevu en lui-même) de l'efficacité 
          commune à toutes les pratiques des temps de fête, efficacité toujours 
          double, atteignant les hommes par l'entremise des choses et, inversement, 
          les choses par l'entremise des hommes, efficacité de nature indéfinie, 
          indéterminée et d'essence religieuse.[6]
The holy place is the very core of the social and religious function. It charges everything with positive energy and the acts and formulae of the contests give order to the collectivity. The holy place and everything within it both charges and constrains the heart of the social order. The symbols thus generated were then brought to new life through language, a point to which Granet returns in many of his later writings. Just as people are set into motion at the festivals, so too, are words set into motion through speech. Indeed, the very songs that are the focus of the spring festival show the original motion and intensity of nature itself. 

          Everything in the Holy Place, everything in the Festivals was indifferently 
          good for everything; all the acts and formulae of the contests were signals 
          and orders for the collectivity of beings; all things to be seen in the Holy 
          Place were constraining symbols for men.[7]

          Tout dans le Lieu Saint, tout dans les Fêtes était indifféremment bon pour 
          tout ; tous les gestes, toutes les formules des joutes étaient, pour l'ensemble 
          des êtres, comme des signaux et des ordres, toutes les apparences du Lieu 
          Saint étaient, pour les hommes, des symboles contrai­gnant.[8] 

All of it was charged, and all of it was “religious.” The language that gave rise to the gatherings and the chants were the nascent form of the language that would, by being worked and reworked by many thinkers over the centuries of the first millennium, give shape to complex systems of yin-yang and five phase categorization.
There are no distinctions in the human and natural symbols that emerge from the festivals and the holy places. There is no hierarchy. They had, as Granet notes, no particular value. At the same time, they possessed complete value. The jumping of grasshoppers is precisely the kind of independent observation (directly from his sources, of course) that gives liveliness to Granet’s account of early society. The jumping grasshoppers create for Granet a natural connection to social rules and social order. From those jumps, he begins to see marriage celebrations, exogamy, dances, and contests. 

          But whether human or natural emblems, none appeared endowed with a 
          particular value, none was conceived for a special end. The jumping of 
          grasshoppers seemed to govern a whole body of social rules: the season 
          of marriages in common, their celebration in the sacred vales, the practice 
          of marrying out of the family and within the same stock, the dances of the 
          contests, the courting procedures, the prohibition of jealous behavior, the 
          rules of fertility.[9]

          [M]ais, emblèmes humains ou naturels, aucun ne paraissait avoir de valeur 
          singulière, aucun n'était imaginé pour une fin spéciale. Le sautillement 
          des sauterelles semblait commander tout un ensemble de règles sociales : 
          la saison des mariages en commun, leur célébration dans les vallons sacrés, 
          la pratique d'épouser hors de la famille et dans la même race, les danses de 
          la joute, les procédés de la cour, l'interdiction des mœurs jalouses, les règles 
          de la fécondité.[10] 
Granet’s mention of jealous behavior is extremely significant, and perhaps not noted enough in these passages, which tend to focus on harmony at the cost of conflict. There must have been a good deal of it in such settings, just as one sees the same at hoedowns and prom dances in American culture. There is enormous potential for discord at such gatherings, and the sexually-charged and age-divided nature of them makes it all the more dangerous in that regard. Ultimately, for Granet, all of this is just part of the dance, the contests, and the jumping grasshoppers. Conflict and harmony are more closely wedded than most readers might think.

          And the crossing of the stream by young people achieve all in one the 
          lustration necessary for all fertility, the reincarnation of souls floating down 
          the stream, the arrival of the rains, and the transition from one season to 
          another. Fed by strong and confused emotions, an emblematism was the 
          core of all beliefs and worship.[11]

          Et le passage de la rivière par les jeunes gens réalisait tout à la fois la 
          lustration nécessaire à toute fécondité, la réincarnation des âmes flottantes 
          au fil des eaux, l'arrivée de la pluie et le passage d'une saison à l'autre. Un
          emblématisme, nourri d'émotions fortes et confuses, était l'âme de toutes 
          croyances et de tous cultes.[12] 

The passage comes to a conclusion with an aura of lustrous fertility and crossing of streams by the young people. Even more telling, for it opens a new theme in Granet’s argument, is the mention of reincarnated souls floating down the stream. The young people merge with a setting in which generations who came before them to these very same holy places float confusedly in the streams. As the rains arrive, society and nature merge, and the individual is fueled by strong emotions that go far beyond what anyone might feel “on one’s own.

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), 46.
[2] Marcel Granet, La religion des chinois (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922), 20.
[3] Granet, Religion, 46.
[4] Granet, La religion, 20.
[5] Granet, Religion, 46.
[6] Granet, La religion, 20.
[7] Granet, Religion, 46.
[8] Granet, La religion, 20.
[9] Granet, Religion, 26-37.
[10] Granet, La religion, 20.
[11] Granet, Religion, 47.
[12] Granet, La religion, 20.

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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