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Sunday, October 14, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (22)

One year ago on Round and Square (14 October 2011)—Asian Miscellany: Housing in Modern China
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Rural Religion in Early China." 
Click here for the introduction to "La Pensée Cyclique" the "umbrella topic for this series.
[a] Soils 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

Soil and Identity  
Although Granet contends that the Yellow Springs did not constitute a cult, that is not so with the earth and the reincarnations that spring from it. Granet again waxes eloquent in the following passage as he describes the relationship of rural people to the soil. The rhetorical tone of Granet’s writing is striking, and it is sometimes easy to forget that he is one of the most serious sinologists (and social theorists) ever to pick up a pen. In particular, Granet is struck by the rich references to the land found in many early Chinese texts, and has harnessed the rhetoric of those texts in his own writing. The fundamental connection of people to the soil goes far beyond the agricultural work in which they are engaged. It was a [profound] relationship that forged an identity with place…and its cultivated soil.

          It was otherwise with the beliefs about Mother Earth and reincarnations. In 
          the Festivals, in order to get into touch in any way they could with the Holy 
          Place, the members of a rural community maintained among themselves a 
          sense of belonging to the soil which was and has remained the most 
          powerful of all the sentiments their race has known.[1]

          Il en est autrement des croyances relatives à la Terre-mère et aux 
          réincarnations. À prendre, dans les Fêtes, contact de toutes façons avec 
          leur Lieu Saint, les membres d'une communauté rurale entretenaient en 
          eux un sentiment d'autochtonie qui était et est resté le plus puissant de tous 
          ceux que leur race ait connus.[2]
[b] Persistence RF

As the drift of my own remarks makes clear, it is not a very great step to move from identity with the soil to the development of a sense of place, a sense of belonging. The saying below is far deeper than merely “the dying fox turns its head toward its native hill.”  It is a sense of location, place, and dying where one has forged one’s roots—where one grew up in a close domestic setting, chanted at seasonal festivals, married, cultivated the earth, and grew old while watching new generations take his place. It is a concept of “home” that was powerful throughout China’s past. It persists to this very day. 

          A saying expressed it forcefully: “The dying fox turns its head towards its 
          native hill.”  There was a kind of mutual belongingness between the country 
          and its natives. The solidarity uniting the members of a local group was in 
          essence territorial; it seemed to be founded upon the ties between each 
          individual and the Earth common to all.[3]

          Un dicton l'exprimait avec force : « Le renard mourant tourne la tête vers 
          la colline natale. » Entre le pays et les indigènes, il y avait une espèce
          d'appartenance. La solidarité qui unissait les membres d'un groupe local 
          était d'essence territoriale ; elle, semblait fondée par des liens existant   
          entre chacun et le Sol à tous commun;...[4]

Clumsy though the saying is, “mutual belongingness” does give a sense of the complex ideas and practices that form identification with place. There is a sense of the soil needing the people, just as the people need the soil. The sense of territoriality to which Granet refers is spiritual. It goes far beyond mere familiarity to encompass powerful feelings of communion, with deeply felt bonds reaching in each direction. But it is far more than the individual that is involved in these feelings. It is, in essence, a sense of group identity toward place. The collective bond with the soil lies at the heart of what would later be seen as national identity.

Just as can be seen in many other powerful  social processes, awareness is not an everyday occurrence. One does not ordinarily “see” society, or even perceive its vaguest outlines. It is usually vague, and defined by equally vague articulations. Instead, it takes powerful acts of communion to bring a conception of it to the fore. The collective songs and marriages did just that, for they not only united the sexes—reconnecting yin and yang—but connected the linked genders to the soil itself, to the earth from which both sprang.

          In reality, the awareness of it appeared only when the collective marriages   
          were celebrated upon the earth. By a transfer of emotion these sexual 
          communions in touch with the earth were communions with Earth.[5]

          [D]e fait, la conscience en apparaissait seulement lorsque, sur la terre, se 
          célébraient les noces collectives. Par l'effet d'un transfert d'émotion, 
          c'étaient des communions avec le Sol que ces communions sexuelles au 
          contact du sol;…[6]
[c] Union RF

It does not take a large intellectual leap to reach the next point. The holy place was the very center of “earthness,” and the site for the linkage of gender, domestic orders, society, and nature. It was a root of fertility in numerous ways—from the cool, rushing yin waters that presaged the yang summer to the chanting interactions of boys and girls in anticipation of sexual unions that would give further power to the social order. 

          A complex and powerful sentiment caused the Holy Place to be venerated 
          as the origin of all fertility and all matrimonial alliance—a total fertility 
          whose manifestations did not at all call forth the definite idea of creation, an 
          alliance in the widest sense and superior to the specific idea of kinship.[7] 

          [U]n sentiment complexe et puissant faisait alors vénérer le Lieu Saint 
          comme le principe de toute fertilité et de tout apparentement - fertilité 
          d'ordre total et dont les manifestations n'éveil­laient point l'idée définie de 
          création, apparentement au sens le plus large et d'un ordre supérieur à 
          l'idée spécifique de parenté.[8]

“Total fertility” is a useful phrase for the holy place, for it goes beyond individual originators of family lines and the most “distinguished” of their ancestors. It goes beyond narrow alliances and kin groups altogether. Much like the sharing that takes place as part of the seasonal festivals—with one’s bounty freely given without territorial jealousy—it is all-encompassing and catholic in its ability to unite the elements of society with nature in a kind of cosmogonic fertility that both creates and gives order to the universe and its elements. 
[d] Vintage RF

Following the rhetoric of his earlier passages, Granet continues to stress the “indeterminate” nature of the holy place. Indeed, it was both indeterminate and all-encompassing. Particularity would stunt it. Note the manner in which Granet describes the creative power and special attributes imparted to the collectivity by the holy place. This is not Lourdes. This is not, to use a Chinese example, a temple network with specific locations for specific concerns. The holy place had an indeterminate, yet concentrated, flow of energy. The force of that energy was enormous. The particular object of its power was general: the collectivity itself. Its very diffuseness gave it the ultimate power. For that reason, it was venerated in neutral forms, as are all of the truly powerful forces in the universe. It was the very foundation for the fertility and growth of society.

          The power with which the holy place was invested remained indeterminate 
          in nature; it bestowed upon the totality of beings every kind of fertilizing 
          force (the seeds of spring and of new life) without having the special 
          attributes of creative power; it bestowed upon the collectivity of neighboring 
          families a general sense of harmony and a common faith in the future of 
          their Stock, without having the attributes of the originator of a family. The 
          Holy Place was venerated in a neutral form, and rather as a supreme 
          Chieftain and with the attributes of a Regulating Power. Thus it was in no 
          way the site of domestic festivals, but that of the federal festivals of initiation 
          and marriage.[9]   

          Le pouvoir dont on inves­tissait le Lieu Saint restait de nature indéterminée ; 
          il dispensait à l'ensemble des êtres toute espèce de forces fécondes (germes 
          de renouveau et de vies nouvelles) sans posséder les attributs particuliers 
          d'une puissance créatrice ; il dispensait à l'ensemble des familles voisines 
          un sentiment général de concorde et une foi commune dans l'avenir de leur 
          Race, sans posséder les attributs propres à l'auteur d'une famille. C'était 
          sous une apparence neutre, et plutôt sous l'aspect d'un Chef suprême et 
          avec les attributs d'un Pouvoir Régulateur, que l'on vénérait le Lieu Saint ; 
          aussi bien, n'était-il point le lieu des fêtes domestiques, mais celui des fêtes 
          fédérales de l'initiation et des mariages.[10]

The sites of which Granet writes above are collective, federal, and powerful. They are the location of the very most important activities in the social and universal orders—initiation and marriage, birth and social gathering. Through the sense of harmony and fertility thus generated, society was re-energized and reborn. That rebirth is a thing of the soil, and of “Mother Earth” herself. The very picture of society that Granet recreates from his Chinese texts is engendered by the cultivation of the soil and the gathering of human beings at particularly poignant moments in spiritually charged places. 
[e] Re-energized 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), 50.
[2] Marcel Granet, La religion des chinois (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922), 23.
[3] Granet, Religion, 50.
[4] Granet, La religion, 23.
[5] Granet, Religion, 50.
[6] Granet, La religion, 23.
[7] Granet, Religion, 50.
[8] Granet, La religion, 23-24.
[9] Granet, Religion, 50-51.
[10] Granet, La religion, 24.

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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