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Sunday, October 21, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (23)

One year ago on Round and Square (21 October 2011)—Styling Culture: Messy Terms and Phrases
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] Seed 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

Storing Seed
The holy place is a key component in the complex mixture of ideas that were generated in early China regarding society, nature, and the flow of the cosmos. Earth was the foundation, and the holy place was a particularly resonant slice of it. Still, in both symbolic and practical ways, the opposition of the sexes is the key component, from yin and yang to the human social order. Marcel Granet points clearly to the “act of communion” that was generated by this opposition, and the sexual encounters that both regenerated the species and gave sustenance to the earth. 

          The beliefs attached to the idea of the Holy Place dominated the 
          conceptions formed of the Earth; but these conceptions took on a more 
          precise shape under the influence of images conceived in another setting 
          and of emotions aroused at other times. The opposition of the sexes, kept 
          up even in the round of domestic life, preserved all the value of an act of 
          communion to the sexual encounters all husbands and wives (ever of 
          different name and essence).[1]

          Les croyances attachées à l'idée de Lieu Saint ont dominé les 
          représenta­tions que l'on se fit de la Terre ; mais ces représentations prirent 
          une forme plus précise sous l'influence d'images formées dans un autre 
          milieu et d'émotions éveillées à d'autres moments. L'opposition des sexes, 
          maintenue même dans le courant de la vie domestique, conservait au 
          rapprochement sexuel des maris et des femmes, toujours de nom différent 
          et d'essence diffé­rente, toute la valeur d'un acte communiel.[2] 
[b] Encounter RF

These sexual encounters also regenerated society, and the “different name and essence” referred to above is at the heart of the concept. The opposition, as Granet notes, was continued in domestic life. Never was there an easy rapport between the sexes. They were deeply divided, practically and ritually, and that carried over all the way to the sexual act itself. The coming together of the sexes was far more complicated than practicality or passion might lead one to believe. It was an act of communion, and it regenerated society by combining the physical natures of a yin and yang essence. All encounters—from dining and work to chanting and sex—were ordered. Yin and yang did not alternate idly. They were rather more like magnetic poles coming together. From Granet's perspective these oppositions in social life and thought were like points on a compass...or hydrogen and oxygen.

We now encounter another key set of ideas in Granet's imaginative ethnography, and these include the linkage of the genders, sexuality, earth, and the very architecture of the domestic order. The simple abode, as Granet’s student Rolf Stein makes clear, is founded on earth but connected (through the hole in the roof) to the pole star, which centers the heavens.[3]  With that cosmic architecture as a foundation, as it were, Granet explains that sexual communions needed to be as “earthy” as possible. They entailed connecting the energies of yang and yin in a distinctively yin-like environment—the dark corner of the house that serves, as well, as the source of grain storage.

          These sexual communions, likewise made in contact with the earth, 
          entailed the idea of a communion with Earth, but with domestic Earth. They 
          took place in the dark corner of the house that served as granary and where 
          the seed was stored.[4] 

          Ces communions sexuelles, qui se faisaient aussi au contact de la terre, 
          entraînaient l'idée d'une communion avec le Sol, mais avec le Sol 
          domestique. Elles avaient lieu dans le coin sombre de la maison qui servait 
          de grenier et où l'on gardait les semences.[5]
[c] Ingenuity RF

It is impossible to miss the significance of “seed storage” in this conception. Just as the seed of males must be stored in a dark corner of the human architecture, so, too, must the grain of the earth be stored in a dark corner of the home. Seeds need the proper conditions in the storehouse of nature and the storehouse of humankind. There is, in both cases, a kind of communion under the cover of a yin shelter

Seeds require the very essence of yin protection. They need a fluid, wet environment. Moreover, before the seeds are “planted,” they must to be stored in safe places. When they emerge from that safety, they are placed strategically (for the spring rites make very clear that the planting itself is a kind of communion with the earth), and they grow richly in the most fertile of territories. None of this, human or agricultural, is left to chance in the social practices of early China. The stakes are far too great to be left to individual ingenuity or experimentation. 

The very order of the universe was at stake.

Granet now makes another case for reckoning at least some of early Chinese life through the woman and her family. Women were the real foundation of early Chinese social life. One need only change perspective slightly to see them “leading” their households, their families, and both their native and adopted villages to a seasonal renewal in the yin-like protection of a holy place. In short, despite powerful ideology to the contrary (much of it developed a good deal later than the festivals about which Granet theorizes), the most important concepts in early Chinese rural life were “naturally” reckoned through the female line—through female “territory,” as it were. Women and earth gave life.

          Now, the house first belonged to the wife, who received into it her husband 
          come from another hamlet, and from the time that the ties of kinship no 
          longer appeared solely in the form of village consubstantiality, from the time 
          when the basis of family organization was not merely group kinship, and the 
          notion of filiation, taking on importance, began to appear to be its foundation, 
          it was the women who transmitted the name, real emblem of domestic
          consubstantiality; from that time one, the wives—if I may so put it—were 
          mothers when their husbands were still only sons-in-law. By the contagious 
          effect of emotions of communion there were created a veritable confusion 
          and an interchange of attributes among the mothers of families, the female
          originators of the stock, the stored seed, and domestic Earth.[6]

          Or, la maison appartint d'abord à la femme qui y recevait le mari venu d'un 
          autre hameau et, dès que les rapports de parenté n'apparurent plus 
          uniquement sous l'aspect de la consubstantialité villageoise, dès que le 
          principe d'organisation de la famille De fut plus seule­ment la parenté de 
          groupe et que l'idée de filiation prenant de l'importance commença d'en 
          paraître le, fondement, ce furent les femmes qui transmirent le nom, emblème 
          réel de la consubstantialité domestique ; dès lors, les femmes, si je puis dire, 
          furent des mères, quand leurs maris n'étaient encore que des gendres. Entre 
          les mères de famille, les femmes auteurs de la race, les semences engrangées 
          et le Sol domestique, par l'effet contagieux des émotions communielles, il se fit 
          une véritable confusion et un échange d'attributs.[7]
[d] Fertile RF

Once human groupings were differentiated and the concept of kinship grew, women became the “real emblems of consubstantiality.” The women were mothers of families, as Granet notes, but they were, far more profoundly, the very originators of all life. That process is fundamentally linked to the earth and its own fertility. Women were the very picture of earth, and earth the very mirror image of women. Fertility was their foundation.

Granet begins here to make explicit connections between seeds and women. Adeptly characterizing women not only as bearers of seed, but guardians of it as well, he notes that upon women was conferred the power of germination. Women were nursers, and not only of their own infants. They were the nursers of the earth, for all were ultimately born of contact between the human sexes and the earth itself in this way of imagining the social order.

          Life was enclosed within seed as it was within women; stored near the 
          conjugal sleeping place, the grain fertilized the women; guardians of the 
          seed, the women conferred upon it the power of germination. The seed 
          nourished; the women nursed. Earth was a Mother, a Nurse. Sowed with 
          seed it spent ten cycles of the moon in gestation, and women followed its 

          De la vie était enclose dans les graines comme dans les femmes ; les 
          graines, déposées près de la couche conjugale, fécondaient les femmes ; 
          les femmes, gardiennes des semences, leur conféraient le pouvoir de germer; 
          les graines nourrissaient ; les femmes étaient nourrices. La Terre était une 
          Mère, une Nourrice ; ensemencée, elle faisait en dix lunaisons son œuvre de 
          gesta­tion et les femmes l'imitaient;…[9]
[e] Stored RF

Granet notes the gestational cycles of ten moons, and almost seems to imply that such a natural process as women’s childbirth derived its essence from contact with agricultural products. So closely intertwined were they, though, that Granet’s rhetoric pulls him toward a rhetoric of causation that is somewhat striking. The grain fertilized the women and the women, in turn, gave grain the power of germination. Granet’s interpretation of the texts is sound. He doesn’t both to attempt persuading those with other, perhaps more ordinary, perspectives on causation.

          Within Earth all life was contained; through It all life was developed; It took 
          the dead into its bosom and alone fed infants during their first three days. It 
          was a maternal, a nurturing, a life giving Power. The stock was born of It and 
          drew from IT its substance.[10]

          [E]n Elle, toute vie était enclose ; par Elle se développait toute vie ; Elle 
          recevait les morts en son sein et pendant leurs trois premiers jours nourrissait 
          seule les enfants. Elle était une Puissance mater­nelle, nourricière, vivifiante. 
          La race naissait d'Elle et tirait d'Elle sa substance.[11]

Earth was the source of life, and all stock was born of it. As we shall soon see, all stock died of it, too, creating cycles of death and rebirth that would gain even greater importance in later Chinese thought. As it is, however, we are left with women, earth, and seed. They are the foundation of everything about which Granet has written up to this point, and the solid core of everything social and religious in early Chinese life.

Earth, wind, and fire; women, earth, and seed.

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
[f] Foundations RF
[1] Marcel Granet, The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman] (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 51.
[2] Marcel Granet, La religion des chinois (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922), 24.
[3] Rolf Stein, The World in Miniature (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 103-106.
[4] Granet, Religion, 51.
[5] Granet, La religion, 24.
[6] Granet, Religion, 51.
[7] Granet, La religion, 24.
[8] Granet, Religion, 51.
[9] Granet, La religion, 24.
[10] Granet, Religion, 51.
[11] 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. 
Stein, Rolf. The World in Miniature. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990.

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