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Thursday, November 1, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (32)

One year ago on Round and Square (1 November 2011)—Middles: Gendered Confucian
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] Cyclical 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

Patterning the Heavens
The hint of mimetic patterning that Granet gives in his discussion of the holy places foreshadows the cyclical patterning that can be found in much more elaborate forms of ritual detailed in Granet’s other chapters and, indeed, his other works. Here, Granet focuses upon the closeness and liveliness of the myth’s sources—the patterning of human society in work and in festival. That the legend of the herdboy and the weaving maiden has maintained its power for well over two millennia says a great deal about the fundamental underpinnings of the social order in early rural China. 

          Still innocent and very close to its deep sources, sufficiently alive to extend 
          all over Japan, young enough constantly to enrich itself with new elements, 
          the legend of the Weaving Maiden has kept a poetic prestige that has allowed 
          it to cross the centuries and to come to bear witness before us to an ancient 
          religious past. It had been fated in days gone by not to find favor with 
          theologians; they did not speak of it, and they neither knew how nor wished to 
          adapt it to the myths to which they strove to give an apologetic twist; saved 
          from religious pedantry, the Heavenly Maiden has kept grace that makes her 
          for ever a power in men’s hearts.[1] 

          Restée naïve, et toute prochaine de ses sources profondes, vivante au point 
          de gagner tout le Japon, jeune au point de s'enrichir sans cesse de données 
          nouvelles, la légende de la Tisserande a gardé un prestige poétique, qui lui a 
          permis de traverser les siècles et de venir témoigner devant nous d'un antique 
          passé religieux. Elle avait eu jadis la chance de ne point plaire aux théologiens; 
          ils n'ont point parlé d'elle, ils n'ont su ni voulu l'adapter à des mythes auxquels 
          ils s'efforçaient de donner un tour apologétique : sauvée du pédantisme 
          religieux, la Vierge céleste a gardé la grâce qui la rend à jamais puissante sur 
          les cœurs.[2]
[b] Unsullied RF

Here, however, we hardly have an unsullied perspective of the social rhythms of peasant life. The myth has been passed on over the centuries, and has not, as Granet notes, had a significant impact on life at the level of the literati. It is the stuff of poets, who Granet hints are more in tune with the rhythms of rural life in any case. Granet’s language is significant here. “Bearing witness to an ancient religious past:” these are powerful words. He makes it clear that the apologies and textual reworking of the literati have not troubled this powerful myth, even as those same changes have devastated many other traditions. The fundamental connection to life in the fields, social gathering, and fertility are too powerful even for revisionists who sought to gloss over the rustic origins of Chinese thought and ritual.

The search for textual sources of Chinese religious emotion is fraught with difficulty, but Granet provides an enticing glimpse of one of the keys to finding evidence: the calendar itself. To this day, calendars and almanacs, although reworked over generations, bear the imprint of the very cycle of festivals and activities that have been the focus of Granet’s discussion of rural social life. Open any Chinese almanac today, and reference to spring festivals, ancestral rites, and harvest gatherings can readily be found. They are practiced differently today, to be sure, but the dates have remained in the calendar. The beginning of spring, the qingming festival that Granet relates to the spring festival, the harvest festival, and the preparations for the new year—all are remembered and practiced to this day. It is no coincidence, then, that the seventh day of the seventh lunar month—arriving most years in early- to mid-August on the solar calendar—can be explained by everyone in the Chinese speaking world. 
[c] Ideal RF

The herdboy and the weaving maiden have endured.

The perpetuation of the weaving maiden ideal is carried by the powers of gender and the domestic order. Nonetheless, rain and dragons form the foundation for another set of ideals. Just as seasonal rhythm is necessary for ordered and productive social life, so, too, is it necessary to gather the very forces of yin and yang in the form of rain and sun for the success of the agricultural enterprise. Crossing the streams and entering into contact with others was one powerful purpose of the festivals. Calling forth the rains was another.

          The Weaving Maiden has been preserved from oblivion by an old ideal, 
          ever young, of feminine purity and diligent and fruitful domestic life. Despite 
          much contamination and roundabout use, the myth of Dragons survived, as 
          did the festivals in their honor. Rain is the first need of an agricultural people. 
          Among other purposes, the crossing of the stream in the ancient festivals 
          procured rain in season: the crossing was made by opposed choruses of girls 
          and boys. When women were denied the right to take part in the public 
          festivals, two choruses were still used to sing and dance face to face in the 
          holy stream in order to cause the rain to fall: one of the choruses had to be 
          made up of young men barely out of their mothers’ houses and still 
          completely imbued with feminine influence.[3]   

          Un vieil idéal toujours jeune de pureté féminine et de vie domestique 
          laborieuse et féconde, a préservé la Tisserande de l'oubli. Malgré bien 
          des contaminations et des emplois détournés, le mythe des Dragons a 
          survécu, comme survivaient les fêtes en leur honneur. La pluie est le premier 
          besoin d'un peuple agricole. Entre autres fins, le passage de la rivière, dans 
          les fêtes anciennes, obtenait la pluie de saison : ce passage se faisait par 
          chœurs affron­tés de filles et de garçons. Quand on refusa aux femmes le 
          droit de participer aux fêtes publiques, pour faire tomber la pluie on 
          employait encore deux chœurs qui chantaient et dansaient face à face dans 
          la rivière sacrée : l'un des chœurs devait être composé de jeunes gens à 
          peine échappés de la maison maternelle et tout imprégnés encore 
          d'influence féminine.[4]

Just as rain and sun must alternate for crops to grow, yin and yang forces in the social and natural world must be called forth. This is seen powerfully in the opposing choruses of the public festivals, where yang calls to yin, and yin responds in kind to yang. Rain was summoned in much the same way, as those on one side of the stream (the yang side, to be sure) called out to the other. Even when women were not allowed to participate, yin essence was summoned in the form of young men who, too young to be separated from the influence of their mothers, were not yet completely overtaken by yang essence. Rain was summoned, and yang was balanced for the benefit of an agricultural people.
[d] Alternate RF

It is not a very large step from there to the rhythmic movements of dragons, thought to be imitated in the choruses of opposed essences in human forms. There is little wonder why sexual activity would be called “the clouds and rain” in China. The struggle of dragons above also matched the seasonal contests, and mimicked the intensity of frolicking dragons. Thunder and rain were a result of that heavenly heaving, on one level, but (just as in human sexual activity), fertility and procreation were another. The earth would again be a repository of grains that would sustain human life. The snaking lines of choruses at the festivals, imbued with the holiness of the place where they sang, were responsible for the perpetuation of society at its most basic level.

          From that moment it was thought that the rhythmic movements of the 
          opposed choruses were governed by the desire to imitate the movements 
          of dragons leaving their winter refuge in order to mount up to heaven and 
          cause the rain to fall from it: by imitating the customary actions of the divine 
          monsters, people urged them, they forced them, to comply with their customs. 
          But it was thought that the rain was the result of the struggle and coupling of 
          two dragons of opposite sex, one yin and the other yang: a simple transposition 
          into the sacred world of the seasonal marriages and contests in the water.[5]   

          Dès ce moment, on imaginait que les évolutions rythmées des chœurs 
          opposés  étaient réglées par le désir d'imiter les mouvements de dragons, 
          abandonnant leurs refuges d'hiver pour monter au ciel et en faire tomber la 
          pluie: en imitant les gestes coutumiers des monstres divins, on les invitait, on 
          les obligeait à se conformer à leurs coutumes. Mais l'on pensait que la pluie 
          était le résultat du combat et de l'accouplement de deux Dragons de sexe 
          contraire, l'un yin, l'autre yang : simple transposition, dans le monde sacré, 
          des mariages saisonniers et des joutes dans l'eau.[6]

Calling forth the rains was just another way of calling forth the grains. As other myths show (for example, of unmitigated sunlight, shining down to everyone’s misery), there must be balance or crops will die and the rhythm of life will cease. Calling forth the rains creates that rhythm, and one calls forth rhythms of dragon sexuality from above. As we have seen, the turning cycles—some connecting, some moving in isolation—lie at the very heart of the social and natural worlds in early Chinese society and thought. 

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
[e] Calling Forth RF
[1] Marcel Granet, The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman] (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 53-54..
[2] Marcel Granet, La religion des chinois (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922), 24.
[3] Granet, Religion, 54.
[4] Granet, La religion, 25.
[5] Granet, Religion, 54.
[6] Granet, La religion, 25.
[7] Granet, Religion, 54.
[8] Granet, La religion, 25.
[9] Granet, Religion, 54.
[10] Granet, La religion, 25.

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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