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Friday, September 16, 2011

Remonstrance (5)—Rituals of Corporeality

Click here for the introduction to Round and Square's series on remonstrance.
We continue our study of remonstrance with a series of posts that grew out of my participation in the Tenth East-West Philosophers Conference in Honolulu in May 2011. The theme was “Business Practice in a Global World,” and it was an exhilarating ten days of discussion and contention with philosophers, administrators, and entrepreneurs. My own work there centered on remonstrance, and my specific task was to convey the richness of the concept to philosophers, on the one had, and practicing business people, on the other. The next dozen or so posts under this “remonstrance” header will deal with that material.
[a] Deference RF

Although it may seem to be an esoteric topic, it is very far from it. In East Asia and the West, it lies at the heart of administrative practice and a great deal of public life. It is a social dynamic with powerful implications for the political order, and it has figured, just in the past few years in events ranging from the world financial crisis to critiques of domestic policy across the globe. The spirit of remonstrance is social and public, and that is precisely
why those who wish to admonish think twice or thrice…and those in power fear it.

              Remonstrance 1                Remonstrance 2                 Remonstrance 3
              Remonstrance 4                Remonstrance 5                 Remonstrance 6
              Remonstrance 7                Remonstrance 8                 Remonstrance 9

Remonstrance (5)—Rituals of Corporeality
Picking right up from our discussion in “Remonstrance (4),” Marcel Granet continues, following the peculiar logic of the Book of Ritual, by focusing upon care for parents as both an outgrowth of and prelude to remonstrance. From the obligation to critique the parents’ decisions, we may reflect upon conduct that cements the junior position in the household, and which gives the son the standing to enter the decision-making process. This is not, as the reader of theoreticians on power (from Foucault to Mao) might guess, a set of political duties. It is, at core, care for the bodies of the parents—a merging of the ritual 禮 with the corporeal 體). The same filial obligations that instruct the son to preserve his body for his parents has him taking care of the physical minutiae that make up their corporeality.[1]
Obedience is imposed in small as in great things: and even the service of the son consists chiefly in the rendering of inconsiderable services: it is through them that respect is shown. The sons ask leave to mend the parents’ garments when they perceive a hole in them. They leave to wash the stains on the headdress, the girdle, the tunic, or the undergarment, with ashes tempered with water. Every five days they heat water and invite the parents to take a bath: every three days, they prepare water for the parents to wash their faces, and if in the interval between these regular ablutions the parents happen to have a dirty face, they hasten to fetch the water in which the rice has been washed, for this supplementary toilet. They wash their parents’ feet and dry them in great haste that no one may perceive the spittle or the mucus of the heads of the house.[2]

Granet has created an oddly masterful picture here of absolute devotion to the parents. It is not, however, devotion in isolation, or a mere care for the body of the parents who raised them—something dismissed by Confucius and others as not even entering the realm of filial conduct.
Tzu-yu asked about being filial. The Master said, ‘Nowadays for a man to be filial means no more than that he is able to provide his parents with food. Even hounds and horses are, in some way, provided with food. If a man shows no reverence, where is the difference?’  Analects II, 7[3]
Tzu-hsia asked about being filial. The Master said, ‘What is difficult to manage is the expression on one’s face. As for the young taking on the burden when there is work to be done or letting the old enjoy the wine and the food when these are available, that hardly deserves to be called filial.’  Analects II, 8[4]

I would argue that the passages have been over-interpreted, to the point that basic care is treated as almost and afterthought. Granet restores the fully substantial side of the equation, however. Filial conduct may not just be about feeding and grooming one’s parents (as it were), but let us never forget, I sense Granet saying, that those things matter a very great deal. It is all part of a broader social fabric that requires continual replenishment, and continual sustenance, in order to be enriched. In no case are we dealing with merely individualized actions. The odd particularity of Granet’s channeling of the Book of Ritual speaks to far greater consequences for any organization at any time. The replenishment of the organization goes far beyond the domestic family and its private life. 

[b] Complex density RF
But, if a religious chief must be clean, a future ancestor must be well nourished. The first duty of filial piety is to look after the food by which the substance of his parents is enriched. A good son, said Zengzi, “see that nothing is wanting in his parents’ bedchamber (it particularly when one is old and chilly that one cannot sleep alone) and provides them with food and drink with sincere affection.” He prepares for them dishes, which, when they are duly seasoned, are suitable for the different seasons and the different times of life. The older the parents, the more choice should be the food that is offered them: at seventy years of age, one has constant need of delicate viands, and at eighty of dainties. Every son must understand how to prepare the eight choice dishes and above all the rich fried meat and the aromatic wine that sustain the strength of old men and give them mucilage.[4]

The almost orchestral weaving of the managerial message incorporates echoes of filial piety as well as the numerical and seasonal symbolism found in yin-yang and five-phase correlative thought. At the heart of it all is the hierarchy ascending through the broader corporate fabric. Mucilage matters not without a kinship network. Without the complex density of family life, it is just spit.

[1] Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont address this issue nicely in their interpretive essay to The Classic of Family Reverence.
[2] Marcel Granet, Chinese Civilization (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul), 329.
[3] D.C. Lau, Confucius: The Analects (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1979), 13.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Granet, Chinese Civilization, 329-330.

Ames, Roger and Henry Rosemont. The Chinese Classic of Family Reverence. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009.
Granet, Marcel. Chinese Civilization. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1950.
Lau, D.C. Confucius: The Analects. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1979.

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