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Friday, August 17, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (13)

[a] Emotion 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

Youthful Emotion and Song
Circling back to youth and the natural setting for the reinvigoration of the social order, we see the connection of the holy place to the emotions of boys and girls. Their unions served to revive and energize the sleeping natural order as well, and it is important to see the parallel between society and nature in all its subtlety. Note the manner in which Granet describes the rebirth of nature. In a grand calendrical rhythm, it reaches its prime and regenerates in the spring, under the gaze (and chants) of energetic youth and their assembled families who, in turn, will be reenergized by the cyclical patterns of engagement.

          They made all of surrounding nature take part in their powerful emotions; 
          boys and girls assembling on the holy earth imagined that their youthful 
          unions cooperated in the revival of nature, when in the Holy Place the 
          ice on the rivers melted under the breath of spring, when the waters came 
          to life and the springs, long dried up, spurted forth, when finally the soft 
          fertile rain fell and the dew appeared, when the precocious flowers came 
          up in damp corners, in the time of new foliage, of plum trees and 
          flowering peach trees, of swallows returning, while the magpies built 
          their nests and singing birds chased one another in pairs.[1]

           Ils  faisaient alors participer à leurs émotions puissantes toute la 
           nature environnante : lorsque, dans le Lieu Saint, la glace des rivières 
           fondait aux souffles du printemps, lorsque les eaux redevenaient 
           vives et que les fontaines longtemps taries jaillissaient, lorsque tombait 
           enfin la douce pluie fécondante et qu'apparaissait la rosée, quand les 
           leurs précoces poussaient dans les coins humides, au temps des 
           feuillages renouvelés, des pruniers, des pêchers fleuris, des hirondelles 
           revenues, pendant que les pies bâtissaient leurs nids et que les oiseaux 
           par paires se poursuivaient en chantant, garçons et filles, lorsque eux-
           mêmes s'unissaient sur la terre sacrée, pensaient que leurs jeunes 
           unions coopéraient au renouveau.[2] 

[b] Pairing RF
The pairing goes far beyond the singing birds. The rush of energy in the melting rivers, the surge of new sprouts, and the soft fertile rain: all of these are created by social union, and in turn help to create that very same union. Spring, in Granet’s interpretation of his early Chinese sources, is unity and regeneration.

Granet’s analysis reaches another little crescendo in the following passage, which richly describes the interaction of the youths and the natural world around them. Fertility is the new keyword in this description, and Granet seems to be stressing the fertility of individuals as they seek to perpetuate the species. It is, of course, much more than that, though. It is an almost Freudian display of natural energy—swallowed eggs, meteors flashing across the sky in their phallic brilliance, and plantains nestled into the fabric of their skirts.

          All the hopes of their fertility mingled in their breasts: while the eggs they
          swallowed, the meteors they caught sight of, the bunches of plantains
          they gathered up in the laps of their skirts, the flowers they offered each
          other as betrothal pledges seemed to embody the principles of  

          Tous les espoirs de fécondité se mêlaient dans leurs âmes : tandis que
          les œufs qu'ils avalaient, les météores aperçus, les touffes de plantain
          qu'ils recueillaient au creux des jupes, les fleurs qu'ils s'offraient en
          gage de fiançailles, leur semblaient conte­nir des principes de maternité...[4]

[c] Germination RF
Their energy, in turn, was channeled into betrothal pledges instead of raw sexuality. Motherhood was the guiding principle, yet it compressed and encompassed teeming natural energy that gave power to the social world even as it regenerated its environment.

Their own actions created universal germination. They “called forth” the rains and opened the soil to tillage. The principles of interaction and motherhood created a natural environment conducive to rich, fertile, social life and happy productivity.

          [T]hey believed further that their springtime nuptials were propitious 
          to universal germination, that they called forth the seasonable rain, and 
          that, finally, by desacralizing the earth, forbidden to human work during 
          the winter, they now opened the fields to fertilization.[5]

          [I]ls croyaient encore que leurs noces printa­nières favorisaient la 
          germination universelle, qu'elles appelaient la pluie de saison et 
          qu'enfin, désacralisant la terre, interdite pendant l'hiver aux travaux 
          humains, elles ouvraient les champs aux œuvres fertiles. Témoin 
          consacré de ces besognes magnifiques, le Lieu Saint semblait contenir 
          une infinie puis­sance créatrice que les Fêtes sans cesse renouvelaient.[6] 

[d] Newfound RF
Their very movements created new natural movement that went far beyond their control. They unleashed natural power, but they did not control it. Granet’s last sentence in the paragraph above is very telling, since it states the creative power of society and its effect on nature. The renewal only comes about when people gather, however, and festivals are the very heart of the principle. He concludes his point with a poetic flourish that speaks to the renewal created by social gathering: “Sanctified witness of their magnificent labors, the holy place appeared to contain an infinite power endlessly renewed by the festivals.”

Spring in the Shijing is also a time for renewed (or newly-discovered) love, and sexuality lies at the core of the springtime festivals. Channeling that power in the holy place was the key to bringing society and nature to the point of fairly bursting. Newness lies at its very center, and gives it newfound strength. Food and exchange, as Granet makes clear, are hardly necessary as the central aspect of the festival. Sex, or at least the social preparedness for it, is. The mixing of youth lies at the very heart of festivals and springtime communion.  

          In these festivals of springtime and youth, sexual communion was the 
          central rite, and at all times the word for spring signified the idea of love. 
          When could love have had more efficacious strength than in its fresh
          newness? The sexual rites of the spring festivals hardly needed to be 
          rounded off by a communion of food; they sufficed, after all, for 

           Dans ces fêtes du renouveau et de la jeunesse, la communion 
          sexuelle était le rite principal et, de tous temps, le mot de printemps 
          signifia l'idée d'amour. Quand l'amour eût-il pu avoir plus de puissance 
          efficace que dans sa fraîche nouveauté ? Les rites sexuels des fêtes 
          printanières avaient à peine besoin de voir leurs effets complétés par 
          la communion alimentaire ; ils suffisaient, en somme, aux fiançailles.[8]

But what place does gift giving and exchange have?  Those are the realms of adults, who will never again be permitted the unbridled display of youth. Adults, who are perhaps slower to emerge from their closed domestic orders, engage in social intercourse through exchange of gifts and sharing of bounty. It should not be forgotten that the principles are similar, and that the very same youths who chant their songs of sexual union will become adults who engage in the exchange of gifts.

[e] Air RF
Making a life in common is the key to reestablishing the domestic order, and that power flows powerfully from the spring festivals. The autumn festivals, however, see a different situation that is far from the sexual energy, chanting, and youthful intimacy (chaste though it might have been) of spring. Through the hot summer months of gender divided work in the fields or, for women, in the household, the energy of the spring festival persists. The autumn festivals incorporated youth and adult in profound ways, however. They had more of an “adult” air to them, and were a time of initiation—a time in which new domestic orders were created (adding a daughter-in-law here and losing a daughter there), as slightly modified groups eventually made their way back to their hamlets.

          But when people entered upon domestic life, they were chiefly 
          occupied with establishing an identity of substance in order to make 
          life in common possible. A great orgy of drink and food was the 
          essential feature of the Autumn Festivals. Sexual practices were 
          then secondary; thus, these were not the festivals of initiation and 
          inauguration; they were the festivals of harvest and the return to 
          the hamlets.[9]

           Mais au moment de l'entrée en ménage, établir une identité 
           substantielle, qui rendra possible la vie en commun, devient la 
           préoccupation principale. Une grande orgie de boisson et de 
           nourriture fut l'essentiel des Fêtes d'automne. Les pratiques 
           sexuelles y étaient secondaires ; aussi bien ce n'était point là des 
           fêtes d'initiation et d'inauguration : c'étaient les fêtes de la récolte 
           et de la rentrée au hameau.[10]

The celebration of the harvest was thus a “goodbye” to part of the community, pawns though they might have been in the larger practice of exchange. It was also a welcoming, however cool, of another part that would provide, in ideal circumstances, many new community members. Returning to their hamlets, and the slightly more intimate connection between the sexes to be found there during the winter months, signaled a return to the closed order. The return was welcome in its own way, as Marcel Mauss has noted in his study of seasonal morphology among the Eskimo. The openness of the festivals—the sharing, the incantations, the boasts, and the challenges—gave way to a kind of exhaustion that served as a prelude to the relaxation and relative calm of the winter hamlet. The work to be done in integrating a new member or two and realizing the loss of others, was enough for the lonely winter. 
[f] Pawns 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 
[1] Marcel Granet, The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman] (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 42.
[2] Marcel Granet, La religion des chinois (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922), 15.
[3] Granet, Religion, 42.
[4] Granet, La religion, 15.
[5] Granet, Religion, 2-43.
[6] Granet, La religion, 15.

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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