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Saturday, August 18, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (14)

[a] Peaks 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

Autumnal Sharing 
Youth is no longer served in the autumn, as the same young people who chanted in the spring begin to take on the character of adults, who form pairs and face each other in far more domestic ways. Youthful energy, notes Granet, never can completely be extinguished, but the sacral center of the autumn festival moves away from the areas for youthful song and dance to the grain threshing floors. Agricultural work and bounty was thus celebrated, and the social connections were made more powerful by the sharing of food. The opposition of local groups, as Granet points out, was formed during these times, and the sharing of food—as well as the exchange of female community members—preceded the return to the communities in slightly altered (and thus renewed) form.

          They quite early took on a special character and the appearance of 
          village festivals; girls and boys doubtless continued to assemble in 
          the Holy Place there to sing and dance, but the center of the ceremony 
          was shifted to the floor where the grain was threshed. There neighboring 
          families invited one another to the great feasts. Hosts and guests were 
          separated into two bands, as in the love-song contests, and formed up in 
          lines. The opposition of local groups was first expressed in this fashion.[1] 

          Elles prirent d'assez bonne heure un caractère particulier et l'aspect 
          de fêtes de village : sans doute, filles et garçons continuaient de 
          s'assembler au Lieu Saint pour y chanter et y danser, mais le centre 
          de la cérémonie fut transporté auprès des aires où l'on venait de 
          battre le grain. C'est là que les familles voisines se conviaient à de 
          vastes festins. Les hôtes et leurs invités se divisaient en deux bandes,
          comme pour les joutes de chants d'amour, et formaient des lignes 
          orientées. Ainsi se marquait d'abord l'opposition des groupes locaux.[2]

[b] Chant RF
Jealously guarding the fruits of the harvest would have been ridiculously short sighted, as almost everyone understood.  Sharing is more than being “nice.”  Sharing is more than keeping good faith as a hedge against times of scarcity.  Sharing is of a sacred nature, and one’s riches, as Granet clearly notes, are consecrated through generosity and the social—not to mention gustatory—cycles of giving and receiving.  Jealously guarding one’s own harvest has both practical and religious shortcomings, and the usually opposed groups who gave away their “wealth” each autumn understood this. 

          But each of them knew the benefit to be got from not jealously keeping 
          the products of its own fields: it would not have dared to be the first to 
          taste the first fruits of its harvest, and it first of all felt the need to 
          consecrate its new-won riches by using them with generosity.[3]

          Mais chacun savait le bénéfice qu'il aurait à ne point se réserver 
          jalousement tous les produits de son champ : il n'eût point osé goûter 
          le premier à ses récoltes et il éprouvait d'abord le besoin de faire 
          consacrer sa richesse nouvelle, en usant d'elle large­ment.[4]

Tasting the first fruits is more than mere ceremony. To do so oneself would have been unthinkable, because the principle of circulation is far more important than that of taste or temptation. The one act is merely physical. The latter is moral, even aesthetic.

[c] Fruits RF
From whence does this generosity come? It is certainly not from practical desires and the guarding of wealth. It springs from the rhythms of the agricultural year and social gathering. Moreover, there is an important principle at work in the sharing of the harvest that goes far beyond the practical gains that might come from giving away part of one’s surplus. It is the long understood idea that there will always be more when one gives of one’s wealth. It is not the crabbed, day-to-day existence that we often find in the family itself during the months spent in relative isolation. It is a flowing generosity that confidently assumes that more will be amassed and that the future will be bright. This is what Granet seems to mean by his reference to an “omen of plenty.”  

          These acts of generosity were a matter of some moment for the 
          honor of the family, which drew from them an omen of plenty. Was it 
          not necessary, in order to be confident of the future, for present 
          propriety to be recognized at all? Besides, none was the loser by it, 
          since nobody would have wished to be put to less expense than his 

          Ces largesses importaient à l'honneur de la famille qui en tirait un 
          présage d'abondance : ne fallait-il pas, pour avoir confiance dans l'avenir,
          que la prospérité présente fût reconnue de tous ? Nul, au reste, n'y perdait, 
          puisque personne n'eût voulu se mettre moins en frais que le voisin.[6]

Generosity also works to the benefit of the family’s reputation, and that only comes with the “confidence in the future” of which Granet writes. The cycle of sharing is fueled by the desire to gain prestige rather than the desire to protect goods and foodstuffs.

          By these alternate acts of prodigality, all thought to enrich themselves 
          with the truest form of wealth: mutual esteem and faith in the happy 
          Fortune of their country. They killed lambs and brought jars of wine; 
          they drank and ate their fill.[7] 

          Tous, par ces prodigalités alternées, pensaient s'enrichir des biens 
          les plus véritables : la considération mutuelle et la foi dans l'heureuse 
          Fortune de leur pays. On tuait des agneaux, on apportait des vases de 
          vin, on buvait, on mangeait à satiété.[8]

[d] Creation RF
Granet rightly notes the creation of wealth in its “truest form.” Mutual esteem would not seem to be fundamental in such a practical society—a set of independently operating and self-sufficient closed communities. Here again, the making of a living (which is vitally important to the very same people throughout the summer and during the coldest days of winter) is secondary—seemingly squandered in the desire for the gain of prestige—when the great autumn harvests are celebrated.

Why should mutual esteem and shared participation in the “fortune of their country” be fundamental? Because people are not driven solely by their appetites.  At the festivals they drank and ate heartily, but shared a powerful bond in the process. Society was created through these bonds, and the vigorous intoxication and full stomachs signaled a truly religious exhilaration—a coming together that mixed the sensual and social in a manner that could only strengthen the bonds between otherwise isolated people. 

          In this unusual commensality all became aware of a sort of intimacy, 
          different from that underlying kinship, and, so to speak, of a less 
          everyday essence, but which yet seemed of higher value, so much did 
          feeling spring vigorously from the intoxication of these junketings. On 
          both sides they drank toasts to each other from wine-cups made of 
          rhinoceros horn: “Ten thousand years of life! Life without end!” And 
          everybody returned thanks.[9] 

          Dans cette commensalité exceptionnelle, tous prenaient conscience 
          d'une espèce d'intimité, différente de celle qui fonde la parenté et, 
          pour ainsi dire, d'essence moins quotidienne, mais qui, par ailleurs, 
          paraissait de valeur supé­rieure, tant, dans l'ivresse de ces bombances, 
          le sentiment en jaillissait avec force. De part et d'autre, avec une coupe 
          faite en corne de rhinocéros, on se portait des santés : « Dix mille ans de 
          vie ! une vie sans fin ! » Et tous se rendaient grâces.[10]

Such sharing of drink and “commensality,” then, was not reserved only for the higher order of society and their complex, ritually detailed lives. At a basic level, one sees the same kinds of behavior in peasant religion, if we follow Granet’s argument, as we do in higher orders. That is precisely because, as Granet points out, the foundations of social and religious life are the same for everyone. Drinking wine from a rhinoceros horn and shouting wansui! (ten-thousand years!) is a form of social-religious communion that, with only changes in the setting and the tableware, can be found throughout Chinese society
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.
[7] Granet, Religion, 42.
[8] Granet, La religion, 15.
[9] Granet, Religion, 2-43.
[10] 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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