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Friday, October 26, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique—Rural Religion in China (26)

One year ago on Round and Square (26 October 2011)—Seinfeld Ethnography: George's New Friend
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] Masses 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

Indistinct Masses
With his account of the ancestors, we now have Granet’s description of the full family unit. It is divided into the two parts that I have called “seen” and “unseen.” The former is strongly united by the bonds created from joint work and common goals, the most basic of which are feeding and clothing themselves. Their common bonds are solidified through the integrative spirit of the seasonal festivals. The other part of the family “formed an indistinct mass.”  Within a generation or two, “ancestors,” lose their particularity. Why is this so?  Living memory of social connections plays an enormous role in this. Human beings are not a “thing.”  They are formed, and form themselves, through their engagement with others. When that social bond is broken, what is remembered is a mass of interaction, not an ill-defined sense of personal essence that “represents” the dead person. 

          The family was divided into two parts: one was the living, strongly united 
          but endowed with the peculiarities inherent in each individual life; the other, 
          that of the dead, formed an indistinct mass.[1]

          La famille se divisait en deux parts : l'une était celle des vivants, fortement 
          unis, mais pourvus des particularités inhérentes à toute existence individuelle ; 
          l'autre, celle des morts, formait une masse indistincte.[2]
[b] Indistinct RF

Granet makes a vital point in this passage. Far more than his mentor, Emile Durkheim, Granet describes the individual. The “peculiarities” of the individual are important. The dead, of course, quickly lose a great deal of their peculiarity, and eventually become massed into an indistinct group of “those who lived before.” Individual lives, however, are a mix of “inherent” particularity and social interaction. The structure of the kin group provides continuity, but the merging of individuals creates the aberrations and quirks that make up the distinctiveness of history in its most accurate sense—what has come before; life as actually lived, in all its detail, particularity, and peculiarity.

Thus, social structures in the family and history—the actual interactions of family members— merge to become something new and newly created each day. The structures of the family and their patterned movements give shape to the social order and dictate the general use of time in the course of the day, the season, and the year. On the other hand, the quirks and idiosyncrasies of individuals give detail and particularity to the “history” of any moment. Human life is a mix of structures and actions, only some of which carry over to the world of the dead. 

If I am reading Granet correctly here, the individualization of souls within the “unseen” part of the family is created by “well-marked individuals endowed with personal authority” within the “seen” part of social life. The cult of the ancestors is generated by leadership and memory within the group of living individuals, and the rituals (which would soon follow) that dictated action between the living and the dead only contributed to the sense of “soulful” interaction. It required, however, a further set of kinship distinctions that went beyond those found in the basic closed domestic system. 
[c] Quirks RF

Both those living in society and among the dead were more indistinct as they went about their joint labors. Some among the living would have to take charge of interactions with the dead, and to lead the family in its connection to those who had come before. They would address the individual dead for a generation or two, after which their relationship to the dead would become increasingly vague, ritualized, and distant.

          It would suffice, when another form of kinship emerged, that well-marked 
          individuals endowed with personal authority appear within the group of the 
          living for the solidarity group of the dead to seem to be composed of 
          individualized souls to whom worship would be addressed: that was to be the 
          cult of the Ancestors.[3]

          Il suffira qu'avec une autre organisation de la parenté, des individualités, bien 
          distinctes et pourvues d'une autorité personnelle, apparais­sent dans le groupe 
          des vivants, pour que le groupe solidaire des morts semble composé d'âmes 
          individualisées auxquelles on rendra un culte : ce sera le culte des Ancêtres.[4]
[d] Floating RF

The ancestral cult grew from the solid foundation of fecundity: rotting flesh in the “dark corner of the house” provided not only a sense of fertility, but also a further sense of souls floating about. Burying the dead in or near the house kept them as part of the family network, in both corporeal and ethereal senses—creating a further merging of the two parts, seen and unseen, of the domestic order. 

          It was in the process of being formed from the moment when people 
          believed that they could sense the souls of the dead floating confusedly in 
          the dark corner of the house.[5]

          Il est en formation dès le moment où l'on croit sentir les âmes des morts 
          flotter confusément dans le coin sombre de la maison.[6]

What the dead souls lacked, however, was a social network. Confused floating of spirits are the very opposite of organized labor, gender division, and gatherings at seasonal festivals. Without a way to order the dead, as it were, there could be no society of the unseen. Ritual would eventually take this role in the cult of the ancestors that was to develop, but the hazy confusion of death amidst life created interpretive challenges in the rural world.

Note below the connection that Granet makes between the developing cult of the dead and the cult of the earth—with heaven only a step away. The cults of the earth and the dead constitute parallel developments. Granet stresses the “blurred mass” of spirits that any observer of religious practice in China today would also notice. Earth cults were generated from the festivals on land withdrawn from cultivation. It was not a place where people interacted (at least not in any profound sense) with other living people. When there was interaction, it was between the “seen” and “unseen” worlds, between the living and the dead. 

          A cult of the family dead and a cult of the domestic Earth were founded 
          upon beliefs that developed in parallel. In the southwest corner of the 
          house there lived a blurred mass of familial spirits, manes, penates, and 
          lares. But the idea of Mother Earth was indebted for its first elements to 
          notions formed in the festivals of the Holy Places, which were celebrated 
          on land withdrawn from cultivation;…[7] 

          Un culte des morts familiaux et un culte du Sol domestique se fondèrent 
          sur des croyances qui s'étaient développées parallèlement. Dans le coin 
          Sud-Ouest de la maison résidait la masse confuse des génies familiaux, 
          mânes, pénates, lares. Mais l'idée de Terre-mère devait ses premiers 
          éléments aux représentations formées dans les fêtes des Lieux Saints 
          qui se célébraient sur un sol soustrait aux cultures;…[8]
[e] Essences RF

The cult of the domestic setting developed from the cult of the holy place. The power increases tremendously, however, when the lar of the cult is placed directly under the roof opening of the family house. Granet stresses the natural connections to the opening—the fertilizing sustenance—the yin essence of rain—to the domestic earth at its very conceptual center of the home and “the family’s earth.”  The location was, of course, different for each family, but the same in terms of structure. The roof hole and the lar were profoundly centered, in a social and spiritual sense.

          …in every dwelling a private cult rendered to the natural Earth was added 
          to the worship of the cultivated and appropriated Earth; the lar to which the 
          cult was properly addressed was placed in the middle of the house, at the 
          spot where under the opening in the roof all the productive forces of Nature 
          managed, along with the fertilizing rains, to pierce to the very center of the 
          domestic Earth.[9]   

          [A]u culte du Sol cultivé et approprié s'ajouta dans chaque demeure un 
          culte privé rendu au Sol naturel ; le lare auquel il s'adressait en propre était 
          placé au milieu de la maison, à l'endroit où, sous l'ouverture du toit, toutes 
          les forces productrices de la Nature arrivaient, avec les pluies ; fécondes, à 
          pénétrer, en son centre même, le Sol domestique.[10]

The center of the household, the center of the domestic cult of earth, had a further dimension—one to which we have briefly alluded—that would be important in the development of cosmological thought in China. That very earthly center is connected by a powerful imaginative pillar to the pole star, which is the axis of heaven itself.  The roof hole welcomes fertilizing yin rain, but also connects the home to the world above. Thus, the earthly connection to a world above is established, and the ancestors, who fertilize the earthly soil, become—on pillars connecting domestic hearths and the sky—a part of the heavens, as well. Ancestors engaged heaven and earth, and the unseen world is made up just as much of soil as of sky.
[f] Fertilized 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

[1] Marcel Granet, The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated by Maurice Freedman] (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 52.
[2] Marcel Granet, La religion des chinois (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1922), 25.
[3] Granet, Religion, 52.
[4] Granet, La religion, 25.
[5] Granet, Religion, 52.
[6] Granet, La religion, 25.
[7] Granet, Religion, 52-53.
[8] Granet, La religion, 25.
[9] Granet, Religion, 53.
[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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