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September 03, 2008


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A short personal note regarding good old 王孫満:
If I recall correctly, his name was Wáng-sūn Mǎn.

Thank you very much! Our wise and loyal minister is quite popular in Japan-- as are stories about the nine tripods. For some reason, neither the bronzes nor the man are not as accessible in English languages sources-- I could be looking in the wrong places, though. Thanks very much for stopping by-- Peony

There's a couple mentions of 王孫滿 in Burton Watson's abridged translation of the Tso Chuan (左傳). (I believe these are the only two mentions in the original as well). Watson calls him 'royal grandson Man'. In Watson's chapter "The Battle of Yao", he shows up as a boy and makes a good prediction about the Qin army (from 僖公三十三年). The cauldron story is in Burton's chapter "King Chuang of Ch'u and the Cauldrons" (from 宣公三年). It's a decent translation, and that's the only English work I know of that discusses him.

Matt, I really appreciated the reference. I am going to try and get a hold of the Burton translation. I have long been interested in the cauldran story and really recommend Lothar Ledderose's paper “Some Observatons on the Imperial Art Collection in China.”I think he does a really great job explaining the way in which art was used as a symbol of political legitmacy (perhaps functioning something like the regalia of medieval kings in europe?)This is why, of course, CKS went to such elaborate lengths to protect-- and control-- the imperial treasures which found their way into his hands not all that long ago.

Have you ever heard of The Square Ding Dedicated to Mother Wu (12th century B.C.). It is in the history museum in beijing I think (I've never seen it-- tho would very much like to)

This ding is said to be the heaviest bronze vessel found anywhere on earth, weighing in at over 875 kilograms (about the size of a compact car!) Found near the royal Shang burial site at Anyang in March of 1933, the piece was so heavy that it was put back into the ground when it was first discovered. Waiting out World War Two underground, it was finally officially excavated by archaeologists in June of 1946 and then presented to CKS on his 46th birthday. The Japanese books say that he treasured the piece, kept it nearby him in his study during the long period of political struggle and civil war. When the weary Nationalists eventually retreated to Taiwan, the tremendously heavy bronze ding had to be left behind much to his dismay-- for what better symbol of political power could there be then this enormous bronze ding?? I assume you already read this post, but just in case here it is:

Thanks again for your comment!

Even though it's more or less a full translation of the passage, there's only a page or 2 about the 9 cauldrons in Watson's translation (I think your version of the 問鼎 "asking about the cauldrons" story is actually a little bit longer), but I'll still recommend the book as a good read. I really like the cauldron story, too, and will try to get my hands on Ledderose's paper.

I've not seen the real Si Mu Wu Square Ding, but I did see a life-size copy of it at the Yinxu Museum in Anyang. It was still very impressive (and seemed to be the most popular piece in the indoor part of the museum), but you could say it seemed to be lacking something - I doubt the copy could give legitimacy to anything.

I had never heard of the Ding's connection to CKS, though, which is a great story. I'm surprised there wasn't a sign bragging about it at the museum, but maybe I just missed it.

It is a fascinating story-- I just went back to check the Japanese (I have two sources-- both NHK published books)and it seems the Province (Anyang Province?) presented the piece as a gift to CKS (which is one reason the museum authorities might not have wanted to brag!)

I was actually more intrigued by him putting it in his study-- how is that possible? How big was his study??? Only 1 of the books describes what happened. After being presented with the goliath ding he did keep it in his study in Shanghai. When they transferred to Nanjing, the ding was carried there, but it had to be left behind during the great evacuation of art that followed not that long after. He still did OK as far as art, I'd say!

When I first saw Venice, I thought: why would anyone want to live anywhere else? Whenever I talk about Chinese history, I similarly think: why would anyone want to think about anything else :)

Have a great day Matt, if your's too is just starting...

Very nicely done, Peony! There are lots of excellent, thought-provoking nuggets here. Now that we've discussed one aspect of the new Confucianism on the other blog, here is a question that strikes me (and a possible answer).

You ask: "What is it about his thinking that continues to speak to us even after 2500 years?" But "us" here is really just "East Asians". Confucius has almost no following elsewhere (compare with the Buddha, or even all those Hindu gurus and yogis with their fans in California). Why is there such apathy for his seemingly universal ideas outside East Asia?

Here is a potential answer. The path Confucius advocates is a "society of cultivated individuals"—the emphasis is on both "society" and "cultivated individuals". In other words, it requires enough people to cultivate themselves to establish a critical mass of "social harmony", which then triggers a wider cultivation of individuals and greater harmony, like a chain reaction. But can one speak of a Confucian individual in the West, which has no equivalent goal of social harmony? I think not, because the two really go together and reinforce each other. One is incoherent without the other. Maybe this is why Confucius makes no sense in the West. (The Buddha's enlightenment is of course a very individual path and so it resonates; likewise the idea of saving oneself through the "wisdom" of a Hindu sage.) What do you think?

You say Confucius was a practical philosopher. Hardly. To believe that people will cultivate themselves en masse and build social harmony, that human nature is essentially good and can be perfected, is being utopian by any measure. No?

Thanks Namit! I wonder, too, about the seeming weak appeal of Confucian thought in the West. In Japan, it continues to have great relavance. Do you think the only reason is its social focus? I wonder what others think...

Regarding the practicality of his teachings, what I meant was that they are practical in the sense of being concerned with daily life-- the Ethical Life (or like Socrates the Good Life). To be honest, I think his teachings-- while pratical-- are (just as you suggested!) a huge challenge.

On this concept of philosophy for daily life, my other blog is named after a famous expression from Kenko's Essays in Idleness. A Medieval Buddhist monk, Kenko too spoke of what he called the greatest challenge. Walking the path of a Buddhist monk was easy compared to real life, he suggested; one swims into deep waters, not to remain in deep waters, but in order to return back to the shallows. (He said it much better than I did of course!)

I hope someone will have a better answer than this-- in the meantime, I am going to go try and find that quote from Kenko.

Nice post. I especially like the quote from Gernet: he packs a lot into that sentence. One question, however. What do you mean when you say: "... I always like more Confucius if it means less Mencius..."? Isn't more Mencius a good thing?

Hi Sam, Thank you so much for stopping by! You're right about mencius too-- I just didn't want to make it seem like I was picking on the helmsman alone... (!) Thank you for calling me on it-- you must be a wonderful professor.

I wonder what you think about Namit's question above-- why the comparative lack of interest in Confucian philosophy in the West (Namit compared it to the popularity of some forms of Hindu thought or Zen, for example).

I am tentatively getting ready to put together part 2 of the 21st East Asian History carnival and really wanted to make Confuciansim and "New Confucianism" a theme. I wondered if you had written anything recently on "New Confucianism" on the mainland-- since it has been a popular topic across the blogs I look at.

Finally, I really enjoyed your last post on virtue ethics as well and recommend it to anyone who has not read it yet-- here

Thanks again for your comment!

I am an optimist when it comes to the question of why Confucianism has not had much influence on the West. Perhaps it is simply because not enough effort has been made to present Confucianism to Americans and other Westerners, in ways that connect directly with their own experience. Instead of it being seen as some sort of ancient irrelevancy, if we could translate it into modern terms and issues I think people will be open to it.

Interesting. I tend to agree with Namit that there may be something more inherently challenging about Confucianism being embraced by Westerners than say Zen Buddhism (another ancient philosophy that does resonate with modern people it seems). That is not to say that I think Confucianims to be ancient irrelavancy. Quite the opposite. Just that it may be a harder sell.

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