Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Shang China

"I was a student - studying Chinese Literature and I started studying the early poetry.  I was reading all this secondary literature that suggested that early Chinese civilization differed from that of the West... the West has epics and China was a civilization of peace and harmony of the Drum and the Bell and then I was reading these early dynastic hymns about  'The king raised the battle-ax...offer the left ear of your  enemies to the ancestors' and I thought What is going on here? So I'll look into the archaeology. So I picked up K.C. Chang's Shang Civilization. I was blown away. Like...human sacrifice? What? What is going on here? None of this made any sense to me, based on what I had previously understood about early Chinese civilization from a kind of Confucian lens. It immediately fascinated me. The Shang was unexpected yet somehow had to be related to the rest of Chinese history." Interview with Dr. Rod Campbell,  of  NYU's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World and author of Violence, Kinship, and the Early Chinese State: The Shang and Their World  

Someone I can trust a bit, then. The western fascination with the ancient East - They invented everything! All our philosophical ideas really come from them! They are just wise and peaceful and better at everything! - long predates my going to college ("The Mikado" was intended as a spoof on the Victorian fad), but it was in full flower by the time I was an undergrad. Already there seemed no place for partial admiration of the east. I eventually wrote about it as a blogger, most prominently in reference to GK Chesterton's line in Orthodoxy "Students of popular science, like Mr. Blatchford, are always insisting that Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism." Seven of the ten deadliest wars have taken place in Asia, after all. I'm fine with giving the Chinese credit for many things, just not all wisdom. So if Dr. Campbell asserts his overall conclusions about the place as net B-minus positive for the progress of the world in general I can sign on. It's just the starry-eyed nonsense I can't abide. It even spills out to the idea that the Maoists must have been basically okay despite some excesses, because "you just don't understand Chinese civilization." Well, I don't understand killing 25,000,000 of your own residents, not by accident of disease or pollution or pointless warfare or frightening working conditions or even the harshness of slavery, but by intentional extermination for political reasons, no. I'd rather credit Chinese civilization as being at least a bit better, thanks.

1 comment:

PenGun said...

Buddhism is perhaps the opposite of Christianity. No god, no soul, just the unity of existence.

Its is also not Chinese, but spread from India and Tibet to the rest of the world. The Tibetan part is fascinating.