Comparative Journeys

Comparative Journeys: Essays on Literature and Religion East and West

Anthony C. Yu
Copyright Date: 2009
DOI: 10.7312/yu--14326
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/yu--14326
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    Comparative Journeys
    Book Description:

    Throughout his academic career, Anthony C. Yu has employed a comparative approach to literary analysis that pays careful attention to the religious and philosophical elements of Chinese and Western texts. His mastery of both canons remains unmatched in the field, and his immense knowledge of the contexts that gave rise to each tradition supplies the foundations for ideal comparative scholarship.

    In these essays, Yu explores the overlap between literature and religion in Chinese and Western literature. He opens with a principal method for relating texts to religion and follows with several essays that apply this approach to single texts in discrete traditions: the Greek religion in Prometheus; Christian theology in Milton; ancient Chinese philosophical thought in Laozi; and Chinese religious syncretism in The Journey to the West.

    Yu's essays juxtapose Chinese and Western texts- Cratylus next to Xunzi, for example-and discuss their relationship to language and subjects, such as liberal Greek education against general education in China. He compares a specific Western text and religion to a specific Chinese text and religion. He considers the Divina Commedia in the context of Catholic theology alongside The Journey to the West as it relates to Chinese syncretism, united by the theme of pilgrimage. Yet Yu's focus isn't entirely tied to the classics. He also considers the struggle for human rights in China and how this topic relates to ancient Chinese social thought and modern notions of rights in the West.

    "In virtually every high-cultural system," Yu writes, "be it the Indic, the Islamic, the Sino-Japanese, or the Judeo-Christian, the literary tradition has developed in intimate-indeed, often intertwining-relation to religious thought, practice, institution, and symbolism." Comparative Journeys is a major step toward unraveling this complexity, revealing through the skilled observation of texts the extraordinary intimacy between two supposedly disparate languages and cultures.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51250-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  5. 1 LITERATURE AND RELIGION
    (pp. 1-23)

    The most apparent and apposite justification for the inclusion of literary materials in the study of religion is the historical one. What is most obvious, however, is often overlooked, and thus even the familiar in this case bears rehearsal. In virtually every high-cultural system, be it the Indic, the Islamic, the Sino-Japanese, or the Judeo-Christian, the literary tradition has, though in vastly different forms and guises, developed in intimate—indeed, often intertwining—relation to religious thought, practice, institution, and symbolism. Without paying due heed to Greek myth and thought, to Hebrew saga and wisdom, and to Christian symbolism and piety,...

  6. 2 NEW GODS AND OLD ORDER: TRAGIC THEOLOGY IN PROMETHEUS BOUND
    (pp. 24-51)

    In his learned and famous study of Greek culture, Paideia, Werner Jaeger has made the categorical declaration that the plays of Aeschylus “are built upon that mighty spiritual unity of suffering and knowledge.” What Aeschylus teaches through suffering, according to him, is

    the splendour of God’s triumph. None can truly know that suffering and that triumph until, like the eagle in the air, he joins fullheartedly in the cry of victory with which all living things salute Zeus the conqueror. That is the meaning of the “accord set up by Zeus,” in Prometheus, the harmonia which mortal wishes never overstep,...

  7. 3 LIFE IN THE GARDEN: FREEDOM AND THE IMAGE OF GOD IN PARADISE LOST
    (pp. 52-76)

    In his particular effort to justify the ways of God to man, Milton knows full well that it is not sufficient merely to demonstrate the proper origin of evil, though a satisfactory treatment of the subject that has so exercised some of the best minds throughout Christian history is itself no mean or easy accomplishment. In order to magnify the seriousness of the Fall and its terrible consequences, Milton, like most Christian apologists since Ambrose, realizes the value of emphasizing the original perfection of the first couple. Though Milton chooses to use the theme of the Fortunate Fall later in...

  8. 4 THE ORDER OF TEMPTATIONS IN PARADISE REGAINED: IMPLICATIONS FOR CHRISTOLOGY
    (pp. 77-95)

    The story of the temptations of Jesus has been variously treated in the New Testament. Mark, in its characteristic terseness, devotes only two verses to the subject (1:12–13) that amount to no more than a summary. Providing a much lengthier account, the other two of the Synoptic Gospels agree on all essential features but diverge partially in the order of presentation. Both Matthew (4:1–11) and Luke (4:1–13) begin with the temptation of changing stones to bread; thereafter Matthew follows with the temptations of Jerusalem’s temple and of empire, whereas Luke reverses the order and ends the account...

  9. 5 PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS IN CHINESE-WESTERN LITERARY RELATIONS
    (pp. 96-107)

    Although the academic study of Chinese-Western literary relations is a relatively new concern in this country,¹ recent decades have witnessed steady and remarkable growth in this field of scholarly endeavor. A glance at the Asian Studies Professional Review, published periodically by the Association for Asian Studies, reveals how far the United States outdistances foreign centers of higher learning in the size and variety of academic programs as well as in the sheer quantity of doctoral dissertations devoted to Asian materials and related subjects. And though size and volume in themselves do not ensure quality, the increment of funds by governmental...

  10. 6 NARRATIVE STRUCTURE AND THE PROBLEM OF CHAPTER NINE IN THE XIYOUJI
    (pp. 108-128)

    Whether the story about Chen Guangrui 陳光蕊, the father of Tripitaka, belongs to the “original” version of the Xiyouji 西游記 (chap. 9 in most modern editions of the novel, cited hereafter as XYJ) is a problem that has occupied the attention of scholars and editors for at least two and a half centuries. If we accept the conclusions of Glen Dudbridge, who has done in English the most intensive and impressive examination of the novel’s textual history,¹ it would appear that the best textual support is lacking for this segment of the Xiyouji to be considered authentic, as it is...

  11. 7 TWO LITERARY EXAMPLES OF RELIGIOUS PILGRIMAGE: THE COMMEDIA AND THE JOURNEY TO THE WEST
    (pp. 129-157)

    Although the definition may vary among scholars of religion, there is fairly widespread agreement that certain fundamental characteristics are common to all true religious pilgrimages. In the words of one study, at least three elements must be present: “L’existence d’un lieu consacré où l’on se rend spécialement, le déplacement collectif ou individual vers ce lieu, et enfin le but de ce déplacement, qui est l’obtention d’un certain bien matérial ou spirituel.”¹ Not every protracted journey of adventures or one in which the traveler or travelers engage in various heroic or dangerous exploits will perforce qualify to be called a pilgrimage....

  12. 8 RELIGION AND LITERATURE IN CHINA: THE “OBSCURE WAY” OF THE JOURNEY TO THE WEST
    (pp. 158-187)

    I begin by quoting at some length a statement made by an acclaimed scholar and translator, David Hawkes, about the distinctive character of Chinese literature:

    If we begin looking for features of our own [Western] literature which are not paralleled in Chinese literature, we shall find the most striking instance in the absence of religious inspiration. Our drama began in pagan ritual and developed in medieval mystery. Chinese drama is secular for as far back as we can trace it—to the masques and buffooneries with which Han emperors were entertained two thousand years ago. Our greatest poets sing of...

  13. 9 THE REAL TRIPITAKA REVISITED: INTERNATIONAL RELIGION AND NATIONAL POLITICS
    (pp. 188-203)

    In the year 627, a twenty-six-year-old Chinese Buddhist monk put on a wig to hide his clean-shaven head, took off his clerical garb and donned some secular clothing, and, under the cover of darkness, slipped out of the heavily guarded gates of the imperial capital Chang’an 長安 (Everlasting Peace).¹ He joined a caravan of merchants leaving central China and headed northwestward on the famous Silk Road. Eventually, he would make it past five more fortified watchtowers, go through the well-known Jade Gate Pass (Yumen guan 玉門關) in the Great Wall, and embark on one of the most famous journeys undertaken...

  14. 10 “REST, REST, PERTURBED SPIRIT!”: GHOSTS IN TRADITIONAL CHINESE PROSE FICTION
    (pp. 204-238)

    The sheer complexity of the subject no less than its utter unwieldiness will be the first impression of anyone undertaking a study of the topic of ghosts in traditional Chinese literature. The length of the Chinese literary tradition and the persistence of interest in the subject have helped to spawn a staggering amount of materials and create enormous difficulty in the isolation of sources. As in the case of many topics in Chinese culture, the development of this particular one ranges in many directions; it is not a subject enshrined in only a single genre of writing.

    Ghosts, of course,...

  15. 11 CRATYLUS AND THE XUNZI ON NAMES
    (pp. 239-254)

    This chapter presents the result of a preliminary investigation. In 1982 T. P. Kasulis began the specific comparative study of the Platonic understanding of language—more precisely, of the relation between linguistic names (onomata) and objects (pragmata)—with an East Asian language philosopher, and William S.-Y. Wang did so briefly in 1989.¹ In a recent volume of Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China, Christoph Harbsmeier makes constant and telling comparisons with Greek and Sanskrit at various points of his magisterial survey of Chinese language and logic.² Despite that scholar’s compendious review of virtually all the major relevant issues pertaining...

  16. 12 READING THE DAODEJING: ETHICS AND POLITICS OF THE RHETORIC
    (pp. 255-281)

    The Daodejing 道德經 (Classic of the Way and Virtue [hereafter cited as DDJ]) is traditionally attributed to Lao Dan, a slightly older contemporary of the historical Confucius (551–479 b.c.). Preponderant Chinese scholarship of the twentieth century (with notable exceptions found in Hu Shi 胡適 and Xu Fuguan [Hsü Fu-kuan] 徐復觀)¹ has both doubted and contested the attribution, and its cumulative skepticism across several decades has in turn influenced a great deal of modern scholarship on early Chinese thought,² including even more recent examples.³ The most vigorous defense of the traditional position, marshaling counterarguments from a wide spectrum of current...

  17. 13 ALTERED ACCENTS: A COMPARATIVE VIEW OF LIBERAL EDUCATION
    (pp. 282-296)

    President tse, Dean Hiebert, faculty and student colleagues, distinguished guests and friends, it is a distinct pleasure for me to address you this afternoon on one of these occasions that commemorate the fortieth anniversary of an institution that has done so much to educate the youth of Hong Kong. I am honored to be one of the few speakers selected from abroad to share in the university’s celebrations and generous hospitality. My particular gratification as a native son of Hong Kong, if I may be permitted to speak more personally, stems from another anniversary that parallels that of the university,...

  18. 14 READABILITY: RELIGION AND THE RECEPTION OF TRANSLATION
    (pp. 297-311)

    “Readability” is perhaps the most frequently invoked watchword of all translators. It indicates that elusive quality at once defining both the necessary aim and the undeclared pride of the translator: the necessary aim because without it, the rendered text can become even more inaccessible than the original (think of English versions of Kant, Hegel, Gadamer); and the undeclared pride because readability betokens our conviction that translations can be successful, that we can, however momentarily and in whatever limited way, reverse Babel, overcome the confusion of tongues, defy the deity’s imposed fragmentation of human culture and meaning. What is alien and...

  19. 15 ENDURING CHANGE: CONFUCIANISM AND THE PROSPECT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
    (pp. 312-350)

    Whether there is such a thing as the “essence” or “soul” of China and whether it can change over time are hardly idle questions, questions that I’d like to examine on this occasion. Even for a single individual, the questions of the subject and personal identity-who am I and in what sense the I of today is the same as the I of yesterday-are questions of great complexity and much discussion.¹ To note the difficulty inherent in my project does not mean that students of China have been reluctant to debate the peculiar or distinctive characteristics of that civilization. Indeed,...

  20. 16 CHINA AND THE PROBLEM OF HUMAN RIGHTS: ANCIENT VERITIES AND MODERN REALITIES
    (pp. 351-390)

    Lecturing on the topic of China and the problem of human rights on various occasions, I have encountered a number of questions that have been repeatedly asked by audiences far and near. These questions have helped to identify for me a core set of issues related to the topic, many of which, mentioned continuously by the news media, have also been examined and debated in an ever-growing mountain of scholarly literature. For this essay, therefore, I have decided to organize my thought around such a series of questions, in hopes that this experimental format will anticipate some of the reader’s...

  21. INDEX
    (pp. 391-408)