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Finding Wisdom in East Asian Classics

Finding Wisdom in East Asian Classics

Edited by Wm. Theodore de Bary
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Finding Wisdom in East Asian Classics
    Book Description:

    Finding Wisdom in East Asian Classics is an essential, all-access guide to the core texts of East Asian civilization and culture. Essays address frequently read, foundational texts in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese, as well as early modern fictional classics and nonfiction works of the seventeenth century. Building strong links between these writings and the critical traditions of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism, this volume shows the vital role of the classics in the shaping of Asian history and in the development of the humanities at large.

    Wm. Theodore de Bary focuses on texts that have survived for centuries, if not millennia, through avid questioning and contestation. Recognized as perennial reflections on life and society, these works represent diverse historical periods and cultures and include the Analects of Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, Xunxi, the Lotus Sutra, Tang poetry, the Pillow Book, The Tale of Genji, and the writings of Chikamatsu and Kaibara Ekken. Contributors explain the core and most commonly understood aspects of these works and how they operate within their traditions. They trace their reach and reinvention throughout history and their ongoing relevance in modern life.

    With fresh interpretations of familiar readings, these essays inspire renewed appreciation and examination. In the case of some classics open to multiple interpretations, de Bary chooses two complementary essays from different contributors. Expanding on debates concerning the challenges of teaching classics in the twenty-first century, several pieces speak to the value of Asia in the core curriculum. Indispensable for early scholarship on Asia and the evolution of global civilization, Finding Wisdom in East Asian Classics helps one master the major texts of human thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52719-4
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. PREFACE. The Great “Civilized” Conversation: Cases in Point
    (pp. xi-xx)
    Wm. Theodore de Bary
  4. 1 Asian Classics as the Great Books of the East
    (pp. 1-29)
    Wm. Theodore de Bary

    The Asian Classics may not be included in the “Hundred Great Books” or the “Hundred Great Ideas”¹ today, but the idea of books so challenging to the mind, so close to the human heart, and of such impressive depth or stature as to command the attention of generation after generation is certainly not confined to the Western world. Each of the major Asian civilizations has had its canonical texts and literary classics. Significant differences appear, however, in the way that the classic canon is defined—by whom, for what audience, for what purposes, and in what form. To Muhammad, “the...

  5. 2 Asia in the Core Curriculum
    (pp. 30-43)
    Wm. Theodore de Bary

    In the debate that erupted during the spring of 1988 over changes in the Stanford core course on Western Civilization and later at Harvard over its general-education program, the political heat generated, and the attendant confusion of issues as these were aired in the media, did little to advance the cause of education. The cast of characters in this much publicized controversy had the so-called fundamentalists, William Bennett, Allan Bloom, and others who claimed to speak for traditional values and the Great Books, ranged against those who would sneak third-world politics, feminism, and cultural relativism into the sanctuary of Western...

  6. 3 Why We Read the Analects of Confucius
    (pp. 44-56)
    Wm. Theodore de Bary

    Although this essay will speak mostly to why and how I read the Analects of Confucius, the reason I entitle it “Why We Read the Analects “is not that I claim to speak for everyone but only that my personal reading follows from what others have thought and said about it. Ever since Confucius’s disciples recorded his sayings, teachings, and examples in the fifth century c.e., later generations have been inspired to pass it on, to share it with others who have read, reflected on it, and discussed it together. Thus the Analects are still read because they have survived...

  7. 4 Mencius
    (pp. 57-71)
    Irene Bloom

    The Mencius has had a long career as a classic in China and in East Asia as a whole. Dating from perhaps the third century b.c.e-about a century after Mencius himself lived-it has been studied, memorized, absorbed, quoted, reflected upon, and argued about in China over the course of some twenty-three centuries. With a possible interlude during the period of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the text of the Mencius has continued its career, and despite official hostility toward Confucianism earlier, it is being studied in Communist China today. It has also exerted great influence...

  8. 5 Laozi
    (pp. 72-79)
    Franciscus Verellen

    The Laozi is a short collection of aphorisms that probably took shape in the fourth century b.c.e. The oldest extant version of the Laozi was discovered in 1993, inscribed on a bundle of bamboo slips, in a late fourth-century b.c.e. tomb in Guodian, Hubei. Two silk manuscripts discovered in 1973 in a tomb in Mawangdui near Changsha, Hunan, date from the beginning of the second century b.c.e. The oldest extant commentaries on the Laozi are found in the book of Hanfeizi (d. 233 b.c.e.). The commentary by Wang Bi (226–249 c.e.), some five centuries after the Hanfeizi, is the...

  9. 6 Zhuangzi
    (pp. 80-92)
    Paul Contino

    I once took a memorable class called “Liberation” with a teacher who was something of a Daoist sage. He could lecture to a class of sixty-five students and be attuned to each person in the hall. At times he would be passionately elucidating an abstract concept and would notice confusion—some scrunched-up faces, a few furrowed brows. And he’d respond: “Don’t fret about the words; just get the music.”¹ In other words, pay attention, but stay loose; don’t get tight with “muscular effort.”² Simone Weil contrasts such tightness with the “negative effort” entailed in attention: “Attention consists of suspending our...

  10. 7 Xunzi
    (pp. 93-109)
    Wm. Theodore de Bary

    Few readers of Xunzi will fail to recognize the importance of the issues addressed therein or the salience of Xunzi’s arguments. He has been considered one of the classic Masters for almost two millennia, and even though he was not chosen by the great Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi for inclusion in Zhu’s highly selective Four Books, which later became canonical, Zhu’s own curriculum included him as one of the Masters, along with Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Han Feizi. As such, Xunzi is a classic deserving of any educated person’s attention.¹

    It is also a measure of Xunzi’s classic status that he...

  11. 8 The Lotus Sūtra
    (pp. 110-119)
    Wing-tsit Chan

    No one can understand the Far East without some knowledge of the teachings of the Lotus Sūtra, because it is the most important scripture of Mahāyāna Buddhism, which cuts across the entire Far East. In a narrow sense, it is a scripture of the Tian-tai School in China and Tendai in Japan and is the chief s¥tra of the Nichiren School in Japan. But in a broad sense, it is the most basic sūtra for all Mahāyāna, shared by practically all the different schools. It was the first to preach revolutionary Mahāyāna doctrines and is still the most comprehensive statement...

  12. 9 The Teaching of Vimalakīrti
    (pp. 120-127)
    Robert A. F. Thurman

    The teaching of vimalakīrti has been one of the most popular of Asian classics for about two thousand years. It was originally written in Sanskrit, based on accounts preserved in colloquial Indic languages, probably in the first century b.c.e. It nevertheless presents itself as recording events and conversations that took place in the time of Śākyamuni Buddha, over four hundred years earlier. It was first translated into Chinese in 170 c.e.; into Korean, Uighur, and Tibetan in the seventh through ninth centuries; and eventually into Mongolian and Manchu, as well as twice more into Chinese. In modern times, it has...

  13. 10(A) The Platform Sūtra of the Sixth Patriarch
    (pp. 128-135)
    Philip Yampolsky

    The platform sūtra is one of the most celebrated works in the vast literature of Chan (Zen) Buddhism, representing the “autobiography” and the recorded sayings of the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng, the Chinese master from whom all later Chan derives. Compilation was assigned to a monk by the name of Fa-hai, identified in the work itself as a resident monk in charge of Huineng’s temple. The work has gone through numerous recensions, ranging from the primitive and error-filled manuscript found in the Tun-huang caves to the greatly enlarged Yuan-dynasty versions of some five centuries later. Huineng is honored as the illiterate...

  14. 10(B) The Platform Sūtra as a Chinese Classic
    (pp. 136-148)
    Wm. Theodore de Bary

    Implicit in our title above is a distinction between a “Sūtra” and a “Classic,” which would not ordinarily be made, given the use of the same Chinese term jing for both Chinese and Buddhist works viewed as canonical. To some extent, the Platform Sūtra is being naturalized as Chinese, in ways that are already pointed to by the formal title for the work, which reads as follows:

    Southern School Sudden Doctrine, Supreme Mahayana Great Perfection of Wisdom: Th e Platform Sutra preached by the Sixt Patriarch Huineng at the Da-fan Temple in Shao-zhou, one roll, recorded by the spreader of...

  15. 11 Tang Poetry: A Return to Basics
    (pp. 149-158)
    Burton Watson

    The history of Chinese poetry begins around 600 b.c.e., with the compilation of an anthology, the Shijing or Classic of Odes, which contains poems that probably date back several centuries earlier. It continues with barely a break down to the present day. Naturally, such an extended period of development saw the evolution of a number of different poetic forms and styles and countless ebbs and flows in the tide of artistic inspiration. It has generally been agreed by Chinese critics—and non-Chinese students of the language have found no reason to disagree—that the highest peak in literary achievement in...

  16. 12 Journey to the West
    (pp. 159-173)
    C. T. Hsia

    As a work of comic fantasy, Journey to the West (Xi yu ji) is readily accessible to the Western imagination, as witness the popularity of Arthur Waley’s abridged version, Monkey, with the general public and especially with the college audience. But Waley has chosen to present only a few of the forty-odd adventures in the latter half of the book; translated in their entirety, many of the episodes may seem tiresome to the Western reader as repetitious in character. Even so, he will find it a civilized and humane book and one, moreover, that meets his expectation of what a...

  17. 13 A Dream of Red Mansions
    (pp. 174-186)
    C. T. Hsia

    A dream of Red Mansions (Honglou meng) is the greatest novel in the Chinese literary tradition. As an eighteenth-century work, it draws fully upon that tradition and can indeed be regarded as its crowning achievement. As that tradition is early distinguished by its poetry and philosophy, we expectedly find in Dream numerous poems in a variety of meters, including an elegy in the style of Chuzi (Songs of the South, an ancient anthology), along with philosophic conversations that echo the sages of antiquity (Laozi, Zhuangzi, Mencius) and utilize the subtle language of Zen Buddhism. As a late-traditional man of letters,...

  18. 14 Zhu Xi and the Four Books
    (pp. 187-198)
    Wm. Theodore de Bary

    When educated persons of the premodern era in East Asia referred to the Confucian Classics, they almost always spoke first of the Four Books. These were based on early texts of the classic age b.c. in China, but no one of that earlier age would have recognized what was meant by “The Four Books,” which was the label attached to these classic texts when the great Neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi (1130–1200) chose them as introductory readings for the core curriculum, which became standard for most education in thirteenth-through nineteenth-century East Asia.

    Zhu Xi’s Four Books comprised the Analects of...

  19. 15 Waiting for the Dawn: Huang Zongxi’s Critique of the Chinese Dynastic System
    (pp. 199-208)
    Wm. Theodore de Bary

    Huang Zongxi (1610–1695) was the son of a high Ming official, affiliated with the reformist Donglin party, who died in prison at the hands of court eunuchs. At the age of eighteen, after the fall of Wei Zhongxian, the chief eunuch, Huang avenged his father’s death by bringing to justice or personally attacking those responsible for it. Thereafter he devoted himself to study, took part in a flurry of political agitation at Nanjing just before the fall of the Ming dynasty, and then engaged in prolonged but unsuccessful guerrilla resistance to the Manchus in southeastern China. There is evidence...

  20. 16(A) The Tale of Genji as a Japanese and World Classic
    (pp. 209-219)
    Haruo Shirane

    The tale of Genji, or the Genji monogatari, was written in the early eleventh century by a woman named Murasaki Shikibu. We know very little about the author except that she was the daughter of a scholarpoet, that she came from the middle ranks of the aristocracy, and that she served, at some point, as a lady-in-waiting to the empress, for whom she probably wrote at least part of this lengthy narrative. The title The Tale of Genji comes from the surname of the hero, who is the son of the emperor regnant at the beginning of the narrative and...

  21. 16(B) Passion and Poignancy in The Tale of Genji
    (pp. 220-230)
    Wm. Theodore de Bary

    Opening lines are usually significant clues to almost any classic work, and this is no less true of the Genji. Lady Murasaki’s first words are uncertain but nevertheless indicative: “In whatever reign it might have been” (izure no on toki ni ka). Beginning on such an indefinite, questioning note (ka), the Tale could be about almost any time or place. Then, after this indefinite start comes an anonymous reference to a low-ranking court lady whose favor by the emperor exposes her to the jealousy of higher-ranking court women; in other words, instead of being introduced to a typical heroine whose...

  22. 17 The Pillow Book
    (pp. 231-240)
    Wm. Theodore de Bary

    It is Notable that two of the undoubted classics of the Japanese cultural tradition have been written by women: Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari) and Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book (Makura no soshi). It is also striking that they appeared at almost the same early moment in history, the products of the same age, the same aristocratic society, and a culture that drew on similar religious traditions, both indigenous and imported. No less striking, however, is the marked difference between what became equally classic models; the one, The Tale of Genji, a narrative spread over a vast canvas of...

  23. 18 Kamo no Chōmei’s “An Account of My Hut”
    (pp. 241-247)
    Paul Anderer

    Kamo no Chōmei was born in 1153, and at the age of fifty, he tells us, he renounced the world and became a Buddhist monk. He was of a hereditary line of Shinto priests, and in better times may well have succeeded his father as a priest at the Kamo Shrine in Kyoto. But the late twelfth century was among the most strife-torn and transforming of all periods in Japan, and thus that was not to be. In 1212, ten years after he took the tonsure and assumed a Buddhist name and after he adopted the life of a recluse...

  24. 19 The Tale of the Heike
    (pp. 248-256)
    Paul Varley

    The tale of the Heike is a lengthy war tale (416 pages in the translation into English by Helen McCullough) that recounts the rise and fall of the warrior house of Taira (or Heike) in Japan in the late twelfth century, culminating in the Gempei War of 1180–1185 fought by the Taira against the Minamoto (or Genji).¹

    The version of the Heike that has been most widely read for many centuries is a 1371 text attributed to an itinerant, blind storyteller named Kakuichi. It is the product of a long process of both written and oral development. According to ...

  25. 20(A) Kenkō’s Essays in Idleness
    (pp. 257-264)
    Donald Keene

    Essays in idleness (Tsurezuregusa) is a collection of essays and observations that range in length from a sentence or two to several pages. The title is derived from a phrase in the preface where the author reveals that he has spent whole days “with nothing better to do” (tsurezure naru mama ni) jotting down whatever thoughts happened to enter his head. The work belongs to a tradition known in Japan (following Chinese examples) as zuihitsu, or “following the brush,” meaning that the author allowed his writing brush free rein to scribble down anything it chose.

    The author of Tsurezuregusa is...

  26. 20(B) Kenkō and Montaigne in Tandem
    (pp. 265-274)
    James Mirollo

    This is a very brief and tentative reply to the following questions: What is the pedagogical and personal value of juxtaposing an Eastern and Western classic, whether in your classroom or your study (or at your bedside)? In a course syllabus, should the Eastern and Western texts be taken up together in clusters or in tandem, based on thematic or genre affinities? To juxtapose the essays of Kenko and Montaigne is to discover, once again, how frustrating and wonderful such encounters of classics can be. The wonder comes from recognizing startling similarities, the frustration from learning that each classic resides...

  27. 21(A) The Poetry of Matsuo Bashō
    (pp. 275-286)
    Haruo Shirane

    Modern haiku derives from the seventeen-syllable hokku, or opening verse, of haikai, or comic linked verse. In the early Edo period, when Matsuo Basho (1644–1694) began his career as a haikai poet, the seventeen-syllable hokku was regarded primarily as the beginning of a linked verse (renga) sequence, which usually consisted of thirty-six or a hundred links (5/7/5, 7/7, 5/7/5, 7/7, etc.) composed alternately by one or more poets. Basho considered himself to be, first and foremost, a comic linked-verse poet and made a profession as a haikai teacher, but he often composed independent hokku—commonly referred to by modern...

  28. 21(B) Matsuo Bashō
    (pp. 287-300)
    Donald Keene

    Bashō is the best-known Japanese poet not only in his own country but throughout the world. About a thousand of his haiku survive, a relatively scant output for someone who spent most of his life as a haiku poet; a professional Japanese haiku poet today would not find it difficult to turn out that many poems in a single year. Haiku, at first glance, seems extremely easy to compose all one has to do is arrange a bare seventeen syllables into three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. The ease of composition attracts many Japanese today. It is estimated...

  29. 22 Chikamatsu
    (pp. 301-309)
    Donald Keene

    In the late nineteenth century, when the Japanese first became aware of the glories of Western literature, they felt impelled to discover a “Japanese Shakespeare.” Their choice for this honor was Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653–1725). Western readers who read translations of Chikamatsu’s plays and hope that they will equal or at least resemble Shakespeare’s are likely to be disappointed; there was only one Shakespeare. The plays of Chikamatsu, however, not only present a vivid portrayal of a unique age in Japan but may even seem more modern than Shakespeare’s. The characters in his tragedies, particularly those set in his time,...

  30. 23 Saikaku’s Five Women Who Loved Love
    (pp. 310-320)
    Wm. Theodore de Bary

    Five women who Loved Love was written by a citizen of Osaka for the amusement of the townspeople in the new commercial centers of seventeenth-century Japan. From the few surviving records of Ihara Saikaku we know that he was not only a popular novelist but also a poet of wide reputation in his own day, a playwright and commentator on theater life, and something of a vagabond who had closely observed life as it was lived in parts of the country other than his own. Being so cosmopolitan, he was all the more truly a citizen of Osaka. The things...

  31. 24 Kaibara Ekken’s Precepts for Daily Life in Japan
    (pp. 321-334)
    Mary Evelyn Tucker

    Kaibara Ekken (1630–1714) was regarded by his contemporaries and by later generations as a major figure in Japanese intellectual history during the Tokugawa period (1603–1868).¹ Well versed in the writings of the Chinese Neo-Confucians, especially Zhu Xi (1130–1200), he strove to transmit their spiritual essence and practical implications to the Japanese of his day. In the teachings of Zhu Xi, he saw a system of personal cultivation, intellectual investigation, political organization, and cosmological orientation that provided a broad context for thought and a functional basis for action that he perceived as essential for his time. Ekken was...

  32. 25 The Contemporary Meaning of T’oegye’s Ten Diagrams on Sage Learning
    (pp. 335-351)
    Michael C. Kalton

    Yi T’oegye’s Ten Diagrams on Sage Learning (Seonghak sipdo) stands as one of the masterpieces of Neo-Confucian thought. In ten diagrams, he leads us from a grand vision of the cosmos into ethics and the question of how we should educate ourselves and spiritually cultivate our inner lives to realize the fullness of our natural endowment, concluding by describing just what a well-lived day might look like. More than two decades ago, I had the great privilege of translating and commenting on this insightful and wise crystallization of T’oegye’s lifetime of learning and spiritual cultivation.¹ Since then, T’oegye’s diagrams and...

  33. 26 The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyŏng
    (pp. 352-364)
    JaHyun Kim Haboush

    The memoirs of Lady Hyegyŏng, known in Korean as Hanjungnok (Records Written in Silence), or Hanjung mallok (Memoirs Written in Silence), is a collection of four autobiographical narratives written by Lady Hyegyŏng from 1795 to 1805. Lady Hyegyŏng was born in 1735 in Seoul, the daughter of Hong Ponghan (1713–1778), of the illustrious P’ungsan Hong family. In 1744, she married Crown Prince Sado (1735–1762). They were both nine years old, and the nuptials did not take place until five years later. Prince Sado was appointed prince regent and, save for several crucial areas, assumed a role in governing....

  34. 27 The Song of the Faithful Wife Ch’unhyang
    (pp. 365-375)
    Rachel E. Chung

    The song of the Faithful Wife Ch’unhyang has oft en been called “the Romeo and Juliet of Korea” for its depiction of the passion and poignancy of young love. And surely its charming portrayal of the playful intimacy and eroticism in young conjugal love, complete with affectionate bickering and sweet-nothing make-ups, is second to none in all of East Asian literature. Still, the overall theme of the work rests not so much on the enduring love of the two young people as on the role of self-realization in the fulfillment of that love.

    The psychological richness of the Ch’unhyang story...

  35. 28 Reading and Teaching The Tale of Kieu
    (pp. 376-388)
    Conrad Schirokauer

    Like other texts accepted as canonical, The Tale of Kieu (****) by Nguyen Du (**) is celebrated as a classic in its own culture and addresses aspects of the human condition that transcend space and time. Once condemned by Marxists as “feudal” in origin and decadent in spirit, it is now embraced by the Vietnamese, who in 2007 turned it into an opera performed at Ho Chi Minh City’s Military Zone 7 Stadium, with a cast of 515 actors and musicians, including eight prominent actresses who joined in playing Kieu.¹ Presumably this opera, like classic Western operas, made the most...

  36. INDEX
    (pp. 389-418)