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Essays on Chinese Civilization

Essays on Chinese Civilization

Derk Bodde
Charles Le Blanc
Dorothy Borei
Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 474
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  • Book Info
    Essays on Chinese Civilization
    Book Description:

    This collection of twenty-one articles represents some of the major writings by one of the United States' leading Sinologists, Derk Bodde.

    Originally published in 1982.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5332-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Derk Bodde
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
    Dorothy V. Borei and Charles Le Blanc

    A productive scholar and inspiring teacher creates his own intellectual biography through the ideas and methodology contained in his formal writings and, less tangibly but equally as importantly, through the manner in which he has communicated his knowledge to colleagues and students. As both scholar and teacher, Derk Bodde (1909- ), Professor Emeritus of Chinese Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, has left an indelible mark on the field of Sinology. The present volume, a selection of articles from journals and collected works, delineates the main intellectual features of almost half a century of Derk Bodde’s contributions to Sinology.


    (pp. 3-36)

    It is appropriate that this essay, originally written to introduce a handsome volume of historically arranged reproductions of Chinese art, should now become the first study in the present book. Like other compressed introductions, it has the merit of presenting basic facts and ideas in brief and lucid form. Also like such introductions, it is open to possible criticism on grounds of over-generalization, over-simplification, and inadequate attention to detail.

    Quite aside from this possibility, the essay errs in its very first paragraph by equating our word “civilization” with the Chinese termwen hua, regarded as an ancient equivalent. The attempt...


    • 1. Introduction to the History of China (1973)
      (pp. 39-42)

      Our word “civilization” goes back to a Latin root having to do with “citizen” and “city.” The Chinese counterpart, actually a binom,wen hua, literally means “the transforming [i.e., civilizing] influence of writing.” In other words, for us the essence of civilization is urbanization; for the Chinese it is the art of writing.

      The ramifications of this capsulized distinction have been many and significant. Throughout their literate history, the Chinese have been much more interested in the written than the spoken word. Famous Chinese orators have been rare, famous calligraphers legion. Whereas in India it was the oral recitation of...

    • 2. The Chinese Language as a Factor in Chinese Cultural Continuity (1942)
      (pp. 43-44)

      In the present age of rapid change and uncertainty, it is not amiss to investigate what may be some of the factors that have given Chinese civilization that remarkable continuity and vitality which make of it the oldest of the world’s living civilizations. These factors are, of course, many, but one of the most fundamental is probably the peculiar nature of the Chinese language, and especially of its script, which sets it so sharply apart from our own types of language.

      Chinese writing consists of isolated characters or “ideographs,” each of which represents a single unchanging word. A similar phenomenon...

    • 3. Myths of Ancient China (1961)
      (pp. 45-84)

      The student of Chinese religion quickly learns that there is a world of difference between the gods of classical China (ending with the fall of the Han dynasty in a.d. 220) and those of post-classical times. The latter are large in number, diverse in origin (Buddhist, Taoist, or numerous local cults), have clearly defined anthropomorphic traits, and belong to a spiritual hierarchy which, in its gradations, closely parallels the terrestrial hierarchy of bureaucratic imperial China. These gods are portrayed for us in art, described in religious literature, and even satirized in works of fiction such as the great sixteenth-century novel...

    • 4. Feudalism in China (1956)
      (pp. 85-131)

      ThePeriods of Chinese Feudalism. In recent years the terms “feudal” or “feudalistic” have become increasingly popular as designations for premodern Chinese society. The justification for such usage is economic rather than political. In traditional China, the basic medium of wealth was grain, produced on small patches of land by peasants who were either petty proprietors or tenant farmers. These peasants, who constituted seventy or eighty per cent of the total population, were economically dominated by a small interlocking oligarchy of government officials, landed gentry, and rural moneylenders; the capital of this oligarchy was commonly invested in land rather than...

    • 5. Dominant Ideas in the Formation of Chinese Culture (1942)
      (pp. 132-138)

      Innumerable difficulties beset the man daring enough to attempt a subject such as this, quite aside from the obvious ones of facile generalization and limitations of space. Should we, for example, consider as “dominant ideas” those that have been expressed by the relatively small group of articulate Chinese known to us through literature, or should the heterogeneous and often contradictory beliefs held by the anonymous masses also be included? And if the latter, how are we to evaluate their importance as compared with those of the minority? In reply, I can merely say that I shall attempt to present as...


    • 6. Types of Chinese Categorical Thinking (1939)
      (pp. 141-160)

      One of the criticisms levelled by westerners against Chinese philosophy is that it has failed to develop a system of logic. Like most sweeping criticisms, this is not absolutely true, for during the fourth and third centuries b. c., the followers of the Mohist school do appear to have experimented with methods of thinking in many ways comparable to our western logic.¹ The statement remains true, however, to the extent that this school did not long survive, and that it failed to leave a lasting impression on Chinese thought.

      We may grant, therefore, that the Chinese have made comparatively little...

    • 7. Authority and Law in Ancient China (1954)
      (pp. 161-170)

      Lack of space compels us to focus our attention almost exclusively on the China of the Chou dynasty, that is, on the span of eight centuries beginning late in the eleventh century b. c. and ending abruptly in 221 b. c. with the creation of a new centralized form of empire.¹ Even within these chronological limits, moreover, we must concentrate, at the risk of possible distortion, on the evolution of but a few key concepts. Concerning the many philosophical theories which, during the second half of the dynasty (sixth century b. c. onward), arose out of the breakup of the...

    • 8. Basic Concepts of Chinese Law: the Genesis and Evolution of Legal Thought in Traditional China (1963)
      (pp. 171-194)

      Western scholars on China, with only a few distinguished exceptions, have until recently shown but little interest in the study of Chinese law. Today, especially in the United States, this situation is changing, but the stimulus obviously comes much more forcibly from the China of Mao Tse-tung than from the law of pre-Republican (i.e., pre-1912) China. It is the latter, especially in its formal codified aspects, which is the subject of this article.¹

      Good reasons can of course be found to explain the traditional indifference. They include the lack of legal training or interest among all but a handful of...

    • 9. Prison Life in Eighteenth Century Peking (1969)
      (pp. 195-217)

      A major irony in the study of chinese civilization is our ignorance, despite a plethora of written documents, of so many details of daily life, both trivial and important. Did the Chinese, for example, have side-of-the-road traffic regulations before the nineteenth century? With their flair for bureaucratic regularity and hierarchic order, one would think that they would, at least in such great cities as the Ch’ang-an of the T’ang dynasty, then probably the world’s largest city. Yet the T’ang penal code of a.d. 653, which has articles punishing riders and drivers who run people down in crowded places, apparently says...

    • 10. Henry A. Wallace and the Ever-normal Granary (1946)
      (pp. 218-234)

      THE interest that the Far East holds for Henry A. Wallace has been concretely manifested in recent years by the trip which he took to eastern Siberia and China in the early summer of 1944, and by a pamphlet which he wrote at about the same time.¹ Less well known is the fact that this interest, at least along certain lines, is of long standing, and has played an important part in shaping one aspect of his social thinking.

      During the past several years I had heard vaguely that among the agricultural measures carried out by Mr. Wallace while Secretary...


    • 11. Harmony and Conflict in Chinese Philosophy (1953)
      (pp. 237-298)

      The twenty-five centuries separating Confucius (551–479 b.c.) from the present day have seen the appearance of many Chinese philosophical schools, of which only a few (Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism) have survived as organized movements until modern times, though ideas from others have been perpetuated by being absorbed into these three main schools. Despite this long time span, with its numerous and often conflicting bodies of thought, I believe that it is possible to detect certain concepts or patterns which, because of their frequent appearance in widely separated times and contexts, may fairly be regarded as basic in Chinese philosophical thinking....

    • 12. Chinese “Laws of Nature”: a Reconsideration (1979)
      (pp. 299-315)

      AS suggested by the title, this article is a sequel to one by the present writer called “Evidence for ‘Laws of Nature’ in Chinese Thought,” which was published inHJAS, 20 (1957), 709–27. The earlier article was in turn inspired by Joseph Needham’s illuminating and detailed analysis of the same subject in hisScience and Civilisation in China.¹ Indeed, the final pages of that article consisted of interchanged comments between Dr. Needham and myself, based upon the views expressed in the main body of the article, which had been sent to Dr. Needham in advance of publication.

      Similarly, the...

    • 13. The Chinese View of Immortality: Its Expression by Chu Hsi and Its Relationship to Buddhist Thought (1942)
      (pp. 316-330)

      In the long history of Chinese thought, one of its greatest figures has been the Neo-Confucianist, Chu Hsi (a.d. 1130-1200). For several centuries before his time most of the best minds of China had devoted themselves to Buddhism, while Confucianism, though accepted as a basis for political institutions, had shown little ideological development. Beginning about a.d. 1000, however, a strong revival of Confucianism took place, fostered by a brilliant group of men who showed themselves usually antagonistic to Buddhism, even though, at the same time, they were indebted to it for many of their own concepts. Chu Hsi was easily...

    • 14. Some Chinese Tales of the Supernatural: Kan Pao and His Sou-shen chi (1942)
      (pp. 331-350)

      The curious combination of realism and fancy, practicality and credulity, often characteristic of Chinese thought, is nowhere better exemplified than in the innumerable tales of the supernatural that occupy so many pages of Chinese literature. Even in those stories which make the greatest demands upon the imagination, their author usually takes pains to preserve an appearance of historical verisimilitude by carefully noting not only the surnames and personal names of his heroes and their locale, but also in many cases their exact dates and other realistic details.

      Such stories go back early into Chinese literature, and a number appear incidentally...

    • 15. The Chinese Cosmic Magic Known as Watching for the Ethers (1959)
      (pp. 351-372)

      Despite its familiarity, it may be helpful to begin with a brief reminder of the salient features of the prevailing Chinese world-view, especially as it was formulated during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220). The universe, according to this view, is a harmoniously functioning organism consisting of multitudinous objects, qualities and forces which, despite their seeming heterogeneity, are integrated into coherent patterns by being subsumed under one or another of many numerical categories. (The best known such category, of course, is that in sets of fives, such as the five elements, five directions, five colors, etc.) Among items belonging...

    • 16. Sexual Sympathetic Magic in Han China (1964)
      (pp. 373-380)

      In an overwhelmingly agrarian civilization like that of China, it is scarcely surprising that prayers and rituals for securing rain should be among the earliest and most enduring of religious practices. They are mentioned in inscriptions of Shang date (before 1000 b.c.), and numerous references to them occur in theSpring and Autumn Annalsand other texts of the Chou dynasty (ca. 1027–221 b.c.). Only in the Han dynasty (206 b.c.–a.d. 220), however, does the first really detailed and systematic description of them appear. It is the essay,Ch’iu yü¹ or “Seeking Rain,” written by the famous Confucian...


    • 17. A Perplexing Passage in the Confucian Analects (1933)
      (pp. 383-387)

      One of the most baffling passages in the ConfucianAnalectsisAnalectsIX, 1, which Legge translates: “The subjects of which the Master seldom spoke were—profitableness, and also the appointment (of Heaven), and perfect virtue” (Tzu han yen, li, yü ming, yü jen).¹ The difficulty here is not primarily a grammatical one, for such a translation may be read from the text without trouble, but rather lies in the fact that the statement made runs counter to everything that the rest of theAnalectstells us concerning Confucius. It may be granted, to be sure, thatli² (Legge’s “profitableness”)...

    • 18. Two New Translations of Lao Tzu (1954)
      (pp. 388-394)

      Professor Duyvendak’s untimely death on July 9, 1954, coming when he was still at the height of his powers, takes from us yet another of the giants of European sinology. All who are familiar with his writings have long recognized his eminence as a Clinese scholar. But to friends and students (among whom I was privileged to be one) he was more than this as well: a morally big human being. This bigness he displayed in the everyday affairs of ordinary life: his self-effacing simplicity, his friendly warmth, his endless patience to all who approached him; and in time of...

    • 19. On Translating Chinese Philosophic Terms (1955)
      (pp. 395-408)

      THE perennially fascinating problem of translating Chinese into Western languages (or vice versa) has evoked considerable discussion in recent years.¹ My excuse for adding to it here is that Professor Boodberg, in his review (see foregoing note) of my translation of Fung Yu-lan’sHistory of Chinese Philosophy,has raised questions which, while addressed specifically to my rendering of certain Chinese philosophic terms, at the same time bear importantly on the larger problems of Chinese translation as a whole. In the following pages, therefore, I shall begin by commenting—I trust in a spirit of friendly discussion—on what Professor Boodberg...

    • 20. Lieh-tzu and the Doves: a Problem of Dating (1959)
      (pp. 409-415)

      Concerning the dating of the Taoist workLieh-tzu列子 there is, as is well known, a wide divergence of opinion, for whereas most Western scholars accept it as a work of the third century B.C., modern Chinese scholarship tends to regard it as a forgery of the third or fourth century A.D. Among the passages used to support the latter dating is that from chapter eight, describing the release of living doves on New Year’s day, in which some scholars believe there is a Buddhist influence. The passage in question, whose setting is the city of Han-tan (capital of the...

    • 21. Marshes in Mencius and Elsewhere: a Lexicographical Note (1978)
      (pp. 416-426)

      Everyone who reads Professor Creel (hereafter Herrlee in these pages) knows that he can never be dull. To his writings he always brings a disciplined imagination, a limpid style, an unerring ability to focus on vital issues, and a concommitant ability to stimulate the mind of the reader—sometimes quite controversially so. Such is the stuff of great scholarship.

      It is not Herrlee the scholar but Herrlee the pedagogue, however, who has quite unwittingly stimulated the writing of the present article. This he did long ago by preparing, with his collaborators Chang Tsung-ch’ien and Richard C. Rudolph, the three volumes...

    (pp. 427-438)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 439-454)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 455-455)