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Understanding Ming 101: A Concise History Of Chinese Thought; Pt.1

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout' started by Ottomaton, Jun 3, 2002.

  1. Ottomaton

    Ottomaton Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2000
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    <center>Understanding Ming 101: A History of Chinese Thought</center>

    Quite a while ago, I took several classes on Chinese philosophy, which I promptly forgot. Recent events, however, have caused me to again begin to think about and hash through what I once knew. It seems that for many people, the cultural differences between Western culture and Chinese culture are an arcane, impenetrable mystery.

    In posting this, my rudimentary understanding of the history of Chinese thought, I hope to give at least some people a wider context in which to judge the acts and statements of Yao Ming, as well as the relevant parties.

    I'm sure that some of my information is incorrect, or perhaps just biased. I'm certainly no expert on the subject, but wish to share what I do know. Certainly, any corrections or feedback are also welcome.

    I intend this to be the first installment of several, and if anybody actually reads this, I'll continue with additional installments. Again, I really hope that if I get any of this wrong, that those of you who know better will correct me. Additionally, I'd be thrilled by any perspective that our new Oriental friends can provide. I hope, furthermore, that this doesn't seem to pretentious or presumptive of me.

    Anyway, here goes:

    Part One:
    Chinese Thought In Antiquity

    Early Chinese thought is characterized by the content of five venerated books:

    The I Ching (or Book of Changes)
    The Shu Ching (or Book of History)
    The Shih Ching (or the Book of Odes)
    a series of books, collectively known as The Ritual
    The Ch'un ch'iu (The Spring and Autumn Annals)
    In all honesty, I've only read the first two, but selective internet quotes can provide us with a good overview of what each of these books are, and what they represent.

    1.The I Ching
    The I Ching is actually a guide to a system of Oracle. In many ways, it is similar to other oracles which have been adopted by Western New Age philosophy, such as Norse Runes. By casting coins, yarrow stalks, or tortoise shells, the individual creates a hexagram that can be divided into two different trigrams that consist of broken and solid lines, such as


    This hexagram is known as "The Fellowship of the People", and consists of the trigram "Heaven" on the top and the trigram "Flame" on the bottom, with the overall meaning being :

    This hexagram ( the current hexagram) is then translated into a moving hexagram which modifies the current hexagram. You can read all about it here. You can also try the process here. The process reveals very visual but vague divinations.


    Perhaps the most lasting lesson that I have learned from the I Ching is that images and concepts that have one meaning in Western thought, often have a very different one in traditional Chinese thought. Images which I would characterize as extremely negative in Western thought often represent opportunities or possibilities in the I Ching.

    Also, important to the I Ching is the concept of divination by one's ancestors. The answers provided by the Oracle are the communications of those who are no longer alive. Think, perhaps, of the I Ching as the ancient Chinese equivalent of "Crossing Over with Johnnathan Edwards'.

    2.The Shu Ching
    This is sort of a series of disjointed episodic comentaries on who did what, and what happened to whom and so forth. In my uninformed reading, it has all the charm of the Book of Numbers from the Old Testament (I.E. Joabihm begat Jhonas, who begat...)

    They are different, however, in that they provide what could be called a 'narrative' of the ancient history of China. Here is an example:

    Notice the mention Heaven. This highlights the most important theme represented in the Shu Ching: Heaven (which seems to be a vague conflagration of the spirits of those who have come before) watches over and judges the actions of even the highest of Kings. Even perhaps, especially the highest of Kings. A concept known as 'The Mandate of Heaven' decreed that as long as the ruler considered the best interests of the people, the ruler would continue to rule. But, the moment that the king began to act selfishly, the heavens demanded that the king be overthrown.
    This concept is very prominent in modern Chinese thought. The obligations of power are considered to flow in both directions. This is perhaps why you so often see comments like 'The CBA will do what is in it's best interest, as well as the best interest of Yao Ming" and it's more than just lip service. This two way obligation is considered to be very real, if perhaps not always easy to follow.
    A great example of this comes from the online interview with Ming's American cousin. When some reporter asks him about the CBA's rumored desire to get 'a cut' from Ming, he simply responds with the statement that he's sure that the CBA will eventually realise that it is in their best interests, as well as the interests of Ming, to not do this.
    As for the final 3 books, perhaps they are best left to the power of the quote. Here is a consice description which I found on the 'net:
    Again, the predominant theme seems to be the lesons of the past, as well as the importance of protocol. I was reminded of these themes when I saw the comments of the Chairman of the Shanghai Sharks, who expressed his concern about the Bulls being a better place for Ming, etc. IMHO, these comments were more a statement that he was feeling slighted by the lack of contact from the Rockets, as opposed to any real comment on Ming's future.

    THE END... (for now)

    If you've managed to read all this, I commend you. If you have anything to add, I'm impressed and appreciative. If anybody's interested, next in the series would come Confucus, Mencius, and Legalism. Let me know if you'd not be too offended if I posted it. Again, comments appreciated.
    #1 Ottomaton, Jun 3, 2002
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2002

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