Téchne rhetoriké in early China

Workshop: Rhetoric as a Political Tool in Early China III

Tuesday, 14:00-16:00, 505





Uses of Archaism in Warring States and Han Prose

This paper starts from a consideration of the use of Shu citations in Warring States texts. In order to understand these properly, one must be able to see how these individual acts of writing fit within a longer tradition of archaist citation, recitation, and composition. After a consideration of aspects of archaic writing and speech in the Western Zhou and Spring and Autumn periods, I move forward to the Qin and Han and their employment, at the highest level of imperial administration, of what might be called a ceremonial archaism. Building on the work of Michael Nylan, Martin Kern, and others, I hypothesize that this ceremonial archaism accounts not only for the prestige accorded Shangshu, but also for its compilation, its form, and its title. Interpolating then from what preceded and followed the Warring States period, I examine archaizing rhetorical moves in a number of Warring States and Han texts and argue that the best explanation for archaism and for the particulars of Shu citation in that period lies in the observation that it was then and had always been possible to speak the archaic, both in repetition of old texts and in composition of new. Without a living practice of this sort of speaking, it is difficult or impossible to account for the proliferation of archaizing texts, for the graphic variations and phonetic similarities among many archaist passages, or for the importance of archaism in certain ritual settings. But once this type of speaking is reconstructed, the activities of Warring States speakers and writers in and away from the courts of rulers make for a substantial historical connection between the ceremonial utterances attributed to Western Zhou rulers and the organized archaism of the Qin and Han emperors.


The Rhetorical Function of Anecdotes in Early China

Early Chinese argumentative writings are full of anecdotes. The sheer number of these short, freestanding accounts of events in Chinese history – "true" or invented – indicates their importance. To give one example: one chapter in the Huainanzi consists in its entirety of more than fifty anecdotes, each coupled with a quotation from the canonical text the Laozi. To those who created the Huainanzi, these anecdotes must have somehow rendered strength to the central message of their text. Notably, some anecdotes occur in more than one text, which suggests that authors drew upon a pool of accounts of events in Chinese history, to reinforce their own writings.