07 June 2017

Linking three systems 通三統: a Confucian cosmopolitanism

The Qing army during the Taiping Rebellion, flying the wuseqi 五色旗

Zi Zhang asked whether the affairs of ten ages after could be known. Confucius said, “The Yin dynasty followed the regulations of the Xia; wherein it took from or added to them may be known. The Zhou dynasty has followed the regulations of Yin; wherein it took from or added to them may be known. Some other may follow the Zhou, but though it should be at the distance of a hundred ages, its affairs may be known.” (Analects 2.23)
In Wang Hui’s masterful China from Empire to Nation-State, the excellent Chinese neoleftist historian explores the question of why China did not become an ethno-state after the fall of the Qing Dynasty – which, after all, had held together a collection of different ethnicities (Manchu, Mongol, Han, Tibetan and Uyghur), all of which spoke different languages and practised different faiths, largely through the force of military discipline and personal loyalty to the Emperor. In terms of linguistic affinity, why did the Han Chinese not join forces with the Vietnamese, the Koreans and the Japanese – all of whom could be considered part of the linguistic Sinosphere as all of them used Chinese characters? Why instead did they choose a policy of racial integration: to keep all the old Qing-era ties with their non-Han subject peoples? Wang Hui argues persuasively that the post-Enlightenment European understandings of ‘nation’ and the assumed principles of modernisation which are supported by those understandings, are insufficient to explain China’s choice. He argues instead that there was a Confucian-influenced moral impetus behind the wuzu gonghe 五族共和 policy; the same as the Qing themselves had used to legitimate their rule over a vast multiethnic empire.

Wang Hui puts it this way, looking at the Qing-era sources:
For example, during the mid Qing period, New Text scholars reexamined the principles laid out in the Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu fanlu) that honour ritual and stress trustworthiness, value trustworthiness over place of origin, and hold the importance of ritual over that of oneself to emphasize that any standard of deciding whether or not something was “Chinese” that was based on geography or “person” (ethnic identity) was out of line with the principles of ritual.
There’s our good old friend Dong Zhongshu again. Dong’s hermeneutics were back in favour during the Qing Dynasty, in part because those Han Chinese scholars sympathetic to the new dynasty and particularly the dynamic new emperor (who was emphatically not an ethnic Han, but who had adopted many Chinese practices and customs and who had cultivated friendships among the Chinese during his time on the throne) required a theory which allowed them to acknowledge his Chineseness. They turned to the Analects, particularly to passages like this one (a favourite of mine which I’ve quoted on occasion):

The Master was wishing to go and live among the nine wild tribes of the east. Some one said, “They are rude. How can you do such a thing?” The Master said, “If a superior man dwelt among them, what rudeness would there be?” (Analects 9.14)
They also quoted the Analects passage at the top of the page, and placed it in light of Dong Zhongshu’s theory of ‘linking the three systems’ (tong santong 通三統). The scholars who followed Dong Zhongshu and his read of the Spring and Autumn Annals were particularly concerned with maintaining a certain cultural and political continuity that could hold between dynasties and minimise the threat of instability which naturally accompanied the transfer of the Mandate of Heaven (as it did between the Xia, the Yin and the Zhou), even if a ‘barbarian’ dynasty happened to possess it. The idea of racial or ethno-national continuity, something like which had come to the fore particularly during the Ming Dynasty (and later among its loyalists) was downplayed in favour of the idea of civic continuity (to deploy another slight Western anachronism) as expressed through ritual, music and institutional life. Wang Hui again:
References in their works to important themes from classical texts appear frequently in their work: “When Chinese become barbaric, they must be treated as barbarians” (Zhongguo [ru] yidi, ze yidi zhi 中国入夷狄,则夷狄之); “When barbarians enter China, they become Chinese” (yidi ru Zhongguo, ze Zhongguo zhi 夷狄入中国,则中国之); and “China is now completely barbaric” (Zhongguo yi yi xin yidi ye). All of these statements emphasize that ritual and culture (rather than geography or ethnicity) define the importance of “China” and offer a pointed critique of the view of China promoted by Song-dynasty neo-Confucianism that called for “separation between Chinese and foreigners 華夷之辨.”
Also, from the longer-form work by Wang Hui (The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought), for which China from Empire to Nation-State serves as an introduction:
The statecraft theory of the New Text school took rituals as a basis and placed the political practice of the empire at the centre. When they revived the themes of the Confucians of the early Qing, they did not clearly differentiate between Chinese and barbarian, nor did they have the tendency to rebel, which lay concealed beneath early Qing orthodoxy. Rather, the New Text school scholars developed their theory based on the presupposition of the legitimacy of the empire and the transformation of history. This change in the emphasis of scholarship undoubtedly reflects the political reality of the Qing minority being rulers of a multi-ethnic empire.
Of course, this internal logic of breaking down ethnic barriers and emphasising the civic role of ritual was shaken grievously, as Wang Hui notes, by the sudden and jarring arrival of the Westphalian nation-state paradigm in which the Qing Empire quickly found itself forced to participate. It also led Kang Youwei, the leading New Text scholar in the mad new world of the Chinese nineteenth century, to undertake some bold leaps of philosophical thought which placed him on the far left fringe of contemporary politics. But his civic vision of a multi-ethnic China was somehow compelling enough to be embraced even by Sun Yat-sen’s Han-centric revolutionaries, even if the rooted grounding in Confucian ritualism Kang favoured had sadly fallen into disuse after the May Fourth movement.

Once again, though – the moral, cultural and intellectual resources for Chinese intelligentsia and people to resist Han chauvinism don’t have to be imported either from Maoist thought, or from liberal pluralism. The ritual, ‘institutional’ classicism of Dong Zhongshu itself contains a certain cosmopolitan outlook and character. Its detractors (and perhaps some of its supporters, as I suspect Wang Hui may be) might call it ‘progressive’, but I get the feeling Dong himself would prefer ‘humane’.

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