xing lu

Lu’s work, “Rhetoric in Ancient China” dispels several myths about Chinese rhetoric from a Western view. The first and perhaps most startlingly misunderstanding is the notion that Chinese rhetoric does not discuss logical arguments. On this common misperception Lu writes, “Only European languages are deemed capable of producing scientific thought, while the Chinese language, symbolized by ideographic characters, is said to be limited in function to the mere representation of immediate experience”. In the introduction, he also mentions the problem with translating texts. Even though translators have desperately tried to reproduce accurate texts, Lu mentions that an understanding of both cultures plays a crucial role in obtaining the true meaning of texts. For example, he notes that one translator believed Tao Teh Ching renounced rhetoric and communication because he mistook the Chinese phrase “maintain moderation” for “keep silent”.  Tao Teh Ching clearly wrote that speaking glibly and too much should be avoided rather than speaking at all. The problem, according to Lu, is our preconceptions and in the fact that “meaning is historically and culturally relative”. After reading that Easterners once viewed Westerners as red-haired, large-nosed devils, I was reminded of the inaccuracies in our own history. Because we as humans have preconceptions, we superimpose our own values against another culture as witnessed though numerous historical inaccuracies. For instance, the perception of Native Americans as barbarous, uncivilized savages stems from biases and cultural misunderstanding. To tackle this issue, Lu discusses the concept of hermeneutics that encompasses the entire human experience through linguistic translation as well as contextualization of “historical, cultural, and social conditions” that relate to texts. Of course, hermeneutics has been criticized as well. According to Heidegger, interpretation begins with preconceptions, and anyone who attempts to understand a text actually projects his or her own views; however, we must recognize our own bias rather than completely discard hermeneutics. Heidegger’s idea of hermeneutics begs the notion of absurdism and deconstruction. If we place our own understanding of language on others’, how can we achieve true meaning? It seems that everyone would shudder from the idea that our attempts to gain knowledge are all in vain. Like Geertz, I believe we’ve seen an increase in our endeavors to analyze and evaluate texts against our own value system. While this may offer a more objective approach towards understanding cultures through comparison, it also leads to ethnocentrism. Lu comments on this concept stating,, “cultures are classified as good or bad, inferior or desirable, primitive or civilized. Such practices should be understood as expressions of superiority and ethnocentrism rather than as genuine attempts at scholarly enquiry.” This clearly relates to the given example of the Native Americans and so many other cultures weighed against our own. Lastly, Lu disproves the myth that Chinese rhetoric is absent of logic by showing readers that the Mingja was in fact interested in logic and argumentation. Three of its primary functions were to discriminate things, express one’s opinion, and infer truth and falsehood. While deduction and logic in Mingja may not be as formulaic as the Greek’s, it certainly makes its way into Chinese texts.

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