Letter 1 – John Chinaman

The First Letter of John Chinaman

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Rites Controversy

During the late 1500’s and 1600’s, there had been conflicts between the Catholics and Confucians. Matteo Ricci allowed Chinese to keep their filial devotion to their ancestors while practicing Catholicism at the same time. In the other side, the Dominican missionary was against Ricci considering that Catholicism should not blend together with Chinese traditions. They both had different interpretation to their beliefs. Although Emperor Kanxi first allowed Ricci to spread Catholicism while allowing them to keep their Chinese traditions, he made a decision to ban Catholicism as a new missionary came and decided to spread a new perspective of their beliefs.

I think Matteo Ricci’s idea was the best for both Catholics and Confucians because it is fair for both side; Chinese could practice Catholicism while staying filial to their seniors and ancestors by doing traditional Chinese ceremonies and having ancestral name tablets set up at their houses.

“Why should there be differences between the (missionaries’) various nationalities and various religious institutes and communities, when they are worshippers of the same Deity?  If they live and work together they will not compete as rivals.”

I completely agree with what Emperor Kanxi has said above and the other missionary should not be against Ricci’s way of spreading Catholicism; allowing people to use Tian and ShanDi in referring God. I agree with Qing Emperor Kanxi in banning the Catholic missionaries from China. If I was the Emperor Kanxi, I would do the same thing because the Chinese traditions and Confucian Classics play important roles in the Chinese History. I think Emperor Kanxi made the right decision for the Catholic missionaries who did not allowing the Jesuits to practice their Chinese tradition, which prevented the old Chinese traditions and a huge part of Chinese History to be erased.

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The Melody of the Song Video

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The Flowing Melody of the Song

On the examination day for scholar-officials, 300 of us gather together to take the exam in order to enter the government service. This exam requires thorough knowledge of the Confucian canon, the ability to write essays on moral issues and current affairs and create poems in various styles. Therefore, talents, as well as understanding the ancient culture are what it takes to have a future career open to us.

My Neighborhood in Kaifeng

Today, with a clear sky and cold breeze in Kai-feng, I decide to take a walk around the city to keep a relaxed and fresh mind before the big scholar-officials examination tomorrow.  As I walk out of the door early in the morning, I realize the neighborhood is already full of activities. Seeing their determination and how hard they work really warms up my morning and is a really start of the day.

The Rainbow Bridge

 As the number of people trying to take the exams increases steadily, the competition raises up between us. Just letting the thought passes my mind makes my heart pounds three times faster like the sound of horse steps. As I realize I should learn what kind of things the Chinese do and get to know their personalities besides only knowing the basic knowledge, I decide to cross the Rainbow Bridge to the other side of the city. The Rainbow Bridge, a wooden rainbow-shaped bridge is where most of the activities take place.

Donkey Pulling Carts Containing Goods

Food stands that run along both sides of the bridge, horses and wheelbarrows barely leave any space for traffic. I realize by then how much the population has grown. It is interestingly delightful seeing things that I have never seen before. There is a vendor with various tools, donkeys bringing goods around, and even people under the bridge helping to keep the boat on track and make sure the goods on it are safely shipped.

Ship With Goods
 

The talks between sellers and buyers, the sound when horses neigh, the joy of keeping the Wayward boat on course are the things that make Kai-feng as one community, especially during the day of the Spring Festival.

People Gathering Around A Story-Teller

When I get to the other side, I encounter a story-teller surrounded by people.  It is fascinating to see the carved words and pictures on wooden blocks and the books formed from inking them, and pressing paper onto the blocks.

Story-Teller Telling Ancent Stories Using Wooden-Blocks

It is very pleasant to see a lot of people interested in the Ancient Chinese histories and how literacy starts to spread out throughout China. Knowing these stories is extremely helpful as I will be tested on the Confucian Classics on the examination. I listen to one full story and am amusingly surprised by the amount of questions people ask to fulfill their curiosities toward Chinese culture.

Weaving Plain Cloth

The making of silk which takes place besides the story-teller catches my attention.  The different steps that it takes to produce these silk are worth the beauty of the silk itself. These women seem to get used to working on feeding of silkworms, the cleaning of their trays, the unraveling of the cocoons, the reeling, spinning of the silk filaments and weaving of plain cloth on simple home looms.

 
The Rice Cultivication

When I arrive at one of the farm, I am amused by the beauty of the rice cultivation. Besides the stunning view of the farm, the irrigation and water controls that keep this agriculture going bring me to realization about how fast technology improves in China. Although farmers are not the highest job in the society, I realize how important they are in order to keep people in the city alive since rice is the common food that Chinese people eat.  I decide to visit one of the farm houses. I meet one farmer named Meng Long, who is kind enough to bring me on a tour around the farm. Not as easy as it looks, farming rice is rather complicated and requires a lot of different jobs. I see people leveling the paddy fields, clearing irrigation ditches, planting and especially transplanting the seedlings, as well as weeding, harvesting, threshing, and husking.

Food Stalls

Since today is the eve of the Spring Festival, I go back to the food stalls on the Rainbow Bridge to bring home some dumplings and New Year’s cake for tomorrow. It is my family’s tradition to gather together around a stove on the eve of the Spring Festival, eat and talk until late at night.

The City Life of Kaifeng

There are various kinds of food that is offered on the stalls. The tasty scents of the food give me a hard time in choosing which one to buy.

When I arrive back home, my family and relatives already welcome me with delicious food on the stove. I can feel the happiness in the little kids’ faces as they listen to the old Chinese Spring Festival Legend, which I have not heard before. As my mother says, in ancient China there was a beast that came out at night on 30the day of the 12the lunar month.

Nian

 The beast was called the Nian. On New Year’s Eve, the Nian came to a village, accidentally encountered two boys who were trying to see who could crack their belt the loudest. The Nian was so scared by the cracking sound and then it ran away forever. It came to a second village where there were two red gowns hung up on a door to dry, which scared it away again. It then came to a third village, this time to be frightened away by lights. The villagers learned that the Nian was afraid of three things: Noise, red, and lights. Therefore during Spring Festivals, people make a lot of noises, decorate with red and a lot of lights. This is the precious time that I love about Spring Festival, where I get to gather with my family members and learn something new each year about the Chinese culture.

Jiu – Chinese Wine

 At night, when the kids are asleep, the grown-ups will start the drinking game. It is my family tradition that I look forward to every year. Since I have the big examination tomorrow, I will not take role in this game, but I help setting it up. This game involves two people, one coin, and Chinese wine. We all gather around the table, one of the players will start spinning the coin and then hit it, while the other has to guess which side faces up and which faces down. Whoever loses has to drink one small cup of Chinese wine and perform a song in front of the whole family. The game goes on until people get really drunk, usually early in the morning. This wine, or we usually call Jiu, plays a big part in my family’s New Year’s celebration. This game brings us closer together as we gather, laugh, and sing together each year.

Although it is a busy day, it is worth the time to listen to ancient Chinese stories, visit the farm house in rice cultivation, go around the city of Kaifeng and end the day by spending the eve of the Spring Festival with the family. Flowing along with the melody of the Song Dynasty sure warms me up and gives me relaxation for the big examination coming-up tomorrow.

Links

http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/song/

 

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Dong Zhongshu’s “Heaven, Earth, and Man”

According to Emperor Wu during the Han Empire, Confucianism is the official ideology for the imperial rule. Dong believes in the Confucianism ideas on human virtues and social that could bring the Empire to a success. Yin and Yang and the Five Agents also play a big role in his ideas. In this ideology, men is still a major role and rulers who disobey his role will cause unbalance between Heaven and earth, such as natural disasters.

The way Dong cements Confucianism as “official ideology” of the Han empire is by showing the connection between Heaven -> Earth -> Man, how man connects between these two. The last line in this article, which says “Thus one can see that the principles of a man match the way of Heaven,” tells us that it all goes back to Confucianism where nothing is more ethereal then the ‘qi’. By mentioning that humans are the most special creatures that are created, with morals and humanity, it means that humans are the ones who should lead to take care of the Earth while following the way of Heaven, which has created all of it. While Dong develops the idea of Confucianism, he brings up the importance of the role of emperor to rule the empire. Just like the four different seasons in Earth, the emperor has love, hate, joy and anger as instruments to rule the Emperor. If he use the right emotion at the right time with his moral principles, the world will be well governed. But if not, the emperor will be considered not following the way of Heaven, which then lead to chaos and natural disasters.

One part that really interests me in this article is the third last paragraph of this article. The reason is because when I read it, I was so surprised how he can make the connection of life spans and Heaven. After reading each line in this paragraph, I would always go “oh yeah!” because I never thought of that before.

“The movement of Yin and Yang causes a person to have a foot ailment or a sore throat and also causes the vital energy of the earth to rise and bring clouds and rain.” This like of the article tells that in Chinese medical thought, the energy, which is inside you, is very important to be maintained. People should balance the Yin and Yang to be healthy and away from diseases.

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Tianxia v. Democracy, Nations, and U.N.

All-under-Heaven is considered as the concept of a perfect Empire because it consists of both the Earth and the people, where nothing else is important to the Emperor, no matter how many properties he gets, without the support of its people. It views the Empire not as a nation or a state but as the whole world and views the political and philosophy through the world-wide-viewpoint, not just the view from nation/states. It is important that there is a connection between a Son of Heaven and the concept of All-under-Heaven to create a good foundation for the Empire, which he is born to guide the Emperor in the right concept. In this concept, people’s heart is considered better than democratic elections because the justification needs to be according to what people want and observations of the society, not just based on facts.

Tingxia is not completely superior to Democracy because each of them has their own advantages and disadvantages. However, Tingxia has the advantage over Democracy that it is important for the government to see the society not as just a nation, but as the whole world. In Democracy, as we all know, most of the government only cares about themselves not everyone else. In Tingxia, the Son of Heaven is justified as what he does not what he is while in Democracy, the representatives make promises and say things that they don’t mean just for the sake of being chosen and popularity. Although it is very important how people have the rights to choose and elect the representatives to lead their nation in Democracy, there will be people who are not happy with the decision that’s made, which would cause problems. Once again, Tianxia might have those disadvantages over Democracy but we will never know that there might be rebellions who disagree with the decisions that the Son of Heaven makes.

Each nation has different cultures, way of thinking, histories and backgrounds, which make them look at things differently from each other. Although ‘All-under-Heaven’ is a great concept for an ideal Empire but this concept might not work for the others who have different cultural, political, and religious backgrounds.

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Sima Qian’s History

To be honest, I was getting a little bored while reading the first bits of this story. However, while I was getting to the middle part towards the end, I honestly got a lot more interested in it. A few points that interested me:

– What shock or discomfort or lack led to such an iron determination that it was more bearable to live with mutilation than without history?

Besides the reason that Sima would like to continue what his father would want to finish, i wondered what motivated him so much to write this history. It’s hard to guess why he was bearable to live with mutilation than without history, but what i think it was he realized what happened to people when they did not look back and live without history. It is interesting how much devotion he had to make a historical change to shape a better future. It made me realize how important history is. It is a big part of what shaped what we are now. By understanding history, we can understand why things are the way they are now. And by understanding what happened in the past and connect it to what is happening in the present, we can better understand what will happen in the future. This is the part where I kind of understood why it was so important for Sima to keep on writing history even when he had to face castration.

The part where Emperor Wu ascended to throne at the age of fifteen interested me to read. I was surprised that back then, when you were fifteen, you could already become an emperor. As I learned about the Mandate of Heaven in the previous sections, I realized that the Heaven did not play a big role in this era. It is different to the previous section where a leader will no longer have the authority to rule the dynasty if he did not follow the rule of Heaven. In this document, although Emperor Wu was unsuccessful in leading the people, he still got to be the emperor because of his authoritarian way of leading. It was interesting for me because I realized that Heaven was such a big of a deal in the first ancient dynasties while it didn’t in this part of history of China, which made me think about how big the historical change could be in a short period of time.

Another thing that I really liked about this was the filial piety part. I really like how so far of what I’ve been reading about History of China, the importance of being filial and respectful to parent is always a big part of the history. Personally, respecting my parents is always one of the most important things in my life. I really understand what Sima did for his father because I would do the same thing for my father since he has been my inspiration and motivation.

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