Warp, Weft, and Way

A Group Blog of Chinese and Comparative Philosophy

Logic in the service of rudeness and insult

Hopefully, a more lighthearted one. In the Yanzi Chunqiu 《晏子春秋》 (ca. 3rd Century B.C.) we find the following anecdote:

晏子使楚,以晏子短,楚人為小門于大門之側而延晏子。晏子不入,曰:「使狗國者,從狗門入;今臣使楚,不當從此門入。」儐者更道從大門入,見楚王。王曰: 「齊無人耶?」晏子對曰:「臨淄三百閭,張袂成陰,揮汗成雨,比肩繼踵而在,何為無人?」王曰:「然則子何為使乎?」晏子對曰:「齊命使,各有所主,其賢 者使使賢王,不肖者使使不肖王。嬰最不肖,故直使楚矣。」

And here is my translation-paraphrase, with some liberties taken along the way:

Yanzi was sent as an envoy to Chu. The King of Chu, seeing that he is short of stature, had a small gate made beside the main entrance to the capital city and invited Yanzi to enter from there.

Yanzi refused, saying: “He who is sent as an envoy to a doggy-town enter by way of a doggy-gate. Now since I have been sent as an envoy to Chu, it is not appropriate that should I enter through such a gate.”

Stumped, Chu’s diplomatic corps led Yanzi to enter by way of the main gate, and brought him to the king.

Upon receiving Yanzi, the King said: “Are there no people in Qi, that it should send you as the envoy?”

Yanzi replied: “Qi’s capital city Linzi has some 300 boroughs. If all the inhabitants were to wave their shirtsleeves it would be enough to cover the sun, and if they were all to wipe sweat off their brows it would be enough to make rain. It’s so crowded that people walk cheek by jowl–how should there be no people?”

The King said: “If that is so why then send you?”

Yanzi replied: “There is method to the way Qi assigns envoys to foreign countries. The talented ones are sent to talented kings while the unworthy ones are sent to unworthy kings. I am the most unworthy, ergo, they sent me straight here…”

Logic “in the service of rudeness and insult” was how Christoph Harbsmeier introduced the above in his contribution to Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China, Vol 7.1–“Language and Logic”.

April 28, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy | 4 Comments

Fatalism in Mozi

This is my first post here so I will begin by thanking the Steve and Manyul for first inviting me (and gently reminding me to post), and begging everyone’s indulgence since I wanted to post something less weighty.

So I was reading Ian Johnston’s new complete translation of the Mozi to write a review (out next year in PEW) when I came across this passage in the introduction:

Mo Zi’s argument against Fatalism is very simple. To a significant extent, the simplicity is a result of Mo Zi’s failure to provide, in any of the [“Feiming”] essays, a clear exposition of what Fate actually is or might be. The discussion is really only in terms of what a belief in Fate is presumed to entail. There is no semblance of any argument about determinism and free-will more generally, although the existence of the latter is certainly implied in Mo Zi’s social prescription. (lxv)

It’s a small point in a compact overview of Mohism so I didn’t think it’s necessary to make too much of it (no, what follows is not in my review). But I can’t help but think that Johnston had committed the common error of conflating fatalism with determinism. But that’s not really my point in this post (having just concluded a semester’s teaching on free will and determinism, I think I’ll take a rest from that mess.) Rather, it’s the point that the Mozi text lacks a clear exposition of what Fate is that bugged me. What follows are some relatively unpolished thoughts I had when thinking about Mozi, “Feiming” and Johnston’s complaint. Continue reading

April 15, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy, First Entry, Mohism | 16 Comments