Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lurie: 2 - History of writing。。。 Harvard who?

Since it has been quite some time since the last post, I've decided to upload a portion of what I've been working on in relation to the book in question. Note that I've had to procure four books that he cites in order to facilitate this analysis and critique, three of which I've read all of or the relevant portions, and one of which has just recently been delivered.

Because the book itself is all over the place, it is difficult to collate the information, as there is a tendency for the boundaries to fade into each other at the disciplinary frontiers.
In any case, the main topics relate to a somewhat archaic matter called kundoku, the ongoing China vs Korea influence bias, the status of Prince Shotoku, and the notion of an East Asian cultural sphere, which is probably the main topic addressed in the first installment of this post. Even the content of this post is somewhat disjointed and far from its destination, but it is time to present it in a provisional manner.

I have about twenty more pages to edit, and will have to figure out how to collate the information into these two posts, limiting the critique of this book to two posts, and devoting a post to Prince Shotoku in the near future.

Lurie mentions Robert Borgen in passing on p. 330 of his book in a footnote addressing “social and gender dimensions of the stylistic writing in Heian Japan. That’s all well and politically correct of Lurie; however, the paper cited by Borgen, which is called “The Politics of Classical Chinese in the Early Japanese Court”, has much more than that to say on matters pertinent to points I am addressing in this critique of Lurie’s book. The essay appears in the following volume:
Rhetoric & the Discourses of Power in Court Culture

The following passage, for example, touches on two pertinent themes taken up by Lurie in relation to the adoption of the Chinese character writing system by countries on China’s periphery: phonetics; and the role of the transmission of cultural texts written in Chinese in the formation of a broader, regional intellectual community, which is an issue I address below in terms of an East Asian cultural sphere. I quote one further passage from the paper by Borgen toward the end of this post.

On p. 229, Borgen writes:
When Japanese first started to learn the Chinese writing system, they faced the same problems that confront modern students whose native language is not Chinese. The system is complicated, and the phonetic clues it offers are of limited value until one has learned a considerable amount of the system. On the other hand, the system could be, and was, mastered, despite its complexity. Knowledge of classical Chinese gave one access to a massive corpus of materials—literary, philosophical, and practical—including works that are still read and admired, at least in translation, throughout the world. Knowledge thus acquired had practical benefits, not the least of which was that it made Japan part of a larger intellectual community.

With respect to the vocalization of Chinese characters (i.e., pronunciation), that is to say, the sounds with which to render graphical characters, which are representations of words instead of sounds, i.e. logographs, the people of ancient Japan and other lands on China's periphery faced even greater difficulties than we do today in learning Chinese characters. The reason for that is because they had no way to represent the sound of an approximation of the pronunciation of the characters in spoken Chinese, which we of course have the luxury of recourse to the English transliteration system of Pinyin, for example, and they had no way to represent the meaning of the characters in terms with which they could be described in spoken Japanese.

The second of the above-described problems encompasses both an inherent dimension with respect to the pedagogical issues faced by anyone in learning a non-phonetic writing system, as well as to the additional problems faced by the people of a country that has no writing system and has a spoken language that is not the spoken language represented by the character system that is being learned in order to be adopted (and adapted) as a writing system.

This, in turn, relates to the concept of “kundoku” (which is related to present day kunyomi readings), which is a major focus of Lurie’s, and I will address that issue in terms of how such converted readings relate to both the learning process, and methods for pronouncing the characters using Japanese phonemes and vocalizing sentences in Japanese syntax. In other words, the problems addressed by kundoku are basically two-fold, from what I gather: first, the problems of rendering the meaning (i.e., semantic content) of the Chinese characters appearing in a text intelligible in Japanese; and second, the problems of converting the Chinese syntax into Japanese syntax.

The practice of annotating Chinese character texts with stand-in characters borrowed for their phonetic association is a related issue. That practice led to the development of the Japanese phonetic syllabaries called kana.

There are several papers presented in the book Centrality and Marginality of Ancient Documents that are relevant to the topic at hand, and it should be noted that the book contains essays by two scholars that Lurie cites in his book with relation to works published in Japanese only. It also contains the only papers published in English for several authors with respect to whom Lurie cites works published in Japanese only. Included are essays by: Sung-Si Lee (cited in Lurie’s bibliography as Yi, Song-si [Ri Sonshi/Lee Sungsi]), who teaches at Waseda University, Tokio Shinkwawa, also of Waseda University; Yasuhiro Terasaki, who teaches at Nara University; Eiichi Ishigami, who teaches at the University of Tokyo, and is not cited by Lurie; and Minami Hirakawa, who is affiliated with the National Museum of Japanese history, and is not cited by Lurie. 

The Japanese version of this book was published in 2006, five years before the publication of Lurie’s book, and the English version in 2010. It seems unlikely that Lurie would not have been aware of the work by these authors before submitting his manuscript for publication, raising the question as to why the contents of this volume were ignored, particularly in light of his multiple references to Lee’s (Yi’s) works, and his emphatic mentioning of the wooden slips (mokkan) that are the topic of Lee’s only essay published in English as predating any of the wooden slips found in Japan.

Centrality and Marginality of Ancient Documents

Before I take up the issues in that book however, I think I should address a comment Lurie makes directly in his text in relation to a Japanese-only publication by Lee from 2000. I can read and translate Japanese, so I have procured a copy of the book in question to see what it had to say (the translations are mine), because Lurie makes a rather cryptic and uninformative citation in relation to it, not even mentioning any page numbers or the like, let alone providing any details in relation to his citation. But before making it to that passage...

 On p 348, Lurie asks:
…what exactly is the connection between culture and writing? Do particular writing systems incorporate or encode cultural differences? Do they cause them?
    Such questions are raised, though usually not addressed directly, by the dominant metageographical concept in Japanese scholarly discussion of an East Asian cultural region: the notion of a “cultural sphere of Chinese characters” (kanji bunkaken). 

Here, Lurie asserts that the “dominant metageographical concept” is a “cultural sphere of Chinese characters”. However, the book of Lee’s that Lurie mentions directly in the text of his book addresses the question of an East Asian cultural region in terms of an East Asian Cultural Sphere. In fact, the title of Lee’s book translates to:
The Formation of the East Asian Cultural Sphere.
Here is the amazon link to Lee’s book (2000) in Japanese.


In the abovementioned book Lee asks how the cultural sphere of East Asia should be defined: in terms of economics, Chinese character culture, and several other cultural attributes. Although Lee includes the attribute of Chinese character culture, it is only one of many that he considers. Lee addresses the work of several scholars, including an individual named Nishijima whose theory that Chinese culture was by and large spread throughout East Asia through the mechanism of the system of tributary relations between the Chinese dynastic courts and the states on China’s periphery is examined by Lee. Lee criticizes that theory, in one case pointing to the transmission of the Chinese character writing system to the Korean kingdom of Silla through the Korean kingdom of Koguryo instead of directly from China.

In any case, Lurie would seem to conflate the concept of an East Asian cultural sphere, as discussed by Lee, with that of the “cultural sphere of Chinese characters”. The immediate problem with such a characterization is that the places where the Chinese character writing systems has been adopted can be physically mapped. That makes it a fallacy to characterize the “cultural sphere of Chinese characters” as a “metageographical concept”. It is a category that transcends the borders of any single country, but it can be geographically defined, at least for the period in question. I don’t know if his intent is simply to attack Japanese academia, but the concept of an East Asian cultural sphere is obviously more appropriate, as sphere used in this sense is more abstract, in the same way as we use the term in referring to a “public sphere”, for example. This issue is taken up again below.

On pp. 349-50 of his book, Lurie writes:
The primary conceptual difficulty of the notion of a Chinese character cultural sphere, and of any regional concept of East Asia supported by a cognate notion, is the nature of a ‘character culture’ (kanji bunka). This could be taken to mean the technical nature of writing surrounding the character system; physical practices and artifacts, brushes, calligraphy, ink, paper, and so on—and a bit more broadly, the exegetical network and other metalinguistic/metagraphical components. As argued in the preceding section, it is hard to establish where the ‘system’ ends and ‘independent’ cultural practices begin, but regardless the preceding could be taken as the more narrow sense of a culture of writing permeating and surrounding Chinese characters. However, kanji bunka could also be taken to mean, much more expansively, the common culture of the entire region, of all the countries that have used the Chinese writing system or derived their systems from it.

There are a couple of points in this passage that are problematic. The first relates to Lurie’s mentioning of a “cognate notion” and a ‘system’. He initially characterizes the ‘system’ in a provisional manner in terms of the physical properties and practices of writing the characters as well as the body of texts produced thereby. He then suggests that the concept of ‘character culture’ could be expanded to encompass the “common culture of the entire region”. Regardless of the characterization, with respect to the “cognate notion” and ‘system’, because the Chinese character writing system comprises a complex set of abstract and physical components that is not simply adopted uniformly by each culture into which it is introduced, but is adapted, and would therefore likely produce a degree of idiosyncratic difference in each place, it would appear that the attempt to limit the definition of a cultural sphere to solely the nature of the writing system is inadequate to the task. Moreover, Chinese culture is not monolithic, and all one has to do is examine the history of any of the countries included in the Eat Asian cultural sphere to see that various doctrines held sway in different periods. 

On p.74, Lee writes:
Nishijima, as discussed above, places more emphasis on the role of the system of tributary relations between the Chinese dynastic courts and the various countries on China’s periphery as the conduit for the transmission of Chinese culture such the writing system of Chinese characters, Confucianism, Buddhism, legal codes, and so on.

It is apparent from this sentence that while Lee (Nishijima) places Chinese characters, while at the head of the list, account for a single dimension of the socio-cultural attributes that contribute to the constitution of societies within the East Asian culture sphere. Granted, the Chinese character writing system is a prerequisite to literacy, which is a prerequisite to receiving the transmission of cultural texts.

Lurie ends the preceding paragraph quoted above with the following sentence (p.350):

… One might express the central question about the regional place of writing as: what is the relationship between these two potential meanings of character culture?

Though I tried to ignore the distinction, Lurie comes back to it with a reified vigor. To reiterate, Lurie seems to be intent on pressing ahead with the unduly constrained notion of “character culture”, and then breaking that down into two categories which, on the one hand represent a disconnected set of physical practices and texts, and on the other hand a disembodied “common culture of the region”. As far as I can tell that makes the “central question” relating to “the regional place of writing” not only unintelligible but irrelevant. So I will leave it unanswered and proceed.

Lurie cites Lee’s book (2000) directly in the following passage from p. 350 Lurie writes:

    Another difficulty with the concept is that the notion of a ‘sphere’ implies a region with clearly defined edges, and most definitely with a center. Of course, there are real and important ways in which China served as a center for early Koreans, Japanese, and so on. But overemphasizing its centripetal attraction makes it difficult to think through relations with other cultural complexes… The implication that China sits at the center of a homogenous sphere makes it harder to conceptualize the differences among the various ‘participants,’ and it also overprivileges a hierarchical model of China transmitting culture outward to individual, mutually isolated recipients—a model that, not coincidentally, mimics the traditional Chinese diplomatic / administrative structuring of center and periphery that was discussed in Chapter 2. Such a model is not a good starting point for analyzing the historical role of writing and language in the region, as Yi (2000) shows in his discussion of how innovations from the Korean states influenced early Japanese writing.

I have already discussed problems relating to his use of the term “sphere” in the above passage. There are a number of further problems with the above paragraph, but I will limit the discussion below simply to his appropriation of Lee’s book without providing any discussion of substance. In fact, the gist of what Lee says in his book does not support most of Lurie’s claims, and there are aspects that run counter to some of Lurie’s assertions.

The book itself is rather short (a mere 90 pages, with numerous photos), and is academic in orientation; that is to say, it is not a theoretical treatise per se, but addresses more theoretical work by other scholars, with its intended audience appearing to be students and researchers working on the ground level in the field.

Lurie emphasizes the fact that the adaptation of Chinese characters on the Korean peninsula happened earlier in Paekche and Koguryo than Silla, but that Chinese writing was introduced into Japan through Paekche, starting at least one-hundred years before the developments described by Lee with respect to the use of Chinese writing in Silla. To a certain degree, it would appear that Lurie avoids discussing Lee’s book because some superordinate points in Lee’s arguments contradict points in Lurie’s arguments, whereas Lurie seeks to appropriate from Lee’s arguments simply the fact that Silla didn’t receive its transmission of the Chinese writing system directly from China through the conduit of a tributary relationship with the dynastic court of China. One way which Lurie can be seen as attempting to get around this problem is by attributing the contributions to “Korean states”, but Lee assigns credit only to Silla, claiming that the relationship with Silla should not be overlooked or made light of (in the manner Lurie does) with respect to the development of Chinese character related practices in Japan.

On p.69, Lee writes:
… these examples would seem to compel us not to disregard as insignificant the relationship between the Chinese character culture of ancient Japan and Silla.

There are problems with Lee’s assertions, which I will turn to eventually below; however, his research is at least presented in a manner such as to provide food for thought, and are supported with actual, though scant archaeological evidence.

On p. 64, Lee writes:

There is one mokkan that has been excavated from the site of the Iseongsanseong Fortress (Kyongi Prefecture, Hanam City), which was in the northern part of ancient Silla, that is from an even earlier period and is of great interest because of what it contributes to our understanding of the relationship between Silla and Japan with respect to Chinese character culture at the beginning of the seventh century.

Link to English website:

Lee cites the date of the mokkan in question as 608, but according to the following excellent Japanese blog, the cyclical date could correspond to either the year 608 or 688.

The point that Lee seems to take as most important relates to a find he portrays as representing a connection between Chinese character culture in Silla and Japan on the basis of the appearance of a particular usage of a single Chinese character [「前」~に宛てる] (see pp. 65) to identify the addressee of a shipment (commodity package) to which the wooden slip (mokkan) bearing the inscription in question was attached.

Lee notes that there are examples of similar usages have already been found in Japan and China. He states that an example of a similar usage found on a mokkan excavated from the site of the Fujiwara palace [「其の前に申す」]  (see pp. 65), which served as the imperial capital from 694-710, demonstrates the influence of a phrasing from the Six Dynasties period of China. I’m not really sure what to make of the overall thrust of his presentation of this point on p. 65, so I won’t post a translation of the sentences containing this information. 

I will, however, clarify that the Six Dynasties period was from 222-589 CE, and the site of the Fujiwara palace has demonstrated construction there from 682 (Wikipedia). Considering that the date of the mokkan from the Korean site is in question, and that the mokkan from the Japanese site is said to be influenced by Chinese precedents, it is not clear what point Lee is trying to make regarding the relationship of this usage with respect to its adoption in Japan and Korea. Certainly such a usage would have been rudimentary by the end of the seventh century, considering the fact that literacy in Japan had advanced significantly by that point among the elite, and the use of mokkan was fairly widespread. Therefore, it would seem hard to believe that Lee means to suggest that the usage in question was transmitted to Japan from Silla.

The point in relation to the usage of the single character in question is a point that is significant only in terms of the kundoku question; that is to say, the usage of the character is logographic and is not related to phonetics or vocalization. Moreover, the find will have to be correlated with further archaeological evidence excavated in the future in order determine the significance of the usage in question to the overall developmental trajectory of Chinese character usage in Korea and Japan.

Lee also discusses the occurrence of a particular character used to mean "key" that he cites as appearing on a mokkan from Japan 「二条大路木管」(Nijo-oji-mokkan) and on a mokkan from the Anapchi garden pond at a palace in Kyongju. The character in question was originally a character used for a metal weight unit, but is used to mean "key" on the Korean mokkan in question, while both the mokkan from Japan and Korea are related to the delivery of provision packages to guard posts. 

Lee gives no information on the dating of the 「二条大路木管」(Nijo-oji-mokkan), but there is information on the following Japanese website:
Basically, it too would appear to be from around the middle of the eighth century. 

Lee makes what is perhaps a somewhat exaggerated claim on p. 62 to the effect that it is "probably not possible to ignore Silla when talking about the development of the use of Chinese character culture in Japan" on the basis of the occurrence of the use of the single character in question. I suggest that it may be exaggerated because is based primarily on the usage of a single character as a noun, with no relation to the practice of kundoku or adaptive phonetics.

In all fairness, however, although the linguistic evidence of a connection between the Chinese character culture of Silla and Japan is very thin, Lee does states that prior to the discovery in Korea it had been thought that said usage was unique to Japan. Therefore, he appears to be trying to establish a connection in relation to common practices with respect to guard posts and the like, which are peripheral to the practice of writing itself. In this respect too, however, much is left unsaid, perhaps because there is too little evidence to propose that there may have been some practices--maybe even lock-related technology--that were specific to Japan and Korea, and developed independently from China. 

On the other hand, with the possible exception of the fact that a character originally having a different meaning in China was adapted to represent a different meaning in common in Japan and Korea, there would appear to be little at stake in the terms of a linguistic "innovation" of the sort being addressed by Lurie. Lee would appear to have introduced this occurrence as another example of the development of writing practices using Chinese characters that was conducted without the direct influence of China, in this case, a development that exists between Silla and Japan. 

It is not clear whether Lee means to imply that the use of the term originated in Korea and was then adopted in Japan, but there is no evidence for that, and the dating of the Korean mokkan is perhaps slightly later than that of the Japanese mokkan. Other mokkan from the Anapchi pond have cyclical dates from the middle of the eighth century, and the pond itself wasn't constructed until 674. 

On p. 17 of the Introduction of the book Centrality and Marginality of Ancient Documents:

      ...Some fifty wooden slips were discovered in the 
      Anapchi pond at Kyongju, the ancient capital of 
      Silla, in 1975.
      This artificial pool was constructed in the palace 
      in c. A.D. 674... The Anapchi wooden slips had 
      been the reign of King Kyong-dok (A.D. 
      742-65). According to Sung-shi Lee, 
      some slips are imperial order...modelled on the 
      Chinese practice; others are directives 
      relating to defence, like the wooden slips from 
      the Heijo Palace.       

That being the case, there is a possibility that the use of the character in question occurred first in Japan. 

Aside from the above two instances of character usage, Lee’s discussion is limited to the occurrence of common placements of a hole on some mokkan, and slots on others, which apparently played a role in the fastening of the mokkan to the parcels they were used to label.

Given the rather tenuous nature of the points that lee presents, Lurie’s attempt to appropriate Lee’s arguments in terms of, “as Yi (2000) shows in his discussion of how innovations from the Korean states influenced early Japanese writing” rings hollow, and would appear to be baseless. Lee's discussion merely points to the possibility of some confluence, but establishes nothing conclusively in terms of Korean innovation, let alone a transfer of such innovation from the Korean kingdom of Silla to the Japanese archipelago.

What Lee suggests in the chapter in question is that since Silla derived its usage of Chinese characters through the Korean kingdom of Koguryo and not through a tributary relationship with China, the development of Silla’s Chinese character culture was not directly influenced by China. The most obvious problem with the assertion, however, lies in the fact that there had been Chinese garrisons in the areas of Korea that subsequently became the Korean kingdom of Koguryo, so it can be assumed that the Koguryo Koreans had indeed acquired their knowledge of Chinese characters as well as the practical application associated with their use in administration directly from the Chinese contingent garrisoned at the commanderies in Leland and Daifang. Here, I’ll turn to Lurie’s book for the background information.

On pp. 196-7, Lurie writes:
Owing to the subsequent history of the peninsula, more is known about the language of Silla, commonly thought to be the source of modern Korean, than about those of the other two states, though the language of Paekche seems to have been close to that of Silla than that of Koguryo…
As discussed in Chapter 2, the first appearance of writing in the general area of the Korean peninsula probably dates as far back as early contacts between peoples in the north (the area that later became Koguryo) and the Chinese state of Yan during the late Zhou period. However, the first major influx of written material came after 108 BCE, when the Han wiped out the Wiman Choson state in that area and established commanderies at Lelang and on the Liaodong peninsula. Excavations by of tombs in Lelang by Japanese during the colonial period yielded much written material. There are arguments about how many of these objects belonged to Chinese administrators and how many of them should be attributed to acculturated ‘Koreans,’ but at any rate they attest to the presence of writing at this early period. The last of the commanderies, at Daifang (established 220 CE), lasted until 313 CE, when it was wiped out byt the newly expanding state of Koguryo.

Perhaps I’m overlooking something here, but having read the relevant sections of Lee’s book, I can’t understand why Lurie would attempt to appropriate that book in light of the fact that Lee’s assertions about the role of Silla would seem to run counter to the arguments Lurie presents vis-à-vis Paekche (p.84, etc., see previous post), and furthermore that Lee apparently has chosen to simply ignore the relationship between the Koguryo kingdom and the Chinese commanderies with respect to the acquisition of the system of writing in Chinese characters, which Lurie details in the above quoted passages.

In the course of the forgoing discussion I decided to abandon Lurie’s question relating to the “central question about the regional place of writing”. As an aside, however, in pondering these questions some interesting associations came to mind. There are some worthwhile comparisons to be found between the relationship of Chinese characters to Japanese and the relationship of ancient Greek and Latin to English. For example, in present day Japan, the relationship of the terms that have been incorporated into the language from abroad are readily apparent in the form of both kanji (Japanese term for Chinese characters), particularly as used as Sino-Japanese compounds, and the phonetic syllabary called katakana.

The presence of the kanji themselves continually imparts the notion that the country is part of a larger community of countries that uses Chinese characters. Perhaps this is the proper context to discuss something like a “Chinese character cultural sphere”. However, in the case of English, for example, the presence of Greek and Latin in the languages is not readily apparent to anyone that has not studied Greek or Latin. And the notion of belonging to a “cultural sphere” with respect to written language is also not as strong, even though all of the countries use basically the same alphabet, with variations and additions here and there. A Japanese person that travels to China can communicate through writing with Chinese characters. An Englishman that travels to Italy will not be able to communicate by means of written language, even though both countries use the same script. Furthermore, the Japanese are closer in touch with the diverse origins of their cultural heritage deriving from Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and other aspects of Chinese culture as well as Shinto, whereas in the West, the connection to ancient Greece and Rome has become highly obscured, with more people than not identifying their cultural sphere in terms of a connection to a Judeo-Christian tradition than the classical period of the development of Western civilization in ancient Greece and Rome. Plato who?

Oh, but did I forget to mention the Freemasons? Who?

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