Is Chinese history overrated?

Chinese history overrated?

  • Yes

    Votes: 19 19.6%
  • No

    Votes: 78 80.4%

  • Total voters
    97
Feb 2011
6,233
True to an extent, though I am unsure how Du Halde exactly fits in, and how other enlightenment thinkers (though often wrong) being preoccupied with China fit into this as well.
I said learning counts as learning irregardless of the reason they learnt. The point of contention is whether Chinese learnt about foreign cultures, not why they learnt, which was why I did not discount your statement on Matteo Rici. Why bring Du Halde into this and how does that affect what I say?

As for Zheng He being called back for financial reasons -- this argument is not universally accepted. I believe the current theory is he was sent out to find a lost Ming Prince, and, upon not finding him, the Ming court abandoned the enterprise. Even so, the financial troubles of the Ming had not happened yet, and he could have easily helped expand commercial territories given the chance. The Ming, for example, after Zheng He continued their large scale wars with the Mongols.
I find that sort of conjecture highly unconvincing considering Zheng He went all the way to the East Coast of Africa. He went as an ambassador to show off Ming prestige. Anyway, none of this matters because the contention at hand is whether the Chinese learned about foreign cultures, not how they learned about foreign cultures nor about whether they traded with foreign cultures so I don't see the point of bringing ambassadors into this, except that Zheng He did bring knowledge of foreign cultures back.

But this is digression. We can nitpick examples all day, but if the most literate culture in the world has not produced as much material on other cultures as lesser, smaller countries have produced about it, it says there is a general trend wherein there is less of an interest in looking outward than inward -- hence my original point about there being no logical reason China wouldn't focus on Chinese things, or that Europe would not be preoccupied with Europe. And my original point that it is harder for me to justify the Canadian government paying for me to research China than it is for them to research Canada. That there are a few exceptions to the general self-imposed intellectual isolationism is not really the point of this discussion.
The original point of contention I have with you was told to you already. It is in regards to your statement:
The strange thing is, with the exception of mostly Western European scholars and Japanese scholars, the majority of cultures have not thought it worth studying other cultures. Some attribute this to colonialism, but the processes began far before the first colonies were established. Chinese language scholars, for example, (including ancient writers of the classical Chinese world) were not particularly preoccupied with things beyond their periphery vision. Yan Fu, for example, is regarded as being one of the first Chinese translators of the thought of Europe -- before that they simply ignored Europe. The earliest translations of Sinitic history were much earlier, and indeed the fascination with discussing other places in Chinese discourse is a much later phenomenon than Sinology in Europe.

If you say China is the "most literate culture in the world", then that meant other cultures were less literate. This implies there's less literature to adopt from other cultures, and from the perspective of smaller countries there's more material to adopt from China than vice versa.

I find it funny you say there are "few exceptions to the general self-imposed intellectual isolationism" considering the list of exceptions I gave you:
All the quotes from Shiji by Simaqian
Explorers and ambassadors like Zhang Qian and Zheng He
Xuan Zang, his travels, and his translations on Buddhism,
Fa Xian, his travels, his Records of Buddhist Kingdoms, and his translation of Buddhist sutras
Xu Gaungqi, Yang Tingyun, Li ZhiZhao, Li Chibin, ,Han Lin, Duan Gun, Wei Douxu, Zhu Sihan and their translations of western works such as Euclid's Elements
Wang Zheng translating from translated from Victruvin's De Architectura, Agostino Ramalli's Le Diverse et Artificiose Machine, Georgius Agricola's De Re Metallica and Simon de Bruges' Hypomnemata Mathmatica .
Adoption of Marxism over even Confucianism
Old Book of Tang's description of Rome
New Book of Tang's description of Rome
History of Song's description of Rome (descriptions way more than vice versa)
Yiyu tuzhi (Pictures and Descriptions of Strange Regions)
A Study of Eastern Barbarians by Mao Ruizheng (I know you don't count this because said barbarians lands were incorporated into Chinese territory)
The "Ask No questions" Complete Handbook for General Use : Contains sections of foreign customs
A Record of All Guests: Contains information of foreign countries with 850 clan names of foreign peoples
The vast majority of the 24 dynastic histories, official chinese histories which includes special section devoted to foreign peoples
Tong Dian: lists several works about foreign customs including
Record of the Custums of All the Western Tribes
Affairs and Customs Emanating from the Turks
llustrations/Maps of Foreign Countries
A Record of All Barbarians

I'm sure I missed some, but this is a compilation of what I've given you through a first skim of my posts since yesterday. I've spent a lot of time quoting from them or secondary sources mentioning them, "pages upon pages" in fact. Pardon me if I take offense that you think I only listed "a few" exceptions. On the other hand if you redirected these hours arguing to instead get the quotes required to back up your claims, then you would have the quotes I asked for by now. You said you don't have them because you don't have the time, but the length of our discussion and your discussion with heylouis is really proving otherwise here.

I'm allowed to disagree with you on things you state even if those statements of yours is not your point.
 
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heylouis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
6,397
China
1. why people could not find a chinese record on geography outside china in ancient chinese collections?
because geographic records are categorised into the "history" section in traditional chinese collections. most of them appended as some last chapters of a history book
don't looking for the wrong place!
2. why sichuan become a major silk production base since late eastern han?
partially, it was driven by direct government support from, for example, Shu Han of three kingdoms
and then, it is known, since the late eastern han, the temperature in china dropped. thus it become less suitable to produce silk in northern china due to the silk worms
3. who produced the silk in tang era china? sinitic people or non-sinitic people?
major fraction of silk produced in the chengdu city during tang era china.
specially, an inner city was built during the Shu Han of three kingdoms, to protect the silk industry. special official was appointed to keep in charge of silk production.
well, many minorities lived in sichuan. so what? that does not mean they produce silk!
4. does that mean producing silk is specifically related with the sino-culture?
yes, or no.
yes, the practical result is so.
no, we have to see the politcal-economic ties on silk productions.
why?
silk is a large scale industry.

to produce silk, you need
a. large amount of lands. you can never use them to produce food now
b. large amount of human resources. they need to collect leaf, feed the worm, collect the silk, process the silk, then weave
c. large amount of water, to process silk
d. long time period for payback. the worm easily dies, the tree needs time to recover, your man resource need to survive a war (that is why Shu Han built a city for them).....

sinitic people produced most of silk in ancient times, not only because they were among one of the first people to feed silk worms and produce silk, but also because they were populated, so they can afford those cost.

when it comes about a scaled industry, it is not just about culture, but eventually about political-economics. in return, the silk technique is co-developed with the population growth of a stable regime.


we can see the silk is in a very different way from wool industry.
feeding the sheep, human can still eat their meat, no problem of food.
few people can master over a large amount of sheep. you don't need to worry about their food, just lead them to the feeding ground.
the sheep won't die easily just because you give them too many grass or too few. the worm will!
you can collect the wool, you can also collect the skin. there is always something left. only silk from worms.
the sheep can run. worm cannot. leaving your home, worm is going to die.

these are reasons why a small tribe can be good wool producers, but they cannot be good silk producers.
 
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Mar 2012
4,319
Xuanzang was neither the most influential nor the most accomplished of translators -- he was merely the most famous because of his diary, biography and the novel written around him. IF you examine much of the court debates and hagiographies of the Tang, Buddhism never shook either its foreign associations, nor its practitioners preference for foreign monks over local ones.
This is just totally wrong. By sheer quantity and quality, Xuanzang is by far the most accomplished of the translators. Today, all Buddhist sutras used in monasteries are mostly the Xuanzang translated editions (the prajnaparamita sutras for example) rather than the earlier translations, because Xuanzang's translations are usually deemed better. That's not even including the numerous sutras and discourses which weren't even translated before Xuanzang. Furthermore, Xuanzang brought the entire new Yogacara school of Dharmapala into China, as well as Buddhist logic. These works affected the later rise of the Huayan school of Buddhist philosophy (the most sophisticated Chinese Buddhist philosophy) under Fazang.

As for the question you propose -- these types of question formats were not unknown on 乡试 where this test allegedly occurred. That being said, it makes no difference, I can name, for example the period between 900AD and 1850 in which virtually no texts were translated into Chinese by Sinitic individuals. The presence of intrepid missionaries had no significant bearing on the development of the major schools of philosophy or the political life of the empire anyway, with the exception of offering forms of transferred science.
I would further like to point out that even for Buddhism, this is simply not true. Starting from the Xixia and even the Song, the Annutara Yoga tantras such as the Hevajra Tantra were starting to be translated into Chinese in large quantities. This continued well into the Yuan and Ming dynasties (with the Ming translation of the text being the best). This is not even getting into the numerous Mongol and Manchu Buddhist cannons being translated during the Qing.
During the Ming, we even have a specific Tibetan/Sanskrit translating monastery built in Beijing.
The Ming dynasty monk Zhiguang traveled to Tibet and created a clique which translated large quantities of Mahamudra and Path and Fruit texts from Tibetan, Sanskrit, and other languages. Recently, scholars like Shen Weirong have uncovered large amounts of these texts, such as the Dacheng yaodao miji, most of which were translated during the Ming, on Tantric cultivations which the Ming and Qing emperors both practiced. Mamamudra texts such as 大手印无字要 or 端必瓦成就同生要 even entered into private collections of the early Qing scholar Qian Zeng.

Confucians might warn both Ming and Qing emperors of the bad influence of Tibetan Buddhism, but so many palace Tantric texts have been produced by emperors that we know for a fact these emperors ignored Confucian orthodoxy and practiced Tibetan Buddhism heavily. As for innovation, we have Ming era palace texts which mixed Confucianism, Daoism, and esoteric Tibetan Buddhism into one text. Ming Wuzong himself was said to have learned Tibetan and investited himself the title of Dharma king. Qianlong not only learned Tibetan but also had his entire tomb covered in Tibetan Mantra.
Instead of treating Confucian history as representative of all Chinese views, I would caution you instead, to treat them as a mere orthodox narrative which is very limited in describing the complexities of Chinese society and intellectual inclinations. Even Neo-Confucianism is heavily influenced by Buddhist idealism.
 
Likes: Kadi
Mar 2012
4,319
China's attention to history in general is sparse in comparison to American education. On the other hand I've worked for Chinese companies and the first thing they ask me is how American companies do things, and not once do American companies ask me how Chinese companies do things. Is that supposed to mean anything? People aren't interested in history in general, especially the Chinese education system who focused way more on math and science subjects. Today, Europe is way further ahead in European history than Chinese are in Chinese history (I wouldn't even be surprised if Europe was more ahead than some aspects of Chinese history than China too). So I wouldn't be surprised that Chinese would be further behind in the study of non-Chinese history as well. On the other hand, more often than not I see these type of books:

Outnumber these type of books:


On par or outnumbering these types of books in a bookstore:


The first book predicted China would collapse in 2011 by the way. I don't even know why books like that are doing in the history section, it should be in the politics section.
To be fair, China also have popular books like these:
1548429883885.png

《丑陋的日本人》

There is also virtually no anti-racist education in China, or a legal lawsuit against racism in China. You can openly make racial comments and there would be little retribution.

China's area study is indeed pretty weak, forget about Africa, I cannot find a consistently taught Tibetan or Mongolian language classes to non-native speakers in even top level universities like Beida or Qinghua and these are areas within China. America has at least several university that regularly teach Tibetan to beginners. Of course, these are just modern examples that are partially affected by development preferences and should not be generalized with historical psychology. There is no group of people that have the same psychology throughout history.
 
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Jul 2017
510
Sydney
This is just totally wrong. By sheer quantity and quality, Xuanzang is by far the most accomplished of the translators. Today, all Buddhist sutras used in monasteries are mostly the Xuanzang translated editions (the prajnaparamita sutras for example) rather than the earlier translations, because Xuanzang's translations are usually deemed better. That's not even including the numerous sutras and discourses which weren't even translated before Xuanzang. Furthermore, Xuanzang brought the entire new Yogacara school of Dharmapala into China, as well as Buddhist logic. These works affected the later rise of the Huayan school of Buddhist philosophy (the most sophisticated Chinese Buddhist philosophy) under Fazang.



I would further like to point out that even for Buddhism, this is simply not true. Starting from the Xixia and even the Song, the Annutara Yoga tantras such as the Hevajra Tantra were starting to be translated into Chinese in large quantities. This continued well into the Yuan and Ming dynasties (with the Ming translation of the text being the best). This is not even getting into the numerous Mongol and Manchu Buddhist cannons being translated during the Qing.
During the Ming, we even have a specific Tibetan/Sanskrit translating monastery built in Beijing.
The Ming dynasty monk Zhiguang traveled to Tibet and created a clique which translated large quantities of Mahamudra and Path and Fruit texts from Tibetan, Sanskrit, and other languages. Recently, scholars like Shen Weirong have uncovered large amounts of these texts, such as the Dacheng yaodao miji, most of which were translated during the Ming, on Tantric cultivations which the Ming and Qing emperors both practiced. Mamamudra texts such as 大手印无字要 or 端必瓦成就同生要 even entered into private collections of the early Qing scholar Qian Zeng.

Confucians might warn both Ming and Qing emperors of the bad influence of Tibetan Buddhism, but so many palace Tantric texts have been produced by emperors that we know for a fact these emperors ignored Confucian orthodoxy and practiced Tibetan Buddhism heavily. As for innovation, we have Ming era palace texts which mixed Confucianism, Daoism, and esoteric Tibetan Buddhism into one text. Ming Wuzong himself was said to have learned Tibetan and investited himself the title of Dharma king. Qianlong not only learned Tibetan but also had his entire tomb covered in Tibetan Mantra.
Instead of treating Confucian history as representative of all Chinese views, I would caution you instead, to treat them as a mere orthodox narrative which is very limited in describing the complexities of Chinese society and intellectual inclinations. Even Neo-Confucianism is heavily influenced by Buddhist idealism.
Wow! I had no idea Xuanzang is so influential in China

Till date, the only thing I knew about him was that he had visited the court of a king in my part of India but after reading your post I feel really enlightened about the full extent of his scholarship
 
Mar 2012
4,319
Xuanzang wasn't just famous in China, he was well known in Central Asia and probably even India in his time as well, as he was a top student in Nalanda (Xuanzang was a classmate of Dharmakirti, both studying under Dharmapala, who inherited his logic system from Dignaga, but Xuanzang never thought too highly of Dharmakirti's new logic, which became famous in Tibet, but unknown in China) and represented the school in debates throughout India. In his records, Xuanzang wrote an essay refuting the arguments of the non-Buddhists and Hinayana schools of Buddhism; this essay was made public by King Harsha and after 18 days when no one wrote a refutation, Xuanzang was declared the winner. The attention Harsha paid to Xuanzang is probably not just scholarly, but also because Xuanzang served as a messenger between Harsha and Tang Taizong. The Western Turkic Kaghan as well as the king of Turfan all received Xuanzang as a very important guest when he reached there and did not want him to leave their states. In China, Xuanzang is known to have founded the Yogacara school of Chinese Buddhism, and his selected text, the Chenwei Shilun (Formation of the Discourse on consciousness only) was also instrumental in the Chinese Buddhist revival of the 19th century, as well as one of the fundamental basis of the New Confucian philosophy of the late Qing and Republican period. Much of the standardization of Chinese Buddhist terminologies can also be attributed to his translations.
 
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Jul 2018
496
Hong Kong
After reading the thread host Hangfan91's argument, I really want to laugh....Oh, just like that dialogue in the Chinese TV series Romance of the Three Kingdom, in which Zhuge Liang told Wang Lang, "I thought that you would speak something sound, yet disappointingly, you spoke something so vulgar !"

Ok, to be serious, get to the point.

considering they have never really expanded their influence abroad in terms of colonies like the European powers did
So dear Hangfan....you think that the European colonial conquest around the globe signified the European powers' superiority over China which did not conduct the oversea colonization like the European did ? Let me guess....that's why you deduced the Chinese dynastic regimes in the early modern period were militarily weak and probably dearth of great shipbuilding technique (not sure what're you thinking, just guessing anyway).

Well....those Swiss confederate people never expanded their realm beyond the mountainous region around the north-west of the Alps from the late Medieval Era to the early 19th century, yet were soldiers came from the region "overrated" ? Indeed....every single person who have little knowledge about military history would surely know the awe-inspiring reputation of the "Swiss mercenaries" — particularly their famous pikemen who taught so many great powers a lesson by their ferocity and ingenuity. The Burgundian army which looked so formidable even with primitive gunpowder weapons under the command of a strong king Charles the Bold, suffered the crushing defeat ! Even the mighty Habsburg suffered many setbacks in his attempt to subjugate them ! In the battle of Novara (1513), the much powerful Kingdom of France was utterly humilitated by those "Swiss mountainous warriors" aiding the Duchy of Milan.

Okay, talk about China then. Do you know how the Dutch Formosa was rapidly seized by the Ming loyalist army under Zheng Cheng-gong in AD 1561 ? Even with just a small strip of Chinese coastal region in nowadays Fujian Province as his operational base, his army and navy were still sufficient to overcome the Dutch garrison in Formosa. And in the year after he conquered Formosa, he even "demanded" the Spanish East Indies to pay tribute and prepared to launch the expedition onto the Spanish Philippines under the pretext of the local Chinese being slaughtered and pillaged...luckily he passed away in time, so the expedition didn't take place, and Zheng family's regime at Formosa was gradually weakened afterward and ultimately being conquered by the Qing Dynasty.

Oh....surely you don't know about that.

My main point is : those countries which was so devoted for territorial conquest and expansion didn't surely mean they were "certainly superior in military strength" than those countries who showed little tendency for expansion. It is just your fanciful and baseless thought.

and were for the most part militarily unsuccessful the past 500 years after 1500 suffering heavy losses in the Opium Wars, the Taiping revolution, Boxer rebellion, Sino-Japanese war, etc., do you consider Chinese history to be overrated?
Due to lack of time, I'll talk about this later.
 

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