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Narrating Chinese Rhetoric: A Brief Overview

The four essays featured in this special issue of College English are examples of this unfolding narrative that I have been discussing. They illustrate how Chinese officials, scholars, and authors, at some different but crucial moments in Chinese history, negotiated difference, conflict, identity, and authority, and how they used language and other discursive means to engage and shape the political, social, and cultural conditions and practices.

The first two essays focus on ancient China, covering roughly the period from the Warring States era through the Former (or Western) Han dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE). The next two essays center on modern China in the twentieth century. Together they show us how competing schools of thought were engaged in some intensely dialogic tug of war, and how these discursive engagements helped to propel some ideology to the prominence of the importantly present and to enable the emergent Other to discover and solidify its own voice and identity. These essays are, in short, stories of Chinese rhetoric. Arabella Lyon starts us off by focusing on a highly formative, highly contentious period in ancient China (481-221 BCE) when China was consumed by political and social instability. Rival states were vying for Cheap Shoes power and dominance, culminating in the unification of China and the founding of the Qin dynasty in 221 BCE. These tumultuous times also spawned a host of competing social, political, and cosmological theories that arose to respond to and further shape and manage the political and social reality.

Lyon focuses on three major schools of thought: Confucian, Daoist, and Legalist. Although their representative works The Analects, the Daodejing, and the HanFeizi respectively have been studied before through a rhetorical lens, Lyon develops a highly intertextualized narrative placing them in direct dialogue with one another. Each school competes with the other two, not necessarily for securing mutual understanding, but for the prize of the importantly present to be determined by their intended one-ruler audience. Each school also reveals its own distinctive style and genre of writing in its representation of Discount Shoes authority, difference, and language use. So to foster a harmonious relationship between self, other, and the cosmos, Confucius preaches and practices ren, placing a high premium on interpersonal relations and human values, and challenging both the anti-worldly dimension of Daoism and the rigid and repressive nature of Legalism. On the other hand, Daoism values and promotes natural and spontaneous order over ritual and law, urging the ruler to practice ivuwei as a way to engage difference and divergence and to find the Way. Breaking away from both Confucianism and Daoism, Legalism appeals to the law as the ultimate arbiter to help establish unity and stability and to control difference and deliberation. It further appropriates the concept of wuwei from Daoism to advise the ruler how to rule efficiently and effortlessly. These dialogic, frequently agonistic, interactions helped the school of Legalism become the importantly present, however short-lived, toward the end of the Warring States era.

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