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A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography.

By DAVID SCHABERG. Harvard East Asian Monographs, no. 205. Cambridge, Mass.: HARVARD UNIVERSITY ASIA CENTER, 2001. Pp. xvi + 503. $50.

This is an exhausting and exhaustive book. The "past" that David Schaberg is concerned with is the Spring and Autumn era. The "patterning" he finds in the literary features of the two great sources to the "history" of that period--the Zuozhuan and the Guoyu. In a series of eight essays divided into two main parts--Speeches and Narratives (in a sense, the yen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of ancient Chinese scribes)--Schaberg argues that "Speeches ... provide the intellectual armature for historical narrative and allow the views of the historiographers to emerge in articulation with historical particulars. Narratives ... set the state for speeches ... [and] ... also assert the existence of a world in which Confucian values, expressed in a Confucian rhetoric, make for predictions that are canny, criticisms that are just, and policies that are successful" (p. 12).

It would seem that Schaberg has read and no doubt re-read Zuozhuan and Guoyu in an attempt to make sense of their approach in the context of early Chinese historiography. The book he has written is as rich as the texts themselves and a summary is not easy. Nevertheless, let me try. The book begins with a carefully written Introduction. If readers find time for nothing else, they should read this section. Schaberg's descriptions of the two works certainly rival the entries in Michael Loewe's Early Chinese Texts; witness the following paragraph on the Zuozhuan:
 The Zuozhuan is a collection of anecdotes and exegetical
 comments related to the Chunqiu, a terse chronicle of events
 in the state of Lu and associated states during the years 722
 through 479 B.C.E. In its current form, the Zuozhuan, like the
 chronicle, is organized around the years of the reigns of the
 twelve dukes who ruled Lu during that period. For each year
 the compilers give several anecdotes and comments, for the
 most part maintaining chronological order on the level of
 seasons, months, and days. The anecdotes concern all the
 major northern states of the period, as well as such southern
 states as Chu, Wu, and Yue. At just under 200,000 characters,
 the Zuozhuan is by far the longest of all pre-Qin texts.
 As early as the second century B.C.E., legend held, quite
 implausibly, that the work had been written by Zuo Qiuming, a
 contemporary of Confucius (p. 5). (1)

Schaberg is under no illusions about recreating Spring and Autumn "as it really was." He admits that with regard to the history of this era, "the facts will always be just out of reach, [so] that no representation will quite do them justice, and ... a work will sometimes look more honest when it strains against its own conventions of depictions" (p. 11). Such is the book at hand.

Part I, "Speech and Patterns," focuses on the Guoyu. The four chapters in this part, "The Rhetoric of Good Order," "Wen and the Meaning of Verbal Art," "Intelligibility in the Extrahuman World," and "Order in the Human World" are strung on the Confucian leitmotif of li [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which Schaberg renders "ritual propriety" and finds in the pronouncements of the many speakers he aptly cites and accurately translates here. Schaberg also establishes a paradigm of early Chinese rhetoric (utilizing the work of Ulrich Unger and others) which is not dissimilar to early Western concepts in some aspects (the three types of speeches, for example, are found to be deliberative, forensic or predictive, and epideictic in both cultures, with deliberative by far the favorite in early China). The featured character of this first part is the Zhou patriarch, King Wen, who appears on forty of the first one hundred pages of The Patterned Past.

This first part of the book is filled with observations or explanations that delight. Consider Schaberg on the differences in rhetoric between the Shang shu and the Zuozhuan/Guoyu:
 None of the early Shangshu texts has an elaborate and obvious
 structure that subordinates all parts to a single principle.
 The style of harangue or injunction typical of the earliest
 texts favors the accumulation of imperatives rather than the
 systematic analysis of a particular problem. Although speakers
 in the Shangshu emphasize the authority of the past models
 of behavior by speaking of them frequently, they do not
 generally quote them. In historiographical rhetoric, by contrast,
 clarity and elegance of structure are the pre-eminent
 rhetorical achievements and the authority of the past is
 brought to bear through citations (especially of the Shi) that
 contribute to and influence structure (p. 28).

Similarly perceptive is his reconstruction of the elements of the typical structure of a speech in the Spring and Autumn era:
 The historiographical speech is built from the following elements:
 a judgment of present events; general principles;
 citations from canonical works, aphorisms, and the like; historical
 precedents; observation and description of events at
 hand; matching of principles, citations and precedents with
 these events; and a prediction of future events (pp. 42-43).

Or, finally, his gloss of feng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "wind or air" (and the possible implications for his understanding to the generic discussion of the Shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: "Feng is primarily the medium for the circulation of information in both geographical and social space" (p. 118).

With the admission that this first part of the book interested me less than the last, let us turn to part two, "Narrative and Justice," and its four chapters: "The Anecdotal History," "Narrative and Recompense," "Aesthetics and Meaning," and "Writing and the Gods of History." The assumption underlying this part is that in ancient China there was
 a practice of historical discourse, of storytelling, that
 accommodated events to a set of central values, which functioned
 both descriptively (in narrative) and prescriptively
 (in political philosophy and ethics) and were held as core
 beliefs by some followers of Confucius (p. 10).

Storytelling was vital to both the Zuozhuan and the Guoyu since "the basic unit of narrative" in each "is best described as the anecdote" (pp. 171-72), which Schaberg in turn carefully defines in the context of the Zuozhuan and the Guoyu as "a brief narration (typically no longer than a few hundred characters) of interactions among historical agents that substantiates a particular judgment, expressed or implied, about the characters or about the event itself" (p. 172). He continues: "the typical Guoyu anecdote also has the basic elements of narrative form as found throughout both works. It defines a time and a place, introduces a small group of actors, establishes a pretext for speaking, records the words of one or more speeches, sometimes with shorter passages of dialogue, and narrates the effect (sometimes none at all) of these speeches, which permits an evaluation of their importance" (p. 173). The question that arises here is why the judgment or evaluation should be considered part of the anecdote proper. It seems to me that early narratives were often composites of various types of simple forms and that "anecdote + evaluation" was the form common to the Zuozhuan and the Guoyu. But this is a minor objection to what is part of a major new concept of longer, connected narratives in these early texts. Rather than the historical romances that Henri Maspero and David Johnson postulated, Schaberg prefers to see these extended narratives as "anecdotal series" sometimes built out of the smallest unit of narrative, "an entry of details" (such as often seen in the Chunqiu). To me Schaberg seems to be on the right track with regard to these narratives (this perhaps in part because I have recently tried to argue that similar narrative-series, linked by their focus on the Han founder Liu Bang, existed in the oral literature of the early Han dynasty).

Schaberg acknowledges the early ascendancy of the speech in literary taste. This, he argues, allowed anecdotes put in service of Confucianism to incorporate "whole words of oddities and allurements, or perversions and unaccountable motivations" (pp. 164-65). Given these allurements, narrative gradually supplanted speeches as "examples of literary excellence," so that today (primarily under the influence of the Tongcheng School) the Zuozhuan is considered by many scholars to be a narrative masterpiece.

After successfully setting early Chinese historiography on the anecdote and in turn defining the anecdote thoroughly, Schaberg close-reads a number of Zuozhuan narratives. Many of these readings are exemplary. The translations are readable and accurate. Schaberg's exegesis of the Shi poems exchanged in the Zuozhuan account of the feast that the state of Zheng gave to Zhao Meng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], for example, is a critical tour de force (Yang Bnjun, Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu [Beijing: Zhonghua, 1982], Zhao 1.4, 1208-10). The clarity and originality of the argument lend themselves to use in graduate classes and the incisive discussion will stimulate any scholar of early poetry.

There are two passages in this second part of the book, however, that trouble me somewhat. First, when Schaberg suggests (p. 176) that there has not been enough analysis of Chinese historical narratives, he brings forth a new set of terms, concluding that
 the beginning of the anecdote establishes the place, the acts,
 and a phenomenon requiring response, in this case the gift
 [of a turtle]. In the middle of the anecdote, appearances--the
 omen of the trembling finger--undergo interpretation,
 which is recorded in the words of the interpreter, Zigong,
 Interpretations imply expectations and actions.... An event
 as recorded in these works is a phenomenon in the radical
 sense of the word: it comes into view, presents itself as a
 appearance, and prompts interpretation (p. 178).

It might have been simpler to have used some sort of "accepted literary terminology" (if such a thing exists) here. Schaberg is intimately familiar with the texts in question (Seymour Chatman et al.). These anecdotes could be seen in terms of exposition (the presentation of the characters, place, and stable situation which opens a short traditional narrative), an exciting force leading to a conflict, a climax, and finally a resolution (also referred to a thesis, antithesis, synthesis). In the story at hand about the feast for Zhan Meng, Duke Ling of Zheng is murdered by two of his sons because one of them was not treated to a rare turtle soup. Rather than view the gift of the turtle as a "phenomenon requiring response," as Schaberg does, it might be seen as the exciting force of the tale. More likely, however, the turtle is merely the means through which the son's (Zigong's) arrogance is revealed; it is this hubris (or perhaps the duke's failure to understand his son) that leads to the murder. It would seem that personalities rather than phenomena drive this--and other--early narrative(s). Moreover, the anecdote seems to end with the "resolution" of the tension between Zigong and the duke, his father. Any interpretation lies outside the anecdote per se.

The second passage that I should like to comment on Schaberg's analysis of the famous story of Duke Zhuang of Zheng and his younger brother Duan. Schaberg sees the narrative as consisting of "two separate anecdotes, the first concerning the duke's conflict with his brother and the second of his reconciliation with his mother" (p. 183). Yet the narrative seems to me to be an intact whole. It begins with the term ch'u [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "earlier" (see also the discussion on analepsis below) and the account of Duke Zhuang's problematic birth. Throughout the narrative there is little conflict between the duke and his younger brother--it is primarily a story of the duke's struggle with his mother, a struggle that began when the duke was born by breach-birth which resulted in his mother naming him Wusheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Breach Birth) and "subsequently detesting him [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Yang, Zuozhuan zhu, Yin 1.4, 10-15). It is also his mother who wants to have the younger brother Duan established as successor to her husband, Duke Wu. And it is primarily with his mother that Duke Zhuang finds conflict--she uses Duan to oppose the duke by requesting a strategic city for him. Duke Zhuang refuses this enfeoffment, but overrides an advisor's admonition to give Duan an alternate city because "Lady Jiang [his mother] desires it" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Moreover, this narrative begins with the time expression ch'u, "earlier," and ends with the line "subsequently [their reunion] made mother and son as they were earlier" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the echoed ch'u forming a cleverly complete whole, disregarding the possible questions about the oedipal relationship of this pair.

But these are minor and perhaps personal objections to what is a series of stimulating interpretations throughout part two. As in part one, moreover, Schaberg's miscellaneous comments are lagniappes for the reader. His discussion of analepsis in the Zuozhuan (often initiated by the word ch'u "earlier") is perceptive and convincing, I had always believed that ch'u normally marked the point at which an author or compiler interjected a narrative from an alternative source, but Schaberg integrates analepsis into his scheme of the anecdote-series to conclude that "[analepsis] is normally used to set the scene for another anecdote immediately after" or, when inserted after the culmination of an anecdote-series, "it corresponds to the proleptic figures of prediction and foreshadowing" (p. 205). Once again a gloss made almost in passing rings true: in these early texts, Schaberg maintains, hao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] normally indicates "an illicit and doomed pleasure in some material object of desire" (p. 268).

In chapter 8, "Writing and the Ends of History," Schaberg argoes that the compilers of the Zuozhuan and the Guoyu were out to "subordinate the nobility's power of wealth and high office to the educated's stratum's power of speaking and remembering ... [and] ... in their anecdotes [the compilers of these works] staged the conflict between learning and power and resolved it in favor of learning" (p. 261). "The Decline of the Zhou Order," the final chapter, addresses both the question of why the Chunqiu and the Zuozhuan ended with the death of Confucius and an inquiry into the relationship between these historiograph-compilers and the texts they wrote. On the first question Schaberg concludes that "in narrating the decline of the Zhou political order, the ending of the Spring and Autumn period, and the death of their philosophical ancestor [Confucius], the historiographers of the Zuozhuan and Guoyu made a place for their own vocation. They developed a concept of writing that allowed them to exploit its technological advantages and, at the same time, to fend off the challenge that unconstrained use of writing would pose to their authority ... [and] ... what ends circa 479 B.C.E. is not so much an era as a set of interrelated writings about an era, in which an economy of bao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] supports a carefully defined system of ritual propriety and a corresponding set of aesthetic properties" (pp. 310 and 312). On the second question Schaberg suggests that "the historiographers ... seem to have believed that unless texts were transmitted within a teaching tradition that guided readers to correct understandings, texts would mislead. They made understanding of the Chunqiu a figure for both historical knowledge and for all learning, including political philosophy" (p. 293).

The book concludes with an appendix on "Orality and the Origins of the Zuozhuan and the Guoyu." This section is required reading. It contains a brilliant series of observations on orality (cf. also the remarks on Wu Zi Xu, pp. 78-79) that draw on Schaberg's own mastery of these early histories and the works of Kaizuka Shigeki, Xu Zhongshu, and Jens Petersen. Although Schaberg is careful to remain in the conditional mood, he integrates the oral tradition into the four stages he sees in the compilation of the Zuozhuan and the Guoyu: (1) during Spring and Autumn and the early Warring States some texts became available to scholars outside court; anecdotes and speeches were also transmitted orally; (2) from about 400 B.C.E. selected anecdotes that eventually became the Zuozhuan were transcribed from the oral tradition; they developed alongside a continuously rich oral transmission of related narratives; (3) the anecdotes of the proto-Zuozhuan were gradually reorganized to become a commentary on the Chunqiu, possibly through the oral teaching tradition; (4) the Zuozhuan and the Guoyu were canonized during the Han dynasty (pp. 322-23).

To conclude, this is a book that should be read once by all students of early China. It will richly repay rereading--and the sometimes centrifugal pull of the eight chapters may facilitate this--not only with an understanding of how Spring and Autumn history was created, but with one discovery after another. The 116 pages of notes are a separate treasury (not always easily accessible through the index, however). This fine book leaves us all eagerly awaiting the appearance of the Zuozhuan rendition that David Schaberg is translating with Stephen Durrant and Li Wai-yee.

(1) On the dating of the Zuozhuan, Anne O. Yue has recently argued, based on distinct usage of a grammatical problem, that the "books of the Latter Four Dukes ... are probably written at a later date than those of the Former Eight Dukes" (see her "The So-Called Pivotal Construction in Pre-Qin Chinese," in Linguistic Essays in Honor of Mei Tsu-lin: Studies on Chinese Historical Syntax and Morphology, ed. Alain Peyraube and Sun Chaofen [Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales, 1999], 352).


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Author:Nienhauser, William H., Jr.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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