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The Confucian Creation of Heaven: Philosophy and the Defense of Ritual Mastery.

To read Robert Eno's The Confucian Creation in Heaven: Philosophy and the Defense of Ritual Mastery and not come across numerous interpretations and conclusions that one disagrees with strongly is not to have read it very carefully. Eno explicitly sets out to revise the "traditional portrait" of early Confucianism, and although there are many instances where Eno's provocative new portrait is no more convincing than the traditions he seeks to displace, in the end Eno's work is notable for the sheer multitude of original, controversial, and at times insightful twists he gives to Confucius, Mencius, and Hsun Tzu.

The book is really two works in one. The heart of the book, and, one assumes, the author's original undertaking, is a careful examination of the use of the character t'ien |Chinese characters~, Heaven, in early Ruist texts (the term Ruist is used throughout most of the book to translate the term ju-chia |Chinese characters~, but not in the title). Appended to this core is a more speculative description of the social and theoretical project of the Ruists, a project which Eno argues is centered around the performance of li |Chinese characters~, or ritual.

The book's portrait of Ruist ritual is rather colorful, albeit somewhat caricatured. In Eno's account, Ruists are notable for their "obsession with li: their archaic dress and scrupulous bearing, their precise speech, their tendency to gather and bring out their zithers, chant poetry, and practice ceremonial dance". The use of such terms as "obsession," "cult," and "eccentric" in describing the Ruists seems calculated to catch the reader's eye. While there do exist descriptions supporting this portrait, especially in the partisan attacks of the Mo Tzu, the evidence for such quirky behavior is rather thin. This is made especially apparent to the reader because Eno's much more precise and well-documented examination of the role of Heaven follows this section directly.

To dwell on the sensationalism of the descriptions is, however, to leave unexamined the underlying claims about the centrality of ritual for Confucius and his followers. On this subject, Eno acknowledges his debt to Herbert Fingarette's Confucius: The Secular as Sacred but elaborates Fingarette's thesis in original ways. One of the claims Eno makes is that Ruist doctrine was organized around two "radically disjoined" halves: ritual self-cultivation and political withdrawal. Leaving aside for the moment the controversial stand on the political disengagement of Confucius's followers, the discussion of the role of ritual self-cultivation is sympathetic and well-argued. Especially interesting is the discussion of the aesthetics of ritual.

There are two important issues that deserve additional attention in this regard. The first is who, exactly, the li were meant for. One need go no further than chapter ten of the Lun-yu to appreciate the extent to which ritual forms were occasional, and the fact that the occasion was often being at court. This argues against the idea that ritual was an "obsession," something which the "politically withdrawn" would spend their days practicing. The second is the weight due to the moral component of ritual. An unfortunate consequence of the book's focus on ritual as a style of personal behavior rather than an ideology is that the ethical value of ritual behavior is at times minimized. Certainly, the arcane rules of the Han-dynasty ritual compendia are testaments to the way ritual rules may be sundered from any ethical functions they might have had. Still, in many cases the link is still clear, and at times a line between ritual behavior and ethical behavior is difficult to draw. The Han dynasty erudite Chia I described the five studies which the crown prince must visit during his ritual training. According to Chia I, in the "Eastern study," for example, the prince learns the practice of benevolence by extending his natural capacity for kindness.

Certainly, by the time of Mencius, ritual rules were subject to the more important moral consideration of ch'uan |Chinese characters~, or "balance." A man would save his sister-in-law from drowning on this basis, despite the fact that touching her hand would be deviating from suitable ritual behavior. While the absolute centrality of ritual is a viable thesis in discussing Confucius, it runs into problems as soon as one moves on from the Sage. This point underlines a major inconsistency in the book, which is that the discussion of ritual in the first section focuses almost exclusively on Confucius and Lun-yu. Yet Eno uses the word Ruist in the same way he uses it when he extends his picture over two hundred years to Hsun Tzu. Since the potential advantage of using the word "Ruist" over the term "Confucian" is to make precisely this distinction, it is unfortunate that this thoughtful choice of terminology is not followed up.

In the second half of The Confucian Creation of Heaven, Eno turns his attention to a detailed examination of the role played by t'ien, often translated as "Heaven," but probably also best left in romanization. This section is marked by a more thoughtful approach to the writings of Confucius, Mencius, and Hsun Tzu, and repays close attention. The contrast with naturalism and the discussion of the concept of t'ien in Hsun Tzu is especially valuable and interesting. The thesis of this half of the book is that the three texts in question use inconsistent images with regard to t'ien and employ "the theory which serves their immediate purposes". Before discussing the problems inherent in a thesis that reads so much into the motives behind the writers of these texts, it would be well to summarize Eno's analysis of the writings of Confucius and Mencius.

Part of the difficulty in generalizing about the Lun-yu is the heterogeneous nature of the text itself. In particular, it soon becomes apparent that the references to t'ien are somewhat inconsistent. Because of this, Eno is forced to distinguish between the views of Confucius and those of the editors of the text, and finally consign some passages to the familiar dustbin of "late inventions." Nevertheless, he pays close attention to the text, and builds a fairly convincing picture of the Lun-yu as being internally inconsistent on the subject of t'ien. In the face of the relative homogeneity of the Meng Tzu, Eno focuses on the inconsistencies within individual passages, especially 2A.5 and 5A.5. The latter passage contains three different notions of t'ien, which shows "clearly what |Mencius~ is trying to do is to identify the notion of a purposive deity with descriptive political realities, and he is willing to recast the image of T'ien in any way that will help him do so". Eno goes on to write that part of the purpose for Mencius' willingness to manipulate the concept of t'ien is to rationalize his theories, and specifically the acceptance of existing institutions of hereditary privilege. For both writers, the concept of t'ien is a sort of tabula rasa which is to be inscribed so as to maximize the impact of their broader objectives.

This reading of Mencius downplays the significance of a new twist on the concept of t'ien that developed sometime between Confucius and Mencius. It is in 5A.5 that the relation between t'ien and the will of the common people is most explicitly made: t'ien does not speak but reveals itself through acts and deeds, and it sees and hears with the eyes and ears of the people. This earthly connection may also be glimpsed in 5B.3 where Duke P'ing of Chin shares food with Hai T'ang but does not share his t'ien-given position, t'ien-given duties, or t'ien-given salary. The Sung commentator Chu Hsi reasons that these are not things the ruler can manipulate, but are granted by Heaven so that the ruler will govern "Heaven's people" well. There is a clear identification between the interests of Heaven and those of the people, and an implication that popular sentiment is, to some extent, an expression of Heaven's will. This development not only seems discontinuous with Confucius' picture, but also does not seem to serve the notion of hereditary privilege very well at all.

Even beyond this relatively minor disagreement, however, there is a difficulty inherent in the assumption that multiple use of the same term means that the term is only being invoked for expediency. The variety and profusion of uses of the term "democracy" in the context of American culture, for example, does not guarantee that all its users are only invoking it for the authority it lends (although certainly some are). In particular, it might say something more about the fluidity of the term's meaning in society as a whole, or the changes going on in a particular class or movement, rather than any calculated manipulation on the part of each of the term's users.

This ties into the question of whether t'ien is a Ruist construct or a societal construct borrowed by the Ruists. At the very least, the Ruist usage must have played off more widely accepted notions of the nature of t'ien. It is strange, then, that the much more well-defined and significant role of t'ien in Mo Tzu's scheme rates only a mention in a footnote. Instead, the work focuses on three thinkers who share similar ideas about moral self-cultivation but have unclear and even somewhat divergent ideas about t'ien. The interesting hermeneutical task of trying to identify various uses of t'ien both inside and outside the Ruist tradition still awaits.

In general, The Confucian Creation of Heaven suffers from its penchant for making sensational claims. Setting these aside for a moment, however, the work has quite a bit to offer. Here is a book that combines an excellent grounding in textual studies with a much rarer desire to rediscover the values and attitudes that underpin the text. Some of its central concerns, such as the relation between ritual practice and t'ien, are developed in detail much superior to previous treatments of the same topic. While Eno's iconoclastic style is such that few readers will find themselves in complete agreement with him, most will be forced to refine their own views about Confucius, Mencius, and Hsun Tzu in a way that few other works would force them to do. As such, Eno's is a welcome addition to the secondary literature on early Chinese thought.
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Author:Csikszentmihalyi, Mark
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:1709
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