Chinese Characteristics–After Correspondences with Supervisor J.G.

Arthur Smith by Chinese Characteristics

J.G. 指導教授批閱論文其中一章,當然是有不少的指導。對他的建議,是心懷感激的。原因是他的評語和建議不但具體,更重要的是按我論文整體的旨趣和框架提出。該章以三個案例為中心,早於一年前寫了,後來整合成第二章,案例前加上兩大部份,一是較廣泛的討論中國人的德的概念,一是泛談神學和倫理學中的德,目的是讓西方讀者能連繫之間的關係。結果這證明是畫蛇潻足,敗筆之作。回應中表示最引人入勝處是個案。關鍵在於,論文中不能隨意有泛泛之論,既要論,就必須嚴謹嚴肅待之。心中慶幸的是,三個案的策略拿對了,投石問路的方式也對了。不過不能說心中沒有挫折的。然而,比起收獲,就微不足道了。

與J.G. 沒有見面開會,只是在電郵上一來一往,從他的回應中,知道了 Arthur Henderson Smith (十九世紀美國在華宣教士)所著的 Chinese Characteristics (1890

Chinese_char_cover.jpg


並現代中文文學學者 Lydia Liu 的 Translingual Practice   她在書中第二章以"Translating National Character: Lu Xun and Arthur Smith"為名論述了魯迅如何此書影響,在那時代反思中國人的性格,塑造出一個阿Q正傳中的敘述者和阿Q。Lydia指出其中一段:

“In the item of sleep, the Chinese establishes the same difference between himself and the Occidental as in the directions already specified.  Generally speaking, he is able to sleep anywhere.  None of the trifling disturbances which drive us to despair annoy him.  With a brick for a pillow, he can lie down on his bed of stalks or mud bricks or rattan and sleep the sleep of the just, with no reference to the rest of the creation.  He does not want his room darkened, nor does he require others to b e still.  The ‘infant crying in the night’ may continue to cry for all he cares, for it does not disturb him.  In some regions the entire population seem to fall asleep, as by a common instinct (like that of the hibernating bear), during the first two hours of summer after noons, and they do this with regularity, no matter where they may be.  At two hours after noon the universe at such seasons  is as still as at two hours after midnight.  In the case of most working-people, at least, and also in that of many others, position in sleep is of no sort of consequence.  It would be easy to raise in China an army of a million men–nay, of ten millions–tested by competitive examination as to their capacity to to sleep across three wheelbarrows, with head downwards, like a spider, their mouths wide open and a fly inside.” (Lydia, 56)

Lydia criticizes Smith’s for using totalizing phrase “the Chinese” to spell out “the essential difference between the Chinese and the Occidental.  What Smith might use as “rhetorical and figurative”–”hibernating bear” and “spiders” becomes not “humourous” but “ridiculing”, as Lydia describes “contemptuous metaphors.” (Lydia, 57)

Smith was aware of possible objections to his description of Chinese characteristics, one of which might be that “parts of the views here presented, especially those which deal with the moral character of the Chinese are misleading and unjust" (Smith, 11).  But he defended his interpretation using “photographic negatives" as a metaphor, that “no two of which may be alike, yet each of them may present truthfully something not observable in any of the rest.  The plates on which the photographs are taken differ; so do the lenses, and hte developers, and the resulting views differ too" (Smith, 12).  He has cited Cooke’s Preface in George Wingrove Cooke, China: Being “The Times" Special Correspondence from China in the Years 1857-58.  London: G. Routledge &Co., 1858), saying,

“I have, in these letters, introduced no elaborate essay upon Chinese character.  It is a great omission.  No theme could be more tempting, no subject could afford wider scope for ingenious hypotheis, profound generalization, and triumphant dogmatism.  Every small critic will, probably, utterly despise me for not having made something out of such opportunities.  The truth is, that I have written several very fine characters for the whole Chinese race, but having the misfortune to have the people under my eye at the same time with my essay, they were always saying something or doing something which rubbed so rudely against my hypothesis, that in the interest of truth I burnt several successively letters.  I may add that I have often talked over this matter with the most eminent and candid sinologues, and have always found them ready to agree with me as to the impossibility of a Western mind forming a conception of Chinese character as a whole.  These difficulties, however, occur only to those who know the Chinese practically: a smart writer, entirely ignorant of the subject, might readily strike off a brilliant and antithetical analysis, which should leave nothing to be desired but Truth.

Some day, perhaps, we may acquire the necessary knowledge to give to each of the glaring inconsistencies of a Chinaman’s mind its proper weight and influence in the general mass.  At present, I at least must be content to avoid strick definitions, and to describe a Chinaman by his most prominent qualities. (Smith, 10).


The case is that either Smith, Cooke, or Lydia, each has one’s own situatedness in a particular historical location and situation which shape one’s perspective.  In Smith’s case, none has yet pointed out from a psychological aspect, whereas a missionary full of vision and aspiration to spread the gospel of the kingdom of God, albeit his hidden racist perception, which creates a gap like cliff to the valley compared to those Chinese commoners where he served, whom were but villagers leading a lifestyle compatible to villagers in far remote UK in pre-industrial time.  Lydia’s situatedness is shaped by being growing up mainly in communist China and also intellectually shaped by post-colonial theories.  


Does it mean that one cannot have an essentialist argument for Chinese characteristics? This is probably so.  There is no one dominant version of what Chinese really is.  However, to say then that there is no difference between Chinese and other races is also another reductionist argument.  Growing in Malaysia where multiracial encounter is part of everyone’s daily experience from political to economical, from education to business opportunity, from festival celebrations to religious practices, from cultural customs to the pride of one’s moral values.  Difference between ethnic groups and solidarity among one’s own race is too obvious to ignore. 


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