Over 300 poems of various lengths were anthologized and transmitted by Confucius in the early fifth century BCE. Philosophers of the Confucian school cherished the Odes and cited them frequently, and they have continued to entrance readers with their naturalistic imagery and personal voices. Only two samples are given here, but this rich tradition of poetry should be sampled at length.
The Book of Songs, transl. Arthur Waley, edited with additional translations by Joseph R. Allen (New York: Grove, 1996), 27 and 65.
The Chinese had to deal with nomadic neighbors on their northwestern frontier from an early date, and many of the patterns of that relationship were established, or at least explored, under the Han dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE). The Xiongnu was the Chinese name of the peoples, more or less politically united at different times, who were the dominant nomadic power on the frontier during Han rule. In addition to Chinese agricultural goods and metallurgy, the Xiongnu had developed a taste for Chinese silk, which became the principal luxury item used by nomadic leaders to build their political coalitions on the steppes: the more silk a leader could give away, the larger a following he could create.
As with all government business under the Han and subsequent Chinese dynasties, voluminous records were kept of (1) court deliberations over policy with regard to the frontier and (2) of diplomatic correspondence with the Xiongnu, whose leader had the title Shen-yu. Official court historians used these records extensively when writing their histories. The following selections are from the Hanshu, a Chinese history concerning the history of the Chinese empire from 206 BCE to 25 CE. It gives much detail about Chinese attitudes toward the “barbarians” who caused them so much trouble, as well as opening a few windows into the attitudes of the nomads themselves. Although colored by Chinese assumptions, the descriptions are generally accurate, receiving confirmation from other written sources and from archaeology. The selections describe an early period in Han relations with the Xiongnu, before 140 BCE, that can be described as conciliatory, being characterized by the payment of tribute by the Chinese to the Xiongnu (though the Chinese sources tend to call the goods “gifts”), use of diplomatic marriages, and other techniques designed to acculturate the “barbarians” to Chinese ways.
Excerpted from the Hanshu, trans. A. Wylie, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 3 (1874): 401–50.
World Economic Forum
The Global Gender Gap Report was introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 to analyze disparities between genders in a worldwide context. It assesses national gender gaps in political, economic, health, and education-related areas and ranks countries according to data, allowing comparisons across regions, time, and income groups. According to the report’s introduction, these rankings “are designed to create greater awareness among a global audience of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them.” This excerpt looks at women’s impact on economic growth through increased education, participation in the labor force, and women’s role as consumers, or the “power of the purse.”
From “The Global Gender Gap,” World Economic Forum, 2010. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2010.pdf (downloaded November 20, 2012).
Ban Biao and Ban Gu
This dynastic history was a continuation of the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji), originally compiled by Sima Qian (ca. 145–86 BCE), and it repeats many of the phrases and situations Sima Qian had described verbatim. However, these histories provide remarkable insights into the behavior of emperors and their families at court—while also suggesting developing notions of gender and education. This segment of the Han Shu covers the reign of Hsiao-Ai, in roughly 6–1 BCE.
Han Shu, Book 11 (Annals of the Emperor Hsiao-Ai), Chinese text and English translation: http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=xwomen/texts/hanshu.xml&style=xwomen/xsl/dynaxml.xsl&chunk.id=d2.49&toc.depth=1&toc.id=0&doc.lang=bilingual.>
Ban Zhao (45–ca. 116 CE) was by far the most educated woman of her day, and she trained many important male scholars. The Han Shu (the continuation of Sima Qian’s Shiji) was originally undertaken by her father, Ban Biao (3–54 CE), and continued by her brother Ban Gu (32–92). Ban Zhao is credited with the giving the Han Shu its present shape after the deaths of her father and brother, but she is most famous today for her advice book, directed toward young women.
Nancy Lee Swann, Pan Chao: Foremost Woman Scholar of China (New York: London Century, 1932), 82–90.
The Nihon Shoki is the first official history of Japan. It draws on numerous sources, including Chinese histories, clan histories, and the accounts of religious authorities. While it parallels the Kojiki in describing the ancient and mythological origins of Japan, it continues the narrative far beyond the Kojiki into the recent past, specifically the reign of the Empress Jitō (686–697). This particular story concerns the eleventh emperor of Japan, Suinin, but it differs from the Kojiki in certain key details, and probably reflects the values of the eighth century rather than its ostensible setting (the first century CE).
“The Empress and Her Brother Prince Sahobiko,” from Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600, ed. Haruo Shirane (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 47–49.
The author of this personal essay was Yi Kyu-bo (1168 – 1241), a poet, essayist, and critic in the Koryo kingdom of Korea. He was also a high-ranking civil servant, who passed the civil-service examination required for government service. The life of Yi Kyu-bo reflects the extent to which Koryo modeled itself on Tang / Song China. Yi Kyu-bo studied and wrote in Chinese, worked in a state organized along Confucian principles, and created literary works that were infused with both Confucian and Daoist principles.
Yi Kyu-bo. “On Demolishing the Earthen Chamber,” from Anthology of Korean Literature: From Early Times to the Nineteenth Century, ed. Peter H. Lee. (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1981), 61-62.
Followers of Confucius
Traditional versions of the Confucius’s life say that he was born in the sixth century B.C.E., and was an itinerant political advisor. He was, technically speaking, a failure in his lifetime, unable to find permanent employment with any one of the Zhou vassal kingdoms. Confucius is not the author of the Analects; they were gathered from his immediate followers, and read as a collection of profound musings on politics, morality, personal behavior, family, and culture.
The following excerpts give a broad overview of the basic Confucian tenets encapsulated in the Analects, including the Master’s thoughts on filial piety and the junzi, or “superior man.”
Confucius, “Selections from the Analects I,” from The Four Books. James Legge, ed. and trans. (Shanghai: The Chinese Book Company, 1930), 13, 16, 19, 33, 161-162, 245-248.
The daughter of a minor noble in the court at Heian-Kyo in central Japan, Murasaki Shikibu (ca. 973–1025) created Japan’s most popular work of fiction and one of the world’s great literary masterpieces. The Genji Monagatori is composed of acute observations of the subtleties of court life, and Murasaki focused particularly on the lives of women at court. Although the tale is ostensibly fictional, it reflects the era in which it was written, as the novelist strove to make the action in it plausible to the reader. In the process, she also crafted a compelling and compulsively readable story.
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji, trans. Royall Tyler (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 2001), “Heart-to-Heart” (Aoi), 178–179.
Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji is a product of Japan’s Heian period (794–1185). In that era, Japan was greatly influenced by Chinese governmental and cultural forms, which were nativized and adapted to fit the Japanese environment. For example, the extreme centralization and imperial power of the Chinese system were never replicated in Japan. Because Japan consists of islands and faced no great foreign threat at that time, the emperor and the central government ruled in concert with a powerful aristocracy organized along clan lines. In fact, over time a branch of one of the leading aristocratic clans, the northern Fujiwara, succeeded in dominating the emperors and effectively ruling Japan in their place (866–1068). Ultimately, the Fujiwara were outmaneuvered and some imperial autonomy was restored, but nothing approaching the Chinese system ever existed. Similarly, Chinese culture in the forms of written language, the Buddhist religion, and art and architecture exercised a powerful attraction for the Japanese. In the seventh century, the Chinese system of writing was adopted as the first written language in Japan, used for government, laws, records, and histories. Around 900 CE a written, phonetic Japanese script (hiragana) was devised, and a lively literary culture evolved.
As in most other societies before modern times, the aristocratic elite, especially the court notables, dominated Japan politically and culturally. One remarkable feature of Japanese elite culture in this era is the prominent position occupied by a couple of extraordinary women. Although knowledge and use of written Chinese had been largely restricted to men and to male-dominated fields, such as government and law, hiragana was more accessible to aristocratic women, and it was more suitable to the intimate and personal issues—especially marital politics—that played a central role in their lives.
The Tale of Genji is a remarkable work written by a remarkable woman, Murasaki Shikibu, who is so completely identified with this work that she actually earned the name “Murasaki” as a nickname based on the name of the leading female character in Genji. She was born around 973 into a minor branch of the Fujiwara clan, the powerful aristocratic family that dominated politics in Heian Japan from 866 to 1068 CE, and she died sometime after 1031.
The Tale of Genji has been called with some justification the world’s first novel. It is the story of an especially gifted son of an emperor, Genji. In the course of the story, Genji evolves from a sort of courtly playboy who is most concerned with court conquests and politics to a man who finds his greatest pleasure with his wife and who understands the impermanence of this world. For most of the novel, though, he exists in the rarified atmosphere of the higher realms of Heian aristocratic and court life.
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji, trans. Arthur Waley. New York: The Modern Library, (1960): 331, 332–34, 336–37, 338–39, 341–42.