Sensation and Rationality in Chinese culture (and writing) - 中國文章的理性與感性

In an essay called "中國文化的理性與感性", HK blogger Lamkay wrote about the blurred line of rationality and sensation (not sure what the best word one should use to translate the word "感性", perhaps sensationality or sensuality :) ) in Chinese culture, in a care-free/"sensational" writing style which was quite "sensual" at first look. This naturally triggered a debate, as his essay itself is not, strictly speaking, written in a way that rational at all.

While I disagree with Lam Kay in quite a few issues (e.g. the non-issue (IMHO) of Queen's Pier, and the "sensual" style of writing). I think he brought out his subject (or what I thought was his subject) brilliantly in that essay and I was among the very few who jumped into his defense in this series of discussion. During the discussion I was asked to quote some examples of "Chinese culture" that sidestepped rationality because they focused too much on "sensuality". I didn't have something handy at the moment. But now there is one - Davesgonechina's cittique on Lung Ying Tai's Cambridge speech.

I hope Dave's comments on Lung Yingtai's speech could illustrate why I have been so frustrated at our education in Chinese (esp. writing) classes, and at many essays that I read in Chinese media (including those from some "prominent" self-claimed "westernized" columnist at Apple Daily today). I have a lot to agree with Lung, and I have great respect for her. I would also agree with a lot of her general conclusions, but before one reads into her logic flow and indulges into her "文采", one should probably read what Dave has to say.

Lam Kay call it the 'problem' of our culture. I would try be more precise and call it a problem in our writing style (文章, instead of 文化). My grudge is purely on such essays that try to discuss about more "serious" topics. (I totally enjoy the movie critiques from the scribbler (寫手) in Apple Daily, for example. I think he is great in writing about culture and esp. movies). Because, loose logic in such essays often lead to loose logic in one's daily life, and hence also a lot of decision making processes. To some historians this has indeed been a major hindrance in the progress of China for the past two centuries.

Maybe it is an over-generalized statement to equate 中國文章 and 中國文化. But 中國文章 is a facet of 中國文化, and how one writes directly correlates with how one thinks. I do not think one should discredit the generalized "Chinese culture", or even Chinese "writing style". I am only agaist one single element within our (generalized) "culture", or more precisely, style of writing/debate.

related link:
Lung's original in Chinese, English translation by ESWN. I think I can see and understand where Lung comes from, and agree broadly that PRC should make life easier for Taiwanese people if it wants to win them over (as the govt did to HK). I have to agree with Dave's critique on her slopiness.


davesgonechina said...

Hey Sun Bin,

glad my post could be of help. I'm not following the discussion your citing, but I just wanted to point out that I didn't consider there to be anything peculiarly Chinese about Lung Yingtai's argument. I just thought is wasn't a very good one.

I find it hard to consider an "sensual" (not sure what that is) or "sensational" argument particular to Chinese. You only have to take a brief glance at American politics to see poor reasoning and appeals to emotion or rhetoric. In fact, when I critiqued Lung Yingtai's speech, I was also thinking it was quite similar to the sort of disingenuous rhetoric employed by American politicians. I'm not saying there isn't an especially Chinese form of argument that obscures rigorous logic - but I think the difference here is in particulars of style, not the general approach of appealing to the already converted or emotional concern.

Sun Bin said...

thanks for your note.
i was probably taking your post to interpret something not of your original intention. so i guess your example may not directly point to what i wanted to say.

what i have seen in Lung's essay in original Chinese(and your comment) reminds me of how i wrote (and was taught to write) chinese composition in school. these are the tricks we were taught and the teachers told us that they would make our articles more "persuasive".

in addition, in the chinese 'culture', if an essay employs good word play and gimmicks such as symmetry and rhyme, they often add to its 'persuasiveness'. this is probably not obvious to you. but i often see such gimmicks in chinese essays, and to such extend that one (both writers and readers) would focus more on the linguistics than the logic underneath, or one would ignore the logical pathway because the gimmicks (which employs tricks like those you have exposed) are good enough. i see this as a big problem.

for over 1000 years in the chinese dynasties (via the exam system), the bureaucrats are chosen for their ability to write (mainly fancy essays, and reciting classics), which has later evolved into things such as 八股 and (馬并)文, where one looks at forms and fanciness rather than the actual content.

today, we got rid of the old exam system. but the traits and influences are still everywhere.

Sun Bin said...

p.s. don't take the word "sensual" too literally. to me the definition is "leaps and jumps in logic via literal gimmicks"

davesgonechina said...

In that case, I'd LOVE to see you blog a post relating to all that addressing the 2007 gaokao questions (Danwei had a translation of a roundup from the, uh, I think the Beijing Evening News). I think those questions relate directly to what you're talking about.

I thought that's what you meant by "sensual", but I'm not up to doing the homework of reading the discussion (too lazy, not breaking out the dictionary today), so I'm not prepared to enter the debate directly.

Sun Bin said...

i actually do not have much to add about Gaokao than has already been said.

I think there are plus and minus in Chinese education, although there are many things I would like to see being changed.
most of these composition titles are okay as a test for literacy and literature. my main grudge in the chinese society (/culture) is that the line between literature and analysis are often blurred and people are confused between the two.