Front Leg in Bow Stance

Postby psalchemist » Wed Dec 31, 2003 3:24 am

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Thanks everyone for all the wonderful discussions this year on the great art of Taijiquan.

I am all the more enlightened for it.

Happy New Year...Wishing All The Best!

Take care,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed Dec 31, 2003 4:43 am

Hi Jerry,

You’ve state your case very well, and in a way that makes a good deal of sense. However, it requires a certain leap of theory, a qualification of terms, to arrive at this understanding. To me, that highlights the essential ambiguity. We seem to need to qualify what we mean by “empty and full,” and the qualification then steers what it is we are differentiating or distinguishing.

A while back I started a thread about the meanings of empty and full, and in one of my posts I translated a little passage from the Chinese dictionary of taijiquan terms (I think you have a copy of this.):

Empty and Full are Clearly Differentiated (xu shi fen ming):

A taijiquan training essential. Sometimes expressed “empty and full are clearly distinguished” (xu shi fen qing), or “distinguish empty and full” (fen xu shi). The problem of empty and full exists within every movement of taijiquan. That an empty part (chu4: place, point) contains fullness implies the impending transition to “full.” The full part must not be fixed (si3: rigid, lifeless), but still contains the pivotal condition of transformation. “Empty and Full are Clearly Differentiated” does not mean a cut and dried “separated” (fen kai).
—Jingxuan Taijiquan Cidian, pp. 225-226

So I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that to “distinguish” implies demarcating “mutually exclusive categories.” That just doesn’t seem to accord with the workings of traditional correlative theory. I’m also curious to know how modern the usage may be that you’re calling upon for “fenqing,” It sounds to me like a usage that one would find in Chinese Marxist dialectics—to a particularly distinct way of breaking things down and analyzing relationships—a way that may be anachronistic if applied to traditional taiji texts.

In Mao Zedong’s 1937 essay "On Contradiction," read the very first line: "The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the basic law of materialist dialectics."

Mao’s wording is in fact a conflation of native correlative cosmology with Lenin's dialectical theory. Lenin himself would not have endorsed such a formulation as "the unity of opposites." Later in the same essay, Mao quotes Han historian Ban Gu, "Things that oppose each other also complement each other." This is really something different than Marxist dialectics, but Mao uses Lenin's notion of "identity" to appropriate the native correlative concept into the Marxist mold. In like manner, there are cases where he manipulates terminology in order to make the Chinese case fit the Marxist critical model of historical development. I cite this just to illustrate some of the subtle changes that have taken place in the modern language, particularly language that aims to analyze what you term “binary” relationships. I’m sure you’ve noticed plenty of the influence of this dialectical terminology in everyday language. Just a wild thought.

I’ll be curious to see what taiji classics references you have in mind regarding the “instantaneous” switching. The one that occurs to me is the “hu yin hu xian” phrase: “suddenly hidden, suddenly revealed.” But I’m not quite sure what it is you’re getting at about this switch.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby JerryKarin » Wed Dec 31, 2003 5:11 am

Agreed, if there is any difficulty in translating this, it lies in how we explain the significance of xu and shi. The phrase itself, fen xu shi is not ambiguous, particularly in light of the Taijiquan Lun's phrasing xu shi yi fen qingchu, regarding which there cannot reasonably be any debate: fen qingchu means distinguish. The more authoritative secondary literature such as Shen Jiazhen's chapter on xu shi in Chen Shi Taijiquan, confirm this reading. I am thinking of translating the passage for the next third rep as it is an excellent treatment of the subject. I hope everyone understands that I am not arguing against some gradual shifting of weight etc, only that the injunction in the 10 essentials indicates distinguishing two discrete states.
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Postby JerryKarin » Wed Dec 31, 2003 5:18 am

Of course I say they are discrete, but there also is the statement, 'within full there is emptiness and within emptiness, fullness'. Heh heh... Mainly I am reacting, over-reacting perhaps, against the sensation I got from Audi's original post that all of this stuff is mysterious, incapable of translation, or even perhaps that anything goes or that my current state of understanding of the subject is a valid substitute for real translation.
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Postby JerryKarin » Wed Dec 31, 2003 5:27 am

I don't think that marxism really comes into it. Any modern dictionary contains the phrase fen qingchu and I believe there are loads of examples in older lit of 'x, y fenqing'..
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed Dec 31, 2003 5:44 am

Hi Jerry,

I think that most of us can agree that “distinguish” is good translation. I’m hypothesizing, of course, in my ruminations about the creeping influence of dialectical language into everyday language, and how that could potentially flavor the way you’re interpreting “fenqing” or “fenqingchu.” I’ll just note that my 1991 edition of Liang Shiqiu’s Far East Chinese-English Dictionary (Taiwan-based) has no entry for the compound “fenqing.” This makes me wonder if perhaps the compound lacks the clout it has on the mainland. Neither my Ci Hai nor my old Mathews’ have entries for “fenqing.” My mainland-published, Han Ying Ci Dian (The Pinyin Chinese-English Dictionary), famously Red in its definitions and citations, does have an entry for fenqing. All of the usage examples following the entry have just the kind of dialectical/Marxist flavor I’m talking about. On the other hand, the words “qing” and “qingchu” have long independent histories as adverbs. Could it be that they are merely adverbs in the taiji setting, and not to be confused with the “fenqing” verbal compound?

Take care,
Louis
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Postby JerryKarin » Wed Dec 31, 2003 6:00 am

I would guess that fen qingchu is the common spoken equivalent and fenqing the more literary version. Fenbuqing, fendeqing (can't distinguish, can distinguish) are very common locutions in speech, as in: can you tell (from the accent) that someone comes from Taiwan?
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Postby DavidJ » Wed Dec 31, 2003 8:02 pm

Hi Jerry, Louis and Audi,

I really like to pay attention to how full and empty are distributed in my body during different movements.

David J
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Postby JerryKarin » Wed Dec 31, 2003 8:11 pm

I hope it is clear that xu shi are at a different level of analysis from weight shifts and weight distribution, which are part of how xu and shi are physically implemented. I hope to publish Shen Jiazhen's article on this subject early in the new year.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed Dec 31, 2003 8:12 pm

Greetings Jerry,

Re: "Fenbuqing, fendeqing (can't distinguish, can distinguish) are very common locutions in speech. . . ."

Sure, but you can also kandeqing/kanbuqing; tingdeqing/tingbuqing; shuodeqing/shuobuqing, etc. Yet I'm not sure that means one would find established compounds for "kanqing," etc. So I'm still not convinced "fenqing" is not a modern compound with modern connotations.

My point is that "qing" and "qingchu" may merely be serving as adverbial adjuncts to "fen" in the taiji documents in question.

So, even if we agree that "fen" means "to distinguish," there is certainly some play in just what it means to distinguish. If one is analyzing via dialectical materialism, the proper route would be to see things in terms of distinctly opposing, independent forces. In the traditional correlative way of analyzing, the relationship would be characterized more as one of interdependence.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby JerryKarin » Thu Jan 01, 2004 3:23 am

Hmnn.. I'm not sure I understand your point. Yes fenqing is just like suan4qing1, dian3qing1, etc. From Taijiquan Lun we can see that fenqing is also given as fen qingchu. We are not speaking of ancient Chinese here, only fairly recent literary Chinese. In other words this is basically modern Chinese. Modern Chinese speakers like Yang Chengfu and his sons use these locutions and are understood by listeners perfectly well, ie this is nothing more than modern day mandarin. In mandarin we know perfectly well what fen qingchu means, don't we? I know I do. It cannot mean 'distribute' without being totally anomalous and requiring all sorts of asides and footnotes. Am I missing something?
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Postby JerryKarin » Thu Jan 01, 2004 3:38 am

OK re-read your post. Still seems obvious to me when you are given two opposites and told to fenqing 'distinguish' them as in 'distinguish right and wrong' high and low, light and heavy, etc that there really is no room to sneak in some kind of distribution idea. It means exactly what it says on the surface, no mystery here. And as Yang Zhenji and Shen Jiazhen and others point out explicitly, there is no 90/0 60/40 70/30 standard for these, only that, in the leg weighting for instance, the contrast consists of somewhat more versus somewhat less. So the whole point of the exercise is the distinction, the contrast, and not some notion of distribution on a spectrum. If that sounds like marxist dialectics, so be it. Chinese thinking is rife with yin/yang type opppositions and they were there long before Marx. If you think there is room for play, well, how so? Where's the play? Are you suggesting another way to translate this? If so, bring it on and we can discuss it. I just cannot see one. Audi's original point was that because of supposed differences between Chinese and other languages, this phrase poses some special difficulty. To this I responded that there simply isn't much play here. It means distinguish, separate, differentiate etc. None of these really put a significantly different spin on the meaning in English, nor do they differ significantly from the original in Chinese (which was the point Audi was trying to make), at least as far as I can see.

[This message has been edited by JerryKarin (edited 12-31-2003).]
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Postby JerryKarin » Thu Jan 01, 2004 4:10 am

Look at Audi's original point:

"“Fen xu shi,” as we discussed in the past, can be interpreted as: “Distribute full and empty” or as: “Full and empty are distributed.” The former is a simple injunction. The latter could be a statement of expected consequences to look for, implying, for instance, that practicing in a certain way will result in a particular distribution of full and empty. Here the agency is the method of practice, and not the immediate intent of the practitioner. Another rendering could be: “Distributing full and empty.” This emphasizes process and implies a need to understand what is full and what is empty. Again, a context is implied, but not specified. The agent would probably be the practitioner."

Does this make sense to you? Personally I cannot find this 'play' there.
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Postby JerryKarin » Thu Jan 01, 2004 4:28 am

Even if someone were to find something mysterious in 'distinguish', 'differentiate' or whatever, and felt some doubt as to what is entailed in distinguishing them, the same 'ambiguity' (which I don't find personally but let's assume it) is present in English and Chinese! Heh heh I think I've flogged this horse enough.
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Postby Audi » Fri Jan 02, 2004 3:05 am

Greetings all,

Jerry and Louis, thanks for your interesting comments.

Jerry, from your various references to “translation,” I realize that I may have been misleading. At least in this thread, I have not been addressing the art of translation, per se. For me at least, the search for meaning and the search for appropriate translations are different things. On this board, I usually assume that most readers have enough background in the discussions that translation concerns are of minor importance compare to understanding meaning. I therefore translate words inconsistently and use them more as conversational “handles” or “cross-references,” rather than as assertions of my translation preferences.

All in all, I think that “distinguish” is clearly a superior translation to “distribute.” I used “distribute” in my post above out of pure whim and as a reference to the earlier discussion about fen on another thread, where ideas of “distribution” and “apportionment” were discussed. If this was the major motivation for your posts, we basically have no disagreement. In case you perspective really does encompass more, let me address other issues.

What I am asserting is that exact direct translation of even short phrases between most pairs of languages is often impossible if there is no context. Both at the level of grammar and at the level of vocabulary, it is often impossible to avoid over- or under-specifying things if no context is known. Even with context, incompatible structures complicate things.

How can one translate even such a simple phrase as “Nin hao?” into English or into any of the other languages mentioned on this board? “How are you?” and “How do you do?” are not the same thing. They do not specify singular or plural, except in non-standard English. Neither phrase specifies level of respect or courtesy. Languages that do specify these categories often do so along different lines than those that exist in Mandarin. In no case, however, would I assert that “Nin hao” is “mysterious” or exceptionally “vague” from the Chinese viewpoint or that this is a difficult phrase to translate, once one knows the context in which it is used.

You mention that “fenqing” and “fenqingchu” are used in the literature as equivalents of “fen.” I agree that these words are good support for using “distinguish” as a translation for “fen.” I disagree, however, that these usages are clearly meant to exclude other core meanings of “fen.”

Yang Chengfu himself specifies a case of full and empty that is hard to understand as exhaustive in the context of the form Yang Zhenduo teaches, where very few postures involve 100/0 weight distributions. If all one needs to know is which leg has all the weight and which doesn’t, why make a fuss about distinguishing them, as opposed to simple making sure to separate all weighting into 100/0 where possible? In this case, I think he merely discusses a clear case to give guidance in less clear cases, assuming that the practitioner has enough understanding to amplify his remarks appropriately. My understanding is that even in the midst of a 50/50 transition, one must “fen xu shi” and not wait for the culmination of the transition before doing this.

In explaining “fen” as “fenqingchu,” I do not think the intention is to clarify ambiguity, but rather to simplify complexity in order to provide overall guidance. In short, I do not think the Chinese is really ambiguous at all, merely quite expansive.

If I say that one must distinguish full and empty in every spot of the body, I do not think it would be fair, for instance, to say that “spot” is ambiguous. I could mean every cell, every joint, or every limb, but I think the lack of specificity in such a phrase is intentional and not a mark of “ambiguity” or “mystery.” I might explain that “spot” means the spaces in the joints, but this would not really preclude other meanings.

A word like “spot” in English is sometimes vague, sometimes, ambiguous, and sometimes quite specific. In almost all meanings I am aware of, there is a commonality of core meaning that does not translate into most languages that must chose more specific terms, or at least terms that involve other distinctions between things that are “spots” and thing that are not. I would argue that “fen” is such a word in Chinese and that its core meaning (probably division and apportion?) likely persists in all the compounds in which it is used and that it does so in ways that are not easy to capture in another language.

If I were to see “fen xu shi” as only the equivalent of “telling whether something is ‘xu’ or ‘shi,’ I think I would unnecessarily restrict the meaning of “fen.” For instance, even “telling” and “distinguishing” are not really the same thing.

“Telling” whether someone has a Taiwanese accent does not necessarily involve the same process as “distinguishing” the same thing. For instance, one can say: “You should not assume that ‘si’ means ‘silk,’ because you have to distinguish between Taiwanese who say ‘si’ for ‘shi’ and Northerners who do not.” In this case, “’telling’ whether someone is Taiwanese or a Northerner” is not a good equivalent, because it provides for no call to action. The idea is that one must do more than simply understand whether it is a case of x or y, but must also act accordingly, depending on what the case is. There is more than a simple injunction mentally to divide all cases into x and y, but also an idea of apportioning one’s responses accordingly. I may be able to tell what accent someone has, but not distinguish appropriate responses from inappropriate ones based on this knowledge.

Jerry, you also stated the following: “As far as words like gao1 'tall', they function differently in Chinese when used in pairs of opposites like high and low, light and heavy, empty and full, so I'm afraid your analysis won't hold up.” Are not “xu” and “shi” used precisely as a pair of opposites “like high and low” etc.? In fact, now that I think of it, such pairs are also used as compounds to indicate gradations directly, such as “height” (“gaodi”), “heaviness” (“qingzhong”), etc. Why is it not possible to view “xu” and “shi” also as a compound indicating gradation (i.e., as “xushi” meaning “fullness”/”solidity”/”emptyiness”? My ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary has just such a listing. In other words, why can the meaning of this phrase not include the following sense: “Make distinctions as to solidity”? If I say: “Fen gao di,” can this mean only: “Separate high from low”?

The Taijitu emphasizes that black and white are not enough to understand the relationship of Yin and Yang, but shows them as intertwined and exhibiting various proportions of prominence. The theories in the Yi Jing talk about strong and weak Yin and Yang, implying that both binary and graded relationships are important. Is it not reasonable to see Xu and Shi in this same way, where it is important to distinguish between being “more strongly Xu” and “less strongly Xu”? If I must act on such distinctions, why can “fen” include no element of “apportionment” or “distribution”?

Take care,
Audi
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