jin thread

jin thread

Postby DavidJ » Tue Mar 18, 2003 2:46 am

Greetings Louis, Jerry, Audi, and others,

I recently noticed two things. One is that in linking things we're not told to jam them together or float them together, but to thread them together.

The second thing is the part of the character for jin is the vertical threads of a loom.

Can these two linguistically related ideas lead to a better understanding?

Regards,

David J
DavidJ
 
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am

Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Mar 18, 2003 6:22 pm

Greetings David,

Actually, the taiji term jin does not contain the threads of a loom. I think you’re referring to the silk radical. The element in the jin character depicts a flowing underground stream. You can see it here:

http://www.zhongwen.com/d/202/x202.htm

Below the main entry, you can see a number of different characters that contain this main element, including the character used for the taiji concept of jin. The one with the silk radical is also there. You can click on any of the individual characters, and it will take you to a definition of that graph.

I may have touched on some of these issues, and the networks of associated imagery, in a post on an old discussion on the board dated 2-23-01 at:

http://www.yangfamilytaichi.com/ubb/Forum7/HTML/000011.html

There is a great deal of language in traditional taiji texts, however, that calls upon imagery of threading.

Take care,
Louis
Louis Swaim
 
Posts: 1346
Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2001 7:01 am
Location: Oakland, CA

Postby DavidJ » Tue Mar 18, 2003 8:10 pm

Hi Louis,

In the two years since that exchange I've come to better understand what you mean.

The dictionary's jing related entries for water course, footpath, uniting elements, etc does make for a better understanding of threading.

In the "work (gong) part of the "current graph" I find a useful concept. In physics "work" is defined, with vectors and such for ease in measurement, as "the transfer of energy from one system to another". This fits my sense of "jin."

Am I right in thinking that jing is one of the older graphs?

Thanks for the response and the reminder.

Regards,

David J
DavidJ
 
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am

Postby Audi » Wed Mar 26, 2003 5:18 am

Hi David and Louis,

I think the idea that the primitive graph for “Jin” represents the threads of a loom came from me. As I understand it, the Zhongwen.com site lists the classical etymology of the characters, but not necessarily the ones supported by the latest research. I recall reading in one book that the graph traditionally thought of as representing underground streams was indeed a picture of a loom. I have no basis to judge which interpretation has better support, but can merely report this alternate possibility.

If the loom theory is correct, the character that adds the silk threads/cocoons to the left may represent a mere clarification of the original graph, rather than a different “word.” I can speculate that a possible link between these meanings is that the original spoken word could have meant something like “course,” “stream,” or “flow.” This same word might also have been applied to the warp threads of a loom since they can be thought of as flowing or weaving through the fixed vertical ones.

Take care,
Audi
Audi
 
Posts: 1137
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am
Location: New Jersey, USA

Postby Louis Swaim » Wed Mar 26, 2003 8:39 am

Greetings Audi,

If you can find the source for the loom etymology, I’d be interested in knowing more about it. I only referenced the Zhongwen.com site for the convenience of visual reference, but the etymology of the jin/jing element as an underground water course is pretty well documented in the early Han dictionary, the Shuowen Jiezi, as well as later scholarly sources such as the Ci Hai, Bernhard Karlgren’s _Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese_, and Weiger’s _Chinese Characters_. It’s true that some etymologies are fanciful, and take on a life of their own, but I would have to be presented with some evidence to be convinced that this one is not as presented in the Shuowen.

Take care,
Louis
Louis Swaim
 
Posts: 1346
Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2001 7:01 am
Location: Oakland, CA

Postby Audi » Sat Mar 29, 2003 10:21 pm

Hi David and Louis:

David, let me correct something in my previous post, since I made a clear goof. The “warp” threads (“Jing”) represent the vertical threads on the loom, not the “horizontal threads.” I believe the horizontal threads are called “woof” or “weft,” which are words etymologically related to “weave.” They represent the threads that are “woven” between the vertical warp threads that remain more or less stationary on the loom.

Based on this correction, I would have to change my speculation on the origin of the character to something like this: Ancient Chinese had a simple word for “channel” or “course” which was also applied to the warp threads of the loom, because of their visual appearance of running up and down between the bottom and top frames of the loom.

This character for warp was added to a picture of a biceps, which is the character "Li" that also means a type of strength. The warp character would have been chosen primarily because its sound was identical or close to the sound attributed to the new compound character and because something about its meaning was also suggestive of the meaning of the compound character. A possibility for the meaning that would be lent would be the strength that "courses" through one's veins or Qi meridians.

This type of character formation is quite common in Chinese and has probably formed the basis of the majority of characters almost from the very beginning of the written language, or at least as far back as we can reliably trace.

It is unlikely, but possible, that the spoken Chinese words for "strength" ("Jing4/Jin4") and "warp"/"water course" ("Jing1") are etymologically related. This is a distinct question from whether the characters used to represent them are related.

One other bit I can add about the meaning of the word “Jing/Jin” that means strength is that it seems to differ from the word “Li” (“(raw) strength”) in referring to something that is slightly more diffuse through the body (, mind, and spirit). The compounds and phrases in which I can find “Jing/Jin” seem generally to refer more to one’s constitution or robustness than to muscles per se. An example would be to say that after having a fever, one regains one’s “strength” (“Jin”). When one is exhausted and without strength, one is “mei jin” (without strength). From these uses, probably comes the identification of “Jing/Jin” with “energy,” “vitality,” “verve,” and even “enthusiasm.”

I want to stress, however, that there are many cases where “Jin” and “Li” can apparently be used interchangeably. This is like trying to differentiate between “strength,” “might,” and “power.” There are also cases where “Li” is used in figurative meanings, but where I believe “Jin” is inappropriate (e.g., “shili,” (“(the power of) vision”) and “dongli” (“impetus,” or “the power to move”)). There are also cases where “Jin” is used in a purely physical sense and where I believe “Li” is inappropriate, e.g., “Yongjin” (exert oneself (physically)) and “Shijin” (to put forth all one’s strength)).

Louis, I am gratified that we seem to share an interest in character etymology to some degree. I am somewhat familiar with both Analysis of Chinese Characters by Wilder and Ingram (not Karlgren?) and Wieger’s Chinese Characters, having at one time looked up a fair number of characters in both. As you probably know, both books claim only to explain the traditional Chinese etymologies, drawing on the Shuowen Jiezi and like material. They were written too early to address recent discoveries of earlier character forms. I have never read the Ci Hai and so do not know what view it takes on etymologies or what it says about any particular characters.

I think my original source of the loom theory is a book called Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters by Kenneth G. Henshall. I do not have access to this book at the moment to verify that I am not confusing it with another book or that it is truly my source of the theory; however, if memory serves, it is a book with truly remarkable etymologies of the 2000 or so characters used in Japanese newspapers (the Jooyoo Kanji (or dangyong hanzi in Mandarin)). If you are interested in character etymologies, I would recommend it as highly as the Zhongwen.com material, although for different reasons.

Even though the book is written from the Japanese viewpoint, it does not ignore treatment of where the connotations of particular characters have diverged over the centuries in China and Japan. It frequently discusses where recent scholarship differs from traditional explanations or from folk etymologies (such as the one that explains the character “Wang” (“king”) as supposedly showing the unity between heaven, mankind, and earth or the one that explains “dong” (“east”) as supposedly showing the sun behind a tree). The only real limitations from the Chinese viewpoint are that only Japanese pronunciations are shown and that many characters that are frequent in Modern Chinese (but not in Classical Chinese) are not within the range of the 2000 or so characters treated, or within their internal elements.

In looking over the material I do have access to, I found McNaughton’s Reading & Writing Chinese. It is really an introduction to about 2000 basic characters, rather than a dictionary. It has a good number of character derivations, although this is really only a minor focus of its material. On page 113 in my edition, it lists the primitive graph/character “Jing1” with the meaning “warp (of fabric)” and says: “The character is a picture of threads run across a loom.”

I am a little suspicious of this explanation, because this character is listed right before the modern character that has the silk radical on the left, which also means “warp.” McNaughton’s didactic method often includes preparing the reader for complex characters by first listing earlier obsolete variants or components. He does not explain where he gets his etymologies from, and so I am uncertain how much weight to give them. However, he clearly gives enough information for many characters that he betrays a high degree of scholarship and seems to show that he is not simply inventing mnemonic devices. On the other hand, his treatment of etymologies remains quite casual.

I will feel much better after I can verify what Henshall’s books says about the loom theory and will let you know the results.

One thing I can add about Wieger’s book is that the old seal (?) character he shows for “Jing” seems to have four graphic elements. From top to bottom, they are: a horizontal line, three hanging lines that are identical to the character “Chuan” that means “river,” the character “Ren” that means person, and the three-stroke character “tu3” that means earth.

The explanation of these elements that Wieger quotes from the Shuowen Jiezi implies that the first two elements represent “underground streams,” which are presumably important in Fengshui. The reasoning would be that they represent river water floating under the surface of the earth represented by the horizontal line. I find this unconvincing. The mnemonic value of this arrangement seems much weaker than simply doing something like putting the character for “river” under the character for “earth.” I also find quite dubious that Ancient Chinese would have a spoken word that would mean something as complex as “underground stream.”

I also find unconvincing another explanation I have heard, which is that the two elements represent a river “constrained” between two lines. Such a theory seems to explain to some degree the look of the modern character, which has two horizontal lines at the top and the bottom of the character for river. It does not, however, explain the old seal character, which does not have the second horizontal line, as I recall.

In my opinion, the arrangement of the character elements seems to represent the top bar of a loom frame with the unfinished warp strands of the cloth being woven trailing underneath. The bottom part of the frame is unrepresented. The bottom two elements (the character “ting2” that is the main phonetic element in the characters for “listen,” “court,” and “stiffen”) would not only be a partially or wholly rhyming phonetic element, but also a representation of a person standing on the ground before the loom, working on the threads. The traditional theory does not explain why this particular phonetic would have been chosen.

Since my material is pretty much limited to stuff in English, I would welcome anything you might have to add from Chinese materials or any other thoughts you might have.

Take care,
Audi
Audi
 
Posts: 1137
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am
Location: New Jersey, USA

Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Mar 30, 2003 7:54 pm

Greetings Audi,

Thank you for digging into this subject. I appreciate your added thoughts and information. It’s also providing me with some good diversion from the troubling events of the day, if only briefly.

First, a few notes and comments. I think we’re consulting different “Analysis” books. The _Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Japanese_ was compiled and originally published in 1923 by the eminent Swedish sinologist and linguist, Bernhard Karlgren. His speciality was the reconstruction of the pronunciation of archaic Chinese, but his expertise ranged well beyond that subject. His entry for the primitive jin does follow the traditional Shuowen gloss rather closely, saying it means “an underground stream,” noting the three crooked lines, which are an earlier version of “chuan,” also meaning stream (as in Sichuan ‘four streams’ —the province, and the cuisine from there). He groups it with a whole cluster of cognates and related characters, some of which appear in the Zhongwen.com breakdown. As you’ll see below, however, Karlgren evidently reconsidered the possible etymology of “jin” in later publications.

Something else in your post struck me. You wrote: ‘I also find quite dubious that Ancient Chinese would have a spoken word that would mean something as complex as “underground stream.”’ My response is, “Why?” First of all, the degree to which early Classical Chinese reflects spoken language per se is somewhat controversial. But even putting that aside, I would have to say that early Chinese texts are full of incredibly complex words and concepts—say, “yuzhou,” meaning a conjunction of time and space, and closest perhaps to what we might call “cosmos,” or “universe.” An awareness and appreciation of underground watercourses in a culture that was called a “hydraulic society” by Karl Wittfogel would not seem at all unusual or remarkable to me. In fact, the Shuowen gloss for jin, “shuimai,” means a watercourse, but can mean specifically underground streams. The “mai” (flesh radical; also pronounced ‘mo’) is the same character used for vessels and meridians in the human body. So there would seem to be some conceptual conjunction having to do with courses flowing beneath surfaces.

Now, your post got me to hunting, and I revisited a passage that had impressed me in a book by Mark Edward Lewis, _Writing and Authority in Early China_, (Suny, 1999). In his investigation into cannonicity, Lewis considers in some depth the silk-radical character “jing” and its word relatives, including the primitive we’re discussing. I’ll quote from it at some length, since he summarizes a number of complex issues of interpretation. His narrative includes the various characters in question, all pronounced “jing.” I will use an asterisk for the primitive: jing*, and add identifiers in brackets where needed.

~~~
The late Warriing States and early imperial practice of claiming authority through possession of a comprehensive wisdom was doubled by the practice of identifying texts or passages as uniquely important through their all-penetrating nature. These were identified with the character jing [silk rad.], which came to define a category of writing as canonical or classic, but which originally indicated something running throughout an area and serving to define or regulate it.

The earliest gloss on this character appears in the Shuo wen jie zi.

‘The vertical line [i.e. warp] of weaving. It is derived from si “silk” and pronounced jing*.’ [This is Lewis’ direct translation of the gloss, which is short and straightforward. It indicates jing* as the pronunciation.]

This derives the sense of the character from the silk signific, and identifies it with the warp thread that provides the structure for the fabric. It inspired [modern scholar] Zhang Binglin’s explanation that the character had originally referred to the thread that bound strips together to form texts in early China.

However, the emphasis on silk is probably mistaken, because the jing* element that [Shuo wen compiler] Xu Shen treats as a phonetic figures in a set of characters with meanings related to the idea of “running through” or “linking together.” Thus the element jing* itself is glossed in the Shuo wen as either a “subterranean channel of water” or a “vast body [of water]. This, however, seems to be a misreading based on the seal script form, and Karlgren [in his Grammata Serica Recensa] has argued that the form of the character on bronzes suggests a device used in weaving, with threads coiling around a staff. With the “stepping” radical it forms the character jing “road, direct path” which the Han Dictionary Shi ming uses as the homophone gloss for jing [silk rad.].

Jing “classic” means jing “road.” It means the “constant standard” (chang dian). Like a road, there is nothing it does not pass through, and it may be constantly employed. [Lewis’ tran. of the Shi ming gloss]

With the “grass” radical it forms jing “stalk” of grass or “trunk” of tree. Applied to the human body, it figures with the “head” radical in jing “neck,” and with the “meat” radical in jing “the calf, the part of the leg linking the knee to the ankle.” With the addition of the “strength” radical it forms jing “strong,” originally in the sense of “stiff, unbending,” as indicated by its use in the character jing [sickness radical] “convulsive contractions” in which the muscles lock up. In short, virtually all the characters containing the element jing* indicate the central element running through something or holding it together, with the associated sense of “strong” and “unbending.” Jing [silk rad.] in the sense of “warp [of a fabric]” is only a particular version of this broader, overarching meaning.
—Mark Edward Lewis, pp. 297-298
~~~

It appears, then, that there is some evidence for the etymology you have cited, Audi. I think the important feature of Lewis’ presentation is that whatever the exact origin of the jing* graph, the semantic element it lends to its constituent graphs is consistently one of “running through” or “linking together.” There may be something to the weaving device idea, but on the other hand the bronze inscription occurrences could be anomalous rather than definitive ancestors of the received jing* graph. I would just note that the graph for a loom, from a very early period, is “zhi1.” Its gloss is right next to the silk rad. “jing” in the Shuowen, saying it’s a general name for making cloth. (I know you’re interested in astronomy, and the Chinese name for Vega, in the constellation Lyra, is zhi nu xing, “Weaving Maiden.”)

Another point to keep in mind, since this discussion has to do with the specialized taiji usage of jing/jin, is that whatever the origin of the core element in the graph, the semantic understanding out of which it grew is more likely the etymology that was standardized in the Han, and which endured into late imperial times. Also, semantic understandings tended to derive, not from fixed determinatives, but from networks of associations among families of graphs, and in this case the network seems to strongly indicate shared senses of “running through,” or “linkage.”

The association Lewis notes between jing “strength” and jing4 “convulsing,” and the idea of stiffening of muscles, is for me quite dissonant with the taiji meaning, as it would be for anyone familiar with the art. I don’t know to what degree he may be extrapolating on this point. My encounters with the early use of jin as strength in Warring States military texts indicates a sense of collective or unified forces. It appears in chapter 7 of Sunzi, for example, as an adjective for “the strong” or “strongest” among troups. In the same chapter, much is made of the necessity of consolidation or unifying of men with the use of drums, gongs, flags and pennants. “Once the men have been consolidated as one body, the courageous will not have to advance alone, and the cowardly will not get to reatreat alone. This is the art of employing large numbers of troops.” (Ames, Sun-tzu: The Art of Warfare, p. 128-131). This resonates rather well with what might be the closest thing we have to a definition of the taijiquan term, jin: Li Yiyu’s “Five-Character Formula,” where he wrote that “Jin is integrated. The jin of the whole body is trained to become one family.” Isn’t it likely that Li and other early literate taiji theorists were conversant with the militarist corpus of writings?

Take care,
Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 04-03-2003).]
Louis Swaim
 
Posts: 1346
Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2001 7:01 am
Location: Oakland, CA

Postby Audi » Tue Apr 08, 2003 3:09 am

Hi Louis,

Thanks for the fascinating additional information. I am gratified to learn that we were referring to different “Analyses” and that Karlgren did work on etymology. One of my books says that he was critical of traditional etymologies and so it is interesting to hear that he did independent work.

As for my doubt about there being a spoken Ancient Chinese word for “underground streams,” I think I may have been unclear. My issue is not that it would be unlikely for Chinese culture to have an expression for such phenomena, but rather that it would be unlikely for there to be a one-syllable morpheme with “underground stream” as its core meaning.

Let me take the English word “channel” as an example. If an 18-year old American were to invent an ideogram for “channel,” he or she would probably choose something looking like a TV knob; however, this would ignore the fact that the word “channel” has a much more primitive origin and did not originally refer to something so complex as “a particular frequency by which certain TV programming can be received.”

My guess is that “Jing” meant something like “path,” “course,” or “guide” and had an extended meaning that referred to “warp threads” or to “underground streams,” apparently used in Fengshui practices. Since there are many other words that mean path, I think it likely that a graph hinting at a specialized meaning of “Jing” was probably chosen to differentiate this particular word from the others. Although the idea of a river under a line is a possibility, I prefer the idea of a picture of a loom, for the reasons I mentioned in my previous post.

You also mentioned the controversy about the degree to which written Ancient Chinese represented spoken language. This seems to be a controversy surrounding every classical or ancient language I have read anything about. Certainly, this issue is mentioned with respect to Classical Latin, Classical Arabic, Egyptian, and classical Greek. In every case where I know enough to pretend to have an informed opinion, I tend towards the same conclusion, which is that the written language represents a stylized form of the spoken language rather than something independent. I would consider our very posts on this forum as instances of this: words that would never be spontaneously spoken in quite this way, but which are not really something outside of the spoken language.

From the little I know of classical Chinese, it seems to me that there are lots of particles that only make sense if viewed as contractions of spoken words. The cadence at the beginning of the Dao De Jing seems to me like something that clearly derives from a spoken rhythm and that actually comes across only with difficulty in a written language without punctuation or indications of intonation.

I have had a chance to consult A guide to Remembering Japanese Characters since my earlier post and can confirm that it contains the loom theory. The book does not contain the “Jing” character that means strength, but does have etymologies for “Qing” (the character with a chariot radical and meaning “light” in weight) and for the silk-radical “Jing.” One interesting nuance the book adds to the material that you have unearthed is the opinion that the warp threads stood for “guiding principles,” since they were guides for the crosswise weft threads, and that the meaning “sutra” derives from this.

I like what you have found about the unifying theme of “linking” and “running through.” I am also not really troubled by the possible associations with “stiff and unbending.” Although I agree that his can be a very bad association with the Taijiquan concept of “Jin”/”Jing,” I have begun to change my mind about a lot of things as I have continued to practice. In many cases, I now find myself with viewpoints that in some respects are the opposite of what I first had when I began to study.

I believe you have attended seminars taught by Yang Zhenduo and would like to call to your mind how he has sometimes indicated how the left arm should be held in Ward Off Left. At more than one seminar, I have seen him gently “hacking” down on a student’s outstretched arm as if to indicate that the arm should be held with firmness and be “unbending.” I think he is also trying to indicate the direction in which one is supposed to direct the “jin” (i.e., upwardly). Such firmness in one’s posture is something that is quite different from some others emphasize in such situations.

As you know, I like the image of a bow in thinking about what “relaxing” (“fangsong”) and Ward Off energy require. If a bow does not offer resistance to being bent, it displays no resilience. A good bow requires some “stiffness.” Whereas I used to prize only “yielding” qualities, I now see being “yielding” and being “unbending” in a “Taiji” relationship and seek to emphasize a smooth relationship between these qualities that results in resilience and generalized “Ward Off energy” (“Peng Jin”). Put more plainly, I think it is better to be a willow wand than either a blade of grass or an oak tree.

Take care,
Audi
Audi
 
Posts: 1137
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am
Location: New Jersey, USA

Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Apr 08, 2003 8:06 pm

Greetings Audi,

There are a lot of issues in your post that I could weigh in on, but I think we have already drifted far enough afield from the subject of taijiquan.

It’s very clear to me that we should avoid any association of jin with the idea of rigid, “locked up” muscles. Again, I suspect Mark Edward Lewis may have resorted to a “knee jerk” interpretation of strength in his discussion on the character associations. Otherwise, I find his scholarship superb.

I think we’re essentially in agreement with regard to your closing remarks about fangsong. I feel fortunate that when I commenced my practice of Yang style taijiquan—now 29 years ago—I was not subjected to the droopy, dreamy interpretation of fangsong that somehow took hold on this continent. My sifu was very clear about this, and took issue, with some amusement, to one high-profile proponent of that approach who used to have a presence at Esalen. So yes, when I’ve seen Yang Zhenduo demonstrate what is meant by jin and pengjin, this was not unfamiliar territory to me, but I was deeply impressed with the beauty of his presentation.

Take care,
Louis
Louis Swaim
 
Posts: 1346
Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2001 7:01 am
Location: Oakland, CA

Postby DavidJ » Wed Apr 09, 2003 6:56 pm

Hi Audi,

You wrote, > As for my doubt about there being a spoken Ancient Chinese word for ?underground streams,? I think I may have been unclear. My issue is not that it would be unlikely for Chinese culture to have an expression for such phenomena, but rather that it would be unlikely for there to be a one-syllable morpheme with ?underground stream? as its core meaning. <

If one assumes that early words in any language were, besides being onomonopoetic, were simple, often one syllable, then the second thing to look for is relationships to survival. Early words would have to do with hunting, eating, water sources, resting places, counting etc. It's interesting to note that many languages have separate words for numbers up to twelve before compounding.

Anyway water, and it's sources, being vital for survival, I would assume to be among the earlies things named, and therefore *likely* to be simple.

Regards,

David J
DavidJ
 
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am

Postby tai1chi » Wed Apr 09, 2003 7:36 pm

Hi Louis, Audi, David,

fascinating discussion. Does anyone of you think that an "underground stream" underlies all things is almost mythological? I.e., that it is among our earliest collective conceptualizations. Just a thought, but I'm thinking of the mercury river that was supposed to have been included in the first Emperor's tomb. Was there aspecial word for it?

Best,
Steve James
tai1chi
 
Posts: 253
Joined: Thu Feb 01, 2001 7:01 am
Location: NY

Postby DavidJ » Wed Apr 09, 2003 8:48 pm

Hi Steve,

> Does anyone of you think that an "underground stream" underlies all things is almost mythological? <

Is this related to the "double styx" set? :^0

DJ
DavidJ
 
Posts: 349
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am

Postby tai1chi » Wed Apr 09, 2003 9:09 pm

Hey DJ,

naw, "double styx" Image. But, as you guessed, I was thinking of those underground rivers that connect life and "not-life". It was what you said about the basic words in early vocabularies. Some of the earliest must have concerned reproduction, and the liquids associated with it. So, it would seem likely -imho- that there would have been a word early in the Chinese language --surely after philosophical concepts were introduced as "words"-- that associated life, strength, underground stream, etc., metaphorically. I'm not a Chinese linguist, but it seems reasonable that if these concepts have cognates in a language they are probably related (at least conceptually).

Cheers (you reader between the lines, you),
Steve James

[This message has been edited by tai1chi (edited 04-09-2003).]
tai1chi
 
Posts: 253
Joined: Thu Feb 01, 2001 7:01 am
Location: NY

Postby Louis Swaim » Wed Apr 09, 2003 10:53 pm

Greetings Steve,

I don’t know about mythology, but metaphors, yes. Water metaphors abound in early Chinese writings, with attendant imagery advising not to impede its flow. Among my favorite philosophers was Mengzi (Mencius, 4th century B.C.). Here’s a passage from Mengzi, nicely rendered by Edward Slingerland in his newly published book, _Effortless Action: Wu-Wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China_ (Oxford Univ. Press, 2003):

“Xuzi said, ‘Several times Confucius praised water, saying, ‘Water! Oh, water! (Analects 9.17)’ What was it he saw in water?’”

“Mencius replied, ‘Water from an ample spring [yuanquan] flows day and night without ceasing, proceeding on its way only after filling all of the hollows in its path, and then eventually draining into the Four Seas. All things that have a root [ben] are so, and what Confucius saw in water is simply this and nothing more. If a thing lacks a root, it is like rain water that accumulates after a late summer storm. Although all the gutters and ditches may be filled, you can just stand for a moment and watch it all dry up.”
—Mencius 4B:18, trans. in Slingerland, p. 157

Take a look at Jerry’s translation of #6 of Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials elsewhere on this site. Here’s an excerpt: “The net of acupuncture meridians and channels throughout the body are like the waterways on top of the earth. If the waterways are not blocked, the water circulates; if the meridians are not impeded the chi circulates.”

The identification of the human body’s meridians and circuits with the watercourses of the earth goes back to very early times.

I’ll try to post a bit more on this conjunction of body & earth circuit imagery later.

Take care,
Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 04-09-2003).]
Louis Swaim
 
Posts: 1346
Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2001 7:01 am
Location: Oakland, CA

Postby Audi » Thu Apr 10, 2003 3:37 am

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by tai1chi:
<B>Hi Louis, Audi, David,

fascinating discussion. Does anyone of you think that an "underground stream" underlies all things is almost mythological? I.e., that it is among our earliest collective conceptualizations. Just a thought, but I'm thinking of the mercury river that was supposed to have been included in the first Emperor's tomb. Was there aspecial word for it?

Best,
Steve James</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>


Hi Steve:

Your mention of underground streams reminds of a trip I recently made.

Not too long ago, I visited an exhibit of pre-Columbian artifacts and was told by a guide that the Aztecs viewed the universe as having three levels. Water was at the bottom and was the abode of the underworld. Earth was the domain of living people. Heaven was the abode of the gods. I believe that the dead had to descend into the water before they could reach heaven.

I was quite surprised at this symbolism and presumed it came from seeing springs gushing from the ground. Another reason might be that the Aztec capital (modern day Mexico City and ancient Tenochtitlan) was founded amid a swampy lake, and aquaculture was thought to play an unusually strong role in their agriculture. This water cosmology may, however, have come from cultures that predated the Aztecs (e.g., the Toltecs and Olmecs) and who did not live on the lake.

As you may know, the ancient Greeks viewed the world as being surrounded by the river Ocean, which Homer apparently also associated with the constellation Eridanus. I am not an expert in this, but have always thought that this image was partly influenced by the Greeks’ knowledge of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans (and perhaps the North Sea), which were known to them, but probably constituted insuperable boundaries. The Indus River may have played its part as well. As you mentioned in your post, the river Styx was also thought to separate the underworld from the land of the living.

I do not recall much about Islamic cosmology; but in the Quran, rivers are said to run “underneath” Paradise. This, I assume, is an image harkening to the role that the Tigris and Euphrates have played in the history of the Middle East. I think there is also a narrow bridge that links the land of the living to Paradise, but I believe it is thought to cross a lake of fire or something similar, rather than water.

In the bible, the Earth was placed in the firmament, which, I believe, was viewed as a spherical area that was surrounded on all sides by water. I have always assumed that this was an imaged influenced by the blue of the sky, but again I am not an expert in this.

I do not recall much about Chinese cosmology, but I think they viewed the earth as resting on the back of a tortoise and do not recall any special role for rivers or waters, other than maybe amid the stars. Perhaps others know more.

You also made an inquiry about a mercury river and the first emperor of “all China,” Qin Shi Huang. I do not know the name for this river and was not aware of this fact about his tomb; nevertheless, I vaguely recall a collection of facts I have learned or have confused over the years. These facts may be of interest and actually have some relevance to Taijiquan. I am not quite sure of all the facts, but I will lay out what I think I recall anyway.

Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of all China, but was a terrible tyrant. As he began to age, he became obsessed with obtaining immortality. As you may know, the quest for immortality has always been an important theme in traditional Chinese thought. Qin Shi Huang summoned doctors from all over China and demanded that they give him immortality with the threat of death hanging over their failure.

Since mercury is shiny and flows, some thought that it had life giving powers and used it in mixing elixirs of immortality. In the West, it was used my alchemists trying to turn lead into gold. One (or more) of the doctors summoned by Qin Shi Huang was desperate to save himself and mixed mercury elixirs for the emperor. As you may know, mercury is a poison and quite unsuitable for giving anyone good health, let alone immortality. The treatments promptly sickened and killed Qin Shi Huang, ending his tyrannical rule, temporarily causing chaos throughout the land, but paving the way for the founding of the Han Dynasty, which subsequently defined what it means to by “Chinese” or Han in the ethnic sense.

The common ore from which mercury was obtained was a red substance called “cinnabar” in English and “Dan” in Mandarin. “Dantian” means “cinnabar field” and can be thought of as a reference to the life-giving elixir that correct practice is supposed to cultivate at the core of our bodies.

What I like about this story is that it is a cautionary tale for those who might be tempted to misapply philosophy or who might give too much credence to superstition. Sinking Qi to the Dantian may be a good thing, but “Nothing to excess.”

Take care,
Audi
Audi
 
Posts: 1137
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2001 7:01 am
Location: New Jersey, USA

Next

Return to Tai Chi Theory and Principles

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest