Sample journal entry


The following example, concerning an item not on the Fall 2006 list, should serve as a guide to the form Journal entries should take.  This one dealt with a reading somewhat longer and more challenging than most.  Note that the Notes are free form and include more information than the Precis can reflect; the Precis section is formal and concise; the brief Response section is less formal.


Mark Lewis, Writing and Authority in Early China (Albany: SUNY Press, 1999), 99-146



-“writing about the past is inevitably tied to present concerns” (p. 99)

-legitimacy through creation/documentation of tradition/ancestry

-writing creates/establishes groups/affiliations

- Past in Speeches section

-Shang shu, Zhou records of policy and speeches.  Historically canon or invented after the fact?

-importance of numbers/numerology (p. 105) 5s and 9s, used to give examples and describe entireties of things.  9 robes means all the robes there are, etc.

-Historical tradition and forging history through writing moves from state level into individual schools.

- Past in Political Philosophy

-Confucius- “Loves antiquity” (p. 110) Has antiquity as a standard to live up to and re-visit.  Analects includes accounts of sage kings to re-enforce its points and grant legitimacy by using sages as Confucian exemplars.

-Mohists set up sages v. militant violent kings to support defensive warfare paradigm.  (p.111)  Rise of some states and the fall of others used to disprove existence of fate.

-Mozi quotes Shi and Shu, discusses importance of writing.  Comprehensive over partial (p. 114)

-Mozi says the authority of writing not always good.  Winner of war writes history with conquest as good.  Descendants think conquest is good, go to war and kill more for conquest, etc.  Mohists, not liking offensive war, find this bad, of course.

-Mencius “sages were models not only for rulers but for all men” (p. 116)

-Xunzi viewed “the past as an extension of the classroom” (p. 118)

-stressed the importance of the student-teacher relationship (teacher can make student into person through patterning (wen)

Han Feizi – Legalism also uses narratives of the past for its own ends.

Shang Jun Shu – legalist text, has past as series of history lessons.  Denounces Yao, Shun, Tang & Yu as regicides (broke the law.  Law = all).

-The Past in Cosmogony (yay, Cosmogony!  +50 pts for using one of my favorite mythologist words!)

-Sages as “mythic embodiments of the identity of philosopher & king” (p. 123)

-Proto-Daoists account of creation of the world (Dao-yin/yang-3 things-everything)

-Dao de jing – lots of use of words that imply a qualitatively superior past.  ‘return, mother, ancestor’ as states/beings to be respected/emulated. (p. 124)

-knowledge of the way leads to power over the world.

-Ru.  What is ru?  I don’t see a definition?  This annoys, because ru gets used very often.  It seems to be some kind of past-oriented textual tradition or tendency.  Can’t be sure.

-Wenzi, Huainanzi, a 3rd Daoist text, all share a cosmogony. 

-Sages as culture heroes.

“mythic chaos of beginning of time imagined in the form of rival traditions” (pp. 128-9)

-The Past in Chronicle

-lists, calendar, chronicles of the age.  S&A annals is such a chronicle.

-use of chronicles to get across ethics and ideas of statecraft (p. 132)

-Zuo zhuan – a chronicle.  Ritual is central, as is idea of ming (both allotment of life from Heaven and orders by a superior).

-Gong Yan Zhuan – explains the text of the Chun qiu (which is ‘written’ by Confucius) (p. 139)

-pertains to meaning and use of certain terms.  Also emphasizes import of writing.

-Refers to ‘textual kingship’ which is what Confucius had in his life/time with his writing.

-Confucius as the ‘king without attributes’ with imagined kingdom in Chun qiu (p. 143)


-History as a genre didn’t exist in pre-imperial period (p. 144)

-recount areas – speeches, philosophy, cosmogony, chronicle

-myth as metaphor for political program.  (via the proto-Daoists)




            This is a chapter in a larger text on the nature of the authority of writing in ancient China, and specifically covers the written representations of the past in the Classical period.  It begins by briefly explaining the ways in which representations of the past were used, mostly in legitimizing someone or a group’s claim to power, be it political, moral, or both.  The chapter is broken into sections based upon the manner in which the past was presented in writing.

            The section marked "The Past in Speeches" discusses the written "records" of speeches of rulers, sages, and/or important political figures.  The words of wise forebears were used to legitimize a contemporary figure’s actions.  Ancient literature was quoted as a means of proving sophistication (such as The Odes, etc.).  Numerical organization and numerological discourse is mentioned as being used frequently in a symbolic sense, especially 5s and 9s.  These numerological sets were understood to be representations of all versions/members of some type of thing.  For example, "the nine robes" meant "all the robes."  The section also stresses how differences in dealing with representations of the past can be distinguished if the text moves from the state level to the level of various schools.  (p. 105). 

            In "The Past in Political Philosophy" Lewis focuses on how the past was used by the myriad philosophical schools of the Warring States period, primarily to deal with representations of the folk characters of the sage kings.  The Confucianism of the Analects posits the sage kings as the champions of Confucius's philosophy’s virtues.  Shun is the exemplar of filiality, for example. (p. 110)   Mohism sets up some of the sage kings as exemplars, while positing the more "violent" kings as villains. (p. 111)   The second wave of Confucianism, expressed in the Mencius, for the most part follows the Analects so far as representing the past is concerned, with a focus on the sages as models for all people (p. 116)  Xunzi represents the third wave of Classical era Confucianism, and a move towards more of a focus on the teacher-student relationship and the importance of the past “as an extension of the classroom” (p. 118).  The Legalist texts of the Han Feizi and Shang Jun shu take very different stances on many of the sage kings, condemning Yao, Shun, Tang & Wu as regicides.  They call for sages “ruled by laws and methods” (p. 121).

            "The Past in Cosmogony" gives a review of representations of the primordial era of China as they were used by various traditions.  The proto-Daoists paint a cosmogony of the Dao dividing and creating the components of the universe, with the sages as “mythic embodiments of the identity of philosopher and king” (p. 123).  The Dao de jing frequently uses terminology that presents the past/ancient as something to be reclaimed.  It speaks of "returning," and uses ancestors and mothers as metaphors for beings/things with desirable traits. (p. 124)  A set of three Daoist texts (Wenzi, Huainanzi, and an unnamed third) share a cosmology which posits the Dao as the source of the universe, and thus point to the use of the Way as a means for self-refinement. 

            The final section, "The Past in Chronicle" describes the use of the past in chronicles such as The Spring and Autumn Annals.  These chronicles were maintained by states, and thus were frequently destroyed when a state was conquered.  Their histories died with their power.  Chronicles were used by some traditions as texts for teaching “ethics and statecraft.” (p. 132)  The Zuo zhuan is listed as another exemplary chronicle.  Its main themes are adherence to ritual and obedience to ming (a word which means both lifespan and the orders from a superior).  The Gongyang zhuan chronicle is a commentary on the The Spring and Autumn Annals, a text attributed to Confucius. (p. 139)  It explains the meaning and use of various terms from the text, and emphasizes the idea of Confucius as possessing “textual kingship,” in that he created a fictional kingdom for himself with his writing.  This goes in line with his title as "a king without attributes" (p. 143), though the question raised here is whether to consider Confucius or his book itself as the "textual king," implying that the work grew to have more importance than its author. 

            The conclusion draws together Lewis's points and reiterates the various ways in which the past was represented through texts, from speeches to philosophy to cosmogony to chronicle. 




This was a difficult piece to work through.  I was intrigued by the ideas, and excited by the introduction to the book and the idea of analyzing the power of the written word in society, with writing being the provenance of the patrician elite.  However, I did not find the chapter as easy to work through as I might have hoped.  The many, many references to texts I had not heard of were jarring, only somewhat more so than the use of Chinese words as important terminology.  Moreover, I found myself encountering the same point (texts were used to legitimize people’s positions by narrating their stories in a way favorable to the tradition’s viewpoint) again and again.

            I did enjoy the breadth of the discussion of use of the sage king narratives by the various philosophical schools.  I just wish that I had the time to go back and slog through the first chapters and work up to chapter three to get more background, because I found Lewis’ points interesting and thought-provoking in relation to the class theme of the distant past as a creation of the Classical present, and the cultural authority that narrative gained in establishing a particular point of view.