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Are the aspects of Chinese people when considering history different from that of Occidentals?

Xie Daochi

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-This has been posted on Hellotalk, with the account'赵隽祺', which is my own account. While this is a new version with several sentences corrected and some new contents. 


When Chinese people are reading about history, the points we focus on is really different from the points people from occidental countries focus on - Chinese people usually consider bureaucracy politics and literature as the most important aspects because these are the traditional focus of historians in ancient time, and that China has been with a complex bureaucracy system since Zhou Dynasty. While people from occidental countries usually consider rulers and scientists more important. For example, as for Northern Song Dynasty, Bao Zheng(包拯) who was an official famous of his justice, rectitude, clean and fearless towards the dignitaries has been one of the most well-known ancient Chinese people till nowadays. There are tons of films, operas and dramas about him and he has been a symbol of justice in Chinese people's heart. While another person named Su Song(苏颂) who is famous among the foreign researchers of the history of Song Dynasty because of his achievement in astronomy is hardly known in China.


Another thing I woud like to mention is about why literature is also considered important in the history of China. In my opinion, during the ancient time, the sbjects weren't that seperated. People used to consider all the humanities as writing and the comprehension of 'Dao'(道). So in China, the non-specialized historians used to change something in their writing about history to make it more approaching to 'Dao'(道, could be considered as a synonym of 'moral principle'. According to what I found on Chinese internet, this behavior of 'content changing' started also in Northern Song Dynasty, from a scholar named Liu Chang, 刘敞). Also, according to Confucianism, an educated man should 'join the officialdom'(入仕) to achieve their political dream - the ruling like Yao(尧) and Shun(舜) who are two rulers according to ancient legend of the time before Xia Dynasty. Actually people during that time were just using it as a symbol of their political dreams.


These are just my views as a Chinese and as an anthropology student in the future. What about you? I will be really glad to see your comments! 

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I'm not a specialist in history by any means. In my opinion though, it seems that in China, the way to study any subject and what to study is pre-mandated by the authorities, and any deviation from what is considered to be "correct" is wrong. The fact that, as far as history is concerned, people concentrate on bureaucracy, politics and literature, may just be what is generally accepted (although, apart from literature perhaps), I don't see that this diverges greatly from a Western handling of history.

In the West (or UK at least), academics are encouraged to do their own research, come up with their own theories and opinions, and even challenge the established consensus. This is what I would say is the biggest difference. 

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Another problem with this sort of thing is it's based on flawed assumptions. The Western historical tradition includes quite a lot of church history, for example, as it was often in the monasteries and so forth it was getting recorded. You might get the impression that people were more concerned with how to calculate the date of Easter than who was king going off some of the sources we have.

Then on into the present, does the Annales school only look at rulers and scientists? Are the plays about Thomas More's conflict with his king not in the same order? Does no-one pay any attention to classical literature in the West? It's often one of the few sources we have for certain events and periods.


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  • 11 months later...

I've only read some Chinese history and don't really know about how the scholars go about studying it but as I understand, each ruler used to have their own historian, who would rewrite the history the way the current ruler saw fit. The history is always written by the victor and apparently the tradition hasn't been abandoned even today. If it is possible to find surviving other histories from the different periods, I'm guessing it should be quite interesting fitting the different histories together and gleam out what actually happened and what drove the different people.


Also many great people of science in the past have been multi-talents and some of them may not have separated their writing too much along the dividing lines we have today but written about historical events, mythology, philosophy, engineering, mathematics, etc. in a manner that has blended together to varying extents. Though the quality of the writing has gotten better and better as the scientific method developed and was adopted. I'm sure the same holds true to Chinese writers, but there the focus of education has largely been on mastering the Confucian classics and geared towards passing the civil service exams which likely shows in the selected topics.

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It always struck me how the honest official is revered almost as a god.  I suppose it's because dishonest corrupt officials were the norm.  Ruthlessly exploiting their positions to extract resources for themselves to found a mini-dynasty of their own.  

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