Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Dialogue Forms in the Taiping Jing (Scripture on Great Peace)

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Dialogue Forms in the Taiping Jing (Scripture on Great Peace)

Article excerpt

The authors of the Taiping jing [phrase omitted] (Scripture on Great Peace) often present their ideas in the form of a dialogue, in the sense of a "discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed towards exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem." (1) When used as a literary device, dialogues in the Taiping jing, as elsewhere, have several functions. One is to address readers' skills in handling concepts and logical reasoning. Dialogues structure the line of argument; points are divided up among speakers for clarification. The other is to increase the relevance of what is discussed. In the course of a dialogue, teachings and opinions may become enmeshed with the speaker's personal history and characteristics or with individual experiences and expectations. Specific interests shine through a speaker's contribution. This may enhance the subject under discussion with personal relevance for readers. Thereby dialogues address feelings and convey messages that reach beyond the topic under discussion and the openly declared aim of the author's argument. In both respects dialogues are apt to increase the accessibility of what is said and are therefore protreptical, as has been discussed in detail for Plato's dialogues. (2) Moreover, dialogue elements enlarge an author's message beyond what is actually said. They accompany the main line of an argument in commentarial and often also critical fashion. The authors do not theorize this function but it becomes clear to readers when they juxtapose the main content of a dialogue with its introduction and conversational elements or a junior speaker's interjections with the main speaker's line of argument. This paper intends to investigate the role that the authors of the Taiping jing attributed to the literary form of dialogue in developing, formulating, and propagating Great Peace (taiping [phrase omitted]) teachings. (3) At times dialogue elements contain information on the authors' agenda that is not openly expressed in the lectures and essays that make up the bulk of the text. At other times they expressly accentuate aspects of this agenda. This will be documented in three ways. The first concerns the character of the student, who acts as the junior partner in all discussions. Dialogue elements reveal that he has personal interests beyond his role of dutifully learning all that he is taught. Secondly, it will be shown that the multiplicity of speakers allows the presentation and discussion of unorthodox positions. Thereby dialogues become an essential tool for situating Great Peace teachings in their intellectual environment. Lastly, the dialogue form is well adjusted to the missionary project that is thematized at all levels of Great Peace teachings. As the text's interlocutors gain clarity about this project, their attempts become a model of how everyone is expected to gain such clarity. The dialogue form is set up as a token of that general communication which, in the authors' opinion, alone can save the world. (4)

THE TAIPING JING'S TEXTS AND THEIR DIALOGUE FORMS

To start with, due attention must be given to the history of the materials contained in the Taiping jing. It has been transmitted in the Daoist canon and was part of this canon from the late sixth century C.E. (5) The Taiping jing's origins are unclear. Language places it in the neighbourhood of early Buddhist translations from the late second and early third centuries C.E. that are said to be close to the language spoken in the city of Luoyang at that time. (6) When compared to texts from Han dynasty times that were written by educated authors of cultural and social rank, the Taiping jing is written in a less elegant style. Sentences are clumsy and verbose; there are many three-character combinations and superfluous particles; there is much repetition. This style of writing has hardly any parallels in transmitted texts from early and medieval China. The text's content makes it Daoist despite considerable points of disagreement with the teachings of the early Daoist congregation that existed in a region of present-day Sichuan towards the end of the second century C. …

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