Understanding Ancient Chinese Society: Approaches to Ren [Chinese Characters Not Reproducible in Ascii] and Min [Chinese Characters Not Reproducible in Ascii]

By Gassmann, Robert H. | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, July-September 2000 | Go to article overview

Understanding Ancient Chinese Society: Approaches to Ren [Chinese Characters Not Reproducible in Ascii] and Min [Chinese Characters Not Reproducible in Ascii]


Gassmann, Robert H., The Journal of the American Oriental Society


The study of ancient Chinese society is fraught with problems and issues and generally hampered by a lack of awareness that many basic terms are in fact still imperfectly understood. The meanings of key designations for social groups have therefore seldom been questioned, leaving them either in the state of "naturally evident" assumptions or of received knowledge hallowed by Chinese and sinological tradition. Although the importance of kinship and clan structures is generally stressed, scholars have not paid much attention to relating the textual evidence on social entities to the corresponding lexical material. This applies particularly to ren and min. Close reading of ancient texts not only reveals many interesting facts and information on the terms themselves, but also prompts us to reassess our understanding of key philosophical concepts in ancient Chinese thought. [1]

1. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

THE NEED FOR RECONSTRUCTING ancient Chinese society (or societies) is imperative not only for understanding historical events, social and economic processes, but also essential for more profound insights into ancient thought. The question how key designations for social groups are to be understood in the ancient texts has therefore been a long-standing concern. This applies particularly to ren [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and min [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the various compounds with them as main elements. The following quotation, from Claudius C. Muller, sketches the generally accepted understanding of these two words:

The most general name for man jen [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and people min [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as applied to both Chinese and non-Chinese groups has been valid since Chou times. These two concepts do not contain any racial or linguistic distinctions, but socially distinctive marks are clear in other expressions: The people are seen as an undifferentiated mass: li-min [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the numerous people; wan-min [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the ten thousand people; cheng-min [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and chung-min [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the "masses"; hsiao-jen [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the "small" or common people; and chien [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the inferior people. On the other hand, the aristocrats, the po-hsing [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or "one hundred clans," stand out due to their privilege to carry clan-names. Only the bearers of individual clan-names count, and it is therefore logical that "China (chung-kuo [CHINESE CHARACTERS NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is where the prince awards clan-names" (shang-shu). Since a clan is to be understood as a unit comprising the family and the accompanying household, i.e., bond servants, agricultural workers, craftsmen, servants, and slaves, the Chinese people as a whole is referred to in the expression po-hsing. [2]

Regrettably, the term "sketch" is quite appropriate, not only for the text quoted, but also for recent studies, such as Chinese Civilization in the Making, by Li Jun, [3] or the prestigious Cambridge History of Ancient China. [4] Muller's remarks on ancient Chinese society are brief, but also undeniably blurred and contradictory in many details. The quoted text maintains that "the people are seen as an undifferentiated mass," but this is immediately followed by half a dozen expressions for presumably different parts of the "people." Clan and family are seen as equivalents, whereas the categories of "bond servants, agricultural workers, craftsmen, servants, and slaves" seem to be the product of self-evident assumptions rather than the result of thorough analysis. This lack of consistency is mirrored in translations: ren is predominantly translated as "man, men," but we also find "people"; min, on the other hand, is usually understood as "people, population. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Understanding Ancient Chinese Society: Approaches to Ren [Chinese Characters Not Reproducible in Ascii] and Min [Chinese Characters Not Reproducible in Ascii]
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.