brooklynmonk

Chinese List-Arguments

In Uncategorized on February 5, 2014 at 3:12 pm

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By Antonio Graceffo

One of my frustrations in listening to my lectures at the university, and especially when listening to lectures by my martial arts teachers, is that in Chineseculture, it is considered educated and refined to speak in lists. For example, a teacher will say, “Ideal fighting includes coordination of the internal and the external.” Then he will ask, “Does anyone know what that means?” And I can assure you, it is a rhetorical question, no answer is expected. He will wait a second or two, then give a sly smile, to show how stupid everyone else in the roomis, and he will explain. “Coordination of the external and internal means shou, yan, shen, fa, bu, qi, li, and gong.” He gives that a moment to sink in and then he asks a second rhetorical question. “Does anyone know what that means?” Obviously, we are not expected to answer, only to stare blankly. He will then shake his head, as if to say, “How can people be so dumb?” and he will explain, “ shou is shou fa de shou (hand techniques), yan is yan jing de yan (eyes), shen is she ti de shen (body), fa is zwo fa de fa (method) and gong is gong fu de gong (kung fu).” He will then go on to explain each element separately. And in the course of explaining that element, there will be more lists of stuff.

“Shou fa includes da, la, na and hu. Does anyone know what those are?” At which point I write in my notebook, “No, but I bet you’re about to tell us.” By the time he gets done explaining the elements of shou fa, I have forgotten the larger context of the original list, and how that related to whatever the lecture was that it interrupted.

In Chinese society, it is considered educated and refined to always know the right list, and to recite it at exactly the right moment during a discussion. In fact, if you are arguing, the minute you recite a list to support your opinion, you have won, unless the opponent recites a contrary list. This style of argument is what I believe early Christians did in Europe, quoting from the Bible. Because the Bible was written in Latin, it was inaccessible to anyone who couldn’t read or speak Latin. So, it was impossible for common people to ever win an argument against the upper class. I think other societies, even early Jews, had a similar style of argument. In Fiddler on the Roof, for example, when people would go to the Rabi for advice. His answers were always direct quotes from the Torah. Tevia, of course, would make up his own Bible quotes, “As the Good Book tells us, when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick.” When his friends try to protest that he just invented that, he comes back with, “Well, somewhere in the Bible, there is something about a poor man and something about a chicken.”

So, although this style of argument existed in other cultures, it is extremely antiquated. As a language learner, it is extremely frustrating. When they say the list, it is always a list of one syllable characters, which represent two syllable words. For example “shen”. Then I have to wait for the first set of explanation when he tells me “shen ti de shen” which I know means “body.” Then I have to wait for the second round of explanation to know how this relates. My doctoral lectures are 3 hours long, and extremely tedious.

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey

See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on  http://www.blackbeltmag.com

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