Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Contrastive Ethos: Chinese and English Rhetoric Continued
The Ethos of the Quoted
Confucius quite literally wrote the book on education in China. Since that time, a good education has always required an extensive quoting knowledge of the man's many writings and of the works of various other revered scholars. Early Chinese educators believed that the study of the works produced by these great minds would in turn create more scholars just like them. Hence, the more that one knew of the classics, the more intelligent and worthy one was considered to be. Credit was given by emulation. In other words, a person's knowledge of other writers allowed them, in a sense, to borrow the respect that those other writers had already earned and stand on it themselves.
This is where the extensive use of quotes in Chinese writing comes from. It is a part of their rhetoric, stemming from a long tradition. As mentioned above, the use of quotes allows the author to borrow ethos. To an extent, it can be said that an author is as good as the quotes that he knows how to use, something that falls in direct contrast with the values that American writers place on their original ideas. Western writers are credited for the ideas that they can discover on their own, not on how well they can utilize the previously written knowledge of others in order to make their points. And, while the Chinese appreciate original ideas as well, it is the ethos of the quoted that will afford these new ideas ant respect.
Quoting authors deemed to be “great” likens the current author and his ideas to those more illustrious writers and their ideas. Modern Chinese authors attempt to place themselves on the same plane as the greats by thus borrowing authority. Also, quotes seem to provide a shared medium through which the readers can easily understand the authors. This augments the writer's ethos even more—one is aways more likely to respect someone who presents ethical information in way that can be understood than one is to respect someone who presents it in a way that cannot be. Quotes allow the author to extend a hand to the reader, as it were. Hence, they therefore provide a direct link by which authority can be lent to the word smith in various ways. Chinese authors seemed to gain a more respectable ethos through imitation, as well. Many, in addition to seeking ethos through sayings or quotations, find it important to copy the “spiritual import” of Confucius and the earlier writers, making their style somewhat similar and didactic.
Thus, while many aspects of Chinese rhetoric may be considered indirect to the Western reader, such as their topical organization scheme, their promotion of ethos is and always has been at the opposite end of that spectrum. According to Carol Severino, when talking about what Chinese authors thought most important and clear in their writings, “the inclusion of sayings, proverbs, and quotations was...emphasized” in a proper education along with such basics as grammar, clarity, and attention to instructions (55). Hence, to the Chinese, quotes and ethos were as important as correctly spelled words.
It can thus be concluded that a long tradition of expanding an author's ethos through the quoting of revered works is still an important part of Chinese rhetoric. The author's ethos is fundamental if he wants to be listened to, and the use of quotes is one of the main ways in which an author can establish the credibility necessary to be heard.
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