The golden crow approaching the west building,
The sound of the drum shortening my life,
The road to the underworld is with neither guest nor host,
This evening whose house shall I turn to?
- Go 吳 – Readings from before the 7th / 8th centuries. Possibly from the Korean peninsula or southern China. Often used in Buddhist texts.
- Kan 漢 – Readings from the mid Tang Dynasty (618-907). Generally reflect the pronunciation of Chang'an 長安.
- Tō 唐 – Readings from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Often used in the Zen school. Here tō 唐 refers to China rather than the Tang Dynasty.
Prince Ōtsu lived and died. The famous Battle of Baekgang occurred during the year he was born. Japan had dispatched fleets in support of Baekje on the Korean peninsula against Silla and their ally Tang China. The Japanese suffered tremendous casualties. A few years later Silla was in control of the whole of the Korean peninsula. This incident and the Tang expansionism quite likely prompted a lot of fear and concern in Japan while also sparking a pressing need to adopt Chinese forms of government, statecraft and culture. Simultaneously Japan was receiving refugees from Korea. This led to the rapid sinicization of Japan, most prominently seen in the Nara period. It was in such an environment that Prince Ōtsu was raised and much of the rest of the Kaifūsō as well. The historical background for reading any kind of classical material indeed enriches the experience.
The dynastic histories over the last two thousand years contain records of contacts between the court and foreign states as well as brief descriptions of those foreign cultures. In some cases, these short accounts are invaluable witnesses when recreating the history of a country named in the chronicles. At a basic level they also offer a glimpse into the perspectives of contemporary peoples. The accounts of foreign cultures speak as much about those cultures as they do the authors'.
One example of this is the account of Nepal in the Book of Tang 舊唐書, a history of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was published a few decades following the collapse of the dynasty. Like the earlier dynastic histories it also provides brief details on foreign realms. Its account of Nepal is as follows.
Nepal is west of Tibet. It is their custom to cut their hair and arrange their eyebrows. They pierce their ears and stretch them with bamboo tubes and cow horns. Those that link them to their shoulders are considered most beautiful. They eat using their hands and have no spoons or chopsticks. Their vessels are all copper. There is a lot of trade and little agriculture. They use copper for money. On the front is a man and on the back horses and cows. They do not pierce holes in them. For clothing they use one stretch of cloth to cover the body. Several times a day they bathe. They use planks of wood for housing and the walls are all carved and painted. Their culture values games and they enjoy blowing flutes and striking drums. Many understand lunar predictions as well as being well-versed in calendrical sciences. They serve five deities and carve into stone their images. Everyday with pure water they wash the deities and cook mutton as an offering. Their king Narendradeva wears on his body pearl, crystal, agate, coral, amber and necklaces. From his ears hangs golden hooks with jade caps. On his girdle are gem adornments and a dagger. He sits on a lion throne. The inside of his hall is scattered with flowers and burning incense. The great ministers and retainers sit on the floor. He maintains hundreds of soldiers serving at his side. In the palace there is a tower seven stories high and covered with copper tiles. The railings, handrails, pillars and beams are all decorated with pearls and gems. On each of the four corners of the tower there are copper tanks, beneath which there are golden dragons spitting water on the tower which collects in the tanks. The water is ejected from the mouths of the dragons and its shape resembles a fountain. Narendradeva's father was usurped by his uncle and Narendradeva fled away. Tibet took him in and restored his position. Thereafter they became subordinate to Tibet.
Nepal here refers to what is now the Kathmandu Valley. Historically this is what “Nepal” itself referred to. This was a time when Nepal was actually quite wealthy due to trade, unlike today when it is one of the poorest nations in the world.
The authors of the history likely thought the elongated earlobes and cut hair were noteworthy features of this foreign culture, the Chinese themselves doing neither. They note things that would have been different from their own native culture. For example, they point out that, unlike the Chinese, the Nepalese did not punch holes in their coins or use utensils when eating.
The use of planks for building materials and elaborate carving and painting of buildings can actually still be seen in Nepal today. Unfortunately, the traditional architecture is now largely overshadowed by utilitarian concrete structures.
Narendradeva (d.683), son of Udayadeva, was indeed an actual king of Nepal. His rival Viṣṇugupta dethroned him and in 641 he was restored with the help of the Tibetans. Inscriptions of Ancient Nepal by D. R. Regmi (New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1983) details ancient inscriptions which provide rich historical resource material for Nepal and there are inscriptions which validate the Chinese record.
Curiously, there is no mention of Buddhism. Xuanzang (602-664) arrived in India in 633 and returned back to China in 645, so he would have been on the subcontinent during the civil war which saw Narendradeva restored to the throne. It seems he did not visit the Kathmandu Valley, though in his journal he records some details about Nepal, in particular mention of both Hindu and Buddhist temples alongside each other. He stated there were over two-thousand monks. The Tang history above only makes mention of the worship of five deities. We know that in the 7th century Buddhism was in the Nepal just as Xuanzang recorded. Some stūpas like Swayambu and Boudhanath, still extant today, date from this period.
Histories like this are indeed invaluable resources, of course with their limits, when attempting to reconstruct the cultures and events of the past.
All the dynastic histories are now digitalized and are available at Chinese Wikisource here.
In the early 20th century China was faced with many internal and external problems. The collapse of the Imperial Qing Dynasty and the rise of the Republic of China heralded the end of many customs and practices, but also gave birth to many new ideologies and customs. Many of these new ideologies focused on building China into a modern, capable and unified nation. Many scholars and statesmen sought to selectively cut away archaic customs and practices in favor of new so-called modern ones. Language reform was generally deemed to be absolutely necessary in order for China to remove archaic and aged practices, which were at times regarded as being causes for China's various social problems and political failures of the time. For the first time China officially adopted a written language based on the colloquial grammar and vocabulary called báihuà 白话 and at the same time largely dismissed the classical writing style (wényánwén 文言) which had been in use for nearly two millennia. The push in the 20th century towards an official language based on the colloquial vernacular was brought on by a myriad of factors including modernization, nationalism, Europeanization and the need for a unified literate populace and nation in the face of China's ongoing problems with civil war, imperialism and balkanization.
Hu Shi's literary revolution sparked two particular schools of thought: that of westernization/Europeanization (ouhua 歐化) and popularization (daizhonghua 大衆化). The Europeanization movement was primarily concerned with developing expressive word power in China. Chinese was said to be lacking in scientific and predominately European social-political terminology. The popularization movement sought to cut class boundaries and create a literate social system for all.13 The socialist influence in this line of thinking is readily apparent. Again, the need for an up-to-date language to accommodate not only new sciences, but also new abstract concepts and ideas, clearly existed at this time. Qu Qiubai (瞿秋白), a prominent Chinese communist revolutionary, wrote a thesis on popularization (daizhonghualun 大衆化論), which later incidentally helped to strengthen the communist party movement. He proposed that written Chinese should be based entirely on báihuà: the language of the proletariat. The basic ideas of popularization were essentially in-line with the communist agenda. Needless to say, the popularization movement was largely an extension of socialist activities. Language reform began getting intermixed with non-academic agendas. The proponents of westernization were at odds with popularization supporters, but fundamentally their positions supported the same thing: the propagation of a vernacular language and the opposition to the classical one. 14 Few insisted that China should lose its entire culture and completely adopt western ways. The intelligentsia of this time seemed predominately more concerned with catching up to the West technologically and scientifically – and in order to do so language reform of some kind was necessary to reflect the rapid changes in the modern world. Conversely, the socialists were more concerned with destroying class and uniting the proletariat for the purpose of achieving a communist utopia.
It could be said that the vast language reforms undertaken in the 1910's and 1920's contributed to the cultural reformist mindset that would eventually give rise to the Cultural Revolution. As noted before, the communists had a very keen interest in language reform well before the Cultural Revolution. In 1956, about three decades after the widespread language reforms, there was an even stronger consensus on the need for further widespread cultural reform. Lu Dingyi insisted that China had a rich heritage that “must be studied seriously and accepted critically.” However, his suggestion in dealing with the cultural heritage was that one should “carefully select, cherish and foster all that is good in it while criticizing its faults and shortcomings in a serious way.”15 His views seem to echo those of the cultural reformists in past decades who, like Hu Shi for example, sought to get China up-to-date for the modern world and able to survive the many pressures it was facing while retaining the strong features that distinguishes Chinese civilization from the rest of the world.
The early half of the 20th century in China was one of great change. Essentially, a civilization of several thousand years was forcibly driven into a new world dominated by powers it once considered inferior. Among the vast amount of changes in Chinese civilization at this time there were a number of changes to language, which is the most basic intellectual tool of any human society. Reformists at this time utilized this tool and successfully changed the language for the purpose of strengthening, if not saving, a much weakened China, which was facing the prospects of balkanization and large scale cultural destruction. Nevertheless, although the use of Literary Chinese for formal purposes has all but died out, the study of it is still undertaken in the classroom and in universities. The intelligentsia may not be as adept as their predecessors once were with the language, but it still remains part of any scholar's toolkit who undertakes research into not only pre-modern China, but also the greater East Asian cultural sphere as well. In an ironic turn of events, the spoken language written on paper used to really be something of an anomaly as most authors wrote in the literary form, but come the early 20th century the two changed places with the colloquial language, or something based heavily on it, becoming the official language while Classical Chinese was relegated to the status of a curious pursuit undertaken by scholars and a required subject for high school students.