Anthropology

Introduction

In the book Chinese Characteristics, Arthur Henderson Smith has discussed what he considered to be the major Chinese characteristics and values. In his book, Smith argues that learning about Chinese characteristics by recording several occurrences and incidents with a focus on the extraordinary issues and giving explanations, as they are given by the natives, can be a valid method. On the one hand, Smith presents the Chinese character as being the one that goes by nature’s cycles and the one that has the lack of punctuality of its own age. On the other hand, Jacques Gernet in Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1259-1276 has mainly focused on the history of China between 1250 to the year of 1276 (Gernet, 1962). He portrays the way China has maintained its culture, despite the fact that they have mixed with other cultures. He goes on to explain how civilization has gone through different stages of development. The current paper compares Daily Life in China by Gernet and Chinese Characteristics by Smith, aiming to determine which of the books is more anthropological. The paper also examines what face meant to the Chinese.

Comparison of the Books

In the Chinese Characteristics, Smith puts an emphasis on the culture of Chinese by giving a detailed description on what the Chinese engage in and what it means to the Chinese culture. Gernet, on the contrary, focuses on the history of China between 1259 and 1276. Gernet attempts on giving different historical changes that have taken place and had a certain impact; the book goes on to explain the way the period between 1259 to 1376 was poverty stricken and the way peasants lived a precarious life; furthermore, the book compares China of the 12th century to that of the 13th century and shows the way two periods have changed China (Gernet, 1962). It is clear that despite the fact that the two books are anthropological, the Chinese Characteristics by Smith can be considered as more Anthropological, when compared to Daily Life in China by Gernet.

In addition, Smith explains the way Chinese culture considers education, the way education in China was restricted to a narrow circle. This explanation that is given by Smith is confirmed by anthropology and historical facts which indicate that primary school enrollments were only 4% out of all those people who were eligible of joining school in the 19th century (Smith, 1894). However, in Daily Life of China, Gernet explains how the importance of Southern China increased and it became densely populated, richer and more developed. Gernet further explains how China was subjected by the barbarians who rebelled against all other cultures and the book explains in detail how barbarians were rigid and attached to the warlike tribal traditions that they had practiced for a long time back then.

In his book, Smith explains the attitudes of the Chinese in regards to family, kin, society and nation as a whole. He demonstrates how filial piety is developed in China to an extent that children are willing to die for their criminal parents. The book further examines equality between men and women in China. Smith describes the way ancient Chinese people were affected by different infectious diseases and malnutrition that have the major effects on the IQ of Chinese; Smith attributes the level of illiteracy of the Chinese on the above mentioned factors. While Gernet tries to focus on the history of the Chinese between the years 1259 and 1276, Smith has tried to explain the Chinese culture by focusing on the characteristics of Chinese people, therefore, the book Chinese Characteristics is more anthropological, if compared to Daily Life in China by Gernet.

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What ‘Face’ Meant to the Chinese

The word ‘face’ among Chinese was not used only when referring to the front part of the head, but it is a compound noun that had several meanings in their culture. The term ‘face’ was at times used to refer to exhibition to the spectators because Chinese people were expected to be in front of people to look at them as this was considered to bring about honor to the Chinese people. In this meaning, the term ‘face’ was used as a synonym to fame. For example, when a mandarin, who was departing when a tablet was presented to him, it was said that the he had received ‘face’ through the gift presented to him. In this case, the recipient of the gift also received a ‘face’ that was proportioned to the importance of the gift that was presented and those who presented the gift (Smith, 1894). Failing to acknowledge such a gift in the appropriate way was considered to be a nullification of the effect of gift that was presented and, in such a situation, the recipient would ‘lose face’. Also, declining a gift was not allowed, especially a gift of a tablet, a bunch of flowers or a salutation. Declining a gift was considered a great offence.

There were situations where the Chinese people resolved to present a gift to the foreigner and the foreigner rejects the gift. When one single step has been taken in this process, the Chinese culture considered it to be too late for the foreigner to start declining the gift; according to the Chinese culture, it is imperative to respect the will of the majority (Smith, 1894). In this case, an inscription should be bought and proper arrangements should be made with an aim to present the inscription; if a foreigner still refuses to accept the present, the present is not supposed to be taken back and a crass foreigner is not allowed to receive it.

In certain cases that occurred in the Chinese social relations, the term “face” was not considered to be a synonym of honor and reputation but it was considered to be a technical expression that indicated a certain relation that was instinctively perceived by Chinese people. The term ‘face’ is also used in the chess game, where the ‘tangles’ is the mysterious thing that helps people to recover their ‘face’ (Smith, 1894). In the case where the question that is asked is on the property of the widow, the magistrate is allowed to incline to the side of the objectors and in case the husband did not die, if he turns up, the property becomes his and this saves the face of the prosecutor, leaving him a drawn game. In the situation where a servant is dismissed, it is regarded to be a disgrace and, hence, a loss of ‘face’ (Smith, 1894). And if the servant has wind, he can save his ‘face’ by declining to perform some tasks that are considered to be simple, raise a storm and retire in triumph with his/her ‘face’ intact. If one died in a shameful way, this was considered that the dead person died in a ‘thick face’ or in other cases the dead person has his skin of the forehead bisected off, either as a punishment or with an intention of hiding his face (Smith, 1894). The terms ‘losing one face’ and ‘saving one’s face’ are considered to be very unattractive terms to be used in the Chinese culture.

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Conclusion

Smith in his book Chinese Characteristics has tried to give a detailed explanation of the culture of the Chinese people in different perspectives. Gernet has given a history of the Chinese people between the years 1257-1276. When the two books are compared, one can state that the Chinese Characteristics is more anthropological than Daily Life in China. The term ‘face’ in China is not used to refer to the front part of the head but it can be used to refer to different situations. Moreover, it indicated a certain relation to a person that was instinctively perceived by Chinese people.

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