An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics

An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics

by Perry Link


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During the Cultural Revolution, Mao exhorted the Chinese people to “smash the four olds”: old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas. Yet when the Red Guards in Tiananmen Square chanted “We want to see Chairman Mao,” they unknowingly used a classical rhythm that dates back to the Han period and is the very embodiment of the four olds. An Anatomy of Chinese reveals how rhythms, conceptual metaphors, and political language convey time-honored meanings of which Chinese speakers themselves may not be consciously aware, and contributes to the ongoing debate over whether language shapes thought, or vice versa.

Perry Link’s inquiry into the workings of Chinese reveals convergences and divergences with English, most strikingly in the area of conceptual metaphor. Different spatial metaphors for consciousness, for instance, mean that English speakers wake up while speakers of Chinese wake across. Other underlying metaphors in the two languages are similar, lending support to theories that locate the origins of language in the brain. The distinction between daily-life language and official language has been unusually significant in contemporary China, and Link explores how ordinary citizens learn to play language games, artfully wielding officialese to advance their interests or defend themselves from others.

Particularly provocative is Link’s consideration of how Indo-European languages, with their preference for abstract nouns, generate philosophical puzzles that Chinese, with its preference for verbs, avoids. The mind-body problem that has plagued Western culture may be fundamentally less problematic for speakers of Chinese.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674066021
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 02/18/2013
Pages: 376
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Perry Link is retired from a career teaching at Princeton University and now is Chancellorial Chair for Teaching Across Disciplines at the University of California, Riverside. He publishes on Chinese language, literature, and cultural history, and also writes and speaks on human rights in China.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Rhythm 21

The Prevalence of Rhythmic Patterns in Daily-Life Chinese 24

Is Rhythm Unusually Common in Chinese? 37

Speakers' Awareness of Rhythm 40

Are There Fads in Rhythms? 44

The Roots of Rhythms 49

"External" Rhythms: Dominant and Recessive 54

Recessive Rhythms of Favor 60

How Recessive Rhythms Affect Structure 68

How Universal Are the Preferred Rhythms of Chinese? 74

Do Rhythms Have Meanings? 82

What Other Formal Features Contribute to Meaning? 94

Can the Users of Rhythm Be Unaware of Its Effects? 109

2 Metaphor 113

How Do Metaphors Work in Ordinary Language? 115

Metaphor and Thought 128

Time 136

Color 147

Up and Down 155

North and South 162

Consciousness 169

The Self in Ancient Thought 171

Privilege in Dyads 174

Metaphors That Chinese and English (Pretty Much) Share 183

Metaphors in Chinese That Diverge from English in Significant Ways 198

Conceptual Differences That Are Rooted in Metaphor 209

Can Conceptual Metaphors Generate Philosophical Problems? 215

The Significance of Similarities and Differences among Conceptual Metaphors in Different Languages 231

3 Politics 234

A Bifurcation 235

Characteristics of the Official Language 243

The Language Game 278

How the Game Is Played: From the Side of the Rulers 295

How the Game Is Played: From the Side of the Ruled 321

Effects of the Language Game in the Mao and the Post-Mao Eras Compared 341

Epilogue 349

Acknowledgments 357

Index 359

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