Identifying and Mapping Issues, Theories, & Research in Asian/American Rhetoric(s): An Annotated Bibliography

The Use of Eloquence

Posted in Asian Rhetoric(s) by Jennifer Sano-Franchini on May 7, 2009

Xu, George Q. “The Use of Eloquence.” Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks. Lipson, Carol and Roberta A. Binkley, eds. Albany: SUNY P, 2004.

Xu examines the notion of “eloquence”–and I think this choice of word purposeful–in the classical Chinese context, explaining, “Ironically, and perhaps uniquely, however, verbal eloquence was not valorized by classical Chinese thinkers, and on the contrary the views found in their texts reveal a general mistrust of it, a sentiment common to almost all major schools of thought despite their fundamental philosophical differences, but it is most conspicuously and extensively reflected in Confucian texts” (115). Xu goes on providing sociopolitical historical context as well as implications for the Confucian position against eloquence: “their condemnations had the effect of silencing dissident views” (116). He also contends that this attitude has had long-lasting influence in Chinese culture, for example in perpetuating certain conceptions of hierarchy and seniority, and in silencing views contrary to the government endorsed doctrine: “In contemporary China, theoretically Marxism has supplanted Confucianism for more than half a century, but the Confucian tenet remains influential…” (125) Xu refers to the silencing effects of a rhetoric of “patriotism”, as it is defined by certain groups. He concludes, saying that “Confucian antipathy toward eloquence has deeply penetrated into the collective consciousness of the Chinese people…it has been so inextricably embedded in Chinese culture that a proper understanding of Chinese rhetoric would be all but impossible without taking it into full account” (125).