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

Nothing Can Be Accomplished If the Speech Does Not Sound Agreeable: Rhetoric and the Invention of Classical Chinese Discourse

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

Liu, Yameng. “Nothing Can Be Accomplished If the Speech Does Not Sound Agreeable: Rhetoric and the Invention of Classical Chinese Discourse.” Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks. Lipson, Carol and Roberta A. Binkley, eds. Albany: SUNY P, 2004.

Liu discusses how the traditional predominant representation of “originators of classical Chinese discourse as primarily ‘philosophers’ or ‘thinkers’” rather than rhetorical critics in the academic literature has negatively affected subsequent research in rhetoric. By examining the rhetorical theory of Han Feizi and the concept of nan, or rebuttal, Liu explains that “rhetorical invention [in Classical China] is contingent on a primordial ambiguity or indeterminacy and is enabled only by the absence of an ultimate ‘arbitrator.’” Liu also includes Mencius as among those who “adopt[ed] the strategy of technically deconstructing the rhetoric of an opponent so as to discredit his ideology” (149). Liu additionally addresses the problematic neglect of the “textuality of history” in unilinear historical accounts of the development of classical Chinese rhetoric: such accounts treat “‘existing social or cultural conditions’ as a given and a prior order ontologically separated from discourse,” denying “discourses’ role in creating social and cultural meanings that shape the perceptions, desires, feelings, and hence behaviors of individual or institutional actors.” Ultimately, such stances “[fail] to properly to acknowledge the extent to which ‘cultural patterns and crises of ancient China”…were themselves products of discursive practices at that time (153).

Liu concludes that “the traditionally received approach to mapping [classical Chinese rhetoric] remains trapped in its own conceptual, theoretical, and interpretive myopia”. Through textual analysis, Liu discovers that “1. instead of a mere byproduct of philosophical inquiries, classical Chinese rhetoric was a discipline/practice in its own right and what the originators of traditional Chinese discourse were busy doing can better be described as rhetorical criticism; and 2. despite their differing politicoideological commitments and the fierce contention among heterogeneous “Ways” that resulted, the various ‘schools’ or discourse communities actually shared much in their rhetorical theinking and their modes of rhetorical practice.” These contending discursive communities were able to engage one another in a critical, inventive, and productive manner due to “a reservoir of shared rhetorical resources, ranging from noncontroversial assumptions about the telos and the methodology of discursive practices, agreed-upon values and criteria, to commonly employed concepts, genres, criteria, techniques, strategies” (161).