Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Is There a Pre-Modern Tradition of Rhetoric in China?


A colleague writes:

I do not believe there existed a “Chinese rhetorical tradition” as it did in ancient Athens and Rome–and would like to hear your opinion on this subject.

Rhetoric as an institution whose purpose and goal was to persuade seemed at odds with pre-modern Chinese concepts of language, politics, and law. (Of course, the skills for persuading an emperor to change his ways was important–but such skills never got transformed into a set of institutional practice which one could learn and on which basis one’s performance was judged as it was in 16th and 17th century European universities.)

The absence of a rhetorical tradition in China did not manifest itself simply linguistically, but also in art and music. Statues in China prior to the 20th century were limited to statues of gods but not to heroicize human beings (Gigantic, monumental, and emotion arousing statues in China century appeared only in the 20th century after Westernization–esp. after China had learned the art of propaganda.)

It would be wonderful to hear whether you think rhetoric as an institution existed in China before the 20th century.

With her permission I share these thoughts here. What think you all?


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