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« Barak Obama, Confucian Gentleman | Main | Young and Restless in China »

June 18, 2008


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Actually, I see this much less as an example of orientalism and more a demonstration of world systems theory: metropolitan economies take raw materials from peripheral ones and process them into high-value added products which they sell to peripheries and other metropoles. In the case of culture, I point to Disney's appropriation of cultural properties like Mulan and Lion King, which they then repackage and sell at great profit.

One December 7th, I was sitting seiza in my dojo and bowing before a picture of Osensei Ueshiba in preparation for an evening of aikido tests. It struck me then as a very interesting way to spend that anniversary of a "day of infamy."

John, I'm wondering which appropriation of The Lion King you are referring to, the appropriation of the Swahili, Manazoto, and other African languages, the appropriation of the Japanese anime/manga Kimba the White Lion, or the appropriation of Hamlet and other Shakespearian elements? I guess the point is, as a musician once related to me, everybody steals from everybody--but does that in itself detract from the work? Is rock and roll merely an appropriation of blues, itself an appropriation of slave songs, derived from African tribal music? And can we say tribal music is only raw material for rock and roll? I'm sure musical groups such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo would disagree.

I, for one, am actually impressed with elements in Kung Fu Panda like the Chinese shadow-puppetry sequence, as well as the homages of the animals to the different styles of kung fu. I think this "repackaging" of Chinese culture will in some ways be more "authentic" than what we will get from the Beijing Olympics.

Prof. Crane, I wonder if American kids won't just lose sight of a Taoist message and instead see a message they're familiar with; instead of stopping with the Taoist "doing or adding nothing," won't they most likely see, "add nothing because what makes you special is already inside you?" That sounds like something we'd hear on an episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I don't know if that makes it decidedly un-Taoist, but it does seem to complicate a Taoist viewing of the film.

1. I am totally agree that Orientalism in the context of China ( not in the ME and Africa, though, you tell me why )has lost its relevence and "In short, the power relations between the US and China have changed so much in the past thirty years that I think the Saidian notion of orientalism no longer captures the political-cultural dyanamic between the two." In the spirit of " picking a bone from egg", I have to point out the turning point of the power balance was not 30 years but 50 to 60 years, 1953 or 1964 for the picky one like me.

2. An interesting piece on the same movie from a known Zionist in Atimes, Mr. Spengler:

The day the slacker died
By Spengler
"Two events on June 6 might denote the death of the "slacker" as an American cultural archetype. The first was the largest monthly jump in the US unemployment rate in two decades, due to an unexpectedly large number of young entrants into the labor market. The second was the release of the film Kung Fu Panda, which transposes the ubiquitous slacker-makes-good story line into the incongruous setting of Chinese martial arts. "


Sorry, I'm new to this blog, (and don't know much about Taoism) so I might be asking a question you've addressed a million times before.
I'm a bit bemused by your characterization of Te as abilities and disabilities. I see you've used the gloss integrity, and Victor Mair has advanced some decent arguments for this gloss, but I don't see how you get from there to abilities. Is this a suggestion that one's character is totally defined by ones abilities(/lack thereof)?
I also agree with Gary that the confluence of slacker culture and Taoism will make for an interesting mash-up, but isn't that all part of the fun?

Jon, I have a soft spot for world systems theory, too....
Gary, you are right to point out the an anodyne, Mr. Rogers interpretation of the movie is likely. Taoism is obviously more than that, but also less than we might want to make it. Taoism would not expect any sort of heroic outcome. If the panda utterly failed in winning the battle...well, that's just how his Te worked out in Tao.
Phil, yes, Te as "abilities and disabilities" captures only a part of this elusive concept. It might be better to think of it as "unique existence" or "unique combination of particulars." For Taoism no two things are exactly alike, even if they are materially clones. Each thing inhabits a unique time-space in Tao and has a particular existence, which is shaped by specific combinations of innate qualities. I include "disabilities" in that formulation because my son, Aidan, who was disabled, brought me to understand disability in terms of Te and Tao. Chuang Tzu uses many examples of disabled people to press home the point of unique existence. For Chuang Tzu each thing in unique and all things "move as one and the same" in Tao.
Isha, I agree with your dating. 1949 is a turning point.

In the Book of Zhou, (within the Book of History – Shujing), it was recorded that King Cheng admonished his ministers with the following:

“Great heaven has no partial affections; it helps only the virtuous. The people’s hearts have no unchanging attachments, they cherish only the kind. Acts of goodness are different, but they contribute in common to good order. Acts of evil are no different, but they contribute in common to disorder. Be cautious.” (Compare Chapter 79 of TTC: In the way of Heaven, there is no partiality of love; it is always on the side of the good man.)

In the Zhouyi (Book of Changes of the Zhou) the first two hexagrams are Heaven and Earth and it teaches the Junzi (the superior man) proper conduct in the way of life and how to master his/her fate.

The Spring and Autumn Annals recorded the good and bad deeds of various Zuhou (dukes who later called themselves kings) and their ministers.

Under this scenario and on the request of Guan Yinzi, Laozi is said to have written the TTC.

Guan Yinzi said, “A man should follow the great Tao, keep pure and void, pacify his mind, correct his conduct, and be rid of the rein of desires.”

Ge Hong or Ko Hong had written a lot of books including theories and techniques on how to achieve immortality. He advocated that those who seek immortality must also cultivate virtues (Te) and not just practising the techniques.

Chen Tuan (Five Dynasties and Song) was the first who integrated the study of the three doctrines (Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism) to attain the Tao and to become an immortal. His friend, Lu Dongpin (one of the eight immortals) and Zhong Liquan (another of the eight immortals) and their student Wang Chongyang (founder of Quanzhen) also advocated the study of the three doctrines.

To me, the reason for this integration is because Chan Buddhism concentrates on the cultivation of essence that is through meditation while Taoism and Confucianism concentrate on the cultivation of bodily life that is virtues and proper conduct of the Junzi respectively. Based on this reason, the ‘later’ immortals seemingly follow the thoughts of Guan Yinzi and Ge Hong on the TTC.

In line with these eminent Tao philosophers and accomplished Daoists’ thoughts, Te would mean virtue(s).

BTW those who follow Arthur Waley’s translation of TTC as The Way and Its Power (TWIP) need to read his explanation on Te in Appendix IV in the Book of Songs where he said,
“In the first draft of my translation I left the word untranslated. But Te is not easy to acclimatize in English, and in the end I translated it power (compare my book TWIP), inner power (for it excludes physical strength); but sometimes virtue, in contexts where this is not misleading.

Extracts taken from my entry on Te in the Tao Te Ching, April 2nd 2005.

I was so happy to see the Taoist themes in the movie. I believe that America as a whole could a learn a lot from the philosophy and suger feeding it to them might not be such a bad thing.
I am a little suprised that this movie is in question as being orientalist. I do believe that the movie is trying to put China and its ancient philosophy in a good light.

I enjoyed this essay and the comments. I also felt that the bit about the secret ingredient of the soup and the contents of the scroll that would make one all powerful clicked with another movie that had little in common with this one except that it was American made and about Kung-Fu: Barry Gordy's the Last Dragon. To me, this may just be a cult film, and I may even be the only member of the cult, but the quest for the final "Last Dragon" that results in the hero finding out that the Last Dragon is inside you, sounds quite similar to the quest to obtain the scroll in Kung Fu Panda.
Perhaps we do not all fully understand Taoism, but we are starting to get some of the best of it..

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