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Chapter 2 - War and Chinese Culture

from Part I - Origins and Theories

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 January 2023

Anders Engberg-Pedersen
Affiliation:
University of Southern Denmark
Neil Ramsey
Affiliation:
University of New South Wales, Sydney
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Summary

As C. H. Wang observed in 1975, early Chinese representations of war generally perform an “ellipsis of battle” – readily narrating the causes of a war and its ultimate results, but avoiding detailed accounts of the fighting. The reason for this omission lies in the Mencian doctrine that the true ruler of the world must be “one who does not love killing.” Whether or not actual rulers loved killing, they had to be represented as if they went to war only against their will. Twentieth-century conditions changed the meaning of war in China as elsewhere. Warfare was now done by armies massively mobilized among the population; noncombatants found themselves taking an active part or being massacred; phases of civil war pitted Chinese against Chinese. Poets faced a dilemma: to prioritize the obligations of Chinese citizens in a life-or-death struggle for the survival of the nation, or persist in an individualist stance that the struggle put at risk? Examples of modern poets’ thinking through real and imagined actions of warfare show how twentieth-century Chinese literature demolished longstanding taboos and claimed new thematic territories.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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