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Outsiders and Insiders Outsiders and Insiders
by Valerie Sartor
2013-04-04 11:29:32
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The territory of modern day China holds hundreds of different indigenous peoples, officially categorized into 55 minority groups. The dominant culture and group is the Han. Traditionally the Han have always been farmers. The Han lifestyle and way of perceiving reality differs from many indigenous and minority peoples, especially nomadic peoples, such as the Mongolians, the Tibetans, and others, such as the Manchu and the Khitan, who either disappeared or assimilated long ago.

Perceptions of time, space, and land differ greatly between farming and pastoral cultures. Ancient Han agricultural practices were bounded in space and time, measured in discrete increments. The circle and the square still define the Han architecture aesthetic. For the Han, time remains definite, closed and discontinuous; everything can be broken into specific periods, seasons, and epochs. Likewise, space becomes an accumulation of fixed locations. 

Chinese dynasty eras controlled by the Han maintained court ritual that presented this fixed sense of space and time. At the very center of the Han court was the emperor. He was shielded, even isolated, in his palace. The emperor represented the center of the universe and people believed that the emperor’s right to rule came from heaven. If he ruled correctly, nature stayed in balance; if the emperor was evil or unjust, nature would revolt. To promote balance, the emperor conducted rituals addressed to nature in certain temples located in certain places around the capital city. Beijing has the Temple of Heaven, along with the Temple of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon. These temples served to help the emperor establish cosmic harmony between the earth and the heavens. The emperor and his court made periodic, ritual visits to these temples. 

Because the emperor was the center of the universe, the further one headed outwards from the capital, the less dense space and time became. The capital housing the emperor was the center of the world, the pinnacle of civilization Thus, a person leaving the center and traveling to the border lands was exiting civilization. The capital had to be secure to protect the emperor. Walls kept the city and the emperor safe.

Unsurprisingly, traditional Han aesthetics focused on fortifications and walls. The best known wall, of course, is the Great Wall. It was a long term project that began in and around 220BC. Constructed from the 5th century through the 16th century, the Great Wall is actually a series of walls made of stone and ranges over 5,000 miles. Interestingly, parts of the Great Wall roughly outline the border of Inner Mongolia. But the Great Wall was built to keep out all fierce nomads, not just the Mongols.  Even more interesting is the fact that the Great Wall also defines two soil zones: arable land and steppe land. 

In fact, the Great Wall contains multiple symbolic meanings. It defined Han civilization from nomadic ‘barbaric’ culture, farmers from nomads. For the Han, walls still serve as ideological space markers. The outer Great Wall was not a permanent, non-porous barrier; it could not keep nomadic tribes from entering Han territory. Instead, the Great Wall functioned more like a screen, because it allowed for some cultural and economic exchange, while simultaneously serving as a symbolic block between the two types of cultures: agricultural and pastoral. And in fact, the Great Wall was not just a military fortification: it was a structure that assisted the Han in colonizing the steppe. Along the wall, the government sent Han farmers to settle. They helped the soldiers in the garrison to survive by providing edible produce. These farmers also served as slave laborers to extend the walls and renovate the walls; many Han people are buried inside the Great Wall. 

Clearly, the Han concept of civilization is based on defined, static space, on building walls. Imperial China had stable, maintained city walls and inner courtyards, all with diminishing space. The Han Chinese love of walls is based upon Confucian aesthetics. Walls symbolically serve as ways to control, to regiment, and to regulate. Spatial hierarchy represented by a maze of walls or a walled compound symbolically conveys access to power and authority; barriers define human hierarchy. Walls also ward off attacks. They prevent thieves and strangers from invading.  Moreover, a wall serves as a clearly drawn line: it shows what is significant and what is insignificant. It allows some access and denies others; it delineates the sacred from the profane; a wall protects family from outsiders. 

The Great Wall, of course, is the supreme cultural relic and symbol of China.  Although scorned during the Cultural Revolution, the Great Wall has now become a patriotic symbol: it represents the indestructible national Chinese spirit. Tourists quickly learn the Chinese proverb: “You cannot be a great man until you have been to the Great Wall” 

To understand the Chinese respect for walls, it is important to understand the Confucian concept of neibu; the internal mindset. This dualistic mindset centers on the concept of inside and outside (nei and wai). It is an “us versus them” mentality; for example, Chinese versus foreigners; Han Chinese versus minority peoples; Party members versus non-Party members. 

Han Chinese identity is hierarchical and ecological. Traditionally, Han are sedentary farmers while nomads are mobile pastoralists. Han Chinese lived in the center; barbaric herders lived at the edge of the world. Nomads lived without walls. This centuries long conflict between nomads and farmers exists in China (and other places) to the present day. 

 


    
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Eleana2013-04-04 12:24:41
Informative.


Emanuel Paparella2013-04-04 14:22:14
Thank you for all those informative facts Valerie. I remain curious about the wall, if indeed there is one, between Confucianism and Communism and whether or not the average Chinese considers Communism, under which he/she lives, an imported ideology from the West.


Leah Sellers2013-04-04 19:34:05
Yes Ma'am,
You have hit upon a Futrue Imperative which is now being pressed upon all of us at many levels.
It is no accident that the American housing markets are now telling Americans that it is a good thing that most Americans have been priced out of Owning Homes, and must lesarn to Settle for BeComing Perpetual Renters (Property owned by Others - Owned by Land Lords and Lordesses). It is much like the Han dynasty's proclivity toward Walls, and the Walling in and subdividing of its Peoples for Control Spatially and Energetically (Who's got the Power).
Immigrants are Nomads. Many of the Native American tribes were Nomadic. America was created upon open, restless, and mobile Nomadic (expansionistic) traditions. They liked being on the Outskirts, because it meant that the dynastic powers who centralized themselves within Walled in Cities had little to no sway over them.
Part of the Gun debate in America is between the Nomadic, Farming, and City-dwelling mentalities and emotionalities at present. "My Gun is My Independence and Protection from Encroachment I do not want to be a Part of". The Americans Great Guns are their Great Wall.
These varying degrees of mentalities and emotionalities are a part of what has also brought out these Secessionist caterwailngs, and active Republican Social Conservative backlashes and punative measures against the Rights of Women,the Right to Vote and Collective Bargaining, and the Middle Class, Working Poor and Poor being able to get Affordable Healthcare Services in the Courts of various States within America. They are Spatially Walling in and Walling up their Control and Great Walls of Power.
Thank you for your very astute Insights into a very Alive and divisive MIndset Worldwide.
A Problematic Trend which wears differing Faces and Personality Traits depending upon what part of the World it dwells and thrives within.



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