Volume 5, Issue 1
“Patterning Meaning”: A Thick Description of the Tsinghua Manuscript “Tāng zài Chì/Dì mén” (Tāng was at the Chì/Dì Gate) and What It Tells Us about Thought Production in Early China

Dirk MEYER

饒宗頤國學院院刊, 5 (2018), pp. 139-167.

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  • 摘要

This paper provides a 'thick description' (using Clifford Geertz's notion) of “Tāng zài Chì/Dì mén”, which is part of the Tsinghua Manuscripts. Exploring its communicative dimensions and analysing the interplay between text and performance, this paper reconstructs the social use of “Tāng zài Chì/Dì mén” in the discourse of the time. The manuscript text records an imagined dialogue held at the Chì/Dì Gate between King Chéng Tāng and his famous official, Yī Yǐn, consistently introduced as 'minor minister'. The text is highly patterned and presents a conversation about the 'innately good doctrines of old and their actuality in the present'. The conversation is framed by an introductory formula commonly seen in textualised “Shū” traditions, as well as a final appraisal, which concludes the text in 'dramatic' terms (using Helmut Utzschneider's notion). The text is rhymed while the items under discussion are presented as catalogues, suggesting completeness. The well-balanced composition is at odds with the seemingly meagre content of the text, staging oddly empty phrases that leave the modern reader rather puzzled. By drawing on contentform and communication theories, and considering its performative dimensions, this paper probes the apparent conflict between the content and the form and reconstructs the strategies of Warring States communities to develop meaning through patterned text. Once contextualised, this rather peculiar text serves as a reference for meaning-construction of performance texts in the intellectual landscape of the Warring States period (ca. 453–222 BC) more globally.