Sincronía Winter 2004

Paradigmatic case studies in Asian speech communication culture and its ideological background in Indian and Far Asian literature and the tradition of Western rhetoric terminology.

Fee-Alexandra Haase

This article describes the use of rhetoric as an element of cultural contexts in different cultures showing the terminology and the use for rhetoric in India and China in context of their cultural –which means in most cases religious- systems, that established with their rhetoric an ethical codex like the term the ‘superior man in Chinese that can be conferred with the ‘vir bonus’ of Roman rhetoric. So this article doesn’t focus on a hypothetical contrastive study method between Eastern and Western cultures of speech, since we have no literary documents for an intellectual exchange between both cultures before late modern time. Scholarly exchange de facto is a 20th-century phenomenon. We will demonstrate how in general the concepts of philosophy took the topos of ‘good speech’ as an element within their system in order to integrate their teachings.


In the western culture rhetoric traditionally has a close relationship to ethics, criticism, and discourse. Rhetoric is to be found in every use of language. This ancient idea of ‘good speaking’ is a similarity to ethics, moral or religious precepts that are parts of good speech in Asian systems. In Roman rhetoric the definition as ‘ars bene dicendi’ and its three main elements to teach (docere), to move (movere) and to bring joy (delectare) demonstrate the social factors of Western rhetoric tradition. The categories for a person’s value were in Greek culture ‘ ethos, pathosand logos’ according to the Rhetoric of Aristotle (1.2.2). Greek rhetoric developed the five canons of rhetoric (invention, heuresis, inventio), arrangement (taxis, dispositio), style (lexis, elocutio), delivery (hypokrisis, actio), and memory (mneme, memoria)). This thinking flourished in Western culture to an own species of rhetorical handbooks for all kinds of use as well as for its sister discipline poesy. The term the ‘superior man would correspond to the classical ideal expressed like in books of Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian that the orator must be a man of good moral character. From this moral quality speech derives its effectiveness. Like the ideal speaker in the West exhibits or embodies certain characteristics, which make us believe in his moral goodness so also the ideal speaker in the Confucian tradition embodies certain characteristics. In Western culture tradition the system of rhetoric was dominated either by religion or by philosophy, when the renaissance on the artes liberales started in the Middle Ages. In Far Asia the advices of speaking were more or less a permanent part of religious or philosophical thinking.


Speech in the Buddhist conception has the three functions to be true, real and useful. The rhetoric of India, in both its Hindu and its Buddhist forms, has an ethical basis. During the third century B.C. the spread of Buddhism was furthered by Ashoka (270-232), the third of the Mauryan kings who created the first pan-Indian empire. Wisdom books of ancient India consist of speaker's invocation of cultural truths while seeking to attain harmony and consensus. The goal of the wise person in India was to gain liberation from worldly goods and desires. Truthful speech was thought to be that which revealed aspects of the greater cosmic and social order of things. A lack of interest in free speech exists in eastern, non-western-styled public speaking cultures.


The participation of Hindu priests became an essential element in court ritual in some Buddhist states. The earliest history of Buddhism is largely lost, because some 400 years separate the death of the Buddha from the first documented efforts to commit the Buddhist scriptures to writing. There are 5 paths, on which a Bodhisattva develops in succession and among the 8-fold path there is the quality of ‘perfect speech’:

      Sambharamarga   The path of equipment

      Prayogamarga    The path of training

      Darshanamarga   The path of seeing

      Bhavanamarga    The path of intense contemplation

      Vimuktimarga     The path of freedom


The 8-fold path consists of:


Perfect view

Perfect resolve

Prefect speech

Perfect conduct

Perfect livelihood

Perfect effort

Perfect mindfulness

Perfect concentration


The basic Buddhist concepts base on Four Noble Truths, which include the idea of the ‘perfect speech’. The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering mentally and physically in the forms of sickness, injuries, aging, death, tiredness, anger, oneliness, frustration, fear and anxiety. The Second Noble Truth is, that craving causes all these suffering. A self-centered person with continuous wanting from others will cause mental unhappiness. The Third Noble Truth is that all sufferings can be overcome and avoided. When one gives up endless wanting and endures problems that life evolves without fear, hatred and anger, happiness and freedom will then be obtained. Overcome the mentality of selfishness, one will then spend time in meeting others needs and feels life more fulfilled. The Fourth Noble Truth says that there is a Noble Eightfold path leading to overcome the suffering. The Eightfold path includes Perfect Understanding, Perfect Thought, Perfect Speech, Perfect Action, Perfect Livelihood, Perfect Effort, Perfect Mindfulness and Perfect Concentration.


Buddha definies in The Eightfold Path right speech: as ‘absence of lying and useless speech’:


What, now, is Right Speech? It is abstaining from lying; abstaining from tale-bearing; abstaining from harsh language; abstaining from vain talk. There, someone avoids lying, and abstains from it. He speaks the truth, is devoted to the truth, reliable, worthy of confidence, is not a deceiver of men.


Therefore examples follow:


Being at a meeting, or amongst people, or in the midst of his relatives, or in a society, or in the king's court, and called upon and asked as witness, to tell what he knows, he answers, if he knows nothing: "I know nothing"; and if he knows, he answers: "I know"; if he has seen nothing, he answers: "I have seen nothing," and if he has seen, he answers: "I have seen.", he never knowingly speaks a lie, neither for the sake of his own advantage, nor for the sake of another person's advantage, nor for the sake of any advantage whatsoever. He avoids tale-bearing, and abstains from it.[1]


Buddha describes with words such as words as gentle, soothing to the ear, loving, going to the heart, courteous and dear right speech in The Eightfold Path:


What he has heard here, he does not repeat there, so as to cause dissension there; and what he heard there, he does not repeat here, so as to cause dissension here. He unites those that are divided; and those that are united, he encourages. Concord gladdens him, he delights and rejoices in concord, and it is concord that he spreads by his words. He avoids harsh language, and abstains from it. He speaks such words as are gentle, soothing to the ear, loving, going to the heart, courteous and dear, and agreeable to many.[2]


In the words of Buddha’s ‘right speech’ is called sammaa-vaacaa. In Majjhima-Nikaya [No. 21] Buddha explains the term ‘right speech’ as ‘mundane speech’ in opposition to the ‘ultramundane speech’:


Now, right speech, let me tell you, is of two kinds: 1. Abstaining from lying, from tale-bearing, from harsh language, and from vain talk; this is called the "Mundane Right Speech, which yields worldly fruits and brings good results. 2. But the abhorrence of the practice of this four-fold wrong speech, the abstaining, withholding, refraining therefrom-the mind being holy, being turned away from the world, and conjoined with the path, the holy path being pursued-: this is called the "Ultramundane Right Speech, which is not of the world, but is ultramundane, and conjoined with the paths. Now, in understanding wrong speech as wrong, and right speech as right, one practices Right Understanding; and in making efforts to overcome evil speech and to arouse right speech, one practices Right Effort; and in overcoming wrong speech with attentive mind, and dwelling with attentive mind in possession of right speech, one practices Right Attentiveness. Hence, there are three things that accompany and follow upon right attentiveness.[3]


Speech in the Buddhist conception has the qualities of being true and useful. So we find here a combination of speech qualities that in the Western categories is divided into rhetoric and philosophy.



China’s literacy condition for rhetoric and its heritage of Buddhism

The transmission of Buddhist texts to China occurred over the course of several centuries. Chinese is a monosyllabic language particularly suited to pictographs for writing. As Chinese became more complex it evolved by adding tones. Mandarin Chinese has been expanding against the other Chinese languages because of its political, cultural, and demographic dominance and the peculiar relationship of these languages to each other. In India no language has a status comparable to Mandarin in China. Since 500 Chinese scholars write on bamboo with reeds dipped in pigment. In 600 books were printed in China. Odes like the collection She King (Book of Odes) are one genre of Chinese literature in which we find advices for good speaking. While considering the ethic aspect of Western and Eastern rhetoric as a common feature of both ways of thinking, we will focus on the main Eastern disciplines of thinking and their contributions to rhetoric. Chinese characters are the direct descendants of Shang pictographs.


Buddhism came to China from India this way, along the northern branch of the route. The first influences came as the passes over the Karakorum were first explored. The Eastern Han emperor Mingdi is thought to have sent a representative to India to discover more about this faith. Further missions returned bearing scriptures and bringing India priests. The art of papermaking began to creep out of China, first to Vietnam and then Tibet. It was introduced in Korea in the 4th century and spread to Japan in 6th century. Papermaking spread slowly throughout Asia to Nepal and later to India. In the 8th century paper came from China to the Islamic world and opened a new opportunity to communicate in written words. China was the first country in the region to record contact with Buddhism. From China Buddhism was passed on to Korea and Japan.


Storytelling as a professional genre of oral entertainment goes back more than a thousand years in Chinese society. The storytelling genres have survived as orally transmitted traditions up to present time. Written Buddhist documents are known since the 9th century. The earliest dated woodblock print, The Diamond Sutra, was found in northwestern China and bears the date 868 A.D.


The rhetoric of the Far East manifests an emphasis upon certain virtues, which may have analogues in Western or Classical rhetoric. There is not necessarily a direct parallel or traditional connection. It further manifests a regard for the feelings of the opponents. The virtues that make up the ethical appeal are those virtues that one would expect in a rhetoric that aims at conciliation. The word rhetoric doesn't have an exact and equivalent meaning in Chinese nor a systematic approach like one Greek tradition has. In Asia mass communication is developed by the Asian literature systems and since the 20th century multi-media systems.[4] In the 3rd century B.C. Li Shu Chinese the emperor’s minister developed script. In China no tradition of rhetorical theory does exist. In Asian cultures no difference between philosophy and rhetoric exists.[5] Any paradigmatic examples of Asian rhetoric that are compact enough to be subjected to a thorough analysis do not exist. The ethics of communication in Asia are more concerned with a mediating function, less with authority.


In China, schools used Confucianism and Daosim as religious elements and mix it with Buddhism. These are the three religious ways of Chinese civilization. Philosophy is in both systems of scholarship in East and West the dominant discipline above rhetoric. While both are more or less divided in the Western way of education and scholarship by the system of ‘artes liberales’ and theology and philosophy above them, in the main Eastern philosophical teachings elements of rhetoric are included next to works concerning speech and rhetoric.



Chinese Confucianism rhetoric

The status of Confucianism as the orthodox philosophy in China has its roots in the time about 2000 years ago. Confucianism is not a religion limited to a particular culture, race, or nationality. It is a dynamic force that flows, and has the capacity to interact with other traditions in a pluralistic context. Confucian virtues include jen, or benevolence, yi, or righteousness, hsin, or faithfulness and li, or propriety. Confucian rhetoric is based mainly on ren Dao or the way of humans and the moral codes Confucius prescribes in his teachings.


Benevolence (jen) because it contains within itself the characteristics of regard for the feelings of others, receptivity, and impartiality manifests itself as the speaker's indifference to his own feelings and his concerns for the rights of others. Within this framework of aretaic notions it would be difficult, if not impossible, to construct a rhetoric, which has as its aim anything but conciliation.[6] The way the narrative texts are composed to document Confucius’ speeches focuses on the style of these sayings. Confucius taught about the quality of speech of jen:


1:3 Confucius said: "Someone who is a clever speaker and maintains a 'too-smiley' face is seldom considered a person of jen."


13:27 Confucius said: "With firmness, strength, simplicity and caution in speaking, you will be close to jen."


15:7 Confucius said: "When a person should be spoken with, and you don't speak with them, you lose them. When a person shouldn't be spoken with and you speak to them, you waste your breath. The wise do not lose people, nor do they waste their breath."[7]


Taken from the Confucian Analects reflecting wisdom Chinese proverbs consist of different layers. The superficial message becomes apparent immediately. But as one re-reads, one discovers deeper meaning. A wide difference in pronunciation exists in between the dialect-languages for the more or less uniform writing system in the Chinese languages. Some proverbs and idioms come from written documents like the speeches of Confucius. Many expressions develop around a rhyme or rhythm of intonation. The verbal distinction in Chinese is tied to the regional dialect. A proverb or idiom would not necessarily be understood or used outside of that region.


Confucinistic rhetoric has instead of a terminology like in the Greek rhetoric system certain basic characters. So Jen is the essence of all kinds of manifestations of virtuosity like wisdom, filial piety, reverence, courtesy, love and sincerity. Jen, also ´benevolence, charity, humanity, love´, is the fundamental virtue of Confucianism. The Confucian ideal uses the principle of government by example and by ´not doing´ (wu wei), putting Confucianism closer to Daoism than to modern practices of authoritarian control. Confucius thought that government by laws and punishments could keep people in line considering government by example of virtue (de) and good manners (li) would enable people to control themselves (Analects II. 3). During the Tang Dynasty, the canon of Confucian Classics became the basis for the great civil service examinations that henceforth provided the magistrates and bureaucrats called Mandarins for the Chinese government. The Han Chinese are to be contrasted with the Hui Chinese, who are simply those who practice Islam. Buddhism became so popular after the fall of the Later Han Dynasty (220 A.D.) that, by the time of the Sui Dynasty (590-618) and Tang Dynasty (618-906), it was accepted as properly Chinese.


The character of the ‘superior man, in contrast to the sage, is being taught as a tangible model. In 4:24 the following sentence is written: ´Confucius said: "The Superior Man desires to be hesitant in speech, but sharp in action.´ In the Analects of Confucius is written:


????, ???

[1:3] Confucius said: "Someone who is a clever speaker and maintains a 'too-smiley' face is seldom considered a humane person."[8]


In the Analects Confucius gives an example of humanity and speech:


????? ??:?? ?????, ? ????????, ??

[5:5] Someone said: "Yung is a humane man, but he is not sharp enough with his tongue." Confucius said, "Why does he need to be sharp with his tongue? If you deal with people by smooth talk, you will soon be disliked. I don't know if Yung is a humane man, but why should he have to be a clever speaker?"[9]


In the Analects Confucius describes himself as a transmitter:


????, ????, ??????

[7:1] Confucius said: "I am a transmitter, rather than an original thinker. I trust and enjoy the teachings of the ancients. In my heart I compare myself to old P'eng."


The teachings are preserved in dialogues:

[12:3] Ssu Ma Niu asked about the meaning of humaneness.

Confucius said, "The humane man is hesitant to speak." Niu replied, "Are you saying that humaneness is mere hesitancy in speaking?" Confucius said, "Actualizing it is so difficult, how can you not be hesitant to speak about it?" [10]


The term ming had different meanings and implications to different people. Confucius viewed ming as titles attached to one's social status, and one's kinship with others. In an abstract sense, ming signified cultural code or prescribed behaviours for society and acted as means of social transformation. Laozi referred to ming as honour, an indication of success, popularity, and achievement. Daoism sponsors a rhetoric emphasizing nirvana (wu-wei) as the avoidance of action, wu-hsin as negation of mind, and te as the principle of spontaneous functioning. Most of his rhetoric was presented in a political context, so its influence on the political thoughts in China has been persistent.[11] Propriety, li, emphasizes that the speaker has a due regard for the social relations that exist between him and his audience, whether it is that of the ruler or of the people or some other relationship. Righteousness, i, establishes the moral tone or quality of the speaker.


The nature of the ethical appeal in Confucian rhetoric is not one that differs in an extreme way from the nature of the ethical appeal in classical rhetoric. Although there is no obvious correspondence between the notions of fronesis and li or any of the other virtues in the Confucian triad the whole notion of the ideal speaker may be summed up in the idea of the superior man, the chün-tsu. Li, i, and jen lend a person credibility. The nature of a rhetoric that has as its chief virtues propriety, righteousness, and benevolence and which sees these virtues as being the primary aretaic virtues will necessarily be different than a rhetoric which sees different virtues as qualities. The man who exhibits benevolence (jen) manifests goodwill towards his fellow men. The man who exhibits li, or righteousness, obviously manifests good character. Likewise the man who exhibits li, or propriety, may be considered to exhibit not so much good sense except insofar as the li arise out of a social setting to which they are a response and their violation is an act of rashness, as, again, good character. The rhetoric of the Far East manifests an emphasis upon certain virtues, which may have analogues in Western or Classical rhetoric but for which there is not necessarily a direct parallel.


Mencius (ca. 371-289 B.C.) was a prominent Confucian philosopher of social order and humanism. Mencius enforced the acceptance of benevolence as a major principle of political rule and promoted the retention of his messages in the auditor. The teachings of Mencius are composed in questions and answers and stand in a dialectic tradition. The ultimate goal was to transcend his main theme. Through the transcendence it was believed that the benevolent leader is able to overcome any difficulty including a disaster caused by water.[12]


Chinese rhetoric following Daoism and the I-Ching

In Far Asia the I-Ching is an oracle based on geometric forms. The I Ching or Book of Changes is the most widely read of the five Chinese classics. The book was traditionally written by the legendary Chinese Emperor Fu Hsi (2953-2838 B.C.). It is possible that the I Ching originated from a prehistoric divination technique, which dates back as far as 5000 B.C. it may be the oldest text at this site. King Wen and the Duke of Chou added Futher commentaries in the eleventh century B.C. Making six binary decisions in a hexagram with figures to be interpreted performs an I Ching interpretation. The I Ching was supposed to have authored by Duke of Chou in Chou Dynasty around 10th century B.C. It had been used as the book of division for the emperor and the feudal lords. An Asian genre of statements, which the Western civilization calls aphorisms, is the opposite to the system of science Aristotle attempted to establish. The I Ching is an ancient Chinese oracular text, which consists of a core work from the Western Zhou dynasty (ca. 825 BCE) called Zhouyi and a set of commentaries (`The Ten Wings') from later periods.


The Dao-te Ching is the basic text of the Chinese religious system of Daoism and shapes a mentality that is as inherent in certain Chinese poetry as in the oratory, dance, painting, architecture, and government of that ancient culture.[13] According to Stan Rosenthal's Dao Te Ching – translation the Dao can be reached through speech:



Through knowledge, intellectual thought and words,

                  the manifestations of the Dao are known,

                  but without such intellectual intent

                  we might experience the Dao itself.

                  Both knowledge and experience are real,

                  but reality has many forms,

                  which seem to cause complexity.[14]


A leader acts ‘without unnecessary speech’:



                  Man cannot comprehend the infinite;

                  only knowing that the best exists,

                  the second best is seen and praised,

                  and the next, despised and feared.

                  The sage does not expect that others

                  use his criteria as their own.

                  The existence of the leader who is wise

                  is barely known to those he leads.

                  He acts without unnecessary speech,

                  so that the people say,

                  "It happened of its own accord".[15]


The method of comprehending those words is to immediately grasp by once again presenting in one's own mind concrete instances of the issue, so the meaning of the statement is unambiguously and intuitively understood. In Asia silence was an important vehicle in Chinese rhetoric because self-assertion by an advocate might imply that the Emperor or other leader lacked intelligence or did not deserve absolute obedience. Wenxin Diaolong by Liu Xie (ca. 465-521) is the most complex and comprehensive work of literary criticism in ancient China. These ten essays constitute the first book-length study in English of this classic work. The opening essays show how Liu canonized the Chinese literary tradition, assessing where Liu´s work stands in that tradition, and his debts to the intellectual currents of his time. An exploration and analysis of Liu´s theory of literary creation from contemporary critical perspectives is followed by three detailed studies of Liu´s views on rhetoric.


Daoims is a basically agnostic system, created by cognitive and conceptual differences, which occur in westerners' translations of esoteric texts, which cannot be understood or properly translated apart from a lineage derived koujue tradition.[16] Put in more specific terms, texts found in the mid 15th century Ming Dynasty Zhengtong Canon, and more recent sources, are like prompt books which derive from a basically oral tradition. Both the tradition and the texts can only be understood or translated through access to a Daoist master, who knows the koujue lineage tradition. Koujue Daoism is learned from a licensed lineage master. The scholar of Daoism acts as a transmitter of oral evidence, as well as explicator of performance- based liturgical and meditative texts. This tradition of oral teachings called koujue, is an essential factor in understanding Chinese Daoism.


In Daoism of the Dao Te Ching the following about archiving evidence is written:




When temptation arises to leave the Dao,

banish temptation, stay with the Dao.

When the court has adornments in profusion,

the fields are full of weeds, and the granaries are bare.

It is not the way of nature to carry a sword,

nor to over-adorn oneself,

nor to have more than a sufficiency

of fine food and drink.

He who has more possessions than he can use,

deprives someone who could use them well. 


In the Dao Te Ching we find sentences about speaking:



For dwelling, the Earth is good.

For the mind, depth is good.

The goodness of giving is in the timing.

The goodness of speech is in honesty.

In government, self-mastery is good.

In handling affairs, ability is good.



To speak little is natural.

Therefore a gale does not blow a whole morning.



A good traveller leaves no tracks.

Good speech lacks faultfinding.

A good counter needs no calculator.



Great perfection seems flawed, yet functions without a hitch.

Great fullness seems empty, yet functions without exhaustion.

Great straightness seems crooked,

Great skill seems clumsy,

Great eloquence seems stammering.



One who knows does not speak.

One who speaks does not know.[17]

The syncretistic use of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism constitutes the main Eastern philosophy. Chinese rhetoric cannot be discussed as a unified whole deriving from a common tradition, which is one legitimate way of describing the Western practice of rhetoric insofar as it can be said to derive from Aristotle and the classical orators of Greece and Rome. The ideal speaker in the Confucian tradition embodies certain characteristics of li, i, and jen, which lend him credibility. The way or Dao of the superior man is that which arises from his embodiment of the virtues named above. Since ancient time in China rhetoric is a discipline.[18] Under the influence of Chinese Confucianism, East Asians developed complex literate cultures and cohesive family organizations. Ancient Chinese terms related to rhetoric are yan (language, speech), ci (mode of speech, artistic expressions), jian (advising, persuasion), shui (persuasion), shuo (explanation), ming (naming) and bian (distinction, disputation, argumentation). The word zhe first appeared in Shang Shu with the meaning wisdom and ability. In Shuo Wen Jie Zi, the first Chinese dictionary compiled by Xu Shen (58-147 A.C.) zhe is defined as 'knowing and understanding.' The Chinese term for philosophy is zhe xue, which is translated and introduced to China by a Japanese philosopher.[19]


As a daily phenomenon of human societies, the practice of communication as well shows its diversity and variations in Chinese societies. The concept of communication has been emerged in China more than two thousand years ago by the use of philosophical concepts. Major religious strands in China are the Confucianism system of ethics, and the Buddhist and Daoist religious and magical practices. A person can be a practitioner of all three beliefs at one and the same time. Within each of these major strands or traditions there are also conflicting interpretations and divergences. We provide a brief summary of what can be asserted about ethos and the notions that inform Confucian rhetoric.[20] Chinese sages like Confucius laid out how to gain personal wisdom and how to make others desire true knowledge either in conversation with one person or in speech before an elite group. Works by Confucius advice to rulers, subjects, courtiers, teachers, and students concerning how to gain understanding and how to help others learn the correct way of living and thinking. Silence was an important vehicle in Chinese rhetoric. Self-assertion by an advocate might imply that the Emperor or other leader lacked intelligence or did not deserve absolute obedience. Persuasion came less from arguments addressed to specific points of dispute and more from a program of indoctrination, in which advocates repeatedly cited generally recognized principles of society and life.[21] In China, Jesuits like Matteo Ricci and Adam Schall von Bell performed a task of translation and interpretation and learned the language. The precise origins of the text are obscure. This type of rhetoric is used for fortune telling and is a kind of applied oratory by visual structures. The School of Ming and a host of other thinkers and schools developed competing views and theories of speech. A 17th- century Chinese translation under Jesuit guidance of Johannes Argyropoulos' Latin version of Aristotle's Categories exists. The missionary work of the late-Ming Jesuits has been conceived as primarily a scientific movement, with great contributions on the level of material culture going from Europe to China. Of even greater significance is that among the Jesuit sermon exempla written in Chinese the chreia as a sub-genre of anecdote in the line of classical rhetoric stands out.


It is generally agreed that Chinese rhetoric does not have straightforward terminology as explicated by the Greek tradition. But terms equivalent to the Greek ones exist. We find also a highly differentiated system of speech communication types. Figures of speech are always of making our language figurative. Speaking and behaviour in a rhetorical manner has long been claimed as a Western intellectual property. Chinese rhetoric is characterized by an emphasis on harmony, deprecation of speeches, and lack of logic. The augurs and zhu guan were the elites of society and, more importantly, the first trained 'rhetoricians' in China because of their involvement in divination and written and oral communication. The Book of Annals, Shang Shu, is one of the Five Classics (Wu Ching) and the first book in Chinese history to record both speeches and events. Although it was produced during the Zhou dynasty, its pages document various persuasive encounters between the king and ministers of the Shang dynasty. Two kinds of speeches in Shang shu are shi for taking oath and gao for public advising. A shi was performed by a ruler in relation to his soldiers before a war expediency in order to encourage morale. A gao was performed by the king at mass gatherings such as the celebration of a harvest. Shi is more akin to the Greek notion of deliberative speech that aims at political expedience and communal bonding. The term gao is similar to the Greek notion of epideictic speech to amplify deeds and celebrate virtue. Shi were the educated intellectual elite of the Spring-Autumn/Warring States periods. Confucius was a shi. Various names for shi, often used interchangeably in the pre-Qin writings include bian shi, the disputer, mou shi, the consultant, cha shi, the wise men, wen shi, the scholar, shui shi, the persuader, jian shi as adviser, you shi being the traveler and yan [tan] zhi shi as the talker. Eight kinds of yan referred to in Shang Shu are jing yan (clever speech), chang yan (beautiful speech), shi yan (hypocritical speech), fu yan (assertive speech), hui yan (remorseful speech), pian yan (deceitful speech), zhen yan (king's speech), zhong yan (mass speech). Keywords to Asian rhetorical considerations are bian, the fluid senses about speech and argument using reason and evidence to express opinions, show weaknesses in other's argument, and to achieve correct view and mutual understanding. Ming has the meanings logos, logic and order. Authority is the most ubiquitous form of argument in form of an archetype, case, quotation, text and master.[22]


The formal communication, usually between the emperor and government officials or common people, was conducted through nine common channels in the traditional Chinese society of zhao, chi, cheng, zou, biao, yi, jian, shu and xi. Both zhao and chi are imperial decree, mandate, or edict by which the emperor conveyed an order, proclamation, or benevolence to government officials or citizens. If the message targets an individual, it would be read openly to the person. If the message aims to reach the public, it would be posted prominently in the town. Cheng is an appeal letter written by an official to the emperor. The purpose of cheng is to express a subordinates appreciation for the reward, grant, or benevolence. Zou is an impeach report, issued by lower-rank government officials, to the emperor to report the disloyal of another official. Provocative language usually was used in zou to describe the disloyal behaviours of an official and how to impeach him or her. Biao is a formal statement that states ones situation in order to let the emperor understand, for example, why the subordinate cannot carry out the obligation or accept the order. The message in biao is usually highly emotion-laden. Yi is an argumentative statement used by government officials to express their disagreement or different opinions to the emperor when the jian (oral admonition) is not available. Although using yi or jian to admonish the emperor often put the presenters in a risky situation for being executed, it was a common way for Chinese literate elite, as a government official, trying to persuade the emperor for a good deed. The language in yi or jian tends to be acute and sharpened. Shu is a petition letter, in which grievance or suggestion is expressed, used in the upward communication. Xi is a summons to arms, which lists the crimes of a tyrant and is usually issued by an emperor or a challenger.


Virtues are the ethic categories to achieve the quality of good speaking both in Western rhetoric tradition and Eastern culture. We find the use of the ancient system in the writings of the Church fathers as well as in later Christian literature and theology, which means also the appearance of the forth ‘genus dicendi’, the homiletic speech. Bian emphasizes more wisdom of the rhetor than logical development of arguments, though there was a hidden logical relation in bian to the rhetorical situation. When a bian shi (messenger) was sent to speak to the king of another country in order to prevent a potential war, he would tell a story that had a moral in it, and usually there was a pun, an analogy, or a smart saying that took high intelligence to decode.


Chinese rhetoric is called xiu-ci. The meaning of ci relates to speech, language, and discourseoverlapping with yan and also to explanation and the artistic presentation of language, associations which are not emphasized in yan. Jian (advising, persuasion) is advising activities that take place in a hierarchical (unequal) relationship with the advisee (the king, lord, ruler). Shui (persuasion), shuo (explanation) and jian are similar in some ways, but where jian shi relied primarily upon quotations or citations from the antiquities and classics the you shui (traveling persuaders) used an analysis of advantages and disadvantages for the persuadee and his state. While jian relied on ethical appeal, shui appealed to the persuadee with utilitarian considerations and an analysis of practical benefits. Chinese used the characters ma for persuasion and bian for ‘to debate’, ‘to argue’.


Key terms for the categories of speech types exist. Chuan means ´to turn, to revolve´ referring to delivering or forwarding a message, teaching knowledge and skills, recording a persons life, and orally distributing information. Bo means ´to sow seed´, referring to spreading or disseminating messages. Yang means ´to rise up and flutter as a flag, to flourish, to manifest´, referring to consciously making a message or person flourishing or manifesting in pubic. Liu means ´to flow (like water)´, referring to a process in which ones reputation or virtuous message is disseminated naturally and unintentionally. Bu means ´the woven cloth´, referring to the downward process of announcing or disseminating organized information or government order to the public. Xuan means ´the emperors room or the imperial decree or edict´, referring to the dignified declaration or proclamation of emperors order. Tong means ´unobstructed´, referring to the free flow of oral communication. Di means ´to deliver or exchange´, referring to the exchange or delivery of materials via, for example, the courier system.


When we use words in other than their ordinary or literal sense to lend force to an idea, to heighten effect, or to create suggestive imagery, we are said to be speaking or writing figuratively. Terms used in rhetoric (??) and Chinese rhetoric (?????) are metaphor (??), metonymy (??), personification (??), irony (??), hyperbole (??), understatement (??), euphemism(???), contrast (??), oxymoron (?????), transferred epithet (??), pun (??), syllepsis (??), zeugma (??), parody (??), paradox (??), repetition (??), catchword repetition (??), chiasmus (??), parallelism (????), antithesis (??), rhetoric question (??), anticlimax (??)and syllogism (????). In Chinese the terms of rhetoric do exist. Figures of speech (??) are ways of making our language figurative.


Now we are going to talk about some common forms of figures of speech. Simile (??) is a figure of speech, which makes a comparison between two unlike elements having at least one quality or characteristic (??) in common. When we use words in other than their ordinary or literal sense to lend force to an idea, to heighten effect, or to create suggestive imagery, we are said to be speaking or writing figuratively. Forms of figures of speech like simile, metaphor, analogy, personification, hyperbole, understatement, euphemism, metonymy, synecdoche, antonomasia, pun, syllepsis, zeugma, irony, innuendo, sarcasm, paradox, oxymoron, antithesis, epigram, climax, anti-climax / bathos, apostrophe, transferred epithet, alliteration and onomatopoeia have their equivalent in Chinese. A metaphore (??) is like a simile, also makes a comparison between two unlike elements, but unlike a simile, this comparison is implied rather than stated. For example, the world is a stage. Analogy (??) is also a form of comparison, but unlike simile or metaphor which usually uses comparison on one point of resemblance, analogy draws a parallel between two unlike things that have several common qualities or points of resemblance. Personification (??) gives human form of feelings to animals, or life and personal attributes (??) to inanimate (????) objects, or to ideas and abstractions (??). Hyperbole (??) is the deliberate use of overstatement or exaggeration to achieve emphasis. Understatement (????) is the opposite of hyperbole, or overstatement. It achieves its effect of emphasizing a fact by deliberately (???) understating it, impressing the listener or the reader more by what is merely implied or left unsaid than by bare statement. Euphemism (??) is the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive (???) expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant. Metonymy (??) is a figure of speech that has to do with the substitution of the mane of one thing for that of another. Synecdoche (??) involves the substitution of the part for the whole, or the whole for the part. Antonomasia (??) has to do with substitution. Pun (???) is a play on words, or rather a play on the form and meaning of words. A syllepsis ( ???) has two connotations. Zeugma (????) is a single word which is made to modify or to govern two or more words in the same sentence, wither properly applying in sense to only one of them, or applying to them in different senses. Irony (??) is a figure of speech that achieves emphasis by saying the opposite of what is meant, the intended meaning of the words being the opposite of their usual sense. Innuendo (??) is a mild form of irony, hinting in a rather roundabout (??) way at something disparaging (???) or uncomplimentary (???) to the person or subject mentioned. Sarcasm (??) is a strong form of irony. Paradox (???????) is a figure of speech consisting of a statement or proposition which on the face of it seems self-contradictory, absurd or contrary to established fact or practice, but which on further thinking and study may prove to be true, well-founded, and even to contain a succinct point. Oxymoron (????) is a compressed paradox, formed by the conjoining (??) of two contrasting, contradictory or incongruous (???) terms as in bitter-sweet memories, orderly chaos (??) and proud humility (??). Antithesis (??) is the deliberate arrangement of contrasting words or ideas in balanced structural forms to achieve emphasis. An epigram (??) states a simple truth pithily (???) and pungently (???). It is usually terse and arouses interest and surprise by its deep insight into certain aspects of human behavior or feeling. Climax (??) is derived from the Greek word for ladder implying the progression of thought at a uniform or almost uniform rate of significance or intensity. Anti-climax (??) is the opposite of climax. In an apostrophe (??) a thing, place, idea or person (dead or absent) is addressed as if present, listening and understanding what is being said. Alliteration (??) has to do with the sound rather than the sense of words for effect. It is a device that repeats the same sound at frequent intervals (??) and since the sound repeated is usually the initial consonant sound. Onomatopoeia (??) is a device that uses words which imitate the sounds made by an object (animate or inanimate), or which are associated with or suggestive (???) of some action or movement.


Although the meaning of communication in the traditional China, which more emphasized verbal exchange or delivery, is not identical with the modern perception of the concept. It is found that the following terminologies were used to represent communication activities. Benevolence (jen) is a virtue the speaker wants to archieve similar to the ‘benevolentia’ as aim of the Western rhetorical tradition. In Chinese the terms shisen for ´line of vision´ and sjikako for ´vision, sense of sight´ are known. In Chinese the terms ´shi ´ for ´to inspect´, shiyoku for ´sight´ and shikai for ´field of vision´ and shisatsu for inspection come from the same root. Riso means ´ideal´, riron and gakusetsu are ´theory´ and meian ´bright idea´. Teiken is ´definite view´. Ji has the meaning ´chararacter´, ´symbol´ and ´letter´. Goki is the ´way of speaking´, wahei a ´topic of conversation´ and sho is ´to persuade´. In the Book of Poems, She King, artful speaking is described:


Alas that (right words) cannot be spoken,

Which come not from the tongue (only)!

The speakers of them are sure to suffer.

Well is it for the words that can be spoken!

The artful speech flows like a stream,

And the speakers dwell at ease in prosperity.[23]


In another ode the ethic quality of speaking is mentioned:


Do not speak lightly: - your words are your one: -

Do not say, ‘This is of little importance.’

No one can hold my tongue for me;

Words are not to be cast away.

Every word finds its answer;    

Every good deed has its recompense.

If you are gracious among your friends,

And to the people, as if there where your children,

Your descendants will continue in unbroken line,

And all the people will surely be obedient to you.[24]


In addition to formal written channels of the Chinese communication Chinese has long elaborated messages exchanged through oral communication, especially in the practice of informal communication among common people. Prince and philosopher Han Fei, born in around 280 B.C., has pointed out 12 kinds of obstacle and 12 kinds of taboo in the process of oral communication. In informal communication in addition to channels such as shuo (to say), tan (to talk), jiang (to speak), and lun (to comment) used for  oral interaction and channels such as song (to intone), yin (to chant), yong (to hum), and chang (to sing) next to literary exchanges. Shui fu (persuasion) was the most common practice, which was used in both formal and informal communication. Chinese not only considered shui fu as a skill, but also developed a systematic theory to explain it, one must go through a rigid learning and training process in order to fully acquire the ability of shui fu. Although the Confucian tradition did not put an emphasis on this line of oral communication, writings and anecdotes on persuasion exist in the Chinese literary history. The tradition continues today and scholars have begun to systematically study the Chinese persuasive communication decades ago. So no comprehensive exclusive rhetoric handbook exist from Chinese history.


The Chinese canon was transmitted to Korea and Japan. Japan's cohesive society produced a rhetorical style of speaking around a topic, allowing the audience gradually to make inferences, until harmony resulted. In the 4th century A.D. Japanese develop script from Korean and Chinese models. Confucianism has also entered three other cultural areas since its rise in China in Japan, Korea and Vietnam. If we look at Far Eastern Korean culture we find a religious syncretistic combination of Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity build the basis for a multi/lateral approach to speech. While Buddhism was imported from India, Confucianism and Daoism were deeply rooted in China. In Korean the words ?? ?? (??) ? for ‘contrastive rhetoric’ and ??? are used. In Korea rhetoric is mainly called ??? (susa hak). In ancient Korea before Silla dynasty education of Hwarang in Chinese sciences meant learning philosophy, literature, rhetoric, music, use of weapons, riding horses and fight started in the age of a child. These arts were called hwarang do, way of hwarang. The Koreans preferred rhetorical structure in composition of ki-sung-cen-kyel consists of an introduction that begins the argument (ki), followed by a section that begins to develop that idea (sung). In marked contrast to the preferred English style of writing, the next section of the composition usually turns abruptly away from the main line of development and states the main point (cen). The final section then returns to the original idea and acts as a conclusion (kyel).  


Ancient Asia in its pre-modern and early modern periods also produced rhetoric that are intriguing from the standpoint of late modern and postmodern thinking. Rhetoric of Imperial China were strongly influenced by the atmosphere of the royal court where an effective speaker might be the person known for wisdom who was able to speak profoundly but vaguely so as not to insult or alarm members of the royal household. Chinese scholars did not produce works on how to sway large popular audiences partly because they assumed that common people lacked wisdom. Chinese sages laid out how to gain personal wisdom and how to make others desire true knowledge either in conversation with one person or in speech before an elite group. Works by Confucius and others offered advice to rulers, subjects, courtiers, teachers, and students concerning how to gain understanding and how to help others learn the correct way of living and thinking.


The overall context of traditional Chinese rhetoric was Confucianism's emphasis on self-restraint, civility, duty, loyalty to others, and respect for the norms of society. Certain principles of ancient Chinese rhetoric may be observed to operate in regard to rhetoric of Japan and India. Chinese rhetoric cannot be discussed as a unified whole deriving from a common tradition, which is one legitimate way of describing the Western practice of rhetoric insofar as it can be said to derive from Aristotle and the classical orators of Greece and Rome. The problem in discussing ethos in any concept of Chinese rhetoric is that there are at least three major strands of religious and ethical precepts and practice that are intertwined with Chinese life and thought. The Buddhist speech concept is implemented in the concept of Buddhist thinking. Therefore, it never developed a separated theory or teaching instruction focusing on rhetoric. Buddhism spread into China and became part of the Chinese culture. The Chinese culture developed 1. literature of rhetorical issues 2. a communication system of their culture including rhetoric and 3. a terminology of rhetoric for spoken and written words. Philosophical mainstream concepts in Asia such as Daoism, Confusianism and the I-Ching, later Christianity, took recourse to speech as an ethical value in order to develop their teachings in cultural contexts of different countries.  










[3] Http:// N/Nyanatiloka/WOB/wob4nt08.htm. [4.5.2003]

[4] Cf.: Howkins, J.: Mass communication in China. New York 1982. Pp. 111-119.

[5] Cf.: Chang, H. C.: The 'well-defined' is 'ambiguous': Indeterminacy in Chinese conversation. Journal of Pragmatics, 1999 31. Pp. 535-556.  Chen, L., Nadamitsu, Y.: Lee, B. K.: Traditional cultural values and argumentative tendency: A comparison of Japanese, Hong Kongers, and Mainland Chinese. Human Communication. 2001. 4. Pp. 57-70.

[6] Gong, W.: The role of ethics in persuasive communication. A comparative study of Aristotle's 'ethos' and the Confucian 'correctness of names.' In: Heisey, D. R., Gong, W. (eds.): Communication and culture. China and the world entering the 21st century (Pp. 3-13). Amsterdam 1998. Pp. 14-15. Xinyong, G.: Rhetorical devices in the Chinese literary tradition. Tamkang Review. Vol. 14. No. 1-4 (1983/84). Pp. 325-337.

[8] Confucius: Analects. Translated by Charles Muller.  Http://

[9] Confucius: Analects. Translated by Charles Muller.  Http://

[10] Confucius: Analects. Translated by Charles Muller.   Http://

[11] Chou, T.-T.: Yijing 'xiu ci li qi cheng' bian. In: Zhongguo wenzhe yanjiu jikan (Academia Sinica: Bulletin of the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy). Vol. 3 (1993). Pp. 27-53. Xinyong, Gao: Rhetoric. William H. Nienhauser Jr. (ed.): The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature. (Nachdruck) Taibei: Southern Materials Center 1988 (second revised edition). Pp. 121-137.Xinyong, G.: Rhetorical Devices in the Chinese Literary Tradition. In: Tamkang Review. Vol. 14. No. 1-4 (1983/84). Pp. 325-337.

[13] Li, W.-Y.: The rhetoric of spontaneity in late-Ming literature. In: Ming Studies. 1995. 35. Pp. 32-52. Zhang, X.: From evolution of Chinese rhetoric to history of Chinese rhetoric: On professor Zheng Ziyu's research into the history of rhetoric]. In: Beijing Daxue Xuebao (Journal of Peking University). Peking 1991 (4). Pp. 112-117. Cheng, C. Y.: The I Ching as a symbolic system of integrated communication. In: W. Dissanayake (Ed.), Communication theory: The Asian perspective. Singapore 1988. Pp. 79-104.

[14] Http:// [18.5.2002]

[15] Http:// [19.5.2002]

[16] Wang, W. S.-Y.: The Chinese Language. Scientific American. 228. 1973. Pp. 50-60. Zong, B.; Hildebrant, H. W.: Business Communication in The People's Republic of China. The Journal of Business Communication. 20, no. 1 1983. Pp. 25-33.

[18] Cf.: Kennedy, G. A.: Rhetoric in ancient China. In: Comparative rhetoric. An historical and cross-cultural introduction. New York, Oxford 1998. Pp. 141-170.

[19] Cf.: Biederman, I.; Tsao, Y. C.: On Processing Chinese Ideographs and English Words: Some Implications from Stroop Test Results. In: Cognitive Psychology. 11. 1979. Pp. 125-132. Halpern, J. W.: Business Communication in China: A Second Perspective. In: The Journal of Business Communication. 20. 1983. Pp. 43-54.

[20] Cf.: Lu, X.: Rhetoric in ancient China, fifth to third century, B.C.E. A comparison with classical Greek rhetoric. University of South Carolina Press 1998. Pp. 107-113.

[21] Cf.: Chinese perspectives in rhetoric and communication. Edited by D. R. Heisey. Stanford 2000. Pp. 75-78.

[23] The Chinese classics with a translation, critical and exegetical notes, prolegomena, and copious indexes. Edited and translated by J. Legge. In five volumes. IV. The She King. Taipai 1994 and 1991. Book IV, X, 5. P. 328

[24] She king. Opus citatum. III. Ode II. 6. P. 514

Sincronía General Index

Sincronía Winter 2004