Lu, Xing. “Studies and Development of Comparative Rhetoric in the U.S. A.: Chinese and Western Rhetoric in Focus”


In this article, Xing Lu describes the evolution of comparative rhetoric in rhetorical studies between Chinese rhetoric and Western rhetoric as has having occurred in four stages:  deficiency stage, recognition/emergence stage, the native/emic stage, and the appreciation/appropriation stage.  According to Lu, the during the deficiency stage, arguments about Chinese rhetorics are premised on the lack of logical thinking and rational arguments supposedly inherent in Chinese languages and tradition.  Robert Oliver, for instance, in his early study of ancient eastern rhetorics declares the “ancient East has not been much interested in logic…nor has it favored either definition and classification as aids to clear thought”  (Communication and Culture in Ancient Indian and China 10).  Other scholars have noted that Chinese rhetoric lacks logics of the West due to inability to make fine distinctions and abstractions.  Whatever the reason, during this stage, Chinese rhetorical practices are compared and deemed inferior to the logical, abstract, and definable practices of rhetoric of the West.  During the recognition/emergence stage, the stage in which Kennedy’s comparative Rhetoric was published, rhetorical scholars fully acknowledged and validated the value of non-Western rhetorics, identifying both similarities and differences between rhetorics of the East and West.  Still problems arose during this state of recognition. With Kennedy’s attempt to identify a “general theory” of rhetoric applicable to all societies and to develop a universal discourse with which to describe all rhetorical practices cross-culturally, for instance, Kennedy falls victim to creating an evolutionary model of rhetoric among other problems. Longings for a universal rhetoric also tend to erase difference all together.

            In the native/emic stage, rhetorical schlolars attempt to define non-western rhetorical practices on its own terms and in consideration of the social/political/cultural contexts in which they were produced.  Mao’s work on Confucian rhetoric is exemplary here as he shows that while Western conceptions of rhetoric emphasize causal and rational ideologies, Confucian rhetorics reveals a “participatory mode of discourse interested in transmitting knowledge, performing reciprosity,and acting in accordance with rituals” (114).  According to Lu, this state encourages rhetorical scholars to pay attention to the material realities in which these rhetorics were produced and acknowledge the recontextualization that always occurs as we represent rhetorical practices from other cultures and/or our own cultures from other points in time.  During the appreciation/appropriation stage, the shift focuses from emphasis of difference to emphasis on incorporating differences in respective rhetorical systems, or in other words, to borrowing rhetorical concepts from one culture to address problems and limitations in say Western rhetoric (115).  Stephen Comb’s article analyzing Sun Zi’s The Art of War, for instance, demonstrates how Daoist argumentation styles can provide western argumentation with a more flexible, critical approach (115).  Despite the improvement of comparative rhetoric from one that deemed Chinese rhetoric illogical, inadequate, and inferior to Western rhetoric to one that valued the unique qualities of Chinese rhetorical traditions, Lu claims that current challenges relating to translation, methodological research, and continued biases still exist.  Lu advocates continued research in comparative rhetoric as a means to develop intercultural understanding and communication.  The ideal approach, she says, is collaborative research by American and native scholars to address limitations in language competency, disciplinary training and misunderstandings that result in cross-cultural research.  

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