restricted access Four: As Powerful as Weapons: The Use of Tropes as Ideological Instruments
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FOUR As Powerful as Weapons The Use of Tropes as Ideological Instruments WHEN TRADITIONS ARE passed down, questions can arise concerning how later generations interpret the intentions of the people who established these customs. Do subsequent teachings remain faithful to the original vision of the classics? To use Benjamin Schwartz’s term, do they recapture that vision in its “pristine freshness”? Or do the teachings fall victim to one-sidedness or distortion? The answer is neither. The redeployment of tradition in a modern context is never an issue of either/or. Rather social actors strategically choose classics as rhetorical tools to resolve the exigency of the socalled rhetorical situation.1 Hayden White places tradition in perspective when he points out that historians always attempt to exercise “cognitive control ” over the “prefiguring experience” of history. As he explains, “The ‘overall coherence’ of any given ‘series’ of historical facts is the coherence of the story, but this coherence is achieved only by a tailoring of the ‘facts’ to the requirements of the story form.”2 Using tradition in a “copy and paste” manner to fit a modern context will result in an incongruity between history and current affairs. Contemporaries have to modify and adjust history so it serves modern agendas. It is common practice for a contemporary religious practitioner , for example, to “redirect” theological concepts to “new referents” within their own social sphere.3 While it is true that cultural and sociopolitical conditions have undergone massive transformations in modern times, it is the new trends in human epistemology that govern societal change. Therefore history has to be reframed in order to be a fitting instrument for the practice of contemporary social players. F. W. Dillistone views the interrelationship between tradition and modern history more metaphorically. According to him, the calculated use of tradition exists as a mediator among content, modern thoughts, form, and history: “Man is an inveterate experimenter. He denies that the form of the container has absolute validity. He breaks through in order to explore, he breaks down in order to exploit. He conceives a dream or a vision or a hope  70 The Cultural Economy of Falun Gong in China and seeks to translate it into the outward realization. This is the ‘energy’ of creativity and change.”4 While the form (history) might be old and unchanging, the enunciation of content becomes a creative human exercise. Therefore contemporary social players make studied attempts to tinker with the classics to suit their ends. While they regard classical texts as primers to guide their modern actions, their use of ancients as ideological tropes is never literal but deliberate and thoughtful so that new purposes are served. The contemporary Chinese rhetorical experience serves as a case study to illuminate how modern social players such as the Falun Gong movement and the Chinese government treat the classics as a “toolbox” from which they choose appropriate implements to resolve new issues.5 Endowed with a fivethousand -year-old tradition, the Chinese are especially adept at using classics in contemporary settings to achieve desirable goals. Known for being wellversed in ancient wisdom, they often employ classics as tropes to mediate human consciousness and social reality. Not only state leaders and scholars, but also common people, are familiar with traditional myths, folklore, fables, and analogues, and they regularly cite or allude to these stories in order to explicate contemporary situations. Chinese scholars argue that many tropes used by contemporaries have cultural roots. For example Ge Gao and Xiaosui Xiao call yuan a “native Chinese concept.”6 Xing Lu identifies historical roots in the deployment of tropes: “The use of metaphor is a recurring rhetorical technique in Chinese literary and historical texts.”7 Analogy, considered as a popular figure of speech, is “closely related to unique Chinese cultural factors and might be special cultural ‘products’ of Chinese culture,” argues Yingqin Liu.8 Indirect communication is a common rhetorical device among Asians.9 William Gudykunst and Stella Ting-Toomey explain how it functions: “The direct and indirect style refers to the extent speakers reveal their intentions through explicit verbal communication. The indirect verbal style refers to verbal messages that camouflage and conceal speakers’ true intentions in terms of their wants, needs, and goals in the discourse situation.”10 On Western notions about the function of tropes, Frank Brown notes, varieties of experiences and reflections important to religion have an intrinsic connection with poetry and poetics—a connection best understood when one pays special attention...


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