We have learned from the Evangelist that “everything originated by the word and dwelt among us.” But in what form did the word make a dwelling, how It has been recorded in writing, whether drawn, printed, scratched, or knotted, the cultures of the world have found fundamentally different techniques for this purpose.
Heidelberg enclave scholar and art historian Lothar Ledros, the world-renowned representative of his guild, has described the path Chinese culture took to preserve its words in an article as scant as it is compact and highly readable. Writing always and everywhere was so much more than just statically collecting and transmitting data. But Chinese culture did not create such a complex system in which writing embodies the highest values of social order, aesthetics and transcendence.
This began more than 3,300 years ago with the interpretation of signs in the so-called oracle bones, which opened access to the afterlife. This is still evident to this day in the importance of calligraphy, which is of course also the very personal characteristic of every person who writes. Because every sign, to put it mildly, is also property, or at least a claim to it. Ledderose provides numerous examples of this throughout Chinese history. He found one of the most appropriate recently in the Beijing People’s Daily, a newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, the title of which has appeared in Mao Zedong’s unmistakable handwriting since the newspaper’s founding more than 70 years ago.
The order and structure of these signs must be learned. If students of the “Western” alphabet, regardless of whether they are Greek, Cyrillic, Etruscan or Roman letters, get a little over twenty individual forms, in Chinese, where each word is expressed by its own letter, then there are several thousand or more of icons. You can’t learn that in a few elementary school classrooms, it takes a longer exercise full of deprivation and peppered with some disgusting punishments. Its main focus is initially on dull transcription, that is, on the constant and stupid repetition of patterns, because the sequence of each stroke of the sign is also binding. You don’t have to be a behavioral scientist to draw conclusions about the different forms of socialization in children and their fears of power.
These authorities, and this has always been the case in China, are the social and political elites. Outside of the imperial family, the nobility usually played an enjoyable minor role in the long run. In clerical terms, the measure of the system was the writer. Only a tiny fraction of the population can read, let alone write. This has improved by quite a few worlds today, but very little has changed in the digital world as well. “The stability of the writing system ensures the cultural cohesion of China,” Ledros wrote. All that means for this arrangement.
They were, and will eventually remain, the banners on the walls announcing the crucial messages. Signs of rulers and often also signs of political rebellion. “Don’t be afraid, only be afraid of the wall papers,” was one of the repressive slogans during the so-called “Cultural Revolution” 60 years ago. Those were the evil writings on the wall
But China also knows peaceful conquest through the power of signals. In a massive project at the Heidelberg Academy, Ledrose and his Chinese colleagues looked at how to trace the progress of Buddhism to China over the centuries in texts carved into mountain walls. It is a celebration of faith and at the same time a monumental work of calligraphy. Even the top representatives of the Chinese Communist Party, hard-line atheists, have made efforts to go to the “Sacred Mountains” in Shandong Province in the past few decades to put their names and comments next to the sacred texts. Politicians are always drawn to places of eternity.
At just over 100 pages, Ledderose directs our attention to central aspects of Chinese culture that have no place in the daily news business. Enlightening, enriching, arousing curiosity. One wishes it on many decision makers’ offices.
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