«(SERAS) Southeast Review of Asian Studies Volume 35 (2013: 141-160 An Evaluation of Robert van Gulik’s The Gibbon in China and its Place in Modern ...»
RvG notes that in the late Tang Dynasty, there was an emergence of secular and multicultural trends of depicting gibbon imagery. The secular trend of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) added a new element in the Chinese gibbon culture. For example, prior to the Tang, many remarks were made about ‘strange things’ like the ‘fei fei’ an ape-like creature that lived in the mountains and looked like a monster or goblin (TGIC 27-29). These creatures do not exist in modern zoology, but for some writers and poets of those days they were an enormous inspiration.
After these popular religious and mystical influences on the development of gibbon imagery faded, a more worldly approach developed. This more sophisticated approach to gibbon imagery emerged with multicultural trends in literature impacted by international trade relationships that created an affluent society in which science and the arts could prosper. Now not only was the nice and romantic side of the gibbon emphasized but also negative aspects appeared such as aggressiveness, alcoholism, and/or desires of the flesh.
Some examples of this development from Tang Legends such as A fisherman in River Chu (Chu jiang yu zhe 楚江漁者), Ouyang He (Ouyang He 歐陽紇), Sun Ke (Sun Ke 孫恪), Chen Yen (Chen Yan 陳岩) (TGIC 67)14 and history books such as The Annals of Wu and Yue (Wu Yue chunqiu 吳越春秋)15 all mention that the gibbon could change into an old wise man or a beautiful woman. Those gibbons, however, also indulge in alcohol, beauty and/or worldly love. They are the http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/looking-for-a-monk-and-not-finding-him/ Tang Legend, the fictions in Tang Dynasty, e.g. A fisherman in River Chu (Chu jiang yuzhe 楚江漁者), Ou Yang-he (歐陽紇), Sun Ke (孫恪), Chen Yen (陳岩) are all Tang Legends that focus on the gibbon story.
The Annals of Wu and Yue (Wu Yue chunqiu 吴越春秋) is a history book which records the history of Wu and Yue during Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BCE). The author is Zhao Ye 趙曄, a famous scholar in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25CE). http://ctext.org/wu-yue-chun-qiu An Evaluation of The Gibbon in China 149 embodiment of secular people. The secularization of the gibbon is the reflection of the blossoming of bourgeois literature during the middle and late T’ang dynasty. There are several poetical essays devoted to the gibbon, such as “Poem of the Black Gibbon” (“Xuanyuan fu” 玄猿賦) by Wu Yun 吴筠 (died 778 CE) (Yip 1997) (TGIC 54) and “Poem of the White Gibbon” (“Baiyuan fu” 白猿賦) by Li Deyu 李德裕 (787 – 850 CE) (TGIC 56).
The reclusive poet Wu Yun describes the gibbon as an example for man of how one should live emancipated from all worldly cares (TGIC 54). Li De-yu points out the difference between the aloof gibbon and the quarrelsome and volatile macaque (TGIC 56). The latter refer to Li Deyu’s own enemies who brought about his downfall at court.
RvG speculates that those ancient scholar-officials project their ideal personalities onto the gibbon (TGIC 27, 69, 73). He explains that ‘strange animals’ such as the ‘fei fei’ do not fit in the modern Tang period religious and philosophical teachings that included rejection of the superstitious and mystical elements of both Daoism and Buddhism.
The accentuation of the morality of the scholar-gentry is not only projected onto society but also on nature and natural processes. In addition, the negative aspects of imagined animal life (aggressiveness, alcoholism, or desires of the flesh) are discarded as horrid character traits. In summary, this is an effect of the Tang revival of old cultural values viz. neo-Confucianism (Song Ming Lixue 宋明理学) sometimes shortened to science (Lixue 理學).
Here also psychology comes into play: the gibbon became an example of natural and thereby good qualities. This was confirmed by RvG after his observation of his own pet animals (TGIC 73). Today, however, the gibbon is often presented as a prototype of bad or dark
aspects of human behavior. The behavior of some gibbons is strange:
killing other animals and human beings, eating their meat, devilish action such as marrying a man after changing into a woman, and changes from young into old specimens, sudden disappearances into the woods to name a few.
The 20th century psychoanalyst with strong cultural-anthropologic interests, Erich Fromm (1900 – 1980), following in Sigmund Freud’s footsteps, clarified the interaction of human thinking in prejudices and attribution on freedom, religion and zoomorphic myths (Fromm, 1950).
The connection between RvG and Fromm is the focus on the dark elements about the gibbon that RvG alludes to in the text of TGIC. Here the link with the subconscious or ‘ES’ (German technical term for the deeper layers of the human mind) can be drawn. Fromm explains aboriginal art and concepts about animals with interpretations in human terms about good, social, empathetic or bad and aggressive. In 150 S. Ye & F. Heule his own observations on gibbons, RvG focused on their social and sexual behavior and made comparisons with human beings. Films like King Kong (1933) are still prominent examples of the dark depths of our subconscious.
Third period: From the Song to the Ming Dynasty (960-1644 CE) From the Song to the Ming dynasty, as the scope of human activities expand, the gibbon gradually moved to the remote mountain forests.
RvG focuses on the gibbon’s image in works of art (TGIC 76-96). RvG thinks there were two factors that improved the art of painting in the Song Dynasty. One is the development of “free sketch painting,” the other is the popularity of Zen (Chan 禅) painting which made the artists concentrate much more on the communication with the nature.
In TGIC RvG takes ample space to introduce these two art forms, sketch painting and Zen painting. These two forms and their products are relevant for this discourse, on the one hand due to the historical overview on movements or schools in painting and on the other hand due as being inextricably linked in Chinese culture by their underlying principles. When a drawing or painting with gibbons in our context is interpreted, the message of the artist in either school is an underlying truth.
While inheriting the literary traditions of former generations, the Chinese artists enrich and develop the image of the gibbon in paintings.
RvG mentions many famous artists such as a. Yi Yuanji 易元吉 (ca.
1000–ca. 1064) (Russell & Cohn, 2012) (TGIC p79) and b. Mu Xi 牧溪 (born around 1200) (Wey, 1974) (TGIC p87).
Yi Yuanji is a famous traditional realistic painter in the Period of Emperors Enzong and Yingzong. The 11th-century critic Guo Ruoxu 郭 若虚 (active around 1070) wrote in his book "An Overview of Painting" (Tuhua jianwen zhi 圖畫見聞志) about Yi's career: [... His painting was excellent: flowers and birds, bees and cicadas he rendered life-like with subtle detail. At first he specialized in flowers and fruits, but after he had seen such paintings by Zhao Chang 趙 昌, he admitted their superiority with a sigh, and then resolved he would acquire fame by painting subjects not yet tried by the artists of old; thus, he began to paint roebucks and gibbons.…] RvG translated this book in English, 1967 and from this information we can conclude that Yi was trained in the old school techniques and later in his career painted gibbons too. He liked to observe the wild gibbons and often stayed with the gibbons, deer and other animals in the wild. So his paintings are so vivid that they look like photographs.
Mu Xi was called the monk painter. Around 1215 he lived in a An Evaluation of The Gibbon in China 151 Chan Buddhist temple at the shore of West Lake (Xihu 西湖), near present day Hangzhou,. His topics included landscapes, flowers, and portraits. His Guanyin 觀音 and The Six Persimmons are his most famous works. Mu Xi practiced the ‘ink and wash’ (“moran” 墨染) technique: a fast technique with a broad brush and very moist ink. In this way he expressed the Chan aesthetics and spirituality of simplicity and reduction, calmness and directness (Loehr 1980 and Geissmann 2008).
Many scholars have ventured general comparisons of Eastern Art.
Gulick puts it this way:
Oriental artists are not interested in a photographic representation of an object but in interpreting its spirit, not form. Occidental art exalts personality, is anthropocentric and cosmo-centric. It sees man as an integral part of nature. The affinity between man and nature was what impressed Oriental artists rather than their contrast, as in the West.
Nature in the west is man-made symmetry and superimposed forms with the physical world being an objective reality to be analyzed, used, mastered. To Orientals, on the contrary, it was a realm of beauty to be admired, as is, but also of mystery and illusion to be pictured by poets, explained by mythmakers, and mollified by priestly incantations. This contrast between East and West had incalculable influence on their respective arts, as well as on their philosophies and religions. (Gulick 1963:253-255) RvG made a comparison of Yi yuan-ji‘s realistic and Mu-xi’s impressionistic styles. He claims that he himself prefers the latter because this style answers to the highest requirement of Chinese aesthetics, namely connotation (hanxu 含蓄) meaning that there is more inside than is expressed on the outside.
In accord with the historical context, i.e. the three episodes outlined above for literature together with the mainstream Chinese art forms, RvG collects and organizes the documentation related to both literature and image data and builds a logical, plentiful Chinese gibbon culture history. His research formulated in TGIC presents a clear outline of the gibbon imagery to Western and Asian audiences.
A unique contribution to the Chinese gibbon culture In his monograph, RvG defines three main ideas of Chinese gibbon worship tradition. They are: a) the gibbon has a noble character; b) lives in groups with strong family ties; c) is good at gathering qi (氣, qi is a 152 S. Ye & F. Heule kind of energy or the fundamental stuff of the universe); and, d) it lives as a recluse. These separate ideas will be expanded with more details as they are relevant for the overall understanding of RvG’s research.
The high status of the gibbon was built in the early Zhou Dynasty.
The Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity (Baopu zi 抱朴子), a Daoist book written by Ge Hong 葛洪 (284–c. 343)16, mentions that all junzi 君子 (gentlemen) in King Mu of Zhou’s army changed into gibbons and cranes when he made ‘the southern expedition’. 17 The gibbon lives in the remote mountain forests, braving the wind, dew and snow. People can hear its call, but can rarely see it. So the gibbon is similar to the recluse. As a recluse, the status of the gibbon was further strengthened during the Wei, Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties as well as the Sui, Tang Dynasties. Li Yin (李隱), a scholar in the Tang Dynasty, told the story of how a gibbon changed into a fisherman and fished on Chu Jiang in his mystery novel collection Records from the Xiao and Xiang Regions (Xiao Xiang Lu 瀟 湘 錄). In ancient China, a fisherman is often implied to be a reclusive wise man. In Li’s story, the gibbon and the recluse become one. Wu Yun (吳筠), a famous scholar in the Tang Dynasty who went into seclusion after having failed the imperial examination and who subsequently became a Daoist, wrote the ‘Poem of the Black Gibbon’ and praised the black gibbon for having longevity as the crane and the character of the gentleman. He claimed that if the human being could live as the gibbon, the world would return to the simple, honest, natural and harmonious golden age. The combination of the gibbon and crane often appeared in poems and paintings. Some ancient Chinese scholars like to raise the gibbon and crane to be their partners and thereby demonstrate their noble characters.
RvG thinks that the reason the gibbon becomes a symbol of a reclusive junzi is due to its unique character. The gibbon is kind, gentle, transcendent, tranquil and inactive. It lives a secluded life. These characters accord with the aesthetic taste of both Daoism and traditional Chinese scholars. The harmony between gibbon and nature, their special characteristics, are similar to the philosophical ideas of Laozi and Zhuangzi. Laozi 老子 (fl. 6th century BCE) is known as the author of the Daodejing, the classic text of the virtuous way (TGIC p23) and Ge Hong (葛洪 284–around 342), a Daoist and medical expert in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317_420).
Between 976 and 922 BCE, King Mu of Zhou (Zhou Muwang 周穆王) also called Ji Man 姬满 reigned as the fifth king of the Western Zhou dynasty (1046–771 BCE). The country had many enemies. King Mu commanded six armies and sent a punitive expedition to the Chu 楚 State which was a southern state. The king of Chu feared these armies with chariots, so that he surrendered to the state of Zhou.
An Evaluation of The Gibbon in China 153 Zhuangzi (fl. 4th century BCE) is credited with writing—in part or in whole—a work known by his name, the Zhuangzi (TGIC 23).
The gibbon lives in a setting with strong family ties. According to modern zoology, around 98% to 99% of the gibbon’s genes are identical to those of human beings. The gibbon family has human-like relations in so far as they are monogamous, hierarchical and they respect age and morality. There are many moving stories about gibbon families. In A New Account of Tales of the World (Shishuo xinyu 世說新語, an early literary sketch by Liu Yiqing 劉義慶 (403–44)18, a story is told about a female gibbon who died heartbrokenly because her son was raped by a human being. Another story in Rustic Words of a Man from Eastern Qi (Qidong yeyu 齊東野語) that was written by a scholar in the Song Dynasty, Zhou Mi 周密 (1232–98)19 described a baby gibbon cried and jumped to its death because his mother was killed.
Another reason that Chinese people respect the gibbon is because they think the gibbon is good at gathering qi. The gibbon has long arms which can be used to gather qi and this means longevity. Everyone hopes to have a life as long as that of the gibbon.