Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Good and Bad Emperors on Feasting and Drinking

YOur assignment will consist of two passages from the famous Han shu of the writer Ban Gu. Much of the work consists of citations from imperial edicts and memorials to the throne, which fulfill much the same function that speeches do in the Greco-Roman classical historians. Here are two citations. The first is from the best emperor of the Han, emperor Xuan (r. 74-48 BC), who comforted the empire after the collossal exertions and campaigns of Han Wudi, and who reaped much of the benefit of those campaigns:

Verily the rites of marriage are the important feature of human relationships; gathering for drinking and feasting are the means whereby the rules of proper conduct and music are performed. But now in the commanderies and principalities*, some of the officials ranked at two thousand piculs arbitrarily make vexatious prohibitions, imposing prohibitions upon the common people when they give or take in marriage, so that they are not permitted to prepare feasts, to offer felicitations, or to summon each other. In this way they have abolished the rites of proper conduct for the districts and villages and have caused the common people to be without any means of enjoyment. This is not the way in which to guide the common people. Does not the Book of Odes say,
If people are lacking in virtue
They are sparing even providing dry provisions.
Do not practice such vexatious government! (from the Han shu 漢書 written by Ban Gu 班固, chapter 8, trans. Homer Dubs, History of the Former Han Dynasty, II, pp. 248-49).

*These were the subordinate districts into which the Han empire was divided. Commanderies were ruled by officials, principalities by princes of the imperial family.

The next is from a memorial by an official to Wang Mang who usurped the Han throne and under whose reign perhaps half the population of North China died or fled. His edicts and memorials were models of style, however:

Fermented drink is the most beautiful happiness from Heaven, whereby the ancient lords and kings* have nourished the whole society ("all under Heaven" 天下). Meetings for offering sacrifice, for praying for blessing, for succoring the decrpeit, for caring for the sick, and all the rites, cannot be carried on without fermented drink.

Hence the Book of Odes says,
'If I have no fermented drink, I buy it, do I,'
but the Analects says,
'[Confucius] would not drink purchased fermented drink.'
These two are not contradictory.

Verily, the ode refers to when peaceful reigns succeeded each other and the fermented drink purchased at a government office was harmonious [i.e. fairly priced], agreeable, and suited to the people, so that it could be offered to others.

In the Analects, Confucius was in the Zhou dynasty as it decayed and was in disorder, so that the sale of fermented drink was in the hands of the common people, and hence was of poor quality, bad, and not free from adulteration. For this reason he suspected it and would not drink it.

If now the whole society's fermented drink is cut off, then there will be no means of performing the rites or of cherishing others. If permission is given to brew and no limit is set to that, then it will consume wealth and injure the people. Hence , I beg that you [the hypocrite and usurper emperor Wang Mang] will imitate the ancients and order the government offices to make fermented drink . . . (from the Han shu 漢書 written by Ban Gu 班固, chapter 24B, trans. Homer Dubs, History of the Former Han Dynasty, III, p. 497-98)

**帝王 "lords and kings" here is short for the "five lords and three kings," the lawiving/prophetic kings of the distant past who revealed to mankind the proper ways of living, roughly what an anthropologist would call a "culture hero."

The passage goes on to detail the addition of a liquor monopoly to the already disastrous six monopolies of the usurping hypocrite Wang Mang who betrayed the dynasty he served and destroyed his country with impeccable repristinated scriptural justification. As Ban Gu wrote:

Whenever Wang Mang acted, he desired to imitate the ancients and did not consider what was appropriate to the times 又動欲慕古不度時宜 (ibid., p. 477).

Assignment: discuss in terms of

1) The right and wrong way for government to nourish family values
2) Liturgical practice and Eucharistic theology
3) How to rightly conduct festivals, dancing, and music
4) The "Scouring of the Shire" chapter of the Lord of the Rings
5) Psalm 104:14-15:
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man's heart.
and Proverbs 31:4-7:
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to take strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
7) The right practice of marriage as a condition of the good society
8) Legalism and repristination
9) The proper limits of government and the disasters that result from overstepping them
10) Home brews vs. commercial brews; Confucius as the patron of home brewing

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