Xing Lu: Rhetoric in Ancient China, Fifth to Third Century B.C.

Rhetoric In Ancient China, Fifth To Third Century B.C.E: A Comparison With Classical Greek Rhetoric

“Orientalism”, a paradigm described by Edward Said, has traditionally portrayed Eastern “people, ideas, and traditions” as lacking logic, rejecting argument, and neglecting to develop any distinct knowledge in the field that the Greeks termed “rhêtorikê”.

Lu points out however, that Chinese rhetorical theory flourished from the fifth to the third centuries B.C.E., also known as the Warring States period, and can be accessed within the context of the philosophical, literary and political discourse of the time. She therefore “employs and aims to achieve multicultural hermeneutics” throughout this project, in order to depart from traditional hermeneutics and promote “a development of an attitude of appreciation for perceived cultural differences”.

A Chinese term that closely corresponds to our ‘rhetoric’ is “ming bian”, a combination of terms that overlap, with ming evoking “the power of symbols”, and bian signifying “disputation and argumentation”.

Lu compares and contrasts these and many other terms as she establishes a context for her presentation of the rich and abundant rhetorical features contained in Chinese Literary and Historical Texts, and in each of the five major schools of Chinese philosophical thought.

Each of these areas of discourse has its own chapter, each of which specifically addresses the work of several prominent ancient rhetoricians who made significant individual contributions.

While Lu strives to give Chinese rhetorical sources some long overdue legitimacy, as equally sophisticated theoretical discourse on a par with that of the Greeks, she doesn’t refrain from elucidating the many similarities and differences in content that exist between the two cultures. Her concluding chapter not only summarizes “Chinese rhetorical theories and practices”, and their moral, epistemological, dialectical and psychological emphases, but it also articulates five major similarities and differences between “Greek Rhetoric and Chinese Ming Bian”.

Similarities that occur involve the art of persuasion, an emphasis on ethics, use of rational argument, psychological applications toward audience, and the dynamic and evolving nature of both cultures’ conceptual understanding and terminology. The two diverge in several ways as well, through factors such as the importance and function of language, rhetoric’s distinction from or fusion with other modes of inquiry, such as philosophy, how emotions are treated, and flexibility in rational processes along with various types of linguistic expressions or figures, and rhetorical education systems.

Lu closes this massive undertaking with implications for both contemporary communication among Chinese and multicultural rhetoric. She validates the continued power of classical ideas to shape China of today.


Lu, Xing Rhetoric in Ancient China, Fifth to Third Century B.C.: A Comparison with Classical Greek Rhetoric University of South Carolina Press (1998)