Mythology 神话

Despite the title, I am not referring to the movie with Jackie Chan with the same title (also if I watched a little bit of its “making of”- but maybe I will have a look at the TV serial with the same title).

Instead, the title is inspired by the second tome of the first volume of a book on the history of China, a four volumes (five tomes) extended edition that was published by Einaudi in 2013, and that I found in a local library.

No, it isn’t available on Amazon, you have to visit the publishers’ site- but at 110 EUR/tome, probably only libraries and universities might be interested enough to buy a copy.

Why this choice? Because I “tested” the first book of the series, and, while preparing few more posts for wodeshudian, I realized how little I had learned in the past about the pre-Han period (and overall about Chinese history- except the discussion within a book from the late R. Sawyer on the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods).

Many of the movies that I watched since 2009 (with double subtitles English+Mandarin, whenever available) to get used to the sounds of Mandarin actually assume that you know about that period of history.

Moreover, even movies focused on more recent times are replete with cultural references, references that I understood only thanks to a course on 5,000 years of Chinese history that I went through in my spare time while in Brussels: but that wasn’t “deep” enough for my purposes.

Somebody would say that it is probably an overkill to read few thousands of pages about the history of the country whose language you are learning- but, frankly, I already read few thousand pages about China, and did the same in the past for other languages (English, French), including to a lesser extent with Spanish and German (albeit in November 2012 I bought a pile of books about German history across time- up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, as I visited Germany few times since 1990).

In my line of work, I am used to get acquainted with the environment where I am going to work before visiting it- hence, I have always been a bookworm that asks questions, and keen to learn (with the Internet, it is much easier and cheaper).

The tome that I am re-reading now (obviously, I did already two runs through it, albeit this is the first read-and-annotate phase) is about the period between the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Han dynasty (“La Cina I**. Dall’età del Bronzo all’impero Han” ISBN 9788806185114).

It covers a period that is overlapping with myth- hence, the title.

None of the Mandarin language books I went through gave more than a passing reference to history- and, again, my business taught me that nothing, not even a business lingo (imagine a language and culture) develops in a vacuum.

If you know something about a the past of a culture, you will have a better understanding not only of where it is coming from, but also where it could be heading to, and how that relates to or differs from your own past cultural history.

Therefore, in December I will share few notes and links to cover basically the period between the mythical Pangu (盘古 Pan2gu3); an emperor that I already wrote about in a previous post (Nine islands 九州), Yu the Great (大禹 da4 yu3); and then up to the beginning of the Han dynasty.

It would be obviously preposterous to think that you can cover that timespan in few thousand words, but my aim is simpler.

Inspired by what I am reading now to improve my German vocabulary (reading in parallel the Italian translation and the German original of a biography of Bismarck that I had bought in November 2012 in Berlin), plus my focus on cultural/organizational/technological change (see my Linkedin profile), I decided to read this tome (over 1000 pages) looking at just one issue: “organizational development”.

Myths: it is the shared beginning of any civilization- shared not necessarily in content, but in defining a blueprint for society, by starting, obviously, with what surrounds you: Earth, Sun, Moon, mountains, rivers, lakes, and obviously mankind, animals and plants.

I began by reading the “history” of Pangu, a giant whose demise was said to have been the source of our environment: it is worth reading, as it gives a different perspective (e.g. my book states that no “flood myth” in China, as the “Great Flood of China” was a more limited event).

In any culture the first organizational development step is to find a common thread between seemingly unconnected elements (what is in the sky- Sun, Moon, stars – and what is down on Earth): Pangu is one of those preliminary steps (along with others- but have a look at the Wikipedia article linked above).

I know that it is a weird perspective, but “empire” implies “empire-building”, which implies also introducing rules, organization, a differentiation of roles, a path to follow to be part of those keeping the organization working, and, of course, a social organization that allows some people to stop working the fields or fighting for their lives, and assume that food, clothing, housing, security and provided by others, so that they can focus on… organization.

Next, what will I write about? Beside this short introduction, next week and the following one few pages on the three (to varying degrees) mythical dynasties, Xia (c. XXI-XVII century B.C.), Shang (c. 1600-1045 BC), and Zhou (1045-256 BC), where according to myth (and history) agriculture, writing, and the organized state were created.

Then, a post on the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period, up to the first phase of the Han dynasty.

From January 2015, I will assume that the basics have been shared, and, keeping my focus on organizational development, I intend to write about specific topics, adding few posts “connecting-the-dots” with current affairs whenever appropriate.

For the time being… have a nice week!

PS Please read the introduction to understand how to use this website 🙂


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