The Culture of Love in China and Europe

The Culture of Love in China and Europe, by Paolo Santangelo and Gábor Boros (Brill 2019)

In The Culture of Love in China and Europe Paolo Santangelo and Gábor Boros offer a survey of the cults of love developed in the history of ideas and literary production in China and Europe between the 12th and early 19th century. They describe parallel evolutions within the two cultures, and how innovatively these independent civilisations developed their own categories and myths to explain, exalt but also control the emotions of love and their behavioural expressions. The analyses contain rich materials for comparison, point out the universal and specific elements in each culture, and hint at differences and resemblances, without ignoring the peculiar beauty and attractive force of the texts cultivating love.

Concerning China, a short survey of theoretical elaborations will cover the millennium from the Song dynasty (960–1279) to the beginning of the 19th century: this period starts from a new phase in Chinese history – according to some historians from the beginning of modern society – and includes early contacts with the west and the first phase of globalisation, before the Opium Wars. The reflection on the literary production will focus on the period of the last two dynasties, Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911), until the beginning of the 19th century. After dealing with the evolution of Neo-Confucian thought on love and emotions, the first question concerns the so-called “cult of qing”, its scope and consistency, and the main themes proposed by its supporters. Secondary questions concern the meaning of “genuine” love and emotions, and the construction of a rhetoric of love, its symbolism and mythology. Examining the rich and varied range of differing attitudes, concepts and approaches and different cases through the creation of fantasy, we see various perceptions. One of the key questions concerns the difference between love and lust, and the role of desires. Some paragraphs are dedicated to the language of seduction and the conditions of deregulation of love rules that help to understand some theories on the process of transmission of emotional codes and falling in love. Two other interesting topics concern the virtuous characters of the correct sexual union (legitimate conjugal love) and the role of the elaboration of the art of the bedchamber and all skills of erotic positions. Gender roles in love is evident in narrative and is reflected in the new male hero, in the active heroines, both shrews or benevolent lovers, fox spirits and femme fatale. We can finally tell of a love-death dyad in Chinese culture and some dark and polluting aspects perceived in love, as well as the dialectical transitions between dream and reality.

The surveys of the parallel evolution of the representation of love in European philosophical and literary works roughly during the same period offers the reader the promising opportunity of a comparison of different paths in the world history. We resume the main headings to conceptualize love introduced by Plato, Aristotle, the Bible, Cicero, Lucretius. These headings include earthly and heavenly love, gender issues within love, naturalizing approaches to love, love’s moral and political role, unification of the parts of an original whole, submission-obeisance to God, friendship, courting, relation between the cognitive and appetitive faculties, love and desire, etc. As for the philosophical theories, we start with three chef-d’oeuvre of 12ve century, Capellanus’ De amore, Bernard of Clairvaux’ texts on love and Abelard’s writings on the various aspects of divine and earthly love. We concentrate on the efforts to institutionalize love – in Aquinas, Kant or Hegel for example – but also on the ways love’s subversive potentiality either from the side of natural sciences (17-18th centuries) or from that of the ineffable individuality (19th century romanticism) renders these efforts promising but ineffective in the final analysis. Special emphasis is laid upon the developments within Christian and Jewish Neoplatonism, the 17th century scientific and religious reform movements, the 18th century Enlightenment thought, radical and otherwise, and the multifaceted romanticism in 19th century (young Hegel, Fr. Schlegel, Kierkegaard). The contribution to the development of the treatment of the topics of love in Western Literature from the Middle Ages to the beginning of 19th Century privileges the analyses of single exemplary texts, as for instance the Under der linden by Walther von der Vogelweide, the Vita nova by Dante, the Rvf by Petrarch, and then works by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Goethe, Stendhal, to name but a few. The basic interpretative hypothesis is to verify whether there is a consistent process and it is possible to trace a thin line of invariants through the differences of the Ages.

Authors’ Preface

This volume appears in Brill’s Emotions and States of Mind in East Asia series. It is dedicated to the analysis of emotions and collective imagery in Chinese culture side by side with an analysis of discussions of love in European philosophy and literature in order to render visible the differences and resemblances between them. This series is the best place to publish our collective effort to survey the long-term representations, intellectual elaborations, and the imagery to capture the notion of love in the Chinese and European civilisations.

Let us begin with the “pre-history” of our volume. During the conference “Histoire intellectuelle des emotions, de l’Antiquité a nos jours”, held in Paris, 23-25 May 2013, both P. Santangelo and G. Boros presented the results of their research. In the subsequent discussions, they realized the affinities between their thoughts about the eternal topic of love. Shortly afterwards, they started to outline a volume to present to the learned readers in China and the Western world a survey of the evolution of the concepts of love in these parallel civilizations. Later, they met again in Budapest and Rome, and the main outlines of the work unfolded almost by themselves. They became increasingly fascinated with the idea of the volume not only because of the importance of the topic but also of the challenge to present the paths that European and Chinese civilizations took during the centuries, almost independently from each other. Intriguing questions posed themselves: if love is universal, what kind of differences can be observed in the two cultures regarding love and its intellectual elaborations? Can these differences be explained solely by reference to differences in the structures and vocabularies of the Chinese and the European languages? Obviously not. The differences are not confined to the linguistic and semantic fields: words have their independent history in each culture and the semantic contents of ‘equivalents’ do not exactly overlap. Moreover, the two ancient and independent cultures have developed a series of conceptual tools and categories that usually do not correspond. How can these obvious first findings be elaborated on in a scholarly volume that is historical and philosophical at the same time?

At the beginning, our intention was to create a comparative history of both paths. Later, however, we became more and more aware of the risks of such a thoroughly comparative enterprise. We were convinced of the necessity to avoid being misled by ideological preconceptions and yielding to oversimplification.

Finally, it became more and more evident that the only practicable method was to present the two paths separately. The reader is offered the possibility of reflecting on and comparing the manners in which the two civilizations contributed to the symbolic representation of the fundamental topic of love. Thus, our volume aims at no direct and overall comparison between the two cultures of love. The temptation was great, but it could only have issued in superficial observations. Rather, we invite our readers to reflect upon the symbolic representations of love in both cultures presented in largely – and purposively – independent essays about the characteristic love-topics. The attentive reader will find various hints at differences and resemblances. In one chapter, they will find a sample of comparison between the Chinese “History of Love” (1630) and the European “De amore” (12th century), without breaking our own rule of abstinence: comparisons on an elementary level must necessarily be made already for being able to affirm the otherness of the cultures we deal with. We had to limit our surveys in time and space. Our aim was not to create the comprehensive history of love as an emotion. The chapters of this volume concentrate their explicative efforts on love as object and/or instrument of a cult and its cultural representations in philosophy and literature, both religious and secular (insofar as these approaches can be differentiated at all). Therefore, the volume is not to be considered a complete manual of the history of love, although it does make the claim to be read as an essential contribution to such a manual. It contributes to an understanding of the love-related phenomena, offering some general outlines of the long-term evolution of the concept of love.

Paolo Santangelo and Gabor Boros

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