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Dialectics versus polemics in Chinese rhetoric: A study of indirection in Chinese and Chinese ESL argumentative writing as compared with English argumentative writing

Lorrita Yeung


This study investigates Chinese indirection in argumentative writing. It examines whether there is a fundamental difference between Chinese and English rhetoric in their preferred method of argument, as suggested by instructional materials on how to argue effectively (Liu, Lu. 2005. Rhetorical education through writing instruction across cultures: A comparative analysis of select online instructional materials on argumentative writing. Journal of Second Language Writing 14. 1–18). A comparative analysis of 90 argumentative essays respectively written by expert Chinese and English writers, and advanced Chinese ESL learners reveals that while the English essays tend to adopt a polemical style that persuades by defeating opposing arguments, a significant proportion of the Chinese essays show a dialectical style which examines opposing positions without taking sides and yet rising above them to resolve conflicting issues. A significant number of Chinese ESL writing follow a similar dialectical pattern although not as frequently as their expert writers. A cultural explanation is attempted to account for the phenomenon. It is also argued that the dialectical model, while subsuming earlier rhetorical models adopted for analyzing Chinese writing, may hold the key to studying Chinese differences from the English in written arguments.




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Published Online: 2019-04-30
Published in Print: 2019-04-24

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