Alessandra C. Lavagnino
September 6, 2017
The wealth of topics and the vast range of themes dealt during the Zurich Workshop have stimulated me to propose some preliminary remarks coming from a Chinese point of view. The difficulty of dealing with different set of words and different way of classifying things makes it necessary to provide some basic information, sources and insights into how such fundamental issues as the power of writing, the categorisation of knowledge, and the preeminence of the role of the traditional Classic texts in intellectual, political and administrative life were developed in ancient China. The written language was an empowering language. The privilege of mastering the Classical texts and the ability to write elegantly made success in the imperial exams possible, allowing the scholar to become a member of the powerful élite. This explains the close link established in China between the exercice of power and the literary language. The need to provide the necessary tools to acquire this ability became the main incentive for the production of a set of texts such as dictionaries, glossaries, thesaurus, and encyclopaedias or “books according to categories”. In these texts the world of knowledge was ordered according to categories which were functional and useful for the preservation of imperial power in the hands of loyal bureaucrats, carefully selected through the perfect machinery of the examinations, to perpetuate the “mandate of heaven” throughout the centuries.