Archive for the ‘Ancient Asia’ Category

Hear No Evil, See No Evil- Advice from 17th Century Monkeys Still Popular Today

By: The Scribe on June, 2011

The three wise monkeys are a familiar sight to many people. They sit in a row, one with his ears covered, one with his mouth covered and the third with his eyes covered. The saying, “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” is one that has been translated into many different languages and used around the world. But where did the monkeys come from and why is there sometimes a fourth monkey included with the others?Carving of the three wise monkeys

The source for the popular depiction of this saying is the  Nikko Tosho-gu shrine in Nikko, Japan. The carving was completed in the 17th century by sculptor Hidari Jongoro. The panel that the monkeys are on is actually part of a much larger eight panel series. The depictions illustrate the life cycle of man and incorporate many ideals from the Code of Conduct developed by Confucius. Confucius was a famous Chinese social philosopher who lived from 551 to 479 BCE.

Although the three monkey carving is the most widely known illustration of the “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” saying, there are other areas where it was found as well. Another source for the saying is from the Analects of Confucius, a written record of the sayings and actions of Confucius. It was written during the time period between 475 BCE and 221 BCE by Confucius’s pupils in the time following his death. In this case, the saying was somewhat longer and translated into “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety”. It is understandable why the much shorter version is so popular today.

Monkeys appear frequently in the Shinto faith and so it is no wonder that monkeys would appear in carvings on an important Shinto temple. The monkey acts as a messenger of Hie Shinto shrines and during the year of the monkey the faith will celebrate with special festivals that only take place during this time.

Gate of the Nikko Tosho-Gu Each of the monkeys has a name. The monkey who has his eyes covered is known as Mizaru. The monkey covering his ears is named Kikazaru and the monkey with the covered mouth is Iwazaru. Many people know Kikazaru as Mikarazu and Iwazaru as Mazaru althouth the reason for this name change is not known.

In some cases, a fourth monkey may also be seen alongside the Three Wise Monkeys. This monkey’s name is Shizaru and is often shown sitting with his arms crossed. He illustrates the ideal of “do no evil”. In many cases, modern culture believes that the group of monkeys shows people who ignore evil or wrongdoing by turning away or ignoring what is going on around them. Other people use the series of monkeys as a reminder that they should avoid being gossipy or snooping into the business of those around them. Many cultures use this philosophy as a way of avoiding exposure to evil so that they do not do wrong in turn.

The Real Story of Mulan

By: The Scribe on June, 2011

Many people have seen the Disney movie Mulan and do not realize that it is actually telling the story of an ancient Chinese poem titled the Ballad of Mulan. Because it is a legend, it is unknown when Mulan may have lived although she was believed to have lived during the Northern Wei dynasty which lasted from 386CE to 534CE.

This painting is oil on a silk backgroundIn the movie, Mulan is depicted as being unskilled with weapons. The “real” Mulan, on the other hand, was said to have practiced with many different weapons. The area in which she was believed to have lived was known for practicing martial arts such as Kung Fu and for being skilled with the sword. In the legend, the real Mulan (whose name was actually Hua Mulan) rode horses and shooting arrows.

In the movie as well as in the poem, there was no male child. This caused problems when the Emperor (or Khan as he is called in the poem) began to call up troops to fight the invading Mongol and nomadic tribes. If there had been a son he could have gone in his father’s place as it was only up to the family to provide one man to fight. Whether it was the father or the son did not matter; all they needed to do was provide one person to join the army.

As in the Disney movie, Mulan chose to enlist in her father’s place as he was too old to fight. At the age of eighteen she joined the army and prepared to fight against the Mongolian and nomadic tribes that wanted to invade China. Unfortunately for her there was no intelligent horse and no small red dragon as there was in the Disney version of the legend.

According to the legend she fought for twelve years. During that time she was offered twelve ranks as a way to reward her for her skill in battle. Then, according to both the Disney film and the legend, Mulan chose to return home to live a quiet life with her family. She turned down a title that would have been bestowed upon her for her skill in battle.This map shows how large China grew during the Ming Dynasty

Although the first versions of the legend date from the 6th century CE a later version of the book expanded on the original poem. It is no surprise that the poem was expanded on as it is quite short. The book was written and released during the late Ming Dynasty which lasted from 1368CE to 1644CE. This expanded version became quite popular and the story became a folk legend as well. One of the main reasons for this popularity was that it mentioned gender equity, something which few pieces of literature included at the time.

Disney is not the only company to have made a movie about Mulan. The character has also appeared in a number of other movies or has had characters named after her. Some of the movies were successful and others failed to attract interest at the box office.

The World’s First Tell-All Book: an Ancient Book Written for Mongol Royalty

By: The Scribe on May, 2011

The actions of Genghis Khan are well known to many people even though he died in 1227 An illustration of the Mongolian ruler Genghis KhanCE. He was known both as a brutal warrior and the builder of the Mongol Empire, an empire that was one of the largest in the ancient world. He was a man of contrasts. On one hand, he slaughtered entire civilizations and exacted brutal revenge on anyone who wronged or betrayed him. On the other hand, he was also known for uniting the Mongolian tribes and turning them into an efficient and deadly army. When he was not laying siege to his enemies, he worked on developing a unified Mongolian language and other elements of Mongolian culture.

Because of the mobile nature of the Mongolian people, there is not a lot of archaeological evidence left that can tell us about Genghis and his exploits. There was, however, one book that included many details about Genghis, his family history, and the activities that led to the creation and spread of the Mongol empire.

The book is titled The Secret History of the Mongols and it was written after the death of Genghis Khan in 1227 CE. The name of the author is unknown. The book was originally written for the Mongol royal family and was not intended to be read by anyone outside this family. It not only provides valuable information about the activities of Genghis it also serves as an excellent example of the Mongolian language. It is the earliest known work that was written in the Mongolian language.

The book is not strictly factual. It also contains a genealogy of the family that is more mythical than factual. There are other areas of the book that are more folklore than fact. It does, however, include valuable information about Genghis’ childhood, his rise to power and defeat of the other tribes, and the campaigns that he led outside of Mongolia. These included the conquest of China, the destruction of the Tangut Empire and the attacks that he led against Baghdad and ancient Russia.

A portion of text from The Secret Life of the MongolsThe book has served other purposes than as a source of historical information. It was also used by the Chinese as a way of teaching the spoken and written forms of the Mongolian language. There are no copies of the work that are written solely in Mongolian. Any copy that has been discovered has been a translation that included both Mongolian and Chinese characters.

The book has been translated into several modern languages including modern Mongolian, Russian and English. Translation has been difficult due to the fact that copies of the book became increasingly difficult to find. Translated portions of the book have also appeared in several other historical works.

Genghis Khan slaughtered millions of people during his lifetime, even members of his own family, in a bid to take over the world. Although very little archaeological evidence of the Mongol Empire can be found today, it likely would have pleased Genghis Khan to no end that his reputation and deeds live on, even if only in written form.

Lu Buwei- The Commoner Who Became Chancellor of China

By: The Scribe on March, 2011

In many ancient civilizations, your social position was set at birth. It was almost unheard ofA map showing the seven warring states of Ancient China for a commoner to ever achieve a position of importance in a royal court. When someone did, it usually sent ripples through society and was such a massive departure from what was normal that it often caused more problems than it solved. There have been some notable exceptions to this, such as Imhotep. This was a commoner who became so important in Ancient Egypt that not only was he depicted on artwork alongside a pharaoh, he was also deified in the years following his death in 2600 BCE.

In Ancient China, a similar situation arose in the form of Lu Buwei. He lived from 291 BCE to 235 BCE, during a period of time known as the Warring States Period. Although there were many states that were at war, the State of Qin managed to dominate the others and its ruler became the first Emperor of a unified China. Lu Buwei had started his life as a merchant but was able to attain the position of Chancellor of China, the highest ranking official in Imperial China. During the Qin Dynasty, which lasted from 221 BCE to 206 BCE, the Chancellor of China acted as the head of all of the civil service officials.

According to a biography of Lu Buwei, he had apparently managed to amass a lot of wealth as a travelling merchant. While travelling, he met Prince Yiren who had been sent to a rival state as a political hostage. It was Lu Buwei that managed to arrange for Yiren’s return to Qin where he was adopted as the heir of Lady Huayang, a concubine who had been promoted to the primary wife of the Kin of Qin. Yiren’s name was changed to Chu after his adoption as heir.

Lu Buwei had many people in his household. One was a dancing girl that was so beautiful that Chu became infatuated with her and took her as his courtesan. Her son Zheng would eventually become the first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang.

Lu Buwei, a merchant who became Chancellor of ChinaThere were many rumors that surrounded Lu Buwei. One was that he was the father of Qin Shi Huang and not Chu. This rumor followed Lu Buwei for quite some time and is still being passed on today. Another rumor was that he plotted with the Queen Dowager in order to permit her to carry on many illicit sexual relationships including one with a man by the name of Lao Ai. She became pregnant by Lao Ai and bore a son. A revolt took place in 238 BCE. This failed but as a result, Lao Ai was executed and Lu was banished to Shu.

In 235 BCE, Lu committed suicide rather than be executed by the Emperor. While he had lived, his scholars and officials had attained a lot of power within the court but this was all destroyed when Lu was exiled.

Lu Buwei is regarded in several different ways depending on whether you are studying Chinese or Western historical accounts. To the Chinese he helped bring about one of the worst events possible: the unification of China. To the West, he is seen as a wise counselor and a patron of both literature and culture.

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