The ongoing thoughts of an art teacher in China - and home in Sydney

A continuing diary about my travels in China, and thoughts about China and Chinese art from home and abroad

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Meditations on the Middle Kingdom

Inner courtyard, The Forbidden City, Photograph Luise Guest
Here is an interesting dialogue I found in an online manual for European/Chinese cultural cooperation called Europe China Cultural Compass:

Marcus Hernig (MH): "The term ‘Middle Kingdom’ evokes something mysterious. It
suggests a picture of the world that is different from what we know in the West. If a kingdom is situated in the middle, then all the other countries and regions of the world are situated around it. It creates a different global picture, a different geography, comparable to that of ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’ in the Middle Ages in Europe. Maps of that time show a world centred on Christianity, as represented by the holy city of God. Chinese maps show a world that is centred on the Middle Kingdom. Going back to the origins of the term Middle Kingdom, it can be seen much more objectively. Originally, the Middle Kingdoms (zhongguo) were small states close to the Yellow River in today’s provinces of Henan and Shaanxi, which formed the core of China’s archaic Zhou dynasty (1100-300 BCE). So it was the name for these small central states that later became used for the whole of China.

    Ye Fang ( YF) : "The Middle Kingdom can be understood as a name for a country or a geographical term, as Marcus puts it. But it also can be understood as a formula for the interaction between man and nature. I think the term includes something symbolic, something idealistic, even a kind of symbol of civilisation. ‘Middle’ is related to mediation. From my point of view, Chinese civilisation is a kind of mediation between a more metaphysical ideal of the world and the reality of earthly matter. So ‘middle’ is an interactive term between man and nature that can best be paraphrased as ‘harmony’. That is the world-view expressed by the Middle Kingdom. Middle in this sense also includes the idea of man imitating nature – also a process of harmony.

How interesting to think about how these notions of harmony and mediation then play out in Chinese art, both traditional and contemporary!

In the Forbidden City, Photograph Luise Guest