Political Argumentation by Reciting Poems in the Spring and Autumn Period of Ancient China


This paper introduces the Generalized Argumentation Theory which takes argumentation as a locally rational socio-cultural interaction governed by social norms and carried out through discourse between the members of a socio-cultural community in order to reason things out. Then we bring in the basic structure of generalized argumentation and the localized procedure of Generalized Argumentation Theory for studying the argumentative rules (social norms). On the basis of above introduction, we use the localized procedure to analyze a case of political argumentation by reciting poems in ancient China. By doing so, it’s indicated that political argumentation by reciting poems, in essence, takes cultural principle of Li of the Spring and Autumn Period as argumentative rules and uses poems to express ideas, in virtue of which arguments are accepted as locally rational by the politicians at that time. At last, the Little Red Book quotation fight, a similar political activity, is discussed briefly to show the significance that ancient Chinese political argumentation has on contemporary argumentation.

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  1. 1.

    About reciting poems (赋诗), there is no agreement about its definition. The controversy is mainly on the distinctions of the sense among reciting poems, singing poems and chanting poems. (cf. Zeng 2018, pp. 2–4) It needs to be noted that not all poem-reciting activities are argumentative. Only those with argumentative functions are called political argumentation by reciting poems.

  2. 2.

    Then a question arises: how could cross-cultural communication be possible? This problem could be resolved through the Multi-cultural Fusion Theory (Ju 2012, 2020a). From this theory, through their communication, the members of different socio-cultural communities could build a common culture that is different from their original ones, but they can understand each other for some topics successfully in it. With Generalized Argumentation Theory, we could describe the locally rational argumentative rules in the common culture. However, this public culture doesn’t transcend those of the original ones and it is just another special culture.

  3. 3.

    The Zuo Zhuan (also the Zuo Chuen as the corresponding spelling in Wade–Giles romanization. In this paper, we adopt and adjust relevant expressions hereafter to the Chinese Pinyin romanization): the annals of Lu (鲁) history from 722 to 468 BC. It is divided according to the ruler’s name and the years the ruler reigns, for example, Duke Xiang 14th year (559 BC). It has recorded events that happened in the Zhou (周) court and its feudal states, for example, Lu, Qi (齐), Jin (晋), Zheng (郑), Wei (卫), Qin (秦), Chu (楚) etc., and the content is all-encompassing, and “primarily on political, diplomatic, and military affairs, and it contains considerable information on economic and cultural developments as well” (Watson 1989, p. xi). This book has exerted tremendous influence on later historiographers, as can be seen from Li Xue-qin’s remark “the Zuo Zhuan is the starting point and the basis for studying the history and culture of ancient China” (2009, p. 1).

  4. 4.

    For more information about the meaning of Li, see Xu (2001, pp. 36–44), Chang (2004, pp. 1–43), and Chen (2009, pp. 219–271).

  5. 5.

    Lu seaou is Wade–Giles romanization while Lu Xiao is the Chinese Pinyin romanization. Here in this paper, we mainly adopt the Chinese Pinyin romanization.

  6. 6.

    We selected Legge’s translation because we think his rendition is easier to the native English speakers, though we are conscious that there are some other translations, like Luo Zhi-ye also had published his translation in 2017.

    Ju and He (2014) carried out an analysis of the case. In this paper we take a different approach. The translation in the majority of the text comes from Legge (1991a) and there are three minor adaptions. The first one is the title of Duke Xian of Wei and Duke Ping of Jin. The original translation of Legge’s appeals to “marquis” as the title but it would cause confusion. The second adaption is replacement of “sing” with “recite” because we think that “recite” is more precise a translation. The third adaption is the replacement of the Wade–Giles romanization of the poems’ names with those of Chinese Pinyin romanization.

  7. 7.

    There are different ideas about how many stanzas this poem has. We agree that there are 5 stanzas rather than 4 stanzas (cf. Cheng and Jiang 1991, pp. 150–154).


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We are grateful to those who have helped us to improve the paper and also for the support of the National Social Science Fund of China (18ZDA033).

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Correspondence to Yang He.

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Ju, Se., Chen, Zx. & He, Y. Political Argumentation by Reciting Poems in the Spring and Autumn Period of Ancient China. Argumentation 35, 9–33 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10503-020-09527-x

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  • Generalized argumentation
  • Social norms
  • Political argumentation in ancient China
  • Local rationality
  • Cultural pluralism