Good iron doesn't make nails; good men don't make soldiers.

Discuss literature (e.g. books, newspapers), educational studies (getting help or opinions on homework or an essay), and philosophy.

Good iron doesn't make nails; good men don't make soldiers.

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Wed Nov 12, 2008 2:28 am

During my studies in China, particularly the Material Culture in Imperial China course, I came across the idiom '好铁不打定,好汉不当兵' (meaning 'good iron isn't beaten into nails, and good men [汉 I think sometimes means 'real man' or 'manly man'] don't make soldiers'). I remember the lecture that it was the anti-militarist sentiment of the Song Dynasty (950-1250, roughly IIRC) and the peak influence of Buddhism which caused military service to be scorned as something only ne'er-do-wells take up, but I was wondering whether the expression had its roots deeper in Chinese history. In traditional Confucian / Mencian thought (again, IIRC), scholars of course were thought of as the most useful class, being the people responsible for maintaining and passing down the cultural works and traditions, followed by peasants (who produced food) and artisans (who produced basic goods of life) and merchants (who distributed food and basic goods), with the military at the bottom (since they produced nothing).

But this isn't exactly reflected in highly influential cultural works like the Sanguo Yanyi (though SGYY is obviously a later work), where military service and deeds of chivalry were glorified, and obviously good men (Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Liao, Pang De, Sun Ce etc.) came out of military service and often became generals. Also, looking at the history, it doesn't seem to have carried on any lasting pacifist or anti-militarist sentiment within China (either in the PRC or in the RoC). The thing is, the Chinese people I conversed with while I was in Beijing recognised the phrase, even if they didn't always (okay, closer to never) agree with it, so that says to me that it still has some cultural presence.

Anyway, thoughts on the origins and the lasting cultural influence of '好铁不打定,好汉不当兵'? This question's kind of been bugging me for awhile still.
Some more blood, Chekov. The needle won't hurt, Chekov. Take off your shirt, Chekov. Roll over, Chekov. Breathe deeply, Chekov. Blood sample, Chekov! Marrow sample, Chekov! Skin sample, Chekov! If I live long enough... I'm going to run out of samples.
User avatar
WeiWenDi
Hedgehog Emperor
 
Posts: 3832
Joined: Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:09 am
Location: L'Étoile du Nord

Re: Good iron doesn't make nails; good men don't make soldiers.

Unread postby Lady Wu » Wed Nov 12, 2008 4:38 am

Confucius was against militarism (he'd rather give up an army and food supplies if that means the people's trust can be kept--see the 人無信不立 line in the Analects) and against competitions (君子無所爭...). But he wasn't against training in martial arts, since archery was a standard subject that he taught his students. (Early Confucianists didn't really have a strict career "caste", but merchants were actually considered pretty low.)

All through the Qin and Han eras, a well-rounded person is skilled in both letters and in martial matters. In fact, certain reigns of Han emperors encouraged militarism, and you have people like Ban Chao who "threw down his brush to join the army" (投筆從戎).

Up through the Tang era, it's common for a upper-class gentleman to wear a sword.

It really is a shift in attitude in the Song era that denigrated military service and lifted up the scholarly life. Perhaps it is the relative stability and cultural strength in the early era that led to that kind of thinking. I don't know.

However, the pacifism of the Song must be balanced with the patriotic attitudes equally prevalent at the time. Su Shi (Su Dongpo) wrote 詞 verses that reflected a sense of military heroism. During the Southern Song, patriotic poets such as Xin Qiji wrote some quite military-minded verses.

Chinese people are generally pacifists when it comes to most things, believing that it's better to tolerate or just put up with something instead of causing a fuss and ruining social harmony. However, there is also a very strong patriotic sentiment (fanned by the government, of course), and that's basically the only place you see Chinese militarism.

I also wonder if the phrase really means "a good man doesn't suffer to work as a generic soldier", rather than "good men don't concern themselves with military affairs". Obviously, to make good nails (btw, it's 钉), you need good iron. But the quality of the iron is obscured when it's made into a nail. Similarly, by joining the army, a good man's virtues may be obscured because he'd just be cannon fodder (or whatever the equivalent is in ancient China). The Chinese don't mind being a general or someone with control over the military; they just mind being the one being commanded about fighting wars they don't understand and losing their lives in the process.
"Whatever you do, don't fall off the bridge! It'll be a pain to try to get back up again." - Private, DW 8
User avatar
Lady Wu
There's no better state than Wu
There's no better state than Wu
 
Posts: 12846
Joined: Mon Aug 26, 2002 2:35 am
Location: Wu-ere else?

Re: Good iron doesn't make nails; good men don't make soldiers.

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Wed Nov 12, 2008 4:23 pm

Lady Wu wrote:All through the Qin and Han eras, a well-rounded person is skilled in both letters and in martial matters. In fact, certain reigns of Han emperors encouraged militarism, and you have people like Ban Chao who "threw down his brush to join the army" (投筆從戎).


This doesn't sound too surprising. Though the Confucian scholars were once again welcome in the Han Dynasty, the contemporary art and culture seems to have maintained the militaristic motifs of Qin art (though obviously nowhere near as extravagant as the earthen warriors in Xi'an). The horse seems to have become a popular motif beginning with Han art, and it was often presented as a symbol of military might and prowess. Also, this seems to coincide, as you noted with the policies of aggressive expansionism and imperialism under certain emperors (such as Han Wu Di).

Lady Wu wrote:Up through the Tang era, it's common for a upper-class gentleman to wear a sword.

It really is a shift in attitude in the Song era that denigrated military service and lifted up the scholarly life. Perhaps it is the relative stability and cultural strength in the early era that led to that kind of thinking. I don't know.


Perhaps the anti-militarism of the Song was due in part to the destructive influence of the increasingly-autonomous and -corrupt jiedushi 節度使 in the later Tang Dynasty (like An Lushan)? I remember hearing that Song Taizu, once he had gained the imperial throne, requested his generals to retire so that they wouldn't be able to mount resistance against him as An Lushan had; it's possible that this was a contributing factor.

Lady Wu wrote:Chinese people are generally pacifists when it comes to most things, believing that it's better to tolerate or just put up with something instead of causing a fuss and ruining social harmony. However, there is also a very strong patriotic sentiment (fanned by the government, of course), and that's basically the only place you see Chinese militarism.

I also wonder if the phrase really means "a good man doesn't suffer to work as a generic soldier", rather than "good men don't concern themselves with military affairs". Obviously, to make good nails (btw, it's 钉), you need good iron. But the quality of the iron is obscured when it's made into a nail. Similarly, by joining the army, a good man's virtues may be obscured because he'd just be cannon fodder (or whatever the equivalent is in ancient China). The Chinese don't mind being a general or someone with control over the military; they just mind being the one being commanded about fighting wars they don't understand and losing their lives in the process.


哎哟! Damn me and my typos! And I copied it down twice! :oops:

The patriotism I definitely saw when I was in China, and it certainly seemed as though a couple of kids at the school I was at were thinking of becoming career officers (some others were in the CCP already). But one interpretation I heard about the pacifist part of it was that after the Cultural Revolution and the protests at Tian'anmen, revolution and 'causing a fuss' became kind of anathema even among activists who staged protests ('我们不找麻烦' is something I heard at times), not because they were afraid of the government in any particular but because they didn't want to see the same kind of civil disorder again.

It often appears to people in the United States that China is expansionistic and militaristic when it comes to regions like Tibet and Taiwan, but given that the Chinese think of both regions as being part of China, it's seen as an issue of domestic order - at the same time, the rhetoric used is not pacifistic.

That's a very interesting interpretation of the idiom, though. Certainly there was advancement and respect for career officers who performed well in Chinese society, even Song society. But then doesn't it really become just a class-based sentiment in that case, rather than an anti-militarist sentiment? Do you think that's the way it's generally interpreted now?
Some more blood, Chekov. The needle won't hurt, Chekov. Take off your shirt, Chekov. Roll over, Chekov. Breathe deeply, Chekov. Blood sample, Chekov! Marrow sample, Chekov! Skin sample, Chekov! If I live long enough... I'm going to run out of samples.
User avatar
WeiWenDi
Hedgehog Emperor
 
Posts: 3832
Joined: Mon Jan 28, 2008 12:09 am
Location: L'Étoile du Nord

Re: Good iron doesn't make nails; good men don't make soldie

Unread postby The Aristocrat » Fri Mar 08, 2013 1:44 am

Tibet and Taiwan are viewed as examples of China being militaristic only because there's so much propaganda about it in the west and in anti-Chinese organizations like the Falun Dafa or certain political parties in Taiwan and Tibet. (CIA funded Dalai Lama is the chief one in Tibet) All those self-immolations and what not you see in the papers or hear about here and there are created by these factions and/or actual extremists that haven't moved on from the Cultural Revolution disaster and early CCP bungles that are now understood by the contemporary generation as an aging and paranoid Chairman Mao and the corrupt powerhungry officials around him making stupid and selfish decisions. (see Gang of Four) After Chairman Deng there's been a 10 year rule about the top guys in office so this doesn't happen again. Also Chairman Mao was a crazy warlord that kinda pulled a Caesar after winning the revolution.

Thanks to these unnecessary incidents, you have the need for policing in these regions that can escalate to extreme levels like the Dalai Lama employed monks attacking a town in Lhasa and having propaganda media pin it on local police when they arrived to handle the situation. You'll notice several shots of "police brutality" are repeating and usually of an officer detaining a rioter/monk. On the blogs in China it's been brought to attention that some shots are actually fakes made by actors dressed in police and monk uniform. They say the telltale sign is that the background doesn't match with their placement in the photos or that the props used can be picked out from the real mccoy. Btw that blogs exist where Chinese people can openly talk about politics and weigh in on China and all the other countries of the world disproves the Western propaganda that Chinese people are "brainwashed by the government". Ask any of them. They're the loudest critics of the CCP.

The situation with Taiwan is no surprise either as long as you read up on the actual events and not the propaganda. At the time Chairman Mao decided that as old war buddies with Chiang Kaishek when fighting Japan he would give the general leeway to save face and "exiled" him and the KMT to the island of Taiwan. It was decided that China could deal with that mess after bringing the country back to normal by regaining control over the occupied territories of European and American Imperialism and consolidating power back in Beijing under the thereafter named PRC. But after all that was done Chairman Mao and the CCP had other problems. America in both Korea and Vietnam thanks to the ridiculous McCarthyism and Red Scare period and the Sino-Soviet split and India trying to scavenge territory after Europe vacated from west China and then Vietnam again with Cambodia etc etc there's such a long list of dirty laundry. But through that period Chiang Kaishek didn't feel the same way about Chairman Mao or the CCP and didn't care that they were being given time to cool off in Taiwan. Instead Chiang came up with a big and noisy "Reclaim the Mainland" kick and even made Taiwan's national anthem about rolling with the punches and blossoming in the worst conditions. (see 梅花) So then as the CCP finally had some freedom to take on the KMT again Chiang got it all messed up with I'm estimating 5+ conflicts. This got even worse when America and the UN decided to get involved on the KMT's side calling the ROC the official "China" and supporting all these horrible campaigns against the mainland that widened the split even more. It wasn't until the 70s that the UN finally gave up and realized funding a lunatic in a insane campaign to "reclaim" something he lost over 20 yrs ago was costly and uneconomical. China was doing great with or without Taiwan... and Hong Kong... and Macau. Tbh most of the GDP in China is still generated by East China. Europe wasn't going to waste any more time on this so they finally made China the official China and stopped recognizing the ROC for the most part. Of course that didn't stop America and now the anti-China factions from keeping it going that China is "bullying" Taiwan...and Tibet... and Xinjiang... and Hong Kong... and Japan for some reason... and the Philippes for some reason... and Vietnam and so on and so forth. Oh and America. lol The currency thing. These days even Taiwan thinks its a ridiculous smear campaign. The current President is on very good terms with the mainland and the average Taiwanese doesn't buy into the campaigns. There was a "news" network that used to be there funded by the Falun Dafa and other anti-China factions that Taiwan has since rejected. It is still available on DTV in America.

With that being said China has a culture unlike most dominant cultures in the world in that it mostly frowns upon military and violent activities. Sports used to be viewed in a similarly negative fashion until the CCP decided to invest more in it and funneled sports seasons and olympics broadcasting freely. I only guess this part but I kinda have the idea it was done to prepare for the 2008 Beijing Olympics so that there would be a decent audience. That said China isn't one to turn the other cheek in life threatening situations either as can be seen from the rejection of Western imperialism, the Chinese Revolution, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. I can't remember the proverb/idiom (sorry don't know which term fits it best) off the top of my head but there's something about fighting only when it is absolutely unavoidable and to fight harshly so that the enemy can't attack you again. The obvious goal here is that if you don't fight until you really have to and that when you have to you beat them back enough so they can't fight back then you will maintain peace for as long as possible. This can be seen today in all the UN meeting China's been in where it is against American "War on Terror" campaigns against countries that only might be a threat and only might be a threat in some murky future event (see Olympus Has Fallen lol) and in its treatment of North Korea where it denounces Korea's nuclear testing but will not agree to military intervention by the UN/USA/South Korea and will not agree to cutting off support for it. It can also be seen in how it is handling the Japanese neo-imperialism against Russia and Korea and itself with the island disputes how it is passively defending its Diaoyu islands and even squashing the riots of its citizens and that of the diaspora. Meanwhile Russia is building anti-Japanese propaganda and Korea is boycotting their goods. You had that one Korean who cut himself in an act to remind people of Japanese war crimes in WWII.

I also think Lady Wu's right that the phrase is about wasting the potential of a 好汉 which just means a good person (doesn't have to be "manly" or "real." For that it's usually 大男人 or 大丈夫. The big in those terms actually means more like grand or worthy so its like a real man or a man's man etc) Most scholarly people in China will say this to children or adolescents because they want them to strive to be a 好汉 and do something useful when they grow up by studying well and educating themselves. Being part of the military or doing physical labors is considered petty work in China and left to those who have alot of physical power but not enough discipline for studies. Of course those guys are also taught to be 好汉 but up to their potential being a good soldier or doing a good job in their field (police, construction worker etc) For that purpose China actually uses its military for alot of "menial" work like building bridges in rural areas and damming up overflows so construction crews can build a more permanent dam and helping with recovery after storms and earthquakes. That way the soldiers that in other countries are usually only used for war and training sessions can feel they are helping the community constructively. It is a humble phrase for martial artists to say that they only know how to fight and have the discipline in fighting but it is the learned or scholarly people that know how to change the world. Jet Li actually says something like this but in word for word detail in the movie Fearless. (see 霍元甲)

You can find another example (aren't I chocked full of these tonight? lol sorry for the long message) in media. Movies, TV, programs in China depict a cast of characters that deal with problems diplomatically or by talking and solving issues. Think about the blockbusters from hollywood, most shows on TV, a few of the programs on TV and think about how many of them show violence. Every superhero movie and tv show you can think of has to have violence and the superheroes solve almost everything with fighting and big eye catching explosions. TV dramas almost always have scenes of characters getting into fights or dealing with a crime. The violence is a staple of most entertainment that the shows just wouldn't be popular without. Can you imagine watching The Dark Knight without the guns brawling and Bale kicking all kinds of ass? Or how about watching a drama where the most intense a scene ever got was 1 stray punch? But in China that is the majority. One of the most popular new movies out in China today is about a cop trying to find his lost gun. You'd think it'd be littered with violence right? But the only violent scene in the whole movie is at the end when the guy who stole his gun mistakenly shoots him in the shoulder thinking he was somebody else. Sure enough he gets arrested and the movie ends like that. Besides that the only intense scenes are of the cop getting antsy with his suspects and verbally intimidating them. You have whole shows in China 40+ episodes long and the only scene of violence is an off camera knockout punch one time.
The Aristocrat
Tyro
 
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Mar 08, 2013 12:23 am

Re: Good iron doesn't make nails; good men don't make soldie

Unread postby Lady Wu » Fri Mar 15, 2013 6:26 pm

The Aristocrat wrote:You can find another example (aren't I chocked full of these tonight? lol sorry for the long message) in media. Movies, TV, programs in China depict a cast of characters that deal with problems diplomatically or by talking and solving issues. <snip> You have whole shows in China 40+ episodes long and the only scene of violence is an off camera knockout punch one time.

Honestly I think that has less to do with general Chinese attitudes towards violence, and more with the existence of the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (广电), the censorship board concerned with promoting "positive ideology and culture". There is a Chinese market for violence-ridden American shows, but it's just that they'd never make it past the SARFT for fear that it'd give people ideas to cause social unrest.

PS: Also I know I'm way too old for this, but I just realized that SARFT unscrambles to make FARTS. :pika:
"Whatever you do, don't fall off the bridge! It'll be a pain to try to get back up again." - Private, DW 8
User avatar
Lady Wu
There's no better state than Wu
There's no better state than Wu
 
Posts: 12846
Joined: Mon Aug 26, 2002 2:35 am
Location: Wu-ere else?

Re: Good iron doesn't make nails; good men don't make soldie

Unread postby The Aristocrat » Wed Mar 20, 2013 12:28 am

You also don't find too many real life examples of gratuitous violence in the society so I feel it reflects into the type of shows that get produced and not the other way around. I don't think the board has anything to do with it. They've tried violence in programs in China. They usually get panned by viewers for being ridiculous. I mean unless its a martial arts flick or Sun Wukong. :lol:
The Aristocrat
Tyro
 
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Mar 08, 2013 12:23 am


Return to Literature, Academics, and Philosophy

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Baidu [Spider] and 1 guest

Copyright © 2002–2008 Kongming’s Archives. All Rights Reserved