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According to a WeChat post of a university professor ( you might search WeChat account: 容膝斋南窗 if you are interested ) I read recently, 从公元元年到公元1500年,封建和帝国是中国与欧洲的社会形态,“封建”只属于欧洲,“帝国”只属于中国。但不知是什么专家的无知,把封建的帽子扣在了具有经典“中央集权制”特点的中国身上---殊不知这二者如“雌雄”一般对立,最搞笑和荒唐的就是那个“高度中央集权制的封建社会”,如同是在说“一头完全公牛的母牛”,同时又把帝国和欧洲的empire扯到了一起,岂不知这二者也是风马牛不相及。

So what does 封建mean? Does this post make any sense?

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  • this post sounds unreasonable to me. In the long history of China, centralization was not always the case. Just look at the Spring and Autumn Warring States period. The emperors were in name only, they had no power whatsoever for hundreds of years
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Apr 28 at 9:43
  • An empire is a country that has power over independent vassal countries. Fiefs are minor states within a kingdom, granted by the ruler, mostly to his kins. I don't see how an empire cannot have fiefs
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Apr 28 at 10:05
  • @TangHo even the modern chinese government, prior to the shake up of the nineties, had far less centralized power with far more power in the individual provinces and tiers. This statement from we chat defintiely seems like the kind of thing that gets forwarded by people with no understanding, or maybe it is taken grossly out of context like many quotes.
    – zagrycha
    Commented Apr 28 at 17:36
  • @TangHo The WeChat post talks about the period between 0-1500AD, excluding the period of the Spring and Autumn you mentioned above, and according to the history of the country if you have read it carefully, the Chinese emperors are powerful, it is a rule than exception. Commented Apr 29 at 1:53
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    There are really two questions: one about translation and one about history / past political systems. The former is easy: 封建 is used to translate "feudalism" (and vice versa). The latter is hard. What exactly constitutes "feudalism" and which societies at which points in time do/don't count as feudal is incredibly contentious. It's hard to generalize over 1000+ years of either European or Chinese history much less both at the same time. Commented Apr 30 at 20:08

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在中国与西方,一直都存在对“封建”一词内涵、所指方面的差别。在西方,我们借由马克思的一些论述可以看出,这一“封建”通常是指自中世纪发展起来的国家、文化、社会的一种属性。例如“封建社会”,它通常是指,人被严格按照一种身份制度分别清楚——进而确立了其社会地位——的社会。并且这种社会在形式上是趋向分散的——我们可以从在西方一直保持高位存在的个人的自由思想看出。而在中国,我们可以看到,数千年的历史中,中国的封建制度经历了分散与集中两种属性的不曾间断的相互角逐。在中国,有夏商周时期的分封分散(部落联盟时期的延续),也有秦及之后王朝的对适当的中央集权的追求(适当地提一下,唐王朝末期,藩镇割据、节度使叛乱,也可以视作一种中央与地方的关于集中与分散的矛盾的激烈化)。此时,虽然中国的“封建”也被用来指一种属性,但它显然不能直接套用西方的定义、西方的内涵。

当该词负担了两种似乎冲突起来的含义时,它便会在独立的情况下仅保持一种可以使得这两种含义共存的状态,也就是在不存在任何相关上下文、语境、前提的时候,它只会表现出西方与中国对该词的解释的交集。而这一交集我们看到,它应该是“依赖身份制度”。

无论是西方的各种封侯封爵,还是中国的阴功与世袭官僚——而至皇帝的“至万世而为君”,都表现出了其社会、国家对先天身份的依赖,其文化也都表现出了这一依赖(主流文化往往是倾于保守的)。

而当前提出现,它所包含的某一者就会被削弱,而另一者则会因此得到外在的显现。这也就是为什么我们在谈及中国的封建时,会存在一种“自然而然”的合理,这实际上是因为我们在知晓“中国”这一前提时,“封建”一词得到了不露于表的解释。

那么这一截取的文段中所表达的反对意见究竟如何呢?就我个人角度而言,它并不成立。因为从其内容来看,其实际上是强行将西方的“封建”建构在中国者上了,也因此,我们倒也可以看到“一头完全公牛的母牛”那般的“奇观”。只可惜,这种“奇观”本身是建立在一种依赖语言的错误之上。通过将西方的“封建”固着在“封建”之中,来抹杀了本应出现的中国的“封建”,而又在语言中淡化“西方”这一前提,使得“封建”的西式模样更为合理。我们完全可以说,得到结论的过程是正确的,但前提出现了错误。

以上便是我对该问题的个人的看法与意见,希望可以对你有所帮助。 ——————————————————————

以下为机器翻译结果,仅删去或修改了部分翻译错误,如有与中文原文差异者,还请见谅。 The following is a machine translation, where some errors have been removed or corrected, but there may still be differences from the original Chinese text.

————————————————————

In China and the West, there have always been differences in the connotation and referent of the word "feudal". In the West, we can see from some of Marx's expositions that this "feudalism" usually refers to an attribute of the state, culture, and society that has developed since the Middle Ages. For example, "feudal society" usually refers to a society in which people are clearly separated – and thus their social status – according to a strict identity system. And this kind of society tends to be formally decentralized—we can see it in the liberal thinking of individuals who have always maintained a high position in the West. In China, we can see that in thousands of years of history, China's feudal system has experienced an uninterrupted competition between the two attributes of dispersion and centralization. In China, there was the fragmentation and dispersion of the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties (a continuation of the tribal alliance period), as well as the Qin and later dynasties' quest for proper centralization of power . So, although "feudalism" in China is also used to refer to an attribute, it obviously cannot directly apply the Western definition and connotation.

When the word is burdened with two meanings that seem to be in conflict, it will only maintain a state in which the two meanings can coexist in an independent situation, that is, in the absence of any relevant context, context, or premise, it will only show the intersection of Western and Chinese interpretations of the word. And at this intersection we see that it should be "dependent on the identity system".

Whether it is the various marquis titles in the West, or the yin gong and hereditary bureaucracy in China, and the emperor's "king for all generations", they all show the dependence of their society and the state on their innate identity, and their culture also shows this dependence (the mainstream culture tends to be conservative).

And when the present mentions arise, one of its contents is weakened, and the other is thus manifested outwardly. This is why there is a "natural" rationality when we talk about feudalism in China, which is actually explained in an non-figurative way when we know the premise of "China".

So what is the objection expressed in this excerpt? As far as I am concerned, it is not set up. Because judging from its content, it is actually forcibly building the "feudal" of the West on the Chinese, and therefore, we can also see the "wonder" of "a cow that is completely bull". It's just a pity that this "spectacle" itself is built on a mistake that relies on language. By fixing the "feudalism" of the West in the "feudalism", the "feudalism" of China that should have appeared is erased, and the premise of "Western" is diluted in the language, which makes the Western-style appearance of "feudalism" more reasonable. We can safely say that the process of reaching the conclusion was correct, but the premise was wrong.

The above are my personal views and opinions on this issue, I hope it can be helpful to you.

_____________________________补充:

在反视前文后,注意到了有一些内容并没有说得太清楚,故而补充如下。

一. 语言并非是一成不变的,或者说,说某某语言的人并不是一成不变的。如果我们否决了一种对某某词组的后来的补充、修改,那么实际上我们就是在拿一种僵化的眼光看待某某学科的话语体系的重要组成部分之一。

二. 中国始终存在一定程度上的分封与被分封的关系,只是根据具体的中央政府的政策不同,受分封者的称呼也可能不同。

三. 根据这种源于分封系统的相似性,我们形成了对“封建”一词新的语义补充的逻辑过程。就像是有西方学者认为现代资本主义亦有部分封建主义残余一样,“封建”的初始含义以这种必过去者的最后的延续的形式保留在了后来的“封建”含义之中(并且如果没有这种延续,后来的含义也就不成“封建”)。

————————————————————————————————————2024/5/1 补充:

历代王朝对“分封”的需要是与其政治体制紧密相关的。详述之,就是,因为他们的统治是在原始的“封建制”(夏商周)的基础上发展起来的,所以他们才必不可少地主动地去维护一种身份制度。这种身份制度无比坚决地维护着皇帝的统治,因为皇帝(这一身份)本就是一种被社会广泛认为是至高的身份。

所以,柳宗元才会敏锐地看到了分封制度的必然灭亡,与郡县制的未来,——这一点在中国的历史上表现得无比明确。但是,柳宗元并没有意识到摧毁封建制度到底要从何而起(纵使他是因之而看到了一种灭亡)。在他的这篇文章中,柳宗元隐约地将郡县与分封的矛盾与皇权政治相分离,(可能)无意地暗含了为皇权开脱的意思。而从历史看来,在1911年的辛亥革命之后,自夏以来而至满清的存在的分封被在法的合理性上被消灭了部分,但由于封建的文化和经济结构在中国依然占据很大的力量,所以直到1949年的革命的解放战争基本完成后,封建制度才可以说是被消灭了大部(例如在民国时期依然存在的土司制度在新中国成立后被消灭了)。

所以消灭分封制度的根本在于基础结构的关键性调整,进而要求对上层结构以改变。从这一角度出发,封建制度如果仅以原有概念来看(即分封制),依然是可以在中国封建统治时期的中央集权阶段中被发现(在柳文中也可以找到),而在揭示了皇权政治与分封的关系后,我们更应该接受对封建含义的扩展:即是,在中国语境下,“封建制度”应当是一种基于皇权、君权、先天身份的制度,而“封建”也便演化为了君主统治的代名词。我们也可以很轻易地看出今义与古义的亲缘关系、西义与中义的相似之处。

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  • Thanks for the wonderful insight. I am now trying to comprehend the essay entitled 封建论 authored by 柳宗元 and will make a comparison of you two later on if possible. Commented May 1 at 2:16
  • @NanningYouth :D
    – Ro Ruan
    Commented May 1 at 3:50
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封建 means feudal. As in 'feudal systems'. This is a very abstract text describing political systems. It tries to tell concepts of 'feudal' and 'imperial' apart.

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封 and 建 are two separate words and each has its own individual meaning. Because they are often used together, people think this is a standalone phrase, which is not true.

【說文】爵諸侯之土也。从之从土从寸。

【說文】(On Words and Phrases) is an ancient Chinese dictionary/thesaurus and was written about two thousand years ago in Han Dynasty. This is an explanation to the word 封, which says it means to bestow land on nobles. On the left side of the word, there are two 土 (land). The right side of the word is 寸, which is a length unit. In modern definition, it is approximately one inch.

There are other additional explanations to this word and we don't want to get too academic here.

建, 【說文】立朝律也。

The explanation in On Words and Phrases here has only one meaning. It says 建 is to establish laws and regulations.

Actually the word 建 is also formed from two words, the left part is 廴, which means long walk. The right side is the right side of the word 律 (law). The lord, who just received the land, surveys it to determine its boundaries and then establishes laws for effective rule of the land.

Thus the reason why these two words almost always go together is clear. After a piece of land is bestowed to a duke, earl, or other noble by the king, a state is to be established. One of the first things in establishing a state is to create laws.

The criticism quoted in the question is correct. Empires don't allow independent states to exist in their territories. The first empire of China was the Qin Dynasty, which completely destroyed the states and created provinces instead. The governers of the provinces reported to the emperor and were not heads of states. After Qin, in the early years of Han, some of the earlier states were restored. But quickly these states were again abolished and some existed in name only. After that, for over two thousand years, China has always been an empire (when united, for almost half of the time, China was divided). Thus it is wrong to apply the phrase 封建 to imperial China.

Later in each dynasty, the titles of duke, earl, count, etc. were bestowed to key government officials as the most prestigious rewards for their services in either establishing or running the empire. The owners of these titles didn't own land but they were allowed to keep the taxes. So basically it was a form of generous monetary reward. Interestingly the titles often have the word 囯 (state) in the full names of the titles.

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对于您的这个问题,也许要分成几个方面和层次。

第一,“封建”这个词在中国古时候有没有?是什么意思。(大部分汉语词汇没有完整的定义,一般是用字义来推测。)

第二,“封建”这个词的英文和其他西方语言对应的(翻译成为)是哪个词。是谁第一个这样翻译的?(是不是日本学者?)

第三,西方历史的“封建”和中国历史的“封建”是不是同一个意思?(这是本问题引用的文章的意思)

第四,中国大陆的“封建”概念是不是套用马克思主义里面对西方历史的论述?(你和固定意识形态的人讲逻辑,永远会输。)

严格来说,这个问题已经远远超出汉语学习和翻译的范围。我不是很懂历史和政治的话题。

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  • Language cannot be without the culture and other related areas or it cannot exist in a vacuum. As you know, almost all Chinese college students of English language major often read or are required to read The Economist magazine and The New York Times newspaper, on which the important exams they take like CET-6, TEM-4,TEM-8, Catti, ILETS are based. Commented May 2 at 2:21

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