5,000 Years Collapse Like An Accordion (and reopen a little)

Take this analect from Confucius: “It can all be summed up in one phrase: ‘Swerve not from the right path.’”

China boasts 5,000 years of continuous civilisation, resulting in a body of thought which is both rich and deep, and yet retains an astonishing unity. While the history of the West is shot through with Dark Ages and Enlightenments, that of China is more like a single draught of air captured within the bellows of a giant accordion. Collapsing the bellows yields such essential aphorisms of Chinese philosophy as, “Swerve not from the right path”. To what great field or tiny detail of human life could this not be usefully applied?

All however is not so easy. You may have no intention of swerving from the right path, but as you start to reopen the bellows a little, a host of questions and incertitudes come flooding in as to what is the right path, and what swerving — ?

Take this analect, also from Confucius: “When housing his great tortoise, Tsang Wen-Chung had the capitals of the pillars carved in the shape of hills, and the rafter posts painted in duckweed design. What is one to think of his intelligence?”

I really don’t know. There’s no answer in the text. I’m at a loss. At risk of swerving.

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