ASHR Interview: Lucy Xing Lu on Chinese Rhetorical Traditions

In this latest ASHR interview, I speak to Dr. Lucy Xing Lu about her upcoming keynote at the ASHR Symposium on Diversity and Rhetorical traditions, as well as her past publications on Chinese rhetorical traditions. Dr. Lu received her PhD in Rhetoric and Communication from the University of Oregon. Lu’s academic interests include Chinese rhetoric, comparative rhetoric, intercultural/multicultural communication, language and culture, cultural identity, and Asian American communication.

Jordan Loveridge: Thank you for agreeing to this interview–I’m excited to get a sneak peek at your keynote before the Symposium itself. Before we get to that, though, can you tell me about how you became interested in the history of rhetoric? What initially drew you to the field?

Lucy Xing Lu: I become interested in the history of rhetoric when I was completing my doctoral program at the University of Oregon. I took a number of classes on the history of rhetoric and rhetorical theories from my professors. But after my first year in the program, I realized all we had read and learned in the readings were western rhetoric. Some scholars even claimed that rhetoric is only the property of the West. With curiosity and eagerness to find out if such claims were true, I began to read classical Chinese works and look for “Chinese rhetoric” or senses of rhetoric. I chose to do my dissertation on comparing ancient Chinese rhetoric and classical Greek rhetoric and later expanded it into a book titled Rhetoric in Ancient China, Fifth to Third Century B. C. E.: A Comparison with Greek Rhetoric published in 1998 by the University of South Carolina Press.

JL: Your keynote is titled “Contestation of Rhetoric within the Chinese Traditions: An Overview of Confucian Moralistic Rhetoric, Daoist Transcendental Rhetoric, and Mohist Utilitarian Rhetoric.” Could you tell our members a little about the talk? What is the main argument?

LXL: Sure. Within the Chinese rhetorical tradition, there are different schools of thoughts during the period of 500-200 B.C.E. Confucianism, Daoism, and Mohism are three major different philosophical schools. Each school addressed the use of language and the art of rhetoric from a different perspective. Confucian rhetoric placed more emphasis on being an ethical speaker. Only a moral person can speak morally, similar to Quintilian’s definition of rhetoric as “A good man speaking well.” Daoist rhetoric, on the other hand, treats rhetoric as a tool that leads to enlightenment. The ultimate goal of using rhetoric is to forget about rhetoric, but speaking spontaneously and harmoniously without engaging in contentious arguments with others. Mohist rhetoric believed in mutual love and mutual benefits, similar to the western notion of social contract. It gives a more practical outlook of life. My main argument is that Chinese rhetorical tradition is not monolithic. There are differentvoices and types of discourse on the conceptualization and practicesof rhetoric in the same time period. These different emphases on the functions of rhetoric provide alternative possibilities of human imagination and activities in various aspects of human life.

JL: Your talk certainly seems to align with your research from your first book. Yet, you have also published on many more contemporary topics. Could you tell us a bit more about your current research projects? Do they relate to or build from your previous work or your keynote, or are they focused on more recent periods?

LXL: My third book Rhetoric of Mao Zedong: Transforming China and Its People was published last year by the University of South Carolina Press. So I have studied Chinese rhetoric in the ancient time and in the contemporary time period. I’d like to study Chinese rhetoric during China’s Middle Ages period and rhetoric during the Republic of China (1911-1949). These projects will be a huge undertaking, but such works would give the western readers (as I will write them in English) a more complete sense of the history of Chinese rhetoric and how rhetoric of each period has influenced other time periods, how it has transformed society, and impacted ways of Chinese thinking and speaking. These projects could offer insights to the history of rhetoric for humanities in general and enrich multicultural rhetoric in particular. These projects will take a long time to complete and will definitely relate to my previous works

JL: These all sound like important and fascinating projects. As a scholar focused on the European Middle Ages, I’m especially interested in the projection you mentioned on China’s Middle Ages period. Given your work in so many areas, what advice would you give to a graduate student beginning work in the history of rhetoric?

LXL: The history of rhetoric is multifaceted and can be found in many traditions and cultural practices. Do not take existing theories and claims as the ultimate truth. Have the curiosity to challenge them. Go into historical and original texts for the interpretation of meanings rather than generating further bias or stereotypes of a culture based on other people’s works and claims. It’s always beneficial to be bilingual or have a co-author who speaks and reads the language and culture you are studying. Work hard and seek mentors or people who have done similar kind of work for support.

JL: Great advice! Finally, who is one of your favorite figures from the history of rhetoric?

LXL: I would say Plato who saw both the negative and positive aspects of rhetoric and who laid the foundation for rhetorical studies in the West. I also admire Zhuangzi, a Daoist philosopher, whose rhetoric is illuminating and filled with insights and wisdom for life.

About the Interviewer: Jordan Loveridge is Assistant Professor of Communication and English at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He earned his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Arizona State University, focusing specifically on medieval rhetorics. His work appears in venues such as Philosophy and Rhetoric, Community Literacy Journal, and Advances in the History of Rhetoric.