"people of the book"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Jun 16 08:53:43 UTC 2001

>Will's phrase and gloss are infelicitous. True, there _was_ a mandarin
>tradition in China. A meritocratic bureaucracy was established as early as
>the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC) and a civil service exam system was introduced
>during the Han (206 BC-AD 220) and Sui (581-618). But it would be silly to
>refer to the Chinese as people of the Mandarin tradition. People of the
>Confucian tradition is more like it.

This is what I thought at first reading too; surely there is no "Mandarin"
religious tradition.

On second thought, though, I think Mr. Will mentions "the Mandarin and
Talmudic traditions" not as analogous religious traditions but as
traditions which are similarly characterized by respect for erudition or
extensive reading (which apparently might get a man a good job as a
"mandarin" during some eras).

I suppose the alternative would be a tradition which would consider an
illiterate or marginally literate man to be a fine choice for a high
position (in government, etc.), or a tradition along the lines of
"Everything a man needs to know is in the Bible/Koran/Chairman's Little Red
Book/etc." Of course China is large and Asia even larger, so
generalizations are of limited applicability.

-- Doug Wilson

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