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The article in question discusses the contribution to Sinology made by Catherine Bell. The author chooses to focus on her work devoted to the relationship between religions in China and the development of printing technology. The author singles out Bell’s main thesis on the subject: the fact that printing technology contributed to the spread of religion in China and that it also led to slower development of the religious tradition.
The first argument Robson makes is that the advent of printing technology should not lead to an assumption that the practice of manuscript copying was abandoned. The author explains it by suggesting that despite the possibility of printing, many books were distributed as manuscripts due to certain historical and cultural factors. Moreover, printing technology was rather costly. The art of calligraphy was one of the factors that contributed to limited book printing.
Overall, Robson emphasizes Bell’s thesis about manuscripts retaining a special status despite the development of printing technology. Robson supports that statement by pointing out that the most important discoveries in Chinese studies were made due to the unearthing of certain manuscripts. The religious meaning attached to handwritten books was also significant, as the most crucial handwritten documents were placed inside the statues. Robson postulates that the practice of placing the manuscripts inside the statues was so widespread that it is possible to treat these statues as manuscript archives. Bell calls this practice a “routine and ubiquitous ritual”, which strengthens Robson’s argument.
Why manuscripts persisted at the time when printing technology was increasingly widespread? The definitive answer is yet to be determined. Robson outlines positive and negative reasons for keeping manuscripts in certain statues. A cosmic significance of written speech that is superior to oral speech in Chinese tradition is among the positive reasons.
Robson emphasizes that this aspect is one of the driving forces of Bell’s work. Religious manuscripts served as a medium of communication between the spiritual world and the human world. The distribution of printed religious manuscripts and their influence on the development of Chinese culture should be subject to further study. By providing an example of sectarian texts that combined printed and handwritten content, Bell indicates that the possession of these texts was considered a privilege and a symbol of authority.
Thus, the negative reason for keeping manuscripts in statues is related to the government’s efforts to control the religious movements, thereby stifling the development of religious traditions in China. Robson points out that this was the principal reason for continuing the tradition of manuscript handwriting (Robson 339). The author concludes by drawing attention to Bell’s unfinished work on the manuscripts as not only reflections of Chinese culture and tradition but also as the factors of change that determined the direction of cultural development.
Sources, Methods, and Theories
The article is written in an academic context, aimed at drawing the attention of fellow scholars to Bell’s work in the field of Sinology. Robson employs exemplar reasoning, providing specific examples to support the central claim. The evidence provided by the author is of a historical and literary character, coming from scientific sources, i.e. the works of several respected Sinologists. Catherine Bell’s work regarding the manuscript culture constitutes the primary evidence.
Robson uses several concepts to characterize the evidence and prove his claims, such as manuscript culture, manuscript archive, sectarian scriptures, consecration certificates, and talismans, with the last two terms referring to the practice of storing handwritten religious manuscripts in certain statues, as well as to their cultural and religious significance in Chinese culture.
Robson characterizes the manuscript culture and its relationship with the printing technology through the prism of Catherine Bell’s work. The author provides evidence supporting the claim that printing technology both contributed to the spread of religion and stifled the development of religious movements in China. Robson concludes by emphasizing that Bell’s insights should be used as a basis for further research of manuscript culture in China.
Robson, James. “Brushes with Some “Dirty Truths”: Handwritten Manuscripts and Religion in China.” History of Religions 51.4 (2012): 317-343. Print.