A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

A Hybrid Discourse: Confucius Meets Booth in the Rhetorical Borderlands

Brent Lucia, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

(Published January 26, 2017)

Within many multicultural classrooms, instructors create spaces of togetherness-in-difference, blending the discursive fields of disparate people. Since these differences now take place on a global scale, American classrooms ask students to negotiate their identities with the Other more consistently. As our field continues to make a global turn in its recognition of diversity and globalization, we should acknowledge that our academic community has been moving outside of the “white European American” majority for quite some time now. We should also, as Claude Hurlbert argues, develop a vision for writing instruction that recognizes variety, multiplicity, and difference as well as similarity and harmony, if we want to maintain a voice of authority as writing instructors (43).

In this article, I want to explore what such a vision might look like by turning to comparative rhetoric and its ethical and dialogical approach to cross-cultural rhetorics. In recent years the word “compare” has been reexamined for the sake of improving our border-crossing techniques. A performative understanding of comparison is not meant to establish binaries to Euro-American rhetorical practices but rather to promote analysis and discursive practices that are unrestricted to Western rhetorics (Mao, “Introduction: Bring it On” 240). In comparing, we are making an attempt to construct the Other on their terms, yet we are also searching for intersectionalities that can broaden our notion of rhetorical practices outside of our national boundaries. In addition, through comparing, we are attempting to break away from the ideological constraints of Western traditions, enacting an agenda that acknowledges a multidimensional sense of diversity as its core value (Royster and Kirsh 112).  

Doing comparative rhetoric, as I aim to show in this article, can be an especially useful exercise in helping to construct new opportunities for Western academic pedagogy in the midst of our global turn. Working with this larger goal in mind, I compare two different rhetorical traditions in search of a hybrid academic discourse that questions the differences between academic discourse and a student’s home discourse(s). This hybrid discourse, which often looks outside Western traditions and invites us into non-Western discursive practices (Mao, “Re-Clustering Traditional” 116), hopes to empower the voices that have been discredited by the dominant discourse, many of which reside outside the American worldview. In cultivating such a hybrid discourse, we can learn to construct pedagogical approaches that not only enable students to develop meaning-making processes that work in and outside the Western academic discourse but also promote cultural understanding among our students.

Working with Eastern and Western rhetorical traditions, I first pull from Confucian rhetoric and share elements of his philosophy that both challenge and relate to Western rhetorical scholarship. Next, I compare Confucius’s rhetorical strategies to those argued by Western scholar Wayne C. Booth in order to build both connections and divisions between Eastern and Western rhetorical practices. In doing so, I hope to showcase a comparative process that illuminates togetherness-in-difference. I am specifically interested in exploring how Confucian discourse can help us reexamine dominant discourses and generate a more diverse pedagogical approach to our composition classrooms. By relocating ourselves in time, space, and culture in Confucian thought, we can seek to center ourselves within the shifting nature of our own academic discourse (Mao, “Re-Clustering Traditional” 116). In this process of relocating, we can also develop new and inclusive pedagogical practices that diversify our understanding of persuasion and help promote cultural co-existence.

Opportunities within Translingualism

We have seen such hybrid discourses similar to the one I am proposing take shape in translingual studies because of the discipline’s belief that language difference can function as a resource for producing meaning. Translingualism embraces language differences and questions language practices more generally, calling for more critical attention to how writers develop syntax, style, diction, and form, noting that deviations from the dominant standards need not be understood or assessed as errors (Horner et al. 304). As Trimbur has argued, language norms are actually heterogeneous, fluid and negotiable, “directly countering demands that writers must conform to fixed, uniform standards” (Lu and Horner, 304). In response to increasing diversity in the classroom, translingualism has encouraged movement across language and modes, removing the fidelity to static forms of genre and grammar.

Such work with translingualism has been very beneficial for developing pedagogies that respect linguistic and cultural complexities. In the January 2016 edition of College English, for instance, John Trimbur argues that translingualism has pushed composition instructors to see student writing not solely as an attempt to invent the university but as a practice that operates as a transculturation, drawing on a writer’s linguistic and rhetorical resources (Trimbur 225). Trimbur states that we are all students, writers, and teachers, constantly negotiating multiple languages and writing conventions. One of the greatest contributions translinguists can make is to “dismantle these divisions and the pernicious judgments about language differences and about the differences between people they have rested on” (Trimbur 226). Such focus on negotiation has been at the forefront of Suresh Canagarajah’s work on translingual literacy as well. In “Negotiating Translingual Literacy: An Enactment,” Canagarajah argues for implementing awareness-raising activities in the classroom to help negotiate home and academic cultures through metacognitive development. In recognizing the importance of collaborative meaning making, Canagarajah deployed literacy autobiography when teaching second language writing in order to build students’ reflective awareness of their writing as they read and discussed assigned texts (“Negotiating Translingual Literacy” 46). Literacy autobiography accommodates different rhetorics and voices within the same text, allowing students to negotiate between their home and academic languages; it promoted code-meshing techniques that developed language awareness and rhetorical sensibility. Canagarajah argues that such dialogical pedagogies should broaden teachers’ notions of how they assess writing, noting that “teachers should think of themselves as facilitators of the types of negotiations students should undertake for their voice, not models or authorities” (“Blessed in my own way” 137).      

In noting the success of his work with literacy autobiography, Canagarajah acknowledges that being a multilingual speaker and a translingual writer himself encouraged code-meshing practices in his classroom (“Negotiating Translingual Literacy” 46). The facilitation for which he advocates thus may be easier for teachers who are translingual speakers and writers. Other instructors may find it difficult to break free from the dominant academic discourse that influences our conventional pedagogical models. Yet, while all teachers may not be equipped with translingual literacies, instructors can still become sensitive to the various rhetorical backgrounds that students bring to the classroom. Instructors can especially encourage cross-cultural literacy by representing alternative rhetorical practices within their own pedagogical models, loosening their position as authorities of the dominate discourse, and embracing rhetorical bordercrossing within their own education materials. Especially considering that translingualism argues for differences within the writing classroom, scholars can also, as Trimbur suggests, re-envision their pedagogical approach by creating space for the “rhetorical resources” students bring to the classroom.

The comparative approach I suggest is useful in promoting transrhetorical practices and helping teachers facilitate literacy negotiations. While translingualism currently attempts to respond to the cross-cultural spaces forming within academic communities, it gives insufficient attention to the rhetorical construction that takes shape within these contexts (Wang, “Transrhetorical Practice” 248). A broader comparative rhetoric approach should be considered; such an approach can better cultivate a hybrid discourse to promote cultural understanding and identity construction within the classroom. Such arguments have been championed by Bo Wang, who proposes a “transrhetorical” approach that includes interconnected discursive activities which reframe Western theories and concepts (Wang, “Transrhetorical Practice” 248). She argues that such discursive crossing of national borders can move us away from hegemonic representations of the Other, recovering the discursive activities of those who have become suppressed by the dominate academic discourse (Wang, “Transrhetorical Practice” 248). In locating both interconnected and opposing discursive activities within two cultures, transrhetorical practice seeks to find value between two different discourses. This focus on discursive fields doesn’t simply examine semantics but rather emphasizes the meaning beyond any predetermined situation. Within a diverse space, students are bringing more than different semantic networks; they are also bringing ways of knowing that have been shaped by their respective communities. A hybrid discourse influenced by Wang’s notion of a transrhetorical practice can help take into account the broader discursive activities that are being brought into these culturally complex spaces. A hybrid discourse can also help students and teachers recognize that the dominant Western discourse is just one of many ways to construct knowledge.

To demonstrate how a hybrid discourse might be utilized within the classroom to reveal how language produces different ways of knowing, I turn now to the work of Confucius and Booth. I compare these two scholars to highlight how different rhetorical strategies create different composition strategies. In what follows, I engage Confucian and Boothian rhetoric before elucidating the implications each has for the composition classroom.

Confucius and Ritual Action

Said to be born in 551 B.C., Confucius was an educator, thinker, and political figure in China who helped devise the Ru School of Chinese thought. His teachings, which were preserved and written down years after his death, would later become the cornerstone of Chinese imperial philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Many of his teachings are preserved in the Analects, a collection of his sayings and ideas constructed by his disciples. While the structure of the text may prove difficult to navigate, an ideology presents itself through Confucius’s communications with his disciples. This ideology has been read in many ways leading to a multitude of interpretations and assumptions regarding Chinese culture. However, as Hall and Ames mention in their text Thinking through Confucius, by calling attention to contrasting assumptions of classical Chinese and Western cultures, they are not suggesting that the differences are absolute or inevitable (12). Therefore, what we are seeking here is to conceptualize the rhetorical traditions and theories of Confucianism on its own terms to the best of our ability, not to conceptualize it according to Western rhetoric. By interpreting in this way, we are not looking to define the rhetoric of the East, but rather to depict Eastern rhetoric in a fashion that is useful to Western minds without denying its own holistic character (Oliver 11).

How can we make Confucius’s philosophy meaningful for Western minds, particularly those running composition classrooms? We can start with the notion of ritual action, or li, one of the major principles guiding the communication conduct of ancient China (Mao, “Reflective Encounters” 404). Li is a process that reinforces the blending between the communal and the personal (404). For Confucius, this means seeking out the past in order to preserve and transmit tradition. In this sense, rediscovering one’s culture is considered a creative process, restoring what has been lost while constructing a symbiotic relationship between the individual and the community (Mao, “Re-Clustering Traditional” 119). This symbiotic relationship is represented in ritual action: a set of discursive practices that connect the individual to the larger community, which is entrenched in cultural traditions. For Confucius, ritual action does not come at the expense of personal expression; rather, it means that personal articulation requires the participation of others (Hall and Ames 114). The formal behaviors, customs and institutions of a culture (li) are shared throughout a community and one finds personal meaning within these customs. Assuming the “authority of consensus” at the same time, one is able to adapt the traditions to his or her intentions (Hall and Ames 84).

Here, we have a clear difference between popular Western notions of the individual and the Confucian idea of the individual. As articulated by Hall and Ames, Western philosophy is linked with the dominant concepts of the existentialist perspective, having less concern with interdependence while grounding their principles in human agents (14). An Existentialist perspective can be adjusted towards Confucianism only if it recognizes the individual with respect to the society that determines it, as well as individual self-determination. This interaction with the social context would be grounded in the understanding of interdependent relations rather than the idea that each individual holds complete autonomy. For Confucius, this “interaction with the social context” is built through ritual. As Xiaoye You explains, ritual works only if there is a strong societal bond that is recognized underneath societies “hierarchical and segmentary oppositions and contradictions” (431). Therefore, unlike Western philosophy, Confucianism views an authoritative individual or entity as one who is positioned within the context of the community and derives meaning and value through ritual practices. However, while ritual performance reiterates the common bond between members of a community, it also creates space for rhetorical invention (You 431). As a result, Confucius argues for the importance of ritual while also providing space for an individual to have rhetorical agency.

Confucius in the West: Learning Through Community

As evidenced above, Confucianism argues for the construction of interdependent contexts, recognizing the thoughts and beliefs of the community while strengthening individuality in the process. This notion helps question the prevailing views in academic discourse, where one is pushed as a writer to argue and make claims to persuade, rather than to listen. In our traditional academic community, we rely on arguing opposing viewpoints to produce knowledge and see the truth (Bizzell 2). However, Confucius would contend that in order to learn and produce meaningful knowledge, one must do more than simply debate. To Confucius, the learning process is eminently social. He argues that the value of the voices of the community is not just a part of rhetorical development but essential to the meaning-making process of each individual. We see this in his description of the word shu, which translated means “putting oneself in the other’s place” (“Reading Chinese Fortune” 102). In LuMing Mao’s translation of The Analects, he notes how Confucius is approached by one of his students and asked if there is one term that can serve as a guide for a person’s life. Confucius responds by stating, “It is perhaps the word ‘shu.’ Do not impose on others what you yourself do not want” (qtd in Mao, “Reading Chinese Fortune” 102). The concept of “shu” is repeated throughout The Analects, suggesting that this term is very important to Confucius. He eventually explains the concept of shu as a practice that allows one to become a virtuous and humane individual. It is within this process of placing oneself in the other’s position (shu) that a person can grow as an individual. The practice of shu is a process of becoming, highlighting the connection between the self and the Other in order to become a more knowledgeable person. Unlike Western academic discourse, Confucianism focuses on our empathetic capabilities as a source of knowledge where locating ourselves within the Other can become a learning experience within itself. 

Confucius and Booth: Developing a hybrid discourse

Taking a closer look at Western rhetoricians, one particular American scholar who has perceived knowledge through a similar lens is literary critic Wayne C. Booth. In his book, Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, he examines how men succeed or fail to discover agreement that neither side suspected before (xii). Booth describes rhetoric as “the art of discovering warrantable beliefs and improving those beliefs in shared discourse” (xiii). For Booth, good rhetoric went beyond simply persuading the other, it made connections between interlocutors. Booth argued that, although many people believe there are no shared values anymore within a debate, the study of rhetoric could cure this notion by attempting to find common ground between opponents, working to move forward together as they probe their differences (Modern Dogma xiv). Studying rhetoric helps raise important questions such as, who believes in these ideas? Why do they believe in them? What rhetorical communities can be discovered that may in fact unite warring factions, and what are the real conflicts that separate rhetorical communities based on conflicting assumptions? (Modern Dogma xiv).

As a rhetoric that works to construct the Other more accurately, Booth’s ideology does not stand far from Confucian thought, even though Confucius’s rhetoric is grounded in a more spiritual context. Confucius emphasizes the pursuit of the Tao, which for him is the unity between heaven and man’s way, between mind and matter, and between knowledge and action (Chi-yun 11). The Tao was Confucius’s life mission, as he has argued in his writings:

When the great Tao gets applied, the whole world will become a common property shared by all . . . strategy tactics and intrigues lose their usefulness and are forgotten. Robbers, thieves, and rebels vanish into oblivion. No family has to close the doors of its house day or night. There you have a new world which may call Ta-t’ung, the world of Great Harmony (qtd. in Chi-yun 8).

Confucius saw the Tao as both an ethical and metaphysical concept, developing the interconnectivity between not only humanity but also between humanity and the Heavens. For Confucius, the road to harmony within the community was pursuing the Tao, while Booth saw the study of rhetoric as a process towards inclusion and interconnectivity. Whether it was the conceptualization of the Tao or the effects of rhetoric itself, both Confucius and Booth built meaning around the importance of harmony, arguing for people to acknowledge a notion of togetherness-in-difference.

While both scholars seem to highlight the ethical importance of building our relationship with the Other, Confucius and Booth seem to hold different stances on when one should accommodate communal virtues. Throughout The Analects, Confucius notes the importance of propriety and taking such discursive practices into consideration when entering the context of the Other. When asked about perfect virtue, the Master responds accordingly: “To subdue one’s self and return to propriety, is perfect virtue. If a man can for one day subdue himself and return to propriety all under heaven will ascribe perfect virtue” (Analects 35; 1.12). In response, the pupil Yen Yuan asks if the practice of perfect virtue comes from an individual or from others. Confucius responds, once again emphasizing propriety: “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety” (Analects 35; 1.12). For Confucius, propriety is the greatest principle of living and is built upon social relationships. In order to live an exceptional life, one must understand her role within a given community and build relationships based upon reciprocity, respect, and loyalty.

However, as Booth reminds us, when one preaches in accordance to the standards of a community, she must still critically examine her intentions. A rhetor may manipulate propriety engagements in order to accommodate an audience for her own personal benefit. When it comes to rhetorical manipulation, what the audience wants to hear can be a speaker’s greatest weapon. As Booth argues, betraying one’s basic convictions as a rhetor or the wellbeing of the audience is considered an unethical accommodation where the result of such tactics becomes disastrous (The Rhetoric of Rhetoric 54). Booth claims that such excessive accommodation plagues nearly every political scene, with speakers arguing for the conclusions they believe the audience wants to hear rather than for what they personally believe. Eventually Booth says that such pandering results in the audience’s discovery that the rhetor has violated what he said yesterday (The Rhetoric of Rhetoric 54). While ritual within a community helps construct relationships and build harmony, such practices may be learned to manipulate and enforce the will of one individual. The orator may avoid presenting his or her true beliefs and instead accommodate an audience for the sake of personal benefit. Similarly, Confucius argues that sincerity is essential in speech; for example, he argues that truthfulness must guide one’s approach both within her own community and while traveling to foreign lands. However, many truths are subjective and tied to their particular social context, so while one may be speaking “truthfully” and following the propriety of a certain community, he or she may be doing so with the intention of manipulating his audience. In which case, we must be willing to acknowledge the benefits as well as the limitations of communal ritual, especially in the face of objective truths that make us question community standards. While propriety engagement is essential for the construction of the individual according to Confucius, Booth reminds us that those seeking our attention can manipulate such communal rituals, whether rhetors are within or outside the community. Thinking through this comparison can provide the foundation for pedagogical practices that allow students to learn how to negotiate between objective truths and their own community standards before engaging within discursive writing practices.

The Composition Classroom: Acknowledging the Importance of Community

As Wang has articulated, comparative rhetoric not only pushes us to look outside the assumptions constructed within Western rhetorical traditions but also to put historical rhetoric into an active conversation with the present (Wang, “Comparative Rhetoric” 240). The perspectives of both Confucius and Booth have important implications for contemporary composition classrooms. As Baker, Dieter, and Dobbins argue, concerns about civil discourse are what motivated Booth to write Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent. He was troubled not only by the intense and violent protests he saw in our country, but also by people’s inability to listen (15). While the American landscape has changed since the 1970’s, we are not free from civil unrest, ignorance, or contention between ideologies. Constructing a rhetoric that recognizes the voices of the community, not just one’s own, can help balance an academic discourse with pedagogies that highlight the importance of debate.

Inspired by the ideas of both Confucius and Booth, we should create writing prompts that strengthen the bond between the writer and his or her social context. Gaining valuable knowledge about the community that creates our composition classroom means becoming aware of diversity and the construction of social identities within our shared context. Such awareness may remain hidden unless prompted by particular discussions or writing activities. Terri Hasseler and John C. Bean offer one such activity in Designing Writing Assignments for Exploring Diversity:

Choose and critically analyze a term of identity you use to define yourself or that other people use to define you, such as Asian American, white, girl, boy, queer, jock and so forth. Your task is to make a claim about how your chosen term has been socially constructed through essays, advertising and media (including film, news and television) and about how its social construction has influenced the way you define yourself. (129)

This lesson is built to showcase how individualistic thought in the composition classroom is grounded within the social context. Students can view their position objectively by focusing on how they are understood within the larger community, comparing their perspective against the opinions of others. This activity is similar to Confucius’s notion that one should locate herself within the community by asking students to envision their own identities in relation to social constructs. The assignment also urges students to reflect on the reciprocal relationship between the self and society and in turn to critically examine the power of societal conventions and the ways in which certain mediums seek to influence and provoke this relationship. This reflection calls to mind Booth’s concerns regarding the usage of societal norms within rhetoric and their ability to manipulate the audience. Noticing these connections between individual selves and society can teach students that establishing self-autonomy as a writer does not entail detaching oneself from writing activities that emphasize the social. By exploring their connections to social constructions, students can locate themselves not as autonomous scholars but as writers who are embedded within a community that they can question, manipulate, and learn from in order to create their own writing identities. 

Confucius and Booth: Rhetorical Strategies in Speech

Both Booth and Confucius consider specific rhetorical strategies that can help negotiate the bond between the individual and the community; in so doing, they both highlight the importance rhetorical approaches can serve in guiding individuals closer to harmony. Confucius argues in The Analects, one should be cautious and slow in speech in order to obtain perfect virtue. However, Confucius notes that while a person should be careful in her speech and honest in her actions: “The superior man wishes to be slow in his speech and earnest in his conduct” (Analects 11; 24.4). Action is much more important than speech for Confucius, and he pushes his listeners to be honest in their discourse. As he argues in his commentary in The Book of Changes: “improve your speech in order to show your sincerity” (qtd in Chin-yun 2). Sincerity in one’s speech should be balanced with one’s ability to listen, as mentioned by one of Confucius’s pupils:

My master speaks when it is the time to speak, and so men do not get tired of his speaking. He laughs when there is an occasion to be joyful, and so men do not get tired of his laughing. He takes when it is consistent with righteousness to do so, and so men do not get tired of his taking. (Analects 45; 14.14)

Silence helps one build value in their speech, getting a person accustomed to only speak when it is his or her time to do so. In silence, one is still becoming, as one pupil learns when he asks Confucius if he should abandon silence altogether. Confucius responds by saying, “Does Heaven speak? The four seasons pursue their courses, and all things are continually being produced, but does Heaven say anything?” (Analects 59; 19.17). For Confucius, silence is a rhetorical strategy that conveys meaning without words and positions an individual to grow through observation.

Booth also articulates the importance of silence in an effort to reduce misinterpretation between two individuals, emphasizing the art of listening as a rhetorical tool. In his later work, Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication, he coins the phrase “listening rhetoric,” a range of communicating arts intended to reduce misunderstandings by paying full attention to opposing views (xiii). At its deepest levels, listening rhetoric transforms into “rhetorology,” a term coined by Booth to describe using listening as a rhetoric in search of common ground between rhetors. Rhetorology is where two sides join in a trusting dispute, determined to listen to their opponent while persuading the opponent to listen in exchange (Rhetoric of Rhetoric 47). Each side attempts to thoroughly consider the arguments presented by the other side, perusing “not just victory but a new reality, a new agreement about what is real” (Rhetoric of Rhetoric 47). Utilizing such tactics is meant not only to construct a stronger community but also to improve one’s quest for knowledge.

Learning what is true about yourself, your audience and the patterns of your interaction redirects the nature of rhetoric towards mutual inquiry. Such rhetorical strategies are not far off from the teachings of Confucius, who also argues the importance of knowing when to speak or listen within a conversation. Like Booth’s depiction of rhetorology, Confucius outlines a strategy for holding a conversation within his writings, suggesting that if one wants to become a virtuous member of the community he or she must learn how to speak and listen to those who are considered virtuous. Both Confucius and Booth look to establish a discourse that sees the value in other voices within discourse and learns from the communal practices we all share. The hybrid discourse I suggest works to develop a dialogical engagement that strives for recontextualization and embracing a critical perspective between oneself and the Other. (Mao, “Introduction: Searching for the Way” 334). This attempt at a hybrid discourse looks to extend the frame of reference outside of Western terms and into a third space where Confucian and Boothian concepts coexist. With this idea in mind, rhetoric can become less about winning an argument and more about the act of exchanging knowledge between the rhetor and the audience.       

The Composition Classroom: Listening Rhetoric          

These specific perspectives on rhetoric can have a significant influence on composition pedagogy. Learning to be cautious with one’s speech, understanding the rhetorical meaning of silence, and perfecting one’s listening skills can broaden student resources for meaning-making. In a time when students consistently dwell within a digital world that presents information in excess, it is crucial for them to learn restraint when researching, to listen intently to the dialogue surrounding a particular issue, and to establish an opinion informed by voices that stand on all sides of a debate. In considering these strategies for composition pedagogy, I’ve developed a way of teaching students the early stages of the research process by combining listening with dialectical thinking. First, students are separated into small groups. Half of the groups are told to create arguments for one side of an issue, and the other half create arguments for a different side of the same issue. Each group collects sources strictly dealing with their side of the argument and elects one member of the group to be a debater. The debaters from each group are prepped by their group members and are eventually brought in front of the class to hold a debate regarding the topic. The other students witness the debate and take notes, listening to the arguments carefully and witnessing a more complete construction of the issue. When finished, students are asked to write a reflection paper that argues a new stance on the issue by referencing the debate and incorporating voices from both sides. Once this task is completed, the class reflects on how the two different experiences—one being the group work and the other being their own reflection paper—compare to each other. The class discussion emphasizes the importance of not only listening but also doubting one’s own views to create a more well-rounded and informed argument. Evoking Confucius’s thoughts on silence, the practice looks to demonstrate how one engages in a process of becoming through listening, particularly when it comes to constructing an argument. As Booth argues, listening to the Other, whether through reading or hearing their views, is essential to creating a sound argument. Keeping this in mind I challenge students to acknowledge the limitations in seeking only one side of an issue when constructing an argument in order to demonstrate to them how listening to a variety of voices surrounding an issue can better inform their meaning-making processes.

The Role of Persuasion for Confucius and Booth

While Confucian rhetoric stresses interdependence and community, it does not advocate for completely ignoring the importance of persuasion or authoritativeness; rather it expands our views on the art of persuading. The Chinese culture is complex and is not simply the opposite of Western views (Lan 69). Confucius articulates his notions on the authoritative person in book four of The Analects:

Those persons who are not authoritative (ren) are neither able to endure hardship for long, nor to enjoy happy circumstances for any period of time. Authoritative persons are content in being authoritative; wise persons (zhi) flourish in it. (qtd. in Jones 30)

Confucius examines the various roles of the authoritative person, repudiating those who claim to be authoritative but fall short of the standards he has laid out for them (Mao, “Re-Clustering Traditional” 119). Moreover, in The Analects, he claims that the meaningful activities that comprise a society are fostered by the authoritative person:

Those who realize the world enjoy water, those who have authoritative humanity (jen) enjoy mountains. Those who realize the world are active; those who are authoritative as persons are still. Those who realize the world find enjoyment; those who are authoritative as persons are long-lived. (Analects 18; 23.6)

In other words, when someone comes to the realization of a particular idea, but his or her sense of authority is not strong enough to maintain it, then he or she will potentially fail to put that idea into action. Confucius attains that becoming authoritative is only accessible in a communal context through interpersonal exchange, suggesting that personhood must be perused within a social environment (Hall and Ames 114). Many scholars attribute the Confucius term jen with the authoritative person. In early Confucian literature jen is described as the realization of oneself while embracing the process whereby this quality of humanity is conceptualized (Hall and Ames, 111). Therefore, the prominence of the authoritative person also celebrates the meaningful activities that are seen within society as a whole (Hall and Ames 114).

Acknowledging the community is essential for Booth in portraying authority and constructing a persuasive argument (Baker, Dieter, and Dobbins 18). Booth argues that one’s ability to trust and empathize are elements of ethos and pathos and are thus essential components of persuasion. When appeals of persuasion are failing, students can barely listen to each other, much less imagine changing their own minds (18). According to Booth, what can hold back an argument is the failure to bring the persuasive potential of both ethos and pathos to full consideration. In developing a persuasive argument we need to understand that ethos and pathos are not simply complements to logical reasoning but are necessary forms of reasoning in their own right (18). Hence, the art of listening, connecting with the audience and empathizing with others, does not simply promote civil discourse; it also helps one become persuasive in a more trusting manner. While we want our students to express their voices, we need them to recognize the codes of respect and trust that can be layered within their arguments and boost their persuasive appeals. Both Confucius and Booth articulate the need for the individual to listen to the community in order to build authority and converse persuasively. This strategy deploys mutual inquiry as a means to inform each other’s beliefs while improving our persuasive appeals.

While Western academic discourse stresses the importance of the individual, Confucius and Booth remind us that each individual stands within a community that should not be ignored. Recognizing one’s community can promote civic life, stress the importance of mutual inquiry, and contribute to one’s ability to persuade. The idea here is to consider the perspective of another, not to invent or imagine being someone else. Through consideration, we keep our persuasive capacities intact rather then lose ourselves within the arguments of those we imagine to be. This allows us to learn about our audience and improve our understanding of the rhetorical situation in an effort to state our claims more intelligently.

The Composition Classroom: Community and Persuasion

To construct a hybrid discourse based on the theories of both Confucius and Booth, I developed my own lesson plan inspired by the notion of persuasion within the context of an informative community. In book sixteen of the Analects, Confucius discusses the importance of speech in regards to one’s timing, audience, and manners. He states: “The three errors one should avoid dealing with men of virtue or power are speaking when it is not the time, not speaking when the time comes, and speaking without examining the reaction of the superior” (Analects 78; 6.16). While Confucius is discussing the act of speaking in this passage, the statement seems equally important for writers, particularly students who are about to embark on an argumentative essay. Before students work on their first drafts of an argumentative essay, I put the above passage on the board and ask questions about its meaning, trying to elucidate its significance for them as writers. How is timing important for us as writers? What dictates the organization of our paper? Why is it important to envision the reaction of our audience when attempting to create an argumentative essay? Confucius’s passage is thus used as an entry point into a conversation about audience and its connection to organization, stressing the importance of this relationship right before the drafting process.

From here, I break the students up into groups of three and have them answer the following prompt:

Confucius argues that timing is important in a conversation as well as knowing one’s audience. When you design an argumentative paper, you are entering into a conversation on a particular issue, so where you place your persuasive stance in the paper and how you envision your audience is essential. In considering one’s audience, please interview both students in your group by asking them the following questions: (1) What do you consider to be your most important set of values and why? (2) What are your initial thoughts to my claim that (state your thesis)? (3) Do you feel that your cultural background has helped shape these thoughts regarding my thesis? How so?

Once they generate a set of answers to these questions, I ask them to go home and type a one-page response for each student they interviewed, assuming that each student represents an audience member for their argumentative paper. I ask them to consider how this particular student would react to their thesis, whether or not the student’s beliefs and values align with their argument, and how they might adjust the organization of their paper in order to persuade each particular student. Once both responses are complete, I ask the students to share what they wrote and compare the two responses either within a classroom discussion or during an in-class writing activity. In making this comparison, I encourage students to see how the timing of one’s argument may change depending on their particular audience. Of course, these short interviews do not accurately represent an entire culture or the classroom community; however, the goal is for the student to create engagement with at least a portion of her audience in order to emphasize the importance of the audience in their writings. Building student awareness of audience before asking them to write a draft can help improve their persuasive appeal as writers by emphasizing the need to tailor an argument with a particular reader in mind.

The exercise also promotes classroom ethnography by enabling students to become researchers, participants, and observers. This practice shares many similarities with JoAnne Liebman’s ethnographic study in “Contrastive Rhetoric: Students as Ethnographers” where Liebman uses ethnography to see if there is a rhetorical contrast between culturally diverse students. As Liebman argues, when students become ethnographic researchers, they not only become observers of their own participation in the classroom community but also active and proficient members of the discourse “through research activities such as reading, writing, listening and talking” (7). While Liebman’s focus revolves around contrastive rhetoric and its benefits in the classroom, my deployment of these activities looks to enhance students’ awareness of their audience, promoting engagement among the classroom participants in order to inform their research approach. Nonetheless, the purpose of both pedagogies is for students to consider other people’s perspectives and to participate in a cultural decentering that allows culturally diverse students to interact with one another (Liebman 18). A lesson that engages students with their audience not only helps improve their persuasive skills but also allows them to understand the cultural complexities that exist within a multicultural community, thus creating a more nuanced approach to their written arguments. 

A Transrhetorical Future

As our students begin to change and our classrooms slowly develop into diverse communities located on rhetorical borderlands, we should consider hybrid discourses that help broaden our Western academic discourse. Confucian rhetoric, as I have aimed to demonstrate, is a vehicle that not only helps provide a voice for the Other but also presents discursive practices that promote community, as well as the authoritative self in composition classrooms. Such work with comparative rhetoric not only encourages students to appreciate civic life but also assists in their understanding of persuasion. As we’ve seen within Boothian rhetoric these discursive practices are not completely unfamiliar to the Western world. Alternative discourses often look supposedly different than native discourses, yet “alternatives could very well reside within the same culture and differences among alternatives are not absolute” (Lan 77-78). Pinning these two rhetorical approaches against each other can establish a new meta-discourse, where similarities and differences between two cultures can coexist and the act of reflection can lead to a better understanding of the Other. 

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