Cultural Appropriation Has Consequences

The point of talking about cultural appropriation isn’t to tell people what they can’t and can’t do (often a futile effort anyways), but to remind people that their actions have consequences. Guan Sheng Di said:

However, if your heart is full of evil and you do not do good things, lust after other people’s wives and daughters, break up their marriages, destroy their purity, ruin their skills, scheme for their wealth, instigate lawsuits, harm others in order to benefit yourself, rail against Heaven and Earth, slander the wise and virtuous, destroy statues of the gods, cheat the gods, wantonly kill living things, destroy good books, rely on force, slander the good, use wealth to oppress the poor, separate people from their relatives and brother from brother, not believe in the true path, lust, steal, go whoring, swindle others, act extravagantly, waste grain, are ungrateful, go against your conscience, use crooked weights and measures, set up false teachings, lead on the simpleminded, falsely say that someone has died, extort goods, cheat others, talk obliquely, curse people in broad daylight, scheme to hurt others behind their backs, not follow Heaven’s way, not make others happy, refuse to believe in karma, entice others to do evil, and do not even a bit of good yourself — Those who do such things will have reason to regret it. They will suffer fire, flood, and bandits. They will suffer plague, give birth to idiots, be destroyed themselves, and have their family line extinguished. Their sons will become thieves and their daughters whores. Retribution will fall upon them, their sons, and their grandsons. The gods see everything and don’t miss things even as tiny as a hair. Good and evil are two paths. Disaster and fortune are separate things. If you do good, you will have good fortune; if you do evil you will suffer misfortune. I tell you this to encourage you to act. Although my words are simple they are of great benefit. Those who make fun of my words will be destroyed. [Emphasis added].

Guan Di is “the protector of the Chinese ecumene” (Duara 789), the Chinese people and their world.

Don’t fuck with our shit.

Feng shui isn’t housecleaning tips for bored suburban housewives, it’s a system for finding auspicious locations to bury one’s ancestors and build one’s house, and to mitigate the effects of not having access to the most auspicious locations. Feng shui led Chinese people to topple telegraph poles and rip up railroad tracks. Don’t fuck with what you don’t understand.

Qi gong isn’t for New Agers, it’s for warriors.

Shaolin monks perform qigong, a type of traditional Chinese martial arts, during the opening ceremony of the fourth Southern Shaolin Martial Arts Cultural Festival in Putian city

Shaolin monk practicing qi gong. Credit: Ripleys.

Edit: This post originally quoted a speech attributed to Chief Seattle, which I’ve since learned was written by a white man, and is not authentic. Accordingly, the quote has been removed.

21 responses to “Cultural Appropriation Has Consequences

  • aediculaantinoi

    Oh, this is wonderful…I am SO linking to this later today! 😉

  • Fiona Benjamin

    Wow wow and wow. Thank you for this post!! I’m sharing it everywhere!!

  • Many Gods West Initial Line-Up; and, other news… | Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

    […] speaking of Heathen Chinese, he just did a post on the consequences of cultural appropriation, citing some wise words by Guan Sheng Di and Chief Seattle, and suggesting that qi gong and feng […]

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    […] lineage and the mysteries.) As such, I stand in full support of Heathen Chinese’s admonition not to fuck with his people’s shit. If you don’t want to play by their established […]

  • alephlordofchaos

    I have been thinking about this post since I saw it and began worrying that I might be doing this myself by inducting Guan Di as a deific symbol.

    • Heathen Chinese

      That’s between you and Guan Di, as long as you’re not “separat[ing] people from their relatives and brother from brother,” swindl[ing] others,” “set[ting] up false teachings, lead[ing] on the simpleminded,” etc.

      Insofar as you can use reason/intuition/divination/whatever other tools you have (perhaps with the help of people you know and respect), how does Guan Di feel about it? Regardless of personal theological belief, I think it’s important to interact with the gods with respect for them as fully autonomous entities with their own agency. To draw a parallel to human relationships, if someone believes that all human beings are figments of their own imagination, that certainly doesn’t mean that they’ll be safe if they infringe upon my space, does it?

      Why Guan Di, and not another warrior god from a culture you have a more direct relationship with? I see you’ve written a bit about how you see Guan Di. That’s a good start for examining the basis of your relationship, from your end. What does Guan Di get out of it? Are you, in some way, doing his work in the world?

      Again, I’m not into telling other people what they can and can’t do. Hopefully the questions and considerations I’ve posed are useful to you. I’m glad you’re taking the time to think about these things.

      • alephlordofchaos

        It started out with me feeling bad about stubbornness as a trait, and began to feel the warrior archetype could be pursued without self-stifling stubbornness. At the time, Chi You was enshrined as a deific symbol for stubbornness and belligerence as a positive trait. To replace Chi You, I chose Guan Di because I was interested in Guan Yu as a figure and his reputation as a historical warrior. I understand you already know about the story of Guan Yu being enlisted to fight Chi You. That story made his inclusion additionally fitting. I must admit however, I haven’t made a lot of time for prayers and don’t have a lot of resources, my organization is far from brilliant, and I’m in a grind with my student affairs. I also must admit that I don’t see myself as a conduit for any gods (doing their work in the world) since despite my attachment with the pagan label, I don’t necessarily believe in gods that are literal, and I feel I follow my own way, so I guess you could say I’m a modern thinker, or postmodern, if either of those terms can apply objectively. To be honest though I didn’t hear about any of that until after I heard about Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is the romanticized account of the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, and even then I heard about it through a series of hack and slash games that got me more interested. I do happen to be a gamer after all, and I am currently studying at a games design course in university.

        I was born in the UK and one side of my family is from Italy. In theory I should have a relationship with the Celtic and Roman cultures, but I never cared for them. Neither did I share Christianity with my family, be it the Catholicism of my dad’s side of the family or the non-Catholic Christianity of my mom’s side (I think Anglican or Protestant to be exact). I was more interested in Asian cultures for a long time and still am, and also became interested in the gods of Egypt and Canaan and eventually became interested in and embraced Satanism alongside paganism. That all became my background because I connected to it more. Although I still did not entirely connect to them in terms of philosophy and values, I always liked the mythologies, valued their aestheticism, and welcomed some of their ideas. I could never connect to Rome very strongly, or to my own British culture. I learned to speak in America, and became kind of attached to America and identified with some of American culture and attitudes even though I was never actually born there (I even have the nerve to idolize heavy metal from before I could have been alive to experience it)in fact, I see my own political libertarianism as being essentially American in a way. However, when began hearing of Japanese culture and mythology, and some Chinese culture, I liked it, which led on into my interest in Buddhism, Hinduism, more Chinese culture, and other aspects of Asian culture. And some of that interest was also influenced by video games too.

        Sorry for the length, but I wanted to answer your questions as fully and sincerely as possible.

      • Heathen Chinese

        I mostly posed those questions for you to ask yourself, but I thank you for sharing your answers publicly.

        I don’t think any culture has a monolithic set of philosophy and values, and I think that each member of a culture navigates their own relationship with that culture’s core values. That said, I don’t think that philosophy and values can be separated from religion, especially for those raised outside of a given culture.

        As I said above, I also don’t think one has to believe in the literal existence of the gods to treat them with due respect.

  • mary

    As a person outside of the culture, I would like to qualify your statements.

    When a person is introduced to the theological values of another culture, they begin to learn the basics. Converts to Christianity begin to learn the trinity, and perhaps even slower The Passion because of how brutal the sacrifice of the Passion is. People will struggle with the fact that, ultimately, Christianity is centered around the death and resurrection of Jesus. If they go against this, their ideas will already start to be contrary to most of Christianity.

    Likewise goes with Chinese Diasporic Religions, where liturgy is so ingrained that removing their connotations out of some sort of apprehension is not effective and heavily distorting. Because of the diversity of practice depending on regions, towns, and the most predominant religious monolith (Taoist, Buddhist, or something else), there will be even internal dissonance.

    So yes, although I myself am further interested in study and practice from a religious experience, I fully acknowledge the apprehension it would cause among practitioners because Guan Gong is a heritage God and liberal progressives not of Chinese descent carry a slippery slope in their theology.

    • Heathen Chinese

      Having a useful discussion around cultural appropriation means talking about context and talking about relationships. The “consequences” I warned of in my post are the side effects of ignoring context and lack of relationships — both with living members of the culture and with the ancestral spirits that are an integral part of the culture.

      Therefore, the parallel between converting to Christianity and learning about traditional Chinese religions is useful, but only up to a certain extent. There is a major difference between the two, in that Christianity is an evangelical, proselytizing religion (“And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19) and traditional religions/cultures typically are not. Traditional religions/cultures may have processes to initiate or adopt outsiders, but this is very different than proselytizing for new converts. I think you’re aware of this when you write that Guan Di “is a heritage god,” and that awareness is a good thing.

      My personal belief is that if one feels “called” by a deity from a culture that one is not a part of, it’s something of a test of one’s code of ethics: what deity would want dishonorable, unthoughtful followers who do not have a good relationship with their own ancestors? Plenty of deities get these kind of followers anyways, unfortunately.

      • mary

        Thank you for your response.

        The analogy of appropriation of religion, I am aware, is not a perfect analogy for the experiences of having a folk religion tampered with — if it perhaps came off as oblivious to this, I apologize. My main point was rather about how the misuse of practice can defragmentation a practice without careful understanding of it.

        I don’t fully follow the last remark; is this an open-ended response in regards to self evaluation and being careful in ones choices? Or does it imply that a person who seeks a faith outside their culture is an unfilial person.

        If in the scenario that you mean this is a true test of integrity, and compromising filial piety with a different outlook and developing another outlook carefully, sensitively, and ideally under the supervision of those who know how to practice, I am inclined to agree with you – completely.

        If otherwise, I am able to respect that you disagree with this sort of situation.

      • Heathen Chinese

        I didn’t think you were being oblivious to the difference between Christianity and Chinese folk religion, I agree with the overall point you were making.

        “Self evaluation and being careful in ones choices” and “this is a true test of integrity” are exactly what I meant. I do think it’s possible to have a good relationship with one’s ancestors and practice a religion that they did not: as you pointed out earlier, in a different context, culture isn’t monolithic. Sorry if I was a bit unclear, I think you and I are actually in agreement.

      • mary

        It’s fine — I’m sorry for any misunderstanding, myself.

      • Heathen Chinese

        The bit about having “a good relationship with their own ancestors” was a reference back to the Chief Seattle quote.

  • Marius Dejess

    I really seem to see in you guys some kind of attachment to Chinese deities, who can deliver some moral values good for a person’s peaceful life and good for society.

    But you are certainly not into any critical studies of what empirical existence they the Chinese deities enjoy, aside from your ideas on their practical moralistic teachings which are also attributed to them by their admirers.

    This is some kind of an approach that I seem to notice to be different from the critical skeptical empirical approaches of Western scholars on deities in the West, or religions in the West from the most primitive to the most advanced ones like Christianity and Islam.

    Let me see if you will be interested to do some thinking on facts and reason: what do you say, is there God in concept as the creator and operator of the universe and everything with a beginning?

    That is the concept of God ultimately in the three Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Islam, and their mother religion or step-mother religion or mother-in-law religion of Judaism.

    Of course God in these religions in particular in Catholicism has all the features of a Guan Sheng Di and other Chinese deities who are very often of a war military figure, and then turning by their admirers into moralistic teachers and helpers in needs of all sorts, but in particular how to get rich and influential and admired in society.

    Anyway, how do you react to my question, can you think on facts and reason and come to the certainty of the existence of God, in concept as the creator and operator of the universe and of everything with a beginning?

    Can we have some exchange in this direction?

    Or you guys are completely into another world when it comes to what — and forgive me, I call empirical concerns grounded on thinking on facts and logic?

    • Mary

      Chinese Diasporic Religions have a fairly diverse understanding of the cosmology of the universe. It depends quite a bit on the local religious traditions, as stated prior, and Guan Gong’s cosmological role depends, but not overwhelmingly, on religious beliefs. These beliefs tend to have the intimacy of Saint Worship in Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity, as well as Angel Worship, but it isn’t good to make exact comparisons.

      Guan Gong is seen in Taoist Practices and probably overlapping with Buddhism as an extinguisher of demons and protector of households. In Buddhism, specifically Tiantai, he protects the Dharma with Skanda. Dharma Guardians tend to have a firm cosmological role in allowing people to practice with vigilance. Guan Gong in folklore is adored and admired for traits of gallantry and persistence, which is very important in his role as a warrior. Guan Gong also had some measure of administrative roles in being a warlord, which is why he is prayed to in concerns around wealth and academia. The Confucian values of veneration and folklore around him, as well as people with power and seniority are not really exclusive to his deification.

      Views on the universe vary. Buddhism states that it doesn’t matter where the Universe Came, and that it simply always existed. Taoism suggests a great cosmological diverge from nothing, and there are creator Gods in traditional Polytheism. In one popular case with Buddhism, the Jade Emperor of Heaven is a delegate of the Buddha. Other accounts also exist.

      I cannot account for Heathen Chinese personally, but relying on forms of divination, as well as noticing the daily uncanny and personal religious experience is part of my worship and respects. I am, by some manner, a skeptic, though not in the sense you have proposed. These issues, which cannot be repeated because they are understood as scenarios and not repeatable trials, are not directly contrary to logic and may potentially suggest a hidden logic.

    • Heathen Chinese

      The existence of a single monotheist God has not been empirically proven any more than the existence of the many gods of polytheism. All religions are a synthesis of tradition/teachings, personal experience, and critical thinking/interpretation of experience.

      I agree with Mary when she writes that “These issues, which cannot be repeated because they are understood as scenarios and not repeatable trials, are not directly contrary to logic and may potentially suggest a hidden logic.”

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