Rènao: What does it mean to have a good time the Chinese way? An ethnopragmatic exploration of a Chinese cultural keyword
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The paper examines the main uses and the symbolic significance of the Chinese cultural keyword rènao. Often rendered in English with its literal gloss of ‘hot and noisy’, it has been viewed by both Chinese and Western scholars as primary in making sense of Chinese social behaviour, across a variety of contexts. The present study analyses two Chinese cultural texts – a report from a local temple festival and a debate over two different styles of feasting, which frequently rely on this salient cultural notion. While the formula crowds, events, noise in the psychological literature dealing with this Chinese social value is often confirmed by the described cultural data, it is argued that close attention to the meaning and form of the descriptive language used by the cultural actors yields valuable insights into indigenous viewpoints. In particular, the notion of rènao turns out to be closely intertwined with other prominent Chinese cultural concerns, such as the idea of rénqíngwèi (‘flavour of human feelings’), Chinese cultural identity, Chinese language, and a particularly complex culinary culture as described in the anthropological literature.
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