Text and Ritual in Early China

Edited by Martin Kern

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 362 pp., 7 bw photos,, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

In Text and Ritual in Early China, leading scholars of ancient Chinese history, literature, religion, and archaeology consider the presence and use of texts in religious and political ritual. Through balanced attention to both the received literary tradition and the wide range of recently excavated artifacts, manuscripts, and inscriptions, their combined efforts reveal the rich and multilayered interplay of textual composition and ritual performance. Drawn across disciplinary boundaries, the resulting picture illuminates two of the defining features of early Chinese culture and advances new insights into their sumptuous complexity.

Beginning with a substantial introduction to the conceptual and thematic issues explored in succeeding chapters, Text and Ritual in Early China is anchored by essays on early Chinese cultural history and ritual display (Michael Nylan) and the nature of its textuality (William G. Boltz). This twofold approach sets the stage for studies of the E Jun Qi metal tallies (Lothar von Falkenhausen), the Gongyang commentary to The Spring and Autumn Annals (Joachim Gentz), the early history of The Book of Odes (Martin Kern), moral remonstration in historiography (David Schaberg), the "Liming" manuscript text unearthed at Mawangdui (Mark Csikszentmihalyi), and Eastern Han commemorative stele inscriptions (K. E. Brashier).

The scholarly originality of these essays rests firmly on their authors' control over ancient sources, newly excavated materials, and modern scholarship across all major Sinological languages. The extensive bibliography is in itself a valuable and reliable reference resource.

This important work will be required reading for scholars of Chinese history, language, literature, philosophy, religion, art history, and archaeology.
Martin Kern is associate professor of East Asian studies at Princeton University. The other contributors are William G. Boltz, K. E. Brashier, Mark Csikszentmihalyi, Joachim Gentz, Michael Nylan, David Schaberg, and Lothar von Falkenhausen.

"This is an outstanding work. The essays focus on the overlap and interplay between ritual performance and the uses of texts in late pre-imperial and early imperial China . . . and are of central importance to our understanding of 'classical' Chinese society."
-Mark Edward Lewis, Stanford University

"This collection points out the necessity of rethinking ancient Chinese texts, and therefore ancient Chinese culture and history, in light of what we now know about the material origin of those texts and the ritual world in which they took form. It is a major statement on the way certain new discoveries and new methodologies are changing the way we conceive of early China."
-Stephen Durrant, University of Oregon

Introduction: The Ritual Texture of Early China / Martin Kern
1. Toward an Archaeology of Writing: Text, Ritual, and the Culture of Public Display in the Classical Period (475 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) / Michael Nylan
2. The Composite Nature of Early Chinese Texts / William G. Boltz
3. The E Jun Qi Metal Tallies: Inscribed Texts and Ritual Contexts / Lothar von Falkenhausen
4. The Ritual Meaning of Textual Form: Evidence from Early Commentaries of the Historiographic and Ritual Traditions / Joachim Gentz
5. The Odes in Excavated Manuscripts / Martin Kern
6. Playing at Critique: Indirect Remonstrance and the Formation of Shi Identity / David Schaberg
7. Reimagining the Yellow Emperor's Four Faces / Mark Csikszentmihalyi
8. Text and Ritual in Early Chinese Stelae / K. E. Brashier
Works Cited

"It is certainly highly commendable that Kern brought this group of internationally recognized experts together to study the subject of ritual, a subject that has been unjustifiably overlooked in analyses of pre-modern China, where it held a central place in political, social, and religious life. For this reason alone, I strongly recommend this book. . . . this volume is a most welcome addition to the scholarship on early China and shows how much can be learned from the new epigraphic sources."
-Journal of Chinese Religions

"This is a serious and coherent collection of studies that will inspire readers to rethink the social contexts of documents that have become fundamental to Chinese culture."
-Journal of Asian Studies

"Publication of Text and Ritual in Early China is an exceptionally important event for scholars of pre-imperial and early imperial Chinese history..By opening new avenues for research, the contributors to Text and Ritual have already begun to reshape the field, achieving a major scholarly breakthrough."
-Journal of the American Oriental Society

"No other work currently available takes as seriously the symbiosis between ritual and text as does this one. While recent literary study has brought to the forefront the composite nature of the early classical texts of China, this work asks us to rethink not only how many of these logia may have had their origins in ritual practice, but also how the assemblage of the texts themselves may have been ritual acts."
-Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy

"Crossing the fields of Chinese history, literature, philology, and archaeology, this important collection examines understanding of the most fundamental aspects of the Chinese literary tradition and challenges established ideas about classical Han (206 BCE-220 CE) and pre-Han texts. Kern (Princeton) provides a stimulating introduction and then eight essays, one of his own and others by leading scholars of their fields. . . . Each chapter is a scholarly thrill, and the extensive bibliography is a valuable resource."
-Choice, Vol. 44, No. 5 January 2007