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To rule by ritual : the theorization of ritual psychology in the bamboo texts of Guodian Ashton, Clayton Howard


This study examines the development of a theory of ritual psychology in Chinese political thought during the Warring States period (c. 450 - 221 BCE), as found in four Confucian bamboo manuscripts from the Guodian corpus which were discovered in 1993 in a tomb that had been sealed in c. 300 BCE. These four texts, called here the Ritual Authority manuscripts, provide new evidence of a political theory that applied ritual practices to the management of the state, with implications for our understanding of both the development of the Confucian tradition and of the formation of the early Chinese empire. The introduction surveys how the concept of ritual has been framed in studies of Chinese history, and argues that this new evidence of a conscious theorization about ritual psychology should compel us reexamine this topic. Chapter One makes use of the insights offered by the cross-disciplinary field of Ritual Studies to create a working definition of “ritual” as an academic term of analysis, and then examines a range of primary sources from the Warring States period in order to reconstruct the discursive field of meaning encompassed by the Chinese term li, or “ritual propriety,” which was the focus of this theorization. Chapter Two considers the implications of the previous chapter’s insights by examining how ritual practices rely on a sense of historical authority, which embroils these practices in a larger tension between tradition and innovation. Chapter Three examines the development of theories of political authority in the Warring States period, and shows how these presented a fundamental challenge to the Confucian emphasis on ritual practices. Chapter Four turns to the Ritual Authority manuscripts from Guodian and closely examines how they reveal an attempt to incorporate a theory of ritual psychology into a defence of traditional ritual practices. This study finally concludes by considering the larger implications of this intellectual innovation, and suggests several possible directions of future research based on this research.

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