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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The interpretation of dreams in ancient China Ong, Roberto Keh


This work is an exercise in armchair ethnography. It aims to show, by examining certain data from the inexhaustible traditional Chinese literature on the subject of dreams and dreaming, some aspects of the dream life of the ancient Chinese. The first five chapters deal with the various ways in which dreams were regarded as significant in ancient China. Although my approach is primarily thematic, the data are presented in a more or less chronological order, so that some light may be thrown on the developmental dimension of the traditional Chinese thinking on dreams in the process. Chapters six and seven are concerned with the methodology of Chinese dream interpretation. Two distinct approaches to this are identified, which I term the corroborative and the associative. The Ricoeurian notion of "interpretation as recollection of meaning," with its emphasis on contextual understanding, is found compatible with the underlying principles of the Chinese oneirocritical practice. In the final chapter, I further label the corroborative approach "iconic" and the associative approach "symbolic." I conclude with the observation that the ancient Chinese owed their interest in dreams to their unremitting search for meaning in the cosmos, of which man, in the traditional concept, was an integral part. I find this interest indicative of the affective aspect of the Chinese mind, and conjecture that as long as the Chinese have hopes, fears, joys and sorrows, as do the rest of the world, they will continue to dream.

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