Between kin and king: Social aspects of Western Zhou ritual

Paul Nicholas Vogt

Between kin and king: Social aspects of Western Zhou ritual
Vogt, Paul Nicholas
Thesis Advisor(s):
Li, Feng
Ph.D., Columbia University
East Asian Languages and Cultures
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The Western Zhou period (ca. 1045-771 BCE) saw the dissemination of a particular style of ancestral ritual across North China, as the Zhou royal faction leveraged its familiarity with the ritual techniques of the conquered Shang culture to complement its project of state formation. Looking back on this era as the golden age of governance, Eastern Zhou and Han thinkers sought to codify its ritual in comprehensive textual treatments collectively known as the Sanli and, in particular, the Zhouli, or "Rites of Zhou." Later scholarship has consistently drawn on the Sanli as a reference point and assumed standard for the characterization of Western Zhou rites. Current understandings of the formative era of early Chinese ritual are thus informed by the syncretic and classicizing tendencies of the early empires. To redress this issue, the present study explores the ritual practices of the Western Zhou based on their records on inscribed bronzes, the most extensive source of textual information on the period. It characterizes Western Zhou ancestral rites as fluid phenomena subject to continued redefinition, adoption, cooption, and abandonment as warranted by the different interests of Western Zhou elites. Separate discussions consider the role of ancestral rites and inscribed bronzes in materializing the royal presence within the interaction spheres of elite lineages; the evolution of ritual performances of Zhou kingship, and their relationship to the military and political circumstances of the royal house; the emergence of new ritual contexts of patronage, recognition, and reward that differentiated between members of expanding lineages and intensified royal control over key resources; and the combination of multiple ritual techniques with royal hospitality provision to create major ritual event assemblies. A final synthesis brings these discussions together into a sequential analysis of Western Zhou ritual, relating them to the evolving political situation of the Zhou royal house.
History, Ancient
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Suggested Citation:
Paul Nicholas Vogt, , Between kin and king: Social aspects of Western Zhou ritual, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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