Religious Practice and Material Culture in Medieval Chinese Literature

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Religious Practice and Material Culture in Medieval Chinese Literature
Stream: Literature
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Joanne Tsao, Arizona State University, United States (organizer, presenter)
Timothy Chan, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong (presenter)
Yuan-ju Liu, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (presenter)
Harrison Huang, Columbia University, United States (presenter)
Masaaki Tsuchiya, Senshu University, Japan (chair)
Shu-wei Hsieh, National Chengchi University, Taiwan (discussant)


This panel examines the role of material objects—such as tribute goods, urban architecture, sacred clothing, and the Daoist body—in articulating, embodying and realizing a normative ritual order. We interrogate these objects as mutable and multi-valent by attending to their passage between the secular and sacred; between literary convention and practice-oriented appropriations; between their circumscribed meanings and their fluid trespass and contestation in broader contexts. As ritual objects, they are meant to corroborate doctrinal and literary norms, yet as material things they also enjoy a circulation across a variety of spaces—such as the imperial court, inter-state diplomacy, transcendental progress, and literary history—whereupon they assume new meanings and complex uses.

Joanne Tsao examines Daoist cloaks in the Tang dynasty Daoist canon as a complex membrane between the transgressive body and the external world of officialdom and social advancement.

Timothy Chan traces the trope of “pacing the void (buxu) in Tang dynasty poetry to chart the ritualized body within a Daoist cosmology, transcendental itinerary, and transformational regiment.

Liu Yuan-ju examines the religious and political significance of tribute goods sent by the Indian court based in Kapila-vastu to the Liu-Song emperor, as depicted in a 5th-century memorial recorded in the History of the Song.

Harrison Huang situates a 5th-century liturgical poem by Xie Huilian (407–30), dedicated to re-locating an ancient tomb for the construction of a new city wall, within the “ritual infrastructure” projects initiated by the Liu-Song court to ground its imperial legitimacy.