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Ritual and Design in Imperial China

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The study and interpretation of ritual objects dating to China’s imperial period (221 bce–1911 ce) is one of the most neglected areas of research among historians of Chinese art and material culture, yet ritual has been a crucial factor in determining Chinese cultural identity. Considered essential for the functioning of state and society, ritual was a dominant issue in all important schools of Chinese thought. Through case studies, this course examines the role of ceremonial objects in the most prominent forms of traditional Chinese ritual: state and court rituals, funerary practices, ancestral worship, Buddhist and Taoist liturgies, and ritualized social interactions. Analysis of the meaning, function, and design principles of pictorial decoration on objects forms an important part of this course. Students examine sacrificial vessels made of bronze, silver, gold, and porcelain; state regalia; ceremonial dress; bronze mirrors; and reliquaries. Finally, to understand the performance of rites, students become familiar with ritual spaces such as tombs, pagodas, ancestral halls, and the imperial altars. 3 credits.