• Detail of an ancient Chinese bronze vessel
    Detail of an ancient Chinese bronze vessel

“Archaism and Local Religious Practice in Southern Song: A Study of Archaistic Objects in Sichuan Caches” was presented by Yun-Chiahn C. Sena of University of Texas at Austin. The lecture took place Thursday February 21, 2013 at 4:00-6:00 PM in Olin room 110.


The abstract:

This paper examines the ways in which archaistic imagery was used in Daoist and Buddhist practices in the Sichuan region during the Southern Song period (mid 12th to late 13th century) and how the choice of different archaistic forms reinforced local religious authority and identity. Characterized by a strong affinity with Chinese antiquity, the Song dynasty (960–1279) is known for its intellectual and cultural movement of antique revival. The enthusiasm towards antiquity during this period was so strong that many scholars have dubbed it the “Chinese Renaissance” based on features comparable to those in the 16th-century Italy. Led by scholars and collectors such as Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007-1072) and Lü Dalin 呂大臨 (mid 11th century-1092), individual and the Song imperial court (re)examined and (re)interpreted ancient texts and objects in an attempt to claim authority over what was considered the ultimate origin of Chinese culture. As many recent studies have shown, the influence of the Song antique revival is evident in religious practice, especially the state sacrificial rites during the late
Northern Song and throughout the Southern Song period. Fangguqi 仿古器, or objects made in the forms of ritual objects from Chinese high antiquity, were used by the Song imperial court to transform a modern state sacrifice into a ritual carried out by sage rulers in the ancient times.

The impact of archaistic ritual reform was by no means limited to the Song imperial court or to state sacrifices. Historical documents record that the Song imperial court systematically propagated the movement through state-issued ritual manuals as a way to exercise political and cultural control over local authorities. The record was indeed supported by the frequent archaeological findings of fangguqi in areas outside of the Song capital. Studies of these findings often cite the archaistic ritual reform as a historical context in their discussion. However, rarely asked are questions regarding how the reform of state sacrificial rites was adopted on the local level where the state rites were not performed. Such questions are particularly relevant in the Sichuan region where large-scale findings of fangguqi, such as in Guangan 廣安 (1982), Jiange 劍閣 (1989), Pengzhou 彭州(1996), and Qingbaijiang 青白江 (2006), are often discovered with paraphernalia for Daoist or Buddhist practices, which points to an association between Song archaism and local Daoist and Buddhist practice. Through the analyses of fangguqi and other objects found in these Sichuan caches, this paper argues that, although local authorities in Sichuan had access to an overall program of archaistic imagery issued by the Song imperial court, they used elements from the imperial program and other sources to construct their own archaistic imagery for local religious practice. The local archaistic imagery was on the one hand upholding the ideological model set forth by the imperial court, and on the other hand highlighting its difference from the central program in order to strengthen local authority and identity.


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