The Materiality of Text Production and Text Performance 

Chen Zhi - The Liturgical Prayers: The Formulaic Expressions in Both Shi Poems and Bronze Inscriptions

The worship of ghosts and deities identifiable with deceased kings and ancestors was a prominent feature of Shang and Zhou religion. The poems included in the song 頌 sections of the Shijing contain the appellations of the ancestors of the composers, concrete depictions of sacrificial ceremonies, and frequently used terms in liturgical prayers, all of which point to the fact that they were initially songs sung as part of sacrificial rites serving the ancestral cult of the Shang and Zhou rulers. This paper, through an examination of some formulaic expressions and structures in both of the Shi poems and bronze inscriptions, demonstrates that Chinese poetic tradition finds its roots in the eulogizing of clan founders in ceremonies conducted by clan leaders and practised repeatedly over generations. The formulaic expression, idiomatic words, phraseological structures, and conceptual patternings, formed in the Shi poems, especially in the ya 雅 (Elegantiae) and Song sections, are those preserved or transformed from sacrificial songs recited by worshippers in religious and ceremonial activities. It is therefore a mistake of modern scholarship to regard identical phrases in bronze inscriptions to be quoted from poetic lines of the Shi jing. This study leads to an exactly opposite deduction: these poetic lines are excerpts or recordings of liturgical prayers of which "the intended recipients were the ancestral spirits in heaven.”

This paper examines the formulaic mode and idiomatic expressions seen in the Zhousong section of the Shijing and Western Zhou bronze inscriptions to reveal the roots of early Chinese poetry in religious context. An examination across these two different types of texts, transmitted and excavated, demonstrates that the shaping of the poetic form, i.e. tetra-syllabic meter and rhyme structure of the bronze inscriptions can be dated to mid-Western Zhou, especially to the reigns of kings Gong 恭 (922-900 B.C.) and Yi 懿 (899-892 B.C.), and the early rhyme poems in the ya and song sections can be dated no earlier than these periods. The idiomatic expressions with four syllables, as formed in the liturgical prayers in ritual activities, became increasingly regular in form, i.e. rhyme and meter, in mid-Western Zhou, and developed concurrently with the use of two tones of the chimed bells, the most important instruments employed in the Zhou ritual music.

Rens Krigjsman - Material Conditions of Genre Formation in Early Verse Collections

This paper explores the changes wrought by writing on the practice of dealing with verse, and the formation of its generic classification, as revealed in Warring States manuscripts. It traces developments in the conceptualization of verse from contextually situated songs (ge 歌) and hymns (song 頌), to the genre of Odes or poems (shi 詩). The paper argues that a major impetus in this shift in conceptualization was the formation of compilations that brought multiple pieces of verse together. This process of collection enabled the addition of framing narratives that tied genre affiliations to (imagined) authorship, performance, and composition contexts in antiquity. In different texts of the same period, broad generic classifications such as Poetry 詩 emerged in juxtaposition with the Documents 書 and Rites 禮 among others which were described as having a particular function in understanding the past.


I analyze how verse is increasingly conceptualized as belonging to a recognizable, and increasingly circumscribed genre that can be subdivided in different categories. Concurrently, the rise in commentarial texts that sought to interpret the words and metaphorical meanings of individual pieces, at the same time as discussions on the efficacy of music are increasingly relegated to separate discussions, highlights a slow transformation in the perception of verse from ritual-commemorative pieces of performance to fixed and textual phenomena that could be used to understand the past. The role of the manuscript as a physical means of linking commentary and collection, its use of structuring frameworks and lists, and its use as teaching material would be instrumental in channeling and reinforcing specific traditions and understandings. While the use of verse material often remained predominantly oral and memory based, the textualization of transmission and education would provide the foundations for the processes of canonization leading up to the Book of Odes in the early empires.


Dirk Meyer - Old Cultural Capital in New Problem Space:

The Materiality of Meaning Networks and the Production of Shū (Writings) Texts

Renderings of “Shū” (Writings) traditions are commonly studied through the canon-centred paradigm as given form by the Shàngshū and the Yì Zhōushū. This approach tacitly considers the text as the primary level of meaning construction. In my paper, I refute this approach and its implied claims of text consistency. Instead, I cast light on the deep structures of meaning production and their materiality during the Warring States period in texts of stabilising “Shū” genre. Based on close readings of manuscript texts from the Qīnghuá collection as well as Guōdiàn and Shànghǎi, and informed by theoretical considerations as developed in narratology, communication theory, and genre studies, I deconstruct the canon-centred paradigm of static “Shū” texts. I develop a model that explains “Shū” as old cultural capital in an archaic speech register, not as texts. This cultural capital informs the making of micro networks of small-scale structures of signification. These micro networks stabilise in an environment of maturing manuscript cultures where increased flows of information ascertain that they become modular items of meaning production. Used variably by contrasting communities and in changing contexts, they give grounding to new arguments. These micro networks and their changing constellations, not the texts they produce, form the primary layer of meaning production in “Shū” composition, channelling future forms of text composition.

Joachim Gentz - The Text’s Two Bodies: Friends or Foes?

Most contributions in the thriving field of materiality of texts aim at confirming, corroborating and cementing the widely shared assumption that textuality in literate communities is predicated upon materiality and that texts cannot be regarded as entities separable from their physical medium. This paper starts from the observation that there are manifold instances in early Chinese texts where the materiality of a text does not support a text’s content in any meaningful way. Examples will be discussed where the materiality of a text clearly inhibits the expression of the text’s content, where textual material forms have disturbing effects on the proper literary performance of texts and where texts appear like captives trapped in a wrong body. This idea of a fallacious literary incarnation of a text demands in turn the conceptualisation of a reduplication of a text into a literary and a material body, each possibly embodying different meanings of the text. The paper concludes that studies on the materiality of texts need to address the problem of the relationship of these two bodies first before the role of the materiality of a text can be adequately determined.

Jack Chen - How Does a Poem Think / How Is a Poem Thought?


The literary critic William K. Wimsatt once opened a collection of essays on versification with the statement, “Every feature of a poem is both an act of knowing and responding and at the same time a thing known or knowable.” To understand the poem as an act of cognition, however, one must also address how the poem constitutes thought through poetry’s particular formal constraints. Within the classical Chinese tradition, questions of rhyme, syllabic count, tonal balance, caesura, semantic parallelism, and couplet and stanzaic form all inflect and determine what is thinkable in the poem, from the level of diction to discursive macrostructures. This is the linguistic materiality through which the poem thinks, through which the poem constitutes thought. To quote Friedrich Schleiermacher, “language is the manner in which thought is real.” In this paper, I will examine three short poems (one by Tao Qian, one by Wang Wei, and one by Su Shi), reading them in conversation with a hermeneutical tradition that extends from Schleiermacher to Heidegger to recent work in cognitive literary studies. 

Yin Hui - Material, Art and Thought: Representations of the story of Confucius's meeting with Laozi


The story of "Confucius questioning Laozi" was a very striking topic in the history of Chinese ancient thought and philosophy. This paper explores the ways in which thinkers, artists, and the common public expressed this theme and the ways in which the media used helped to shape the meaning and interpretations of the encounter. Exploring the portrait stone of the Han dynasty, various tomb murals, the paintings in the Ming dynasty, and the collections of modern scholars, this paper examines the similarities and differences in representing this theme through different media and artistic styles as well as shifting interpretations of Confucianism and Taoism.

Yingtian He - Acquiring Principle from the Concreteness: Materiality in Dai Zhen’s Trigonometric Studies

How did materiality matter in high-Qing mathematical studies? Through a close reading of Dai Zhen’s (1724-1777) representative treatise on trigonometry, Gougu geyuan ji (Records of Circle-Division through the Gougu Method), this paper demonstrates how Dai creatively used the geometric instrument of a “quadrant square” to derive the eight trigonometric lines and build up his entire trigonometric system. With a comparison to Mei Wending’s (1633-1721) Jesuit-inspired work on the same topic, the paper highlights how Dai’s emphasis on the material instrument and operative context deviated from the paradigm of abstract geometric reasoning in Jesuit trigonometry. Setting this contrast within the broader intellectual debate of the “Chinese method” versus the “Western method,” this paper sheds new light on the epistemological difference between the indigenous side-oriented approach of “gougu” and the Western angle-oriented approach of “sanjiao.” Moreover, by connecting Dai’s material concerns in trigonometric studies to his philosophical stance of “acquiring principle from the concreteness,” this paper also aims at revealing an internal connection between Dai’s “moral reasoning” and “evidential research,” indicating a more fluid and comprehensive picture than a strict distinction of these two analytical categories in the historiography of high-Qing scholarship.

The Materiality of Collections and Anthologies 

Christopher Nugent - Designing the Rabbit Garden: Model Prose and

Mnemonic Structures in an Early Tang Encyclopedia Discovered at Dunhuang


Students in the Tang period faced a seemingly contradictory dilemma. The increasing complexity of literary and intellectual culture required them to master, or at least display meaningful familiarity with, a broad range of literary works from the previous thousand years. This was true in a range of contexts, from elite social events to the civil service exam. At the same time, even the mature manuscript culture of the Tang could not supply sufficient written materials to fully satisfy students’ demands; many works, especially the longer classics and important histories, remained difficult to acquire in their full versions. It is in this context that encyclopedic works, which had existed previously and later became known as leishu (“writings arranged by category”) began to proliferate.


My paper examines one such work, the Tuyuan cefu 兔園策府 (Repository of rabbit garden questions). Compiled in the early part of the Tang as something approximating a textbook for exam preparation, the Tuyuan cefu both teaches the basic structures of the kind of parallelistic prose writing required for the exam and also includes a wide range of quotations from important classical and historical works that students would be expected to know and to which they would be expected to allude. Moreover, it uses sophisticated mnemonic structures to peg this latter information to the sentences in its model essays. I focus on single manuscript copy of the chapter of the work on the Feng and Shan sacrifices, analyzing the content, form, and material context.

Peter Ditmanson - The Emergence of “Rustic Histories”:

Biji and Publishing in the Late Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries


In the tumultuous years of the middle of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), private notebooks (biji 筆記) began to circulate with anecdotes challenging the official historical narratives of the court.  Most of these texts first circulated in manuscript form in and around the dual capitals of Beijing and Nanjing in the second half of the fifteenth century.  The stories in these texts focused upon lurid and scandalous events, often of dubious veracity.  During the early decades of the sixteenth century, the expanding publishing industry saw the collation of these informal records, re-organising the material into larger compilations and anthologies.  


This paper argues that this expansion in the printing and circulation of texts led to the creation of new reading markets for lively historical writings, particularly those focused on the current dynasty. Reading tastes were also shaped by the publication of fiction--novels and chantefables--that saw increasing circulation in this period. The emerging private histories (yeshi 野史) of the sixteenth century were commercially savvy and aimed their content and narrative styles at such reading markets.  Historiography in the late Ming period was thus transformed, shifting from the narrow preview of court history officials towards a broader popular field of writers and readers, deeply engaged in the narratives of the dynasty.

Claudia Wenzel - Stone Sutras: Materiality and Text Performance Then and Now

Sutra texts, carved in stone mainly between the second half of the sixth century and the eighth century, are rewarding objects revealing mechanisms of materiality and text performance. Originally carved in stone, they were multiplied by means of ink rubbings and reviewed in traditional epigraphical studies. Today, they are even reproduced digitally for further investigation. In each phase of reproduction and distribution, text performance changes.

This investigation in the material conditions of stone sutras will show how character size (2 cm in text caves to 3 m in monumental Buddha-names) and text length (short quotations, sections, complete sutras) matters, as size has an immediate impact on the possibility (or impossibility) of text reproduction, as well as on text perception: Inscriptions with a height up to four meters (Mount Yi) may be fitted on a single sheet of paper when rubbings are taken. For larger ones, rubbings are taken from each single character (measuring ca. 50 cm); in this way, the coherence of a text may get lost in the transmission process. Sometimes this loss is accepted, because the reception focus shifts from (religious) meaning to form (writing style and calligraphy). One after-effect is the different approach of traditional epigraphers and modern researchers who studied only rubbings from those who surveyed the actual carvings on-site. Moreover, the layout of stone sutras mattered in the most profound way for their creators:  A certain text passage in 98 characters, carved repeatedly on the Shandong mountains, encodes in its layout a strategy for building a regional network of sacred sites under the Northern Qi dynasty. Ornaments around texts were also used to distinguish text versions (Mount Gang), or to supply additional meaning for the inscription site (Nirvanasutra at Wofoyuan).

Yang Yong - On The Relationship Between Bamboo Slips And Tables In Han Dynasty Historical Records

Compared with other writing materials such as oracle bones, bronze, stone tablets and silk, bamboo slips are convenient and cheap to use for writing and constitute a major innovation in ancient Chinese textual materials. The woven bamboo slips themselves have natural vertical lines, and horizontal lines can be applied to the slips when fastened in scroll-format, creating an easy medium for writing, and offering new ways of organizing knowledge. In their historical compilations, Sima Qian (司马迁 145BCE-?) and Ban Gu (班固32-92CE) used a tabular format to represent long spans of time and complex historical information. The ten tables in Sima’s Record of the Historian (Shiji 史记)and the eight tables in Ban’s History of the Han Dynasty  (Hanshu 汉书) marked new ways of presenting historical knowledge in the era of the bamboo slips. The use of tables in historical records seems to have been unprecedented, and was not inherited from earlier records on  oracle bones, bronzes, or stone tablets.  Rather, it indicatesd an expansion of common representational practices, such as charts and diagrams, that had emerged with the technology of bamboo slips.  This paper explores the evolution of ways of representing knowledge in the Warring States period, culminating in the sophisticated tables of the history texts of the Han period.

Luo Qin - Nought May Endure but Mutability : Printing, Textual Revision, and the Transmission of Knowledge in the Late Ming and Early Qing Dynasties

This paper explores the malleability of published information in the late Ming and early Qing periods.  Whereas printed materials implied authority and permanence, revisions and changes between editions and wood-block impressions suggest a greater fluidity in the perceptions of these materials than modern scholars have previously understood. One clear example of this are the writings of the poet, calligrapher and essayist Zhou Lianggong (周亮工1612-1672), whose works appeared in varying versions in early impressions and late impressions, as well as in original editions and reprinted editions, partial editions, comprehensive editions,  manuscript editions, collected works of multiple authors, book series editions, and so on. Technically, there were at least four ways to change the words between the early impression and late impression. The first was to replace an entire woodblock. The second was to excise sections of a woodblock. The third was to cut off parts of the paper. The fourth was to move some of the contents from one place to another. These changes were made by original authors, or by their descendants, publishers, officials or others. Reasons to change a published text included political factors, personal or family dynamics, changing intellectual trends, or commercial competition.The tendency to revise printed editions, which are multi-faceted and complicated in the Ming and Qing dynasties, has not been well understood, leading modern scholars to base their analyses on single imprints of single editions of an author’s works. This misleading practice is based upon faulty assumptions that Ming and Qing printed texts were fixed. This paper demonstrates that they were not, and moreover, that Ming and Qing writers and publishers did not perceive printing as a stable and authoritative medium.

Kuan-yun Huang: More Manuscripts More Problems

Since the 1990s, several corpuses of Warring States manuscripts have come to light that feature contents of a literary and philosophical nature.  There is no reason to expect that the pace will slow down anytime soon, and this is the literal understanding of the title of this presentation.  A more speculative understanding is to entertain the possibility of a greater number of manuscripts behind the ones now known to us, and consider how they might have formed webs, kaleidoscopes, matrices, or discourses that we could try to reconstitute with help from the transmitted literary record.  Using ancient account about the Duke of Zhou as my main case study, I will offer my take on this issue and explain what this means for a future of even more manuscripts.   

The Materiality of Libraries and Archives 


Yunshuang Zhang - The Role of the Studio in Learning and Self-Cultivation

Spatiality and materiality carry the imprint of subjectivity, as space is always encoded with personal or social practices performed by the subject. At the same time, space also shapes and determines subjectivity and practices. In discussing the method of reading (dushu fu 讀書法), Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130–1200) asserts, “Closing the door, shutting the window, and controlling the crossroads— this is the right moment for reading” (Li Jingde, comp., Zhuzi yulei, 10.163). This expression, of course, should be understood in a metaphorical way: by means of a series of actions involving closing things (door, window, etc.), Zhu Xi vividly emphasizes the significance of creating a mental environment (i.e., becoming calm, concentrated, and single-minded) in preparation for reading. However, the physical space of a studio (shuzhai 書齋) can indeed work as an embodiment of this ideal environment. Zhu Xi is not alone in this. Literati in the Song dynasty (960–1279) often situated typical intellectual practices such as reading, writing, art creation, or book and art collection, in the enclosed studio, and defined it as a private space, which excludes political and even domestic lives, being primarily enjoyed by the individual self. This paper thus tackles the issues that how the privacy of the studio shaped the features of scholarly activities and the way of learning, and how it guaranteed the realization of mental enjoyment and self-cultivation for Song literati. 

Nathan Vedal - The Road of Knowledge Contains a Thousand Paths:

Categorizing Books in Late Imperial China

This paper examines a substantial body of late imperial bibliographical catalogues (shumu 書目) in order to track changes in the categorization of knowledge across time. Given the vast amount of information contained in such catalogues, they serve as rich, yet to date underutilized sources for understanding the development of systems of knowledge classification in China. These classification systems were by no means stable through the Ming and Qing dynasties. Their structure was influenced not only by the intellectual convictions of the compiler, but also the material conditions of personal book collections. One of the central concerns facing bibliographical scholars in this period was how to identify what belonged within the boundaries of a particular field. This paper focuses on a set of case studies, including Neo-Confucianism, music, and mathematics. A perennial issue for scholars beginning in the 13th century, and intensifying over the centuries to come, was how to categorize Neo-Confucianism. Did it belong in Classics (jing) alongside classical Confucianism, or among the various masters (zi), or somewhere else entirely? Similarly, the status and classification of fields such as music and mathematics, as well as the contents of these seemingly intuitive categories, varied substantially across time according to contemporary intellectual trends, structuring devices within the texts themselves, and the material configurations of particular libraries. By tracing shifting bibliographical categorizations, this paper delineates how divisions of knowledge changed over the course of the period, and provides an alternative narrative to current understandings of intellectual transition in late imperial China. 

Donald Sturgeon - Old Texts in a New World: Meaning Production in the Digital Medium

Throughout history, technical innovations in the production and transmission of written materials have often had far-reaching long-term consequences for knowledge production -- from standardisation of writing forms, to the development of dictionaries and encyclopaedias, to the availability and spread of printing and copying technologies, In this paper, I focus on the ongoing impact of the most recent such development: digitisation and increasing use of digital modes of interaction with premodern textual materials. Since premodern Chinese documents first became available to scholars in digital form, the existence of digital texts has caused gradual but significant changes in mainstream scholarly workflows and expectations. Full-text repositories and digital libraries now make available in seconds to anyone on the planet premodern materials on a scale once impossible for anyone other than a determined emperor to obtain, while making similarly fantastic reductions in time and effort required to retrieve certain types of information. At the same time, even more dramatic changes have begun to take place as a consequence of digitization together with the ever-increasing sophistication and power of digital systems. Faced with larger volumes of material than any individual could ever expect to read – let alone claim detailed knowledge of – text mining and distant reading approaches offer the promise of gleaning useful information from exhaustive statistical analyses at scales not achievable through traditional means. Data-driven approaches – already well developed in other disciplines – similarly enable digital approaches to historical studies in which evidence can be systematically assembled at large enough scales to solidly ground statistical claims about broad historical and societal changes over time. This paper explores the development of these approaches, and the consequences for knowledge production in the digital age.

Stefano Gandolfo - The Materiality of the e-Siku quanshu


In this paper, I want to explore the idea of materiality – the extra-linguistic encoding of meaning – in two different yet related aspects of the Siku quanshu (hence, SKQS). This first part of the paper uses tools from the Digital Humanities (frequency analysis and topic modeling) to extract information about the content of the different lei and shu to explore the relationship between the structure of the SKQS – the organizational labels – and its content. The analysis between structure and content is not done with the assumption that there is or ought to be a direct correspondence between the two but rather with the intention to understand the particular relationship between structure and content. I am interested in figuring it out whether, and if so how, the SKQS exhibits a poly-axiomatic organization: different parts of the SKQS – different aspects of knowledge – employ different organizational principles. Tracing these differences is at the heart of the first part of the paper. The second part is a methodological reflection on the use of a digitized and curated version of the SKQS. In what ways the kinds of questions – and answers – we set are molded by the medium through which we study a text? How is our idea of knowledge expanded or restricted from a digital corpus? In short, how does materiality affect our perception of knowledge? Thus the first part of the paper explores the effects of materiality as it influences the production of the SKQS and the second probes into the effects of materiality as it influences the reception of the SKQS. By bringing these two aspects together, the paper shows that through the prism of materiality the inherent link between the conceptualization of knowledge at the stages of production and consumption becomes more clearly apparent.