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The Ding-tripod and cultural memory: An aspect of daily life in ancient China


A talk by Mu-chou Poo

The Ding-tripod and cultural memory: An aspect of daily life in ancient China

Thursday, January 30, 2020
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Bunche 10383


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This talk examines the changing meaning of ding-tripod in the cultural memory of ancient China. It shows how an object of daily use could be invested with all sorts of cultural memories: during the Shang, personal achievement and family prestige were transmitted through the bronze ding and the engravings on it; during the Zhou, ding became the symbol of political authority; during the Han, through the recounting of the stories of the Yellow Emperor’s gaining the divine ding, it was elevated to the status of an auspicious omen that could legitimize the political power as well as personal virtue of the sovereign.  Meanwhile, this expanded and mythical significance of ding gradually faded way after the Han dynasty.  It was the physical aspects of the bronze ding—heavy and stable, finely decorated and expensively made, and the political implication of ding that were remembered and transmitted to the later eras.  In modern Chinese, ding is a serious word, one with a certain aura of dignity.  Only in the southern Fukien dialect, diang (=ding) is still a word of mundane use: an ordinary cooking pot in daily life, a meaning that goes back to the Neolithic period.  The meaning of an object, or a word, therefore, is determined and affected by cultural memory.  Meaning changes when cultural memory changes, new meanings were formed, old meanings were forgotten, or resurface after a lapse of time.

Mu-chou Poo (PhD in Egyptology, Johns Hopkins 1984), is Professor of History at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Director of Centre for the Comparative Study of Antiquity, CUHK. He had worked as a Research Fellow at Academia Sinica, Taipei, from 1984-2009, and taught at various places, including Columbia, UCLA, and Grinnell College.  Research interests include religion and society in ancient Egypt and China. Major publications include Burial and the Idea of Life and Death: Essay on Ancient Chinese Religion (Taipei, 1993); Wine and Wine Offering in the Religion of Ancient Egypt (London, 1995);  In Search of Personal Welfare: A View of Ancient Chinese Religion (Albany, 1998); Enemies of Civilization: Attitudes toward Foreigners in Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and China (Albany, 2005). (Ed.) Rethinking Ghosts in World Religions (Leiden: Brill, 2009). (Ed. With H. A. Drake and Lisa Raphals) Old Society, New Belief, Religious Transformation of China and Rome, ca. 1st-6th Centuries (Oxford University Press, 2017), Daily Life in Ancient China (Cambridge University Press, 2018).


Sponsor(s): Asia Pacific Center