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This is a book launch for Jessey Choo's new book, Inscribing Death: Burials, Representations, and Remembrance in Tang China (University of Hawaii Press, 2022). Two interlocutors, Paul Goldin (University of Pennsylvania) and Alexei Ditter (Reed College), will engage the author, Jessey Choo (Rutgers University), in a conversation about her book. This event is open to the public, but registration is required. Click here to register.
From the publisher's website:
This nuanced study traces how Chinese came to view death as an opportunity to fashion and convey social identities and memories during the medieval period (200–1000) and the Tang dynasty (618–907), specifically. As Chinese society became increasingly multicultural and multireligious, to achieve these aims people selectively adopted, portrayed, and interpreted various acts of remembrance. Included in these were new and evolving burial, mourning, and commemorative practices: joint-burials of spouses, extended family members, and coreligionists; relocation and reburial of bodies; posthumous marriage and divorce; interment of a summoned soul in the absence of a body; and many changes to the classical mourning and commemorative rites that became the norm during the period. Individuals independently constructed the socio-religious meanings of a particular death and the handling of corpses by engaging in and reviewing acts of remembrance.
Drawing on a variety of sources, including hundreds of newly excavated entombed epitaph inscriptions, Inscribing Death illuminates the process through which the living—and the dead—negotiated this multiplicity of meanings and how they shaped their memories and identities both as individuals and as part of collectives. In particular, it details the growing emphasis on remembrance as an expression of filial piety and the grave as a focal point of ancestral sacrifice. The work also identifies different modes of construction and representation of the self in life and death, deepening our understanding of ancestral worship and its changing modus operandi and continuous shaping influence on the most intimate human relationships—thus challenging the current monolithic representation of ancestral worship as an extension of families rather than individuals in medieval China.
Jessey Choo is a cultural historian specializing in China’s medieval period (200–1000 CE), with particular expertise in Chinese entombed epigraphy (muzhiming 墓志銘). Her current research centers on cultural and religious practices associated with death and childbirth, as well as the acquisition and exercise of personal agency in everyday life. Specifically, she is interested in the tension between the “Confucian” emphasis on selfless devotion to one’s parents and family and the growing importance in medieval Chinese society of pursuing personal agency, identity, and salvation. She is the author of Inscribing Death: Burials, Texts, and Remembrance in Tang China (University of Hawaii Press, 2022), and a co-editor of Early Medieval China: A Sourcebook (Columbia University Press, 2014) and Tales from Tang Dynasty China: Selections from the Taiping Guangji (Hackett Publishing Co., 2017).
Paul R. Goldin is Professor of East Asian Languages & Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Rituals of the Way: The Philosophy of Xunzi (1999); The Culture of Sex in Ancient China(2002); After Confucius: Studies in Early Chinese Philosophy (2005); Confucianism (2011); and The Art of Chinese Philosophy: Eight Classical Texts and How to Read Them (2020). In addition, he edited the revised edition of R.H. van Gulik's classic study, Sexual Life in Ancient China (2003), and has edited or co-edited six other books on Chinese culture and political philosophy.
Alexei Kamran Ditter (Ph.D., Princeton) is Professor of Chinese and Humanities at Reed College. His research explores interactions between social and textual practices in late medieval Chinese literature, focusing on questions of place, genre, and memory. His current projects include writing a monograph on collaborative remembering in 7th–10th century China and co-editing, with Jessey J.C. Choo, an anthology of late medieval Chinese entombed epitaphs.