Lecture by Professor K.E. Brashier, Chair of the Religion Department, Reed College
Different audiences, different agendas: Why context matters when thinking about afterlife goods in early China
Clay models, wall reliefs, and an assortment of food and clothes might have entertained the dead within the grave, but that’s just one category of afterlife goods. Comprising a second category, physical tools of remembrance such as ancestral tablets, sacrificial vessels and commemorative portraiture positioned and preserved the dead as a mapped self within the surviving public memory. This latter category was from the perspective of the dead’s lineage, not from the dead themselves. More speculatively, this second category proposes a different kind of selfhood. Instead of the self being an independent individual as it’s habitually conceived in the modern West, here selfhood was more like a knot on a relationship net, defined as an accumulation of strands to other people. Remembrance tools such as tablets and vessels fixed and preserved those strands to others.
Brashier’s illustrated lecture will begin with the first category of grave goods intended to satisfy the dead, then turn to the second category of remembrance tools used by the living lineage to preserve their dead, and finally draw upon early texts to demonstrate how writers distinguished between these two categories of afterlife existence. Images of objects from the Museum’s galleries will be featured in this lecture thanks to major gifts of Han and pre–Han objects from the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection of Early Chinese Art.
Currently chair of the Religion Department at Reed College, Brashier received his BA from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, his MA from Harvard, and his PhD from Cambridge, after which he began teaching Chinese religions and humanities at Reed in 1998. Author of Ancestral Memory in Early China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2011) and Public Memory in Early China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2014), he is currently studying the idea of purgatory in late imperial China. In 2006, he was recognized as the national “Outstanding Baccalaureate Colleges Professor of the Year” by the CASE/Carnegie Foundation, but his chief goal in life remains a futile attempt to get his two cats to respect him.
Admission to this talk is FREE. No reservation required.
Sponsored by Asian Art Council and the Mildred Schnitzer Asian Art Lecture Fund.