Saturday, 19 March 2011

Art, Myth and Ritual: The Path to Political Authority in Ancient China

Art, Myth and Ritual: The Path to Political Authority in Ancient China
K. C. Chang | 1988-10-15 00:00:00 | Harvard University Press | 160 | China
If you are a serious student of Chinese history and culture, you must own, not just read, this book. Its cross-disciplinary perspective makes it a book you will find yourself returning to on a regular basis as your own knowledge and understanding of Chinese history and culture grows. Passages once oblique or of little interest to you previously, will suddenly become the glue of new associations and insights.
This is the most succinct statement of the late K.C. Chang's views of early Chinese civilization. Many of his opinions are controversial--for example, his view of shamanism in ancient China and his interpretation of the characteristic decorations on bronze vessels--but they are creative, original, and have influenced an entire generation of historians. Once you read his brief and incisive discussion of the resources necessary to produce a bronze vessel, from mining the ore to casting the piece, your appreciation of these artifacts will never be the same again. This kind of book is rare and admirable: concise, well written, and brimming with provocative ideas.
Art Myth and Ritual sets out an elegant yet convincing theory regarding the nature of the early Chinese state and the technological, ideological and social foundations on which it rested. By combining archaeology, classical studies and anthropology, Prof. Chang (who is regarded as the international dean of Chinese archaeology by scholars on both sides of the Taiwan strait as well as in Europe and North America) provides his readers with a dynamic view of ancient Chinese statecraft and the religious ideas that made it possible.

This book remains the single most concise statement of Chang's theoretical contribution to the archaeology of the Chinese Bronze Age. It is also simply written, well-illustrated and an excellent beginning point for the serious student of Chinese archaeology.

With Chang's magnum opus: "The Archaeology of Ancient China" sadly out of print (at time of writing), readers must make do with this volume to get a sense of his scope of vision, analytical depth and anthropological insight.

As one of K.C.s final generation of students, I must admit to a certain bias. However, it is my professional and personal opinion that this book is still one of the best works on Chinese archaeology in any language.

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