The 2019 Annual Mote Lecture

Wed, Feb 20, 2019, 4:30 pm
202 Jones
Program in East Asian Studies

The Public Performance of Justice: The Transcultural Career of an Early Chinese Political Installation Across Eurasia

Rulers across Eurasia have drawn legitimacy from a claim that their governance would secure justice in their domain. While this notion of justice comes in many different framings and the interaction between them since antiquity is hard to trace, the spread of a curious Chinese installation across Eurasia since the seventh century CE might be a significant pointer to the sharing of some of the underlying ideas and issues. This installation is a device such as a drum or a bell installed in the public domain directly outside the palace - but audible within - that supposedly allowed commoners to get direct access to the ruler himself with complaints about official abuses, remonstrance of the ruler himself, or crisis alerts. It spread throughout Eurasia since the 7th century through diplomats, travelers, and merchants, and eventually through narratives about idealized local rulers of antiquity. Since the 17th century, the images and texts in Zhang Juzheng’s Illustrated Mirror for the Emperor (1572) led to a second transcultural career of the installation.


Zhang Juzheng, "Illustrated Mirror for the Emperor," 1572.

The lecture will trace the spread of this installation, detail its selective adaptation, and test a hypothesis whether the condition for the possibility of this spread is an increasingly shared understanding of legitimate governance in new territorial states with a centralized bureaucracy.

Rudolf G. Wagner is Senior Professor of Chinese Studies at Heidelberg University, Cluster "Asia and Europe." Currently, he is an Associate at the John K. Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.

Recent studies:

“The Free Flow of Communication Between High and Low: The Shenbao as Platform for Yangwu Discussions on Political Reform, 1872-1895,“ T’oung Pao 104-1-3 (2018): 116-188.

"The Language of Heaven,“ in I. Amelung, J. Kurtz, eds., Reading the Signs: Philology, History, Prognostication. Festschrift fuer M. Lackner, Munich: iudicium, 2018, 97-126.

"Dividing up the [Chinese] Melon, guafen 瓜分": The Fate of a Transcultural Metaphor in the Formation of National Myth,” Transcultural Studies 1 (2017), 9-122.

"Media, Literature, and Early Chinese Modernity." In David Der-wei  Wang, ed., A New Literary History of Modern China (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017), 114-118.

Language, Ontology, and Political Philosophy: Wang Bi's Scholarly Exploration of the Dark (Xuanxue). Albany: SUNY Press, 2003.

A Chinese Reading of the Daodejing : Wang Bi's commentary on the Laozi with critical text and translation, Albany, NY: State Univ. of New York Press, 2003.

The Craft of a Chinese Commentator: Wang Bi on the Laozi. Albany: SUNY Press, 2000.

The Mote Annual Lectures are named after Frederick Mote, former Princeton University Professor of Chinese History.

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