NYU Shanghai Lecture: From Scripture to Literature

The Culture of Travel and the Making of Early Medieval Chinese Societies

Zhao Lu

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

From the first century BCE to the second century CE, China experienced a wax and wane of zeal for the so-called “Confucian” Classics. For example, in 72 CE, the court sacrificed to Confucius and his seventy-two disciples. But by 165 CE, the sacrifice was to Laozi 老子, supposedly a Daoist figure. While Yang Xiong 揚雄 (53 BCE–18 CE) believed that rhapsody writing was a minor and childish skill compared to classicism, Cao Pi 曹丕 (187–226 CE) two hundred years later claimed that literary writing was a grand, everlasting accomplishment, as opposed to the narrow-minded practice of interpreting the classics. What caused these seemingly opposite phenomena and attitudes, and was there any underlying relationship between them? This talk will explore how in the first two centuries CE China, classicism encouraged people to travel and in turn shaped their social relationships, material lives, and certain intellectual trends such as erudite learning and literary writing. Instead of assuming aloof, compartmented traditions like Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, it aims to reveal how individuals established daily practices and rearranged existing knowledge according to their needs and anxieties. This talk will also show how, through traveling, ideas localized and materialized inside and outside of China Proper.

Zhao Lu is a Research Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.  He studied Chinese intellectual and cultural history at the University of Pennsylvania and has been a research fellow at the International Consortium for Research in the Humanities (IKGF), at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany.

Zhao Lu studies classicism, the images of Confucius, and divination in early China and early medieval China. He is particularly interested in how individuals’ needs and anxieties drove intellectual innovations, and how they realized the innovations through concrete daily practices. He is the author of In Pursuit of the Great Peace: Han Dynasty Classicism and the Making of Early Medieval Literati Culture (State University of New York Press, forthcoming) and the co-author of Stalk Divination: A Newly Discovered Alternative to the I-Ching (Oxford University Press, 2017) with Constance A. Cook. He is also a general editor of the IKGF Handbook Series of Prognostication and Predication in China with Brill Press.

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