China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - The Cloths of Heaven: Political Textiles of Early China

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Washington Room 2, Exhibit Level

The development of a theory of ritual psychology in the Warring States era provided a paradigm for conceptualizing the function of ritual acts in the Chinese political arena. In this theory, ritual acts were understood as powerful affective tools for managing and shaping people’s emotions through their sensory experiences. One consequence of this was to make the design of any aesthetic material of potential interest to the state. This included clothing and other textiles, which could be used to structure and reinforce social hierarchies and family relationships through their visual qualities. This paper explores the question of how such materials should be understood when viewed as part of a deliberate process of ritual design. Examining discussions of textiles in a ritual context in both Warring States texts and early imperial ritual manuals, it asks two key questions. First, how would the nature of this theory of ritual psychology help determine the history of visual design in the early empire? And second, how is our perspective on the history of taste altered when we emphasize the ritual uses of visual display?

Clayton Ashton

University of British Columbia, British Columbia, Canada


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2 - The Cloths of Heaven: Political Textiles of Early China

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