Research Project


Research Project - Popular Culture and Books of Fate in Early China: The Daybook Manuscripts (rishu 日書) of the Warring States, Qin, and Han periods

Marianne Bujard, École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), Paris
László Sándor Chardonnens, Radboud University, Nijmegen
Chen Kanli 陈侃理, Beijing University
Christopher Cullen, Needham Research Institute, Cambridge
Ethan Harkness, New York University
Donald Harper, University of Chicago
Marc Kalinowski, École pratique des hautes études (EPHE), Paris
Li Ling 李零, Beijing University
Liu Lexian 劉樂賢, Capital Normal University, Beijing
Alasdair Livingstone, University of Birmingham
Michael Lüdke, International Consortium for Research in the Humanities, Erlangen
Richard Smith, Rice University, Houston
Alain Thote, École pratique des hautes études (EPHE), Paris
Yan Changgui 晏昌貴, Wuhan University

Since the 1970s, archaeological excavations in China have produced many examples of a type of manuscript called rishu 日書 "day book." The title rishu is written on one of two manuscript examples discovered in 1975 in Shuihudi tomb 11 (burial dated ca. 217 B.C.), and occurs on several manuscripts discovered since 1975. Day book manuscripts dated between the fourth and first centuries B.C. have been found in tombs that range from the most basic (a coffin in the ground) to increasingly elaborate tombs belonging to low-level government office-holders, high officials, and aristocrats. Among the currently available day books, the content and its arrangement on the manuscript are remarkably consistent: including, for example, sections on calendrical and hemerological systems, astrology, and magico-religious activity. All of the information was clearly intended to be used by a broad range of social groups in the course of everyday life, and the manuscripts themselves show signs of use by their owners prior to being placed with burial goods in tombs. Close examination of the day book manuscripts reveals that they represent a type of manuscript miscellany whose exact content varied according to the needs and wishes of the makers, readers, and users.

The day books are invaluable sources for many aspects of ancient Chinese culture, including divination, religion, and correlative thought. These aspects are to be addressed in the Project. A primary focus of the Project is to examine the day books as realia, as texts that played a significant role in the everyday life of people belonging to different social groups, yet who shared a world view expressed in the day books. Inasmuch as day books were a household vade mecum and were intended to guide daily activities to ensure beneficial outcomes, their function was similar to literature in other premodern cultures such as almanacs and grimoires or occult chapbooks. Looking at day books from the perspective of their cultural influence, the Project directly addresses the issue of what constituted popular culture in ancient China, situates day books within the larger conceptual category of "books of fate" in ancient China as well as in later periods, and undertakes cross-cultural study of "books of fate."

At the present time there is keen interest in the day books among scholars in China and other East Asian countries. There have been brief presentations in Western languages, but not a full examination of the day books that includes their multifaceted content as well as their cultural significance. The research undertaken in the Project addresses an urgent need for greater awareness on the part of Western scholars of this critical body of evidence for ancient Chinese culture. The Project is intended to fill a gap in sinological studies as well as to open the way to comparative studies in popular culture, manuscript culture, prognostic techniques, and popular ideas about fate.

The project will result in a two-volume publication, edited by Donald Harper (Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago) and Marc Kalinowski (Section of Religious Sciences, EPHE, Paris), with contributions by the leading Chinese and Western experts in the field.

The two volumes are intended as the standard Western-language reference on daybooks. The thematic volume is intended to cover all of the most relevant aspects concerning the daybooks. The translation volume will provide both an edition and translation of representative source material, as well as an extensive list of reference material, including a thematic index to the extant daybooks, and a bibliography. The two volumes are expected to be published in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Contents of the two volume publication

Introduction of the project in the newsletter of the University of Erlangen:

uni kurier aktuell no.90, April, 2013: Das Schicksal steht auf Bambus. Forscher nehmen den Alltag im alten China unter die Lupe

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