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Ritual, Mimesis, and the Nonhuman Animal World in Early China

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Early Chinese texts frequently link the origins of ritual, play, dance, and music to patterns of behavior observed in the nonhuman animal world. Moralizing readings of animal behavior proliferate in texts and iconography from the classical age of the Warring States and early empires (fifth century BC to first century AD), when China’s masters of philosophy were drawing up the contours of their ethical theories. The animal world inspired models for human ritualized conduct that became codified in the classicist (Confucian) ritual canon. This paper examines representative examples of this and tries to identify some of the conceptual schemes used in early China to subsume the animal world into moral frameworks that were meant to guide human conduct.

Affiliations: 1: University of Cambridge


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