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Rethinking “Traditions”: Reading the Classics as Ritual

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How do generations of Chinese remain connected across history? How do the anthropological studies of religion help us to reconceptualize the realm of sociality and historicity? This paper argues that reading the classics is a ritual to bring together many heterogeneous traditions in a subjunctive historical community. In the Chinese context, reading is first done aloud in the presence of other people, in what can be broadly envisioned as a teacher-student relationship. Reading as such is rhythmic, public, and historical, by which both the deceased and the yet-to-be-born are brought together by readers’ embodied acceptance of “sages.” Thus “traditions” in China could be discussed more in terms of orthopraxy than orthodoxy. This perspective of reading suggests one is capable of understanding by “doing” rather than by “thinking” alone; and reading activities serve not only to regenerate but also to create new relationships among and between contemporaries and their historical relatives.


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