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Food, Sacrifice, and Sagehood in Early China Hardcover – March 28, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1107001718 ISBN-10: 1107001714 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (March 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107001714
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107001718
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,409,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


'This excellent and comprehensive analysis of food ... is a feast for the scholar's palate.' Journal of the American Academy of Religion

'Sterckx has given us a most inspiring study of ancient Chinese culture.' Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies

Book Description

In ancient China, the preparation of food and the offering up of food as a religious sacrifice were intimately connected with models of sagehood and ideas of self-cultivation and morality. Roel Sterckx's book explores how this culture influenced the ways in which the early Chinese explained the workings of the human senses, and the role of sensory experience in communicating with the spirit world. The book begins with a survey of dietary culture from the Zhou to the Han and offers some intriguing insights into the ritual preparation of food and the sacrificial ceremony itself. This book will be essential reading for students of the period, and for anyone interested in ritual and religion in the ancient world.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on January 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This wonderful book begins with feasting and feast foods in China before the rise of the Chinese Empire, but then settles into a long and amazingly rich study of sacrifice and food offerings. Ancient Chinese deities wanted good food and lots of it (a good Durkheimian representation of human wants). The deities were more broad in their tastes than humans; they delighted in the pure, clean taste of water, and some liked their meat raw, even with the skin and hair still on it. In ancient times, this was apparently because they wanted the pure flavorless untouched essence, but modern spirits who like raw meat tend to be rather wild and dangerous ones; this may have been true in ancient times also, since barbarians were supposed to eat their food raw. (This is evidently the source of the later terms "raw" and "cooked" barbarians for non-Sinicized and properly Sinicized ethnic groups respectively.) Spirits also loved geng--rich stews of meat, often with vegetables and other things. Organizing huge ceremonies had major social effects. First, the Chinese anticipated John Maynard Keynes and Paul Krugman in having a very thorough awareness of the way government could stimulate and "grow" the economy by having huge programs like this (see pp. 145-156). They wrote of the great stimulus to production and wealth from even the lowly bulrush ("jing reed"), used for mats and strainers. Second, organizing these huge sacrifice rites, and behaving properly during them, made one very self-controlled, self-aware, and competent at managing both grand and small detail; this is where the "sagehood" comes in.
All in all, this is a really wonderful study. I wish I had the chance to eat those foods. A few recipes are preserved, almost miraculously, in a tomb document--but they are pretty plain ones, not those rich-flavored geng.
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