The Rise of Confucian Ritualism in Late Imperial China: Ethics, Classics, and Lineage Discourse

The Rise of Confucian Ritualism in Late Imperial China: Ethics, Classics, and Lineage Discourse

The Rise of Confucian Ritualism in Late Imperial China: Ethics, Classics, and Lineage Discourse

The Rise of Confucian Ritualism in Late Imperial China: Ethics, Classics, and Lineage Discourse


This pathbreaking work argues that the major intellectual trend in China from the seventeenth through the early nineteenth century was Confucian ritualism, as expressed in ethics, classical learning, and discourse on lineage.


"Chow has produced a work of superb scholarship, fluently written and beautifully researched.... One of the landmarks of the current reconstruction of the social philosophy of the Qing dynasty.... Chow's book is indispensable. It has illuminating analyses of many mainstream writers, institutions, and social categories in eighteenth-century China which have never previously been examined."

- Canadian Journal of History

"Chow's monograph moves ritual to center stage in late imperial social and intellectual history, and the author makes a powerful case for doing so.... Because the author understands the intellectual history of late Ming and Qing as the history of a movement, or successive movements, of fundamental social reform, he has also made an important contribution to social and political history as these were related to intellectual history."

- Journal of Chinese Religion

"Chow's book is an excellent contribution to recent scholarship on the intellectual history of the Confucian tradition and provides a balance for other studies that have emphasized ideas to the exclusion of symbols."

- The Historian


This study is an interpretive essay in Chinese intellectual history from the seventeenth century through the early nineteenth century. This period witnessed the emergence of Confucian ritualism in the last decades of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and its eventual ascendancy in the K'ang-hsi (1662-1722) and Ch'ien-lung (1736-95) reigns. This intellectual movement primarily involved, but was not confined to, the scholar-gentry of the Lower Yangtze area. Ch'ing (1644-1911) Confucian scholars underscored the central role of ritual in their approach to ethics, Classical learning, and social order. Ritual became the confluence of various intellectual currents--purism and classicism--that sought to re-interpret Confucian tradition in order to cope with a wide array of problems besetting Chinese society since the late Ming. Its ascendancy in the early Ch'ing was inextricably linked with the gentry's attempt to reform their culture, which had been transformed dramatically in the sixteenth century by commercialization and urbanization. Beginning in the early Ch'ing there was a moral clampdown on various forms of urban culture. The upsurge of social conservatism and the growth of the cult of women's purity betrayed the gentry's growing fear of the subversive effects of literacy on the social hierarchy and their concern about the social and geographical mobility of women. The rise of Classicism, ritualism, and purism attested to the gentry's attempts to reform educational and training programs. Ch'ing literati were urged to immerse themselves in the difficult language of the Classics and to conduct research on ancient rituals and institutions, with the ultimate goal of rediscovering the authentic rituals of the sages. The ritualist approach to moral cultivation and to social solidarity through strengthening kinship ties helped re-establish the gentry as the intellectual, moral, and social leaders of local society.

All these developments were different but related aspects of an extensive endeavor by the gentry to redefine their Confucian heritage in . . .

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