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Feasting the Ancestors in Early China

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Abstract

The importance of feasting in graveside ritual during both the Late Shang dynasty and the slightly earlier Xiajiadian culture is strongly suggested by the numerous vessels found in burial contexts dating to these periods. But it seems to be feasting of a different nature than that described in the classical anthropological literature on pig feasts in New Guinea, which forms the basis of many of our models of the role of feasting activities in traditional societies (Rappaport 1967). Rather than constituting a means of cementing alliances, producing Big Men, and organizing for war, early Chinese feasting activities appear to have had other goals. The evidence for graveside feasting in early Chinese society suggests that enlisting the aid of the dead was of greater importance than forming alliances with the living. In other words, it seems that the deceased, both the recently departed as well as more ancient ancestors, were more powerful and desirable allies than their earthly counterparts.

Keywords

  • Grave Good
  • Shang Dynasty
  • Ancestor Worship
  • Ancestral Spirit
  • Mortuary Practice

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Nelson, S.M. (2003). Feasting the Ancestors in Early China. In: Bray, T.L. (eds) The Archaeology and Politics of Food and Feasting in Early States and Empires. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-306-48246-5_4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-306-48246-5_4

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Boston, MA

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