Reed College

Different Audiences, Different Agendas: Why Context Matters When Thinking About Afterlife Goods in Early China

Ken Brashier, professor of religion and humanities at Reed College.

Clay models, wall reliefs, and an assortment of food and clothes might have entertained the dead within the grave, but that’s just one category of afterlife goods. Comprising a second category, physical tools of remembrance such as ancestral tablets, sacrificial vessels and commemorative portraiture positioned and preserved the dead as a mapped self within the surviving public memory. This latter category was from the perspective of the dead’s lineage, not from the dead themselves. More speculatively, this second category proposes a different kind of selfhood. Instead of the self being an independent individual as it’s habitually conceived in the modern West, here selfhood was more like a knot on a relationship net, defined as an accumulation of strands to other people. Remembrance tools such as tablets and vessels fixed and preserved those strands to others.

Prof. Brashier’s illustrated lecture will begin with the first category of grave goods intended to satisfy the dead, then turn to the second category of remembrance tools used by the living lineage to preserve their dead, and finally draw upon early texts to demonstrate how writers distinguished between these two categories of afterlife existence. Images of objects from the Museum’s galleries will be featured in this lecture thanks to major gifts of Han and pre–Han objects from the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection of Early Chinese Art.

Sunday, September 17, 2017 at 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Whitsell Auditorium 1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205

Event Type

Lecture, Student, Alumni


Faculty & Staff, Students, Alumni, General Public


Alumni Relations



Free with Museum Admission


Portland Alumni Chapter

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