Kenneth BrashierOct 29, 2014
Public Memory in Early China
Harvard University Asia Center 2014
Ken Brashier's new book is another tour de force and must-read for scholars of Chinese studies. Public Memory in Early China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2014) offers a history of identity and public memory in early China. An extensive introductory chapter lays a foundation for the rest of the book by exploring Han understandings of memory as concept and practice, including the import and nature of memorization within early manuscript culture and the ways that writing and recitation may have helped shape the cultural and political history of the Han dynasty. This introduction is followed by three parts of the book (I-III) that respectively examine the significance of the most important parameters of identity - name, age, and kinship - by understanding how each helped position individuals in relative terms. These are followed by two parts (IV; V) devoted to the tangible and intangible tools that facilitated such positioning. In each case, Brashier helps readers understand the major ways that early Chinese notions of self and identity (and the concepts that undergirded them) were importantly different or (in one case) fascinatingly similar to comparable notions in Western texts. As a result of this comparative attention, Public Memory in Early China is also a wonderful instrument for helping rethink our most basic assumptions about time, aging, and death. It is an important books well worth reading and remembering. For my interview with Brashier about his earlier book, see here. For his wonderful website on the Hell Scrolls, see here.