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Xin Wen: Old Ghosts in Tang Chang'an: Two Stories

Friday, October 20, 2023 at 3:30pm to 5:30pm

Rockefeller Hall, 375 Asian Studies Lounge
Central Campus

The Cornell Classical Chinese Colloquium welcomes Xin Wen, Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton to lead this month's text-reading.

For much of China’s early and medieval imperial history, including the Zhou, the Qin, the Han, the Sui, and the Tang dynasties, Chang’an and the surrounding area served as the capital of the Chinese empire. The study of Chang’an is often siloed along these dynastic lines, with scholars on medieval China focusing on the Sui-Tang city, while early China specialists worked on the Han city and pre-Han sites. But historically, these two clusters of constructions were not unrelated, but were physically adjacent to each other: The northern wall of the Sui-Tang city was only about 700 meters south of the southern wall of the Han city. As a result, many Han dynasty and pre-Han sites were close to, or even within, the walled city of Chang’an in the Tang. In this meeting of the Cornell Classical Chinese Colloquium, I share two stories where Tang people examined and interacted with old tombs in Chang’an. These encounters betray an attitude toward the past that was primarily not antiquarian, but exorcistic. The ways Tang people argued about, verified, and refuted the identities of the ghosts believed to haunt ancient tombs also reveal a unique epistemology where archaeological excavation and textual analysis—tools available to modern historians—were combined with necromantic knowledge produced by sorcerers or gained through nocturnal and dream encounters in order to acquire an accurate understanding of the past. This past was neither dead nor past, but often lethally alive in Tang Chang’an.

The Cornell Classical Chinese Colloquium (CCCC) 古文品讀 is a reading group for scholars interested in premodern Sinographic text (古文). The group meets monthly during the semester to explore a variety of classical Chinese texts and styles. Other premodern texts linked to classical Chinese in Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese have been explored. Presentations include works from the earliest times to the 20th century. Workshop sessions are led by local, national, and international scholars.

Participants with any level of classical Chinese experience are welcome to attend.

  • At each session, a presenter guides the group in a reading of a classical Chinese text. Attendees discuss historical, literary, linguistic, and other aspects of the text, working together to resolve difficulties in comprehension and translation.

  • No preparation is required; all texts will be distributed at the meeting.

Contact for more information and subscribe to CCCC news for updates about events. Please make sure to send your subscription request from the email address at which you wish to receive CCCC updates.

Cornell faculty hosts are TJ Hinrichs, History, and Suyoung Son, Asian Studies.


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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, History, East Asia Program, China and Asia-Pacific Studies, Cornell China Center, Medieval Studies


history, East Asia program, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, asianstudiescal, Medieval studies



Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

TJ Hinrichs or Suyoung Son


Xin Wen

Speaker Affiliation

East Asian Studies, History, Princeton University

Speaker Web Site

Dept. Web Site

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