You are here

Jochim, "Imperial audience ceremonies of the Ch'ing dynasty: a study of the ethico-religious dimension of the Confucian state," 1980

USC dissertation in History.
August 27, 2009

Christian Jochim, Ph.D

Abstract (Summary)

In contributing to an understanding of the ethico-religious dimension of the Confucian state (the ideal and orthodox form of traditional Chinese government), this study explores the important role that was given to ritual within Confucian governmental theory as well as practice. The imperial audience ceremonies that the study seeks specifically to describe and interpret are therefore set within the broader framework of Chinese state religion, on the one hand, and the comparative study of ritual, sacred rulership, and related matters, on the other.

In the opening chapter of the dissertation, contemporary theory concerning ritual is surveyed and a definition is set forth which specifies that a ritual is an event involving the creation of a symbolic universe and serving two interdependent functions: one "transformative," the other "confirmative." In the second chapter, an historical and philosophical analysis of the Confucian concept li ("ritual," roughly translated) is offered in order to demonstrate the ethical and political significance that ritual had for Confucian thinkers and to indicate that their views concerning ritual merit consideration alongside those of contemporary theorists. The third chapter provides an overview of Chinese state religion during the Ch'ing dynasty at three distinguishable levels: (1) the imperial cult, (2) the literati cult of Confucius, and (3) the local ethico-political cults. Each of the first three chapters, then, explores a different aspect of the background against which Ch'ing imperial ceremonial audiences can best be understood.

The fourth chapter sets forth the details of imperial "ceremonial" audiences, distinguishing them from the "business" audiences at which the emperor and his highest officials dealt with ordinary affairs of state. Ceremonial audiences normally took place in and around the main throne hall of Peking's Forbidden City, the Hall of Supreme Harmony. They were ostensibly held to congratulate and pay obeisance to the emperor; yet, at the same time, they served to honor others who participated in them, whether regularly or on some special occasion such as that of receiving a civil service degree or an appointment in officialdom. They were large-scale, public events at which documents of a celebratory and ceremonial nature were presented (such as memorials of congratulation to the emperor or proclamations issued by him in connection with great and joyous events like general pardons, military victories, or imperial accessions). In analyzing the audiences as religious rituals, their "confirmative" and "transformative" functions are both described. They are found to have given symbolic representation on a grand scale to the concentric, hierarchical, and organismic Confucian world-view; and they are seen as having served as the context for extremely important transitions of religio-political power between the imperial and bureaucratic levels of the Ch'ing state.

As explained in the final chapter, the study of Ch'ing imperial audience ceremonies thus offers a look at an outstanding practical expression of the Confucian view that ritual was both an extremely effective and morally commendable form of governmental practice. In interpreting these ceremonies, they are shown to express the basic nature of Confucian religio-political conception in several important ways. As ostensibly "civil" occasions, they well indicate the attenuated importance given to supernatural elements within Confucian religiosity. Because they celebrated the sacredness of the pattern of Chinese imperial rule rather than the sacred status of any individual emperor, they point to the "pattern-not-the-person" character of Chinese sacred kingship. And since they celebrated a pattern of rulership characterized by concentric, hierarchical, and organismic features, they revealed a set of religious values that was appropriate to traditional China's class of ruling scholar-officials