The Craft of Oblivion

Forgetting and Memory in Ancient China

By Albert Galvany

Subjects: Chinese Religion And Philosophy, Asian Studies, Taoism, Confucianism
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438493756, 380 pages, July 2023
Paperback : 9781438493763, 380 pages, January 2024

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Albert Galvany


1. Cultural Amnesia and Commentarial Retrofitting: Interpreting the Spring and Autumn
Newell Ann Van Auken

2. Elision and Narration: Remembering and Forgetting in Some Recently Unearthed Historiographical Manuscripts
Rens Krijgsman

3. Shaping the Historian’s Project: Language of Forgetting and Obliteration in the Shiji
Esther Sunkyung Klein

4. The Ice of Memory and the Fires of Forgetfulness: Traumatic Recollections in the Wu Yue Chunqiu
Olivia Milburn


5. The Daode jing’s Forgotten Forebear: The Ancestral Cult
K. E. Brashier

6. So Comfortable You’ll Forget You’re Wearing Them: Attention and Forgetting in the Zhuangzi and Huainanzi
Franklin Perkins

7. The Practice of Erasing Traces in the Huainanzi
Tobias Benedikt Zürn

8. The Oblivious against the Doctor: Pathologies of Remembering and Virtues of Forgetting in the Liezi
Albert Galvany

9. Wang Bi and the Hermeneutics of Actualization
Mercedes Valmisa


10. Embodied Memory and Natural Forgetting in Early Chinese Ritual Theory
Paul Nicholas Vogt

11. Exile and Return: Oblivion, Memory, and Nontragic Death in Tomb-Quelling Texts from the Eastern Han Dynasty
Xiang Li

12. Lost in Where We Are: Tao Yuanming on the Joys of Forgetting and the Worries of Being Forgotten
Michael D. K. Ing


Examines the intersections between forgetting and remembering in classical Chinese civilization.


The Craft of Oblivion is an innovative and groundbreaking volume that aims to study, for the first time, the intersections between forgetting and remembering in classical Chinese civilization. Oblivion has tended to be relegated to a marginal position, often conceived as the mere destructive or undesirable opposite of memory, even though it performs an essential function in our lives. Forgetting and memory, far from being autonomous and mutually exclusive spheres, should be seen as interdependent phenomena. Drawing on perspectives from history, philosophy, literature, and religion, and examining both transmitted texts and excavated materials, the contributors to this volume analyze various ways of understanding oblivion and its complex and fertile relations with memory in ancient China.

Albert Galvany Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU.


"The papers in this volume examine memory—and forgetting—from an impressive variety of perspectives. In their different approaches and the sources they engage, the authors bring a new richness to the study of memory in premodern China. They show us that a sophisticated regarding of the past is not only the province of the modern but existed since antiquity in ways that can still surprise us." — Charles Sanft, author of Literate Community in Early Imperial China: The Northwestern Frontier in Han Times