The Writing of Weddings in Middle-Period China

Text and Ritual Practice in the Eighth through Fourteenth Centuries

By Christian de Pee

Subjects: Archaeology
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791470749, 380 pages, January 2008
Hardcover : 9780791470732, 380 pages, April 2007

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Table of contents

Introduction: The Practice of the Text

The Practice of the Classical Text: The Writing of Weddings in the Middle Period
The Practice of the Academic Text: The Writing of Weddings in Modern and Postmodern History

1. Ritual Manuals: Exegetical Hermeneutics and the Re-Embodiment of Antiquity

Canonical Weddings: Fragments and Hermeneutics
Rites of the Kaiyuan Period: The Merging of Canon and Precedent
Manuals of Letters and Ceremonies: The Hermeneutics of Practice and the Preservation of Ritual
The Hermeneutical Shift in the Northern Song: Epigraphy, Archaeology, and the Identity of Past and Present
Ritual Manuals of the Northern Song: The Hermeneutics of Text and the Embodiment of Antiquity
Toward a New Ritual Scripture: Zhu Xi’s Family Rituals

2. Wedding Correspondence and Nuptial Songs: Writing as Cultural Capital and Text as Ritual Object

Cultural Capital and the Inscription of Ritual Time in Wedding Correspondence
Social Boundaries and Symbolic Capital in Writing Manuals
Ritual Time and Sexual Metaphors in Wedding Addresses, Poems, and Jokes

3. Calendars, Almanacs, Miracle Tales, and Medical Texts: Cosmic Cycles and the Liminal Affairs of Man

Patterns of Auspicious and Inauspicious Time in Calendars
The Calculation of Cosmic Blessings and Dangers in Almanacs
The Blessings and Dangers of Weddings in Miracle Tales
The Vulnerable and Dangerous Body of the Bride in Miracle Tales and Medical Texts

4. Legal Codes, Verdicts, and Contracts: Universal Order and Local Practice

Marriage and the Universal Order: The Annotated Tang Code and the Song Penal Code
Universal Law and Local Practice: A Collection of Pure and Lucid Verdicts
Interference with Ritual Practice: Imperial Canon of Sacred Governance and Comprehensive Institutions

Conclusion. Texts and Tombs, Ritual and History

The Practice of the Tomb: Material Traces of Ritual
The Practice of the Text: Written Traces of Ritual
The Practice of History: Toward a Cultural History of the Middle Period


A groundbreaking work that treats writing as a ritual practice and texts as ritual objects.


Approaching writing as a form of cultural practice and understanding text as an historical object, this book not only recovers elements of the ritual practice of Middle-Period weddings, but also reassesses the relationship between texts and the Middle-Period past. Its fourfold narrative of the writing of weddings and its spirited engagement with the texts—ritual manuals, engagement letters, nuptial songs, calendars and almanacs, and legal texts—offer a form and style for a cultural history that accommodates the particularities of the sources of the Chinese imperial past.

Christian de Pee is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Michigan.


"…The Writing of Weddings in Middle-Period China … beautifully marries pathbreaking insights drawn from different disciplines, including gender studies, archaeology, and cultural anthropology." — Philosophy East & West

"Christian de Pee has written an extraordinary book … The heart of the book is de Pee's masterful textual analysis … de Pee is only bringing 'another' perspective, albeit … a very important and brilliantly presented one, to our search for the 'truth' about China's middle period." — Journal of Asian Studies

"…recommended to scholars of Chinese social history and anthropology for its textual sources and detailed information." — Journal of Chinese Religions

"In many ways this is a remarkable book. It is replete with detailed and interesting data that relate to the celebration of weddings in the 'middle-period' of China's history—the Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasties." — Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society

"De Pee presents a new theoretical approach to Middle-Period history. In so doing he sees texts as ritual objects in themselves (in various historical forms, often no longer extant), and he sees writing as a ritual practice embedded in a historical context. This book is pathbreaking and highly erudite. It sets a new standard for historical inquiry in the China field. It will unquestionably be recognized as a seminal work in its own field and beyond." — Bettine Birge, author of Women, Property, and Confucian Reaction in Sung and Yüan China (960–1368)