Gaming the System: Paradisiacal Realms and Their Access through Ritual Board Game in Ancient Egypt and Early China

Gaming the System: Paradisiacal Realms and Their Access through Ritual Board Game in Ancient Egypt and Early China

Anthony Barbieri-Low - Professor of Early Chinese History, University of California, Santa Barbara

Tuesday, October 24, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
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Room 241, Rosenkranz Hall See map
115 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511

This talk explores the concept and representations of post-mortem paradises in Ancient Egypt and Early China.  The notion of a paradise for the worthy, accessed through personal piety, ethical conduct or ritual knowledge, developed at a particular historical moment in the development of each of these great civilizations and expressed a genuine desire on the part of regular people for salvation and immortality. These expressions would have a lasting impact on the development of paradisiacal realms in the later universal religions of Christianity and Buddhism.  After a brief introduction to the nature of the soul and the geography of the afterlife in each civilization, the talk explores the features and iconography of the Marsh of Reeds in Egypt and the paradise of the Queen Mother of the West on Mt. Kunlun in China as revealed in texts, illustrative vignettes, painted tomb murals, and stone carvings.  A special focus will be on certain ritual practices that would assist oneself or one’s deceased relatives in attaining entrance to paradise, including the playing of ritual board games like senet and liubo.


Anthony Barbieri-Low received his MA from Harvard in Regional Studies (East Asia) in 1997, and his PhD from Princeton in Chinese Art and Archaeology in 2001. He is currently Professor of Early Chinese History at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  He is author of Artisans in Early Imperial China, and co-author of the recently published Law, State, and Society in Early Imperial China. He is currently working on a cultural history of the First Emperor of China, and another book of comparative studies of Ancient China and Ancient Egypt.

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China