New Book: Cook, Ancestors, Kings, and the Dao

Harvard University Asia Center has published Constance A. Cook, Ancestors, Kings, and the Dao. More information follows.


Ancestors, Kings, and the Dao outlines the evolution of musical performance in early China, first within and then ultimately away from the socio-religious context of ancestor worship. Examining newly discovered bamboo texts from the Warring States period, Constance A. Cook compares the rhetoric of Western Zhou (1046–771 BCE) and Spring and Autumn (770–481 BCE) bronze inscriptions with later occurrences of similar terms in which ritual music began to be used as a form of self-cultivation and education. Cook’s analysis links the creation of such classics as the Book of Odes with the ascendance of the individual practitioner, further connecting the social actors in three types of ritual: boys coming of age, heirs promoted into ancestral government positions, and the philosophical stages of transcendence experienced in self-cultivation.

The focus of this study is on excavated texts; it is the first to use both bronze and bamboo narratives to show the evolution of a single ritual practice. By viewing the ancient inscribed materials and the transmitted classics from this new perspective, Cook uncovers new linkages in terms of how the materials were shaped and reshaped over time and illuminates the development of eulogy and song in changing ritual contexts.

Table of Contents:

Part I. 

1. Establishing the Zhou tradition: Memorial feasts and the rise of eulogy to Zhou kings

Memorial feasts and founder sacrifices

Zhou founder kings: a case of King Wen, the ancestor, and King Wu, the son

Creating the nation

Divine models

Ancestors and the hunt


2. Kings, ancestors, and the transmission of De: Transitions and setting the pattern

The founder king as earth deity


3. Song of heirs: Royal inscriptions: the king as heir

Regional heirs control the sacred narrative

Lengthy bronze narratives and the role of the king


4. Eulogy and the rise of the musical performance: Training the Xiaozi

The ancient eulogy or praise song

Eulogy in ritual performance


Part II. The Zhou way after the Zhou: 

5. Transitions and bronze inscriptions: Archaic rings






6. The new old Zhou way: Notes on the transmission of odes and A song of King Wen


7. From ancestor worship to inner cultivation: Notes on the bamboo text the lute dance of Zhou Gong

Musical performance and textual production

Reexamining the great preface

Inner feeling, outer decorum

The odes as Dao: cultivating the intention


8. Coming-of-age rituals: Performing the capping ritual

Ritual and music as a method for “completion”

Coming-of-age narratives in the eastern Zhou

Remnants of promotion narratives in warring states texts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.