Facing Everyday Uncertainty in Qing Society

daquantongshuANU China Seminar Series

Nathan Woolley, ANU

4:00pm – 5:30pm, Thursday 10 Mar 2016
Seminar Room A, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU

Popular works produced under the Qing dynasty preserve a number of means for placing oneself in society, understanding the nature of events, and facing the uncertainty of the future. Surviving examples of almanacs display a similar range of content in different combinations for use throughout the calendar, allowing for shifting interpretations within a familiar range of possibilities. Omens in daily life and the movements of celestial bodies are explained through detailed lists, while tales of Confucius and filial piety give moral guidance. Divinatory methods for predicting personal fortune and the weather are complemented by lists of auspicious days for specific activities and apotropaic devices derived from Daoist practices. Together these instruments provided a scheme of knowledge for thinking and planning for the future and a basic means for attempts at controlling fate and dealing with the vagaries of everyday life. This paper will explore the content of such texts and consider how these materials served their audiences.

Nathan Woolley is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University and a curator at the National Library of Australia. His research focuses on religion and regional identity in pre-modern Chinese society. He has recently curated the exhibition Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644–1911, and produced a book of the same name to accompany the exhibition.