The Public Performance of Justice: The Transcultural Career of a Political Installation across Eurasia (Apr 1, 2019)

Prof. Rudolf G. Wagner

(Institut für Sinologie, Universität Heidelberg, and Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University)

Monday, April 1, 2019, 3-5 pm

Boston University, 121 Bay State Road, Boston


Rulers across Eurasia have drawn legitimacy from a claim that their governance would secure justice in their domain. While this notion of justice comes in many different framings and the interaction between them since antiquity is hard to trace, the spread of a curious installation that is first reported from China across Eurasia since the seventh century CE might be a significant pointer to the sharing of some of the underlying ideas and issues. This installation is a device such as a drum or a bell installed in the public domain directly outside the palace – but audible within – that supposedly allowed commoners to get direct access to the ruler himself with complaints about official abuses, remonstrance of the ruler himself, or crisis alerts. It spread throughout Eurasia since the 7th century through diplomats, travelers, and merchants, and eventually through narratives about idealized local rulers of antiquity. Since the 17thcentury, the images and texts in Zhang Juzheng’s 張居正 Illustrated Mirror for the Emperor 帝鑑圖說 (1572) led to a second transcultural career of the installation.

About the speaker:

Rudolf G. Wagner is Senior Professor of Chinese Studies and Co-Director of the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context,” Heidelberg University, and Associate of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University. His research interests are Chinese intellectual history, the political implications of Chinese philosophy, historiography, and literature, and the transcultural connections in modern Chinese conceptual, political, and cultural developments. His publications include a 3-volume study of Wang Bi’s (226-249) Commentary on the Laozi, studies on the role of religion in the Taiping Rebellion, on the early Chinese press, China’s role in the transcultural migration of concepts and political metaphors such as a nation “asleep” or partitioning a country “like a melon,” and two volumes on the politics of PRC writings in prose and drama. He has just finished a book on the politics of Chinese film in the last two years of the Cultural Revolution.

He is a recipient of the Leibnitz Award, a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, and one of the founding directors of the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” in Heidelberg, Germany.