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Until the arrival of Europeans by sea in the 17th and 18th centuries, the region we call China developed independently. Cut off from Western Asia and the Mediterranean by the altitude of the Tibetan Plateau, China maintained a strong hierarchical social structure and state, mirroring the generations of the family, whose patrilineal dominance has recently been praised by President Xi Jinping. A large population flourishing with rice cultivation, and without competition for land from herded animals, was tightly organised with stringent regulation from the time of the First Emperor, 3rd century BC. Detailed planned infrastructure, managing the massive territory, was a conspicuous outcome, with the Great Wall, the Grand Canal, the Three Gorges Dam and the present high-speed railway, as well as exceptional quality, large-scale production in silk, and ceramics for export. Also maintained over millennia has been the search for resources of minerals, technology and horses from the north, now replaced by gas through alliances with Present Putin’s Russian Federation. Close reading of this material culture offers a new understanding of China today.

The Lau China Institute are delighted to host Professor Dame Jessica Rawson, University of Oxford for a presentation of her new book ‘Life and Afterlife in Ancient China’.

About the speaker

Jessica Rawson, Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology and former Warden of Merton College, Oxford (1994-2010), was made Honorary Professor in the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University in 2019. For over twenty years before moving to Oxford, she worked in the Department of Oriental Antiquities (now the Asia Department) at the British Museum, as Keeper from 1987 to 1994. In 2005-06, she led the group of curators of the China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795 exhibition at the Royal Academy, bringing to London magnificent works of art from the Palace Museum in Beijing. For more than forty years, she has visited, researched and lectured in most of China's provinces, including at archaeological sites on both sides of its borders with Mongolia and South Siberia. She was awarded the title of Dame in 2002 and received the Tang Prize in Sinology for 'Giving Voice to Mute Objects' in 2022.

Event details

King's Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS