Voicing Authority

DATE: Friday-Saturday, December 14-15, 2012

PLACE: IEAS Conference Room, 2223 Fulton Street, 6th Floor, UC Berkeley

SPONSORS: Center for Chinese Studies and The Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities



In a wide range of contexts, over a long historical span, and in a wide range of literary or other performative genres in Chinese arts, politics, and religion, it seems useful to ask the question what voice is being made audible, and by what set of expressive conventions. Such questions direct our attention away from the specific content of the source as document, and toward more anthropological questions about the historical beliefs and practices that enable a particular sort of meaningful action. Shijing liturgical songs remind us of the centrality of conventions of impersonation — whereby bodies and voices of gods or ancestral spirits are made ritually present via the bodies and voices of qualified participants who "lend" body, voice, or both, to the rite — from the earliest stages of written tradition. In the Chu ci anthology, of course, the tradition of spirit mediumship or "shamanism" that has long been recognized as crucial to our understanding of the relevant liturgical protocols is one in which the role of embodying and the role of conveying thoughts and actions are merged in a single performer, who enacts both the bodily presence and the first-person voice of a god. In referring to such ritual conventions as "impersonation," we need to bear in mind that unlike in the case of one living person imitating another, in these instances the performers of these ritual roles are making themselves instruments for the making visible and audible of what is not otherwise accessible. The conception underlying this conference is to explore both such early documents of mediumship or ritual "ventriloquism" as well as the ways in which the dynamics of this sort of performance persistently recur in later periods. The aim of this conference is to bring together a group of scholars from a variety of periods and disciplines whose work has bearing on such questions, with the hope that a wide-ranging exchange of ideas and "cases" will stimulate fresh perspectives on this recurrent set of issues.


Friday, December 14, 2012

9:00 introduction - Robert Ashmore

9:1512:00 Panel 1
Moderator: Robert Ashmore

  • David Schaberg, Vehicles of Authority in Zhou China
  • Stephen West, Purloining the Voice of the Sages
  • Ling Hon Lam, Women as Ventriloquists: Toward a Poetics of the Voice of the Other in Late Imperial China

12:001:15 lunch (not provided)

1:154:15 Panel 2
Moderator: Patricia Berger

  • Michael Puett, Impersonation Rituals in Early China
  • Xiaojing Sun, Dance and Immortality: Daqu and Chinese Medieval Performance
  • Yuming He, Voice and Noise: Relocating a Yuan Drama to the Ming Theater

Saturday, December 15, 2012

9:3012:15: Panel 3
Moderator: Paula Varsano

  • Joseph Lam, Song Gaozong, a Master Ventriloquist of Southern Song State Sacrifice and Music
  • Robert Ashmore, Impossible Voices: Ideas of Music and the Realm of Sound in the Poetry of Li He (790-816)
  • Lu Yang, Impersonating Power in Medieval China: Theory and Practice of Imperial Rescript Writing from Xu Lin to Wang Yinglin

12:151:00: Wrap up discussion



Robert Ashmore
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

Yuming He
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Davis

Joseph Lam
Department of Musicology, University of Michigan

Ling-hon Lam
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

Lu Yang
Department of History, Peking University

Michael Puett
Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

David Schaberg
Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles

Xiaojing Sun
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

Stephen West
School of Global Studies, Arizona State University



The Voicing Authority: Impersonation and Ventriloquism in Chinese Rhetorical and Musical Traditions conference will be held in the IEAS conference room on the Berkeley campus – 2223 Fulton Street, 6th floor conference room.

See section D1 on this large campus map.


Directions to the Berkeley campus

If traveling by BART, exit the Richmond-Fremont line at the Berkeley station (not North Berkeley). When you leave the BART station, walk south down Shattuck Avenue to Kittredge Street (one or two blocks depending on which station exit you leave from) and turn left. Walk one block to Fulton Street and you will be facing the 2223 Fulton Street Building.

From Interstate 80

To reach the site by car from Interstate 80, exit at the University Avenue off-ramp in Berkeley. Take University Avenue east to Oxford Street and turn right. Oxford becomes Fulton Street in a couple of blocks. We are located in the six-story beige building on the east (left) side of the street.

From Highways 24/13

To reach us from Highways 24/13, exit 13 at Tunnel Road in Berkeley. Continue on Tunnel Road as it becomes Ashby. Turn right at Telegraph and drive approximately one mile north to Bancroft Way and turn left. The 2223 Fulton Street Building is at the northeast corner of the Bancroft and Fulton intersection (right side).

Directions to campus are also available at http://www.berkeley.edu/visitors/traveling.html


There are various public parking lots and facilities near campus and in downtown Berkeley. This list includes municipal and privately owned parking lots and garages open to the public. Please consult signs for hours and fees prior to entering the facilities.

Other lots:

  • Berkeley Way near Shattuck
  • Center Street near Shattuck
  • Allston Way near Shattuck
  • Kittredge Street near Milvia

More information is available on the UC Berkeley Parking and Transportation page.