Attitudes toward food, thinking about food, and the offering up of food in sacrifice were formative elements in the conception of models of sagehood in early China. To the ancient Chinese, consuming, exchanging, and offering up food were often seen as acts of self-cultivation that could impart physical, moral, and political benefits on individuals, society, and its rulers. A cursory glance at the hoards of bronze vessels unearthed from Shang and Zhou sites, or the large array of stone and clay artifacts and lacquerware recovered from Warring States and Han tombs, suffices to illustrate that a vibrant culture surrounded the preparation, consumption, and ritual presentation of food. This rich world of food inspired an equally fascinating world of ideas.
This book seeks to shed light on the intricate world of ideas that surrounded sacrificial food culture in early China. It explores how the culture of sacrificial religion, its underlying philosophies, and the ritual practices associated with it helped shape the background against which the early Chinese conceived ideals of sagehood. In addition, this study examines how sacrificial religion influenced the ways in which the early Chinese explained the workings of the human senses and the role of sensory experience in communicating with the spirit world. In essence, I will argue that early Chinese ritual and religious practice was based on the premise that what was spiritual was “sensible,” and this book identifies sacrificial procedure as the core practice through which this becomes evident.