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Design by the Book: Chinese Ritual Objects and the Sanli tu, by François Louis


A BGC Focus Gallery Publication

François Louis

As the oldest extant illustrated guidebook on classical Chinese ritual implements, the Sanli tu, or Illustrations to the Ritual Classics, is a key source for understanding early scholarship on Chinese material culture. Design by the Book, which accompanies an exhibition at Bard Graduate Center Gallery, discusses the history and cultural significance of this medieval compendium, revealing the complex relationship between the Confucian Classics, the design of ritual objects, and the study of Chinese antiquities.

The Sanli tu survives in a version completed in 961 by Nie Chongyi, a professor at the court of the Later Zhou (951–960) and Northern Song (960–1127) dynasties. It is now mostly remembered—if at all—for its controversial entries and as a quaint predecessor of the more empirical antiquarian scholarship produced since the mid-eleventh century. But such criticism hides the fact that the book remained a standard resource for more than 150 years, playing a crucial role in the Song dynasty’s perception of ancient ritual and its construction of a Confucian state cult. Richly illustrated and including a glossary of the Sanil tu’s 362 entries, Design by the Book brings renewed focus to one of China’s most engaging classics commentaries.

The exhibition Design by the Book: Chinese Ritual Objects and the Sanli tu was on view at Bard Graduate Center Gallery from March 24th through July 30th, 2017. 


Table of Contents

Director's Foreword




Part I: The San li tu in Medieval China: A Cultural Biography
Chapter 1: Politics and Confucian Ritual in the 950s
Chapter 2: Redesigning the State Ritual Paraphernalia and Compiling the Sanli tu
Chapter 3: Tang Remains
Chapter 4: Didactics and Dynastic Propaganda
Chapter 5: Revisions and Early Antiquarianism
Chapter 6: Rejection, Preservation, Ambivalence

Part II: Ritual Objects in the Exhibition
Appendix 1: Editions of the Sanli tu
Appendix 2: Glossary of the Sanli tu Entries
Appendix 3: Works on View in the Exhibition



2.00 LBS

Other Details


Page count
200 pages | illustrated throughout

Publication date
March 2017