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Fragrance (xiang) and Its Cultural Meanings in Ming and Qing Literature

  • University of Edinburgh, David Hume Tower, LG.09 David Hume Tower Room LG.09 (map)

Abstract: Although olfaction is considered secondary among bodily senses, it has vital and important symbolic functions for human beings, especially within the cognitive, semiotic and ritual fields. This is why it has a profound impact on our mood, memory and emotions. From historical and anthropological perspectives, its constructive aspect is interesting for understanding some deep strata of a cultural and psychological life in certain social groups in a certain period. This talk will present some results of a textual analysis conducted mainly on literary works of Ming and Qing China. In particular, the polysemous term xiang 香 (fragrance) with compounds will be examined in connection with its main meanings of incense, perfume and beauty/love hints. Other short comments will be provided on other different kinds of odours.

Prof. Paolo Santangelo specializes in the social, intellectual and anthropological history of Ming-Qing China as well as private history and psychological trends. He also leads an international research project on the textual analysis of literary and non-literary sources in Chinese culture in order to collect and evaluate expressions concerning emotions and states of mind. He is the author of Sentimental Education in Chinese History. An Interdisciplinary Textual Research in Ming and Qing Sources (2003); Materials for an Anatomy of Personality in Late Imperial China (2010), among many others.

The seminar will be followed by a drinks reception.