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Eugene Wang – “Bardo” before the Bardo: Is There an ancient Chinese Book of the Dead?

February 8, 2023 @ 12:00 pm 1:30 pm

Speaker: Eugene Wang, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art, Harvard University

What is it like to be dead? Two Books of Dead dominate our thinking about afterlife and near-death experience. One is the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, the other the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Granted, both titles are misleading. So the use of “book” is provisional in following this generic convention as a heuristic device and analytic framework. The real crux here is the subjectivity of the disembodied consciousness, the visualization of postmortem condition, i.e., the imaginary construct of what it is like to be dead, and what the disembodied subject, in its intermediate or in-between state (bardo), sees and goes through. To that end, there is indeed a kind of Chinese Book of the Dead around 2nd century BCE. It exists in both textual and material modes. Archeology in recent years further testifies to its currency. Professor Wang’s lecture will walk us through the textual and visual iterations of the ancient Chinese Book of the Dead and demonstrate how to read it.

Eugene Wang is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard. A Guggenheim Fellow, he is the art history editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism. His book, Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Visual Culture in Medieval China received an academic achievement award from Japan. His research ranges from ancient to modern Chinese art. He is the founding director of Harvard FAS CAMlab that explores cognitive art history through digital scenography.

Lunch will be served. Please RSVP to ancientstudies@harvard.edu if you plan to attend.

Attendance via Zoom is possible. If you would like to attend remotely, please email ancientstudies@harvard.edu for the link.


February 8, 2023
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm


Barker Center, Thompson Room

12 Quincy St
Cambridge, MA 02138

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