SOAS University of London

SOAS China Institute

The Drum or Bell of Justice and Remonstrance. The transcultural adaptation of a political installation across Eurasia

Professor Rudolf Wagner
Professor Rudolf Wagner (University of Heidelberg)

Date: 26 May 2016Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 26 May 2016Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4429

Type of Event: Seminar


Rulers across Eurasia have drawn legitimacy from a claim that their governance would secure justice in their domain. While this notion of justice comes in many different framings and the interaction between them is hard to trace, the spread of a curious installation across Eurasia is a significant pointer to the sharing of some of the underlying ideas and issues. This installation is a device installed in the public domain outside the palace that allows commoners to get direct access to the ruler himself with complaints about official abuses, remonstrance of the ruler himself, or crisis alerts.

First ascribed to sage rulers of Chinese antiquity, such installations started to be realized in Imperial China, but news about them spread through ambassadors, merchants, and travellers. After being emulated across East Asia, they found their way via Arab travelogues into Mirrors for Princes and historical narratives as well as actual installations from Delhi to Bavaria. In the Muslim world, this adaptation was focused on providing justice rather than opening the door for remonstrance. Following the spread of Zhang Juzheng’s Illustrated Mirror for the Emperor (1572) in Japan and Europe, the installation in its multiple functions of legal redress, remonstrance, and information became part of the self-presentation and the public assessment of the newly-formed territorial governments.

The talk will trace the spread of this installation, detail its selective adaptation, and explore its connections with issues of governance in territorial states with a centralized bureaucracy.


Rudolf Wagner is Senior Professor for Chinese Studies at the Cluster Asia and Europe, University of Heidelberg in Germany. He is an intellectual historian with a focus on transcultural interaction, co-editing the e-journal Transcultural Studies. His published research includes studies on third-century Chinese philosophy (a three-volume study on the Laozi commentary by Wang Bi); religion of the 19th-century Chinese-Christian Taiping Heavenly Kingdom; the early Chinese-language press, especially the Shenbao; late Qing transcultural conceptual history; as well as political implications of modern Chinese literary, dramatic, and architectural works. He is a recipient of the Gottfried-Wilhelm-Leibniz Award.

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