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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton April 30, 2015

Racing for the Target

The Imperial Symbolism of Boat Racing in Song China 960– 1279 C. E.

Lifeng Han
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies


The imperial boat-racing event, known as ‘Racing for the Target’ in the Northern Song capital Kaifeng in spring, was created at the close of the reunification campaign when the focus of the state policy was shifted towards internal cohesion. It signified the power and great order of the newly reunited empire. Through the re-interpretation of the event and its emulation at the local level, an imperial cultural language of boat racing was forged. It also allowed the imperial symbolism of ‘Racing for the Target’ to be communicated through the fabric of society. This paper treats performance and pageantry as a field of meaning production. It uses ‘Racing for the Target’ as an example to examine how symbols can be manipulated in the display of power. It argues that through the performance of ‘Racing for the Target’ the Song state with its political apparatus sought to establish its dominance over the symbolism of boat racing. Other versions of interpretation therefore were compelled to be confined within the imperial context.

Published Online: 2015-4-30
Published in Print: 2015-5-1

© 2015 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston