Drinking and the Culture of Play in Ancient China

Harper 130

The play element in human culture is often agonistic: winning the game demonstrates the winner’s superior power over other players. Marcel Granet (d. 1940), French sociologist and sinologist, used the motif of drinking as an agonistic activity to analyze society and culture at the beginning of Chinese civilization in his final, unfinished work, Le roi boit. (Granet’s student Rolf Stein published a synopsis in 1955.) In light of recent discoveries of manuscripts and other archaeological materials, it is time to revisit Granet’s ideas: to reveal how drinking defined culture and power, its function in the structure of play, and the dual face of drinking as sacred and profane.