Leading through Ritual: Ceremony and Emperorship in Early Modern China
Posted: 18 Jan 2017
Date Written: January 9, 2017
Ritual performance is well understood as being instrumental in organizational maintenance. Its role in leadership and processes of change, however, remains understudied. We argue that ritual addresses key challenges in institutionalizing leadership, particularly in fixing the relation between a charismatic leader and formal governance structures. Through a historical case study of the institutionalization of the emperor in early modern China, we argue that the shaping of collective understandings of the new leader involved structural aspects of ritual that worked through analogical reasoning to internalize the figure of the leader through focusing attention, fixing memory, and emotionally investing members in the leader. We argue that data from the Qing dynasty (1636–1912) Board of Rites show that ritual was explicitly designed to model the new institutional order, which Qing state-makers used to establish collective adherence to the emperorship. We further discuss the implications of this case for understanding the symbolic and performative nature of leadership as an institutional process.
Keywords: Leadership, Ritual, Social Construction, China, Qing
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