The Third Annual Society for the Study of Early China Conference

Time: Thursday, 26 March 2015, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Location: Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers

 

Abstracts (in alphabetical order)

 

Erica Brindley 錢德樑 (Pennsylvania State University)

“Bearers of ‘Civilization’: Eastern Han and Three Kingdoms Colonialists in the Far South”

Many scholars working on the history of the southern frontier would agree that the process of incorporating southern populations into the cultural fold of a larger, Sinitic world took centuries, if not millennia, to accomplish. Nonetheless, narratives about the power of sinicization and successes of state-led, civilizing initiatives pervade the ancient histories, affecting the very assumptions most historians have about the nature of cultural change along this frontier. This paper examines colonial measures in the Far South taken by a handful of imperial administrators from the courts of the Han, Wu, and Jin. Its goal is to gain a sense of the cultural and political inroads colonialists made into the frontier regions of the South during the first few centuries after the start of Han occupation, but to do so in a way that questions the limitations of our sources on the topic. In particular, I will analyze passages from various Han and Wei-Jin period histories in terms of narrative structure and rhetoric, asking why such data on particular statesmen or generals were presented as they were, and teasing out possible limitations and sources of bias rooted in authorial interest or the genre itself.

 

Piotr Gibas 齊百思 (College of Charleston)

“History as Future – Time, Prediction, and Historical Narrative in the Zuozhuan”

In this paper, I analyze the system of timeliness in rishu 日書, “daybooks,” and in the Zuozhuan左傳, in order to demonstrate the relationship between prognosticating and history writing. Daybooks put into practice the belief that “time” – understood as the course of Nature – determines peoples’ fortunes and misfortunes. The system of timeliness in historiography derives from the mantic concept of time that can be observed in daybooks. It is the occult practices that constitute the backbone of later concepts of morality and which spur the idea of the omenological and didactic function of history writing. I argue that historical narrative in the Zuozhuan is founded on the concept of “timeliness,” that is, on the understanding of time as being endowed with moral qualities. The choice between a “timely” (shi 時) or “untimely” (bu shi 不時) course of action determines the success or failure of the person involved in it. Early Chinese writers of history – like diviners – strove to explain the past in order to predict the future. Seen in this light, “knowing history” implies understanding and mastering the mechanisms that drive it; and, looking into the past is tantamount to “knowing” the future.

 

Luke Habberstad 何錄凱 (University of Oregon)

“Tabling the Bureaucracy: A Rhetorical Reading of the Hanshu ‘Table of Offices and Ministerial Posts’”

In his classic and still indispensable work, The Bureaucracy of Han Times (1980), Hans Bielenstein described Han offices closely following categories found in the “Table of Offices and Ministerial Posts” (Bai guan gong qing biao 百官公卿表) of the Hanshu 漢書.  The “Table,” and particularly the opening section describing the different offices, thus continues to provide a vision of Han officialdom so pervasive that we rarely stop to study its underlying rhetoric.  This paper offers such a study of the “Table,” first comparing it to an earlier and rather different counterpart from the Shiji 史記 before turning to examine its organization, vocabulary, and specific contents.  Far from describing the entirety of Han officialdom or its “bureaucracy,” the “Table” is best understood as a study of the imperial court and the emperor’s inner circle.  Moreover, the “Table” locates that rather elite society of wealthy families and nobles in a very particular type of hierarchical bureaucracy, following prescribed rules and standards of performance.  The paper concludes by arguing why political and literary trends of the late Western and early Eastern Han imperial courts would have lent particular force to the rhetoric of hierarchy that we find in the “Table.”

 

He Jianjun 何建軍 (University of Kentucky)

“Mutilation and Self-Mutilation in Early China”

Mutilation and self-mutilation are important social issues and cultural aspects in early China. This paper looks at different symbolic meanings and social functions between mutilation punishment and the action of self-mutilation in pre-Qin and Han China. It argues that mutilation as a punishment draws a clear physical boundary between the legitimate social member and the outcasts. By denying the acceptability of the physically damaged body, society redefines its qualified members and integrates them together with a moral superiority over the disqualified others. Different from mutilation punishment’s defining of social groups, self-mutilation is presented as an extreme demonstration of loyalty in early texts. However, the action of self-mutilation is complicated by a moral struggle between loyalty and filial piety, and committing suicide often becomes the only solution to this moral dilemma.

 

Michael Ing 吳榮桂 (Indiana University)

“Mengzi and the Productive Role of Resentment”

The presentation will explore the productive aspects of resentment (yuan 怨) in the Mengzi. Specifically, I will argue that from the perspective of the Mengzi, resentment allows for a guarded renewal of the vulnerability necessary to engage in meaningful relationships. Resentment is a kind of frustrated desire that happens when those close to us significantly breach the values of trust entailed in offering proper care. Yet resentment also signals genuine engagement in meaningful relationships and provides an opportunity to retool our hope in obtaining the care of significant others. In making this argument, I will first provide a few generalities about the term yuan 怨, including the way in which it is discouraged in early Confucian texts as well as a summary of one contemporary scholar’s interpretation of resentment that I believe represents a dominant view in the field. I will then interpret passages such as Mengzi 6B3 and 5A1 to show that the Mengzi advocates an alternative role for resentment. My interpretation of resentment highlights its tragic dimensions, and encourages contemporary scholars to rethink the role of resentment in the process of Confucian self-cultivation.

 

F. Janice Kam 甘鳳 (Western Washington University)

“Who Is My Brother? Disassembling and Reassembling Fraternity in a Post-Zhou World”

The traditional Zhou construction of fraternity was predicated on an emphasis on hierarchical difference, including maternal rank, birth order, and moral stature, which determined the inheritance rights of males in a patrilineage. When the breakdown of traditional elite lineages over the course of the Eastern Zhou brought about a reassessment of the role of the immediate, biological family and personal cultivation in delineating relationship parameters and conceptions of worth, the fraternal relationship, once a marker of difference, proved sufficiently flexible in uncoupling from associations with biological family, to be equated with brotherhoods of mind, spirit or common interests in philosophical and historical texts from the Zhanguo and early Han. This shift from difference to similarity represents not only a fundamental shift in the construction of family, fictive or otherwise, from the Chunqiu to Zhanguo periods, but is also a precursor of later traditions where the celebration of fictive, unitary brotherhood has become an all-encompassing feature of heroic and bandit literature.

 

Anne Behnke Kinney 司馬安 (University of Virginia)

“Historical Fiction as an Approach to the Study of Early China”

This paper will discuss the challenges connected with writing historical fiction set in early China and how this project has enhanced my understanding of the period. By revealing significant gaps in current scholarship on the culture of early China, my project also points to future directions in the field.

 

Maxim Korolkov 馬碩 (Columbia University)

“State on the Move: The Structures of the Physical Mobility of Provincial Officials in the Qin and Former Han Empires”

Physical mobility, or the ability of humans to move around their environment, may be considered as one of the key determinants of social life, and the capacity to grant, restrict, or otherwise control this ability was, in all historical societies, congruent with, and principal for, social, political, and economic power. This paper analyzes aspects of physical mobility of officials – the only social group in early imperial China that left behind a variety of first-hand written sources reflecting their everyday experiences, practices, and concerns. I consider the controversial nature and miscellaneous manifestations of the state’s involvement in the issues of physical mobility of its subjects during the late Warring States and early imperial period. I argue that this controversy provides a background for understanding aspects of the physical mobility of the officials as reflected in the Qin and Han documents. After a brief discussion of the sources of this study the structures of physical mobility are identified and analyzed, such as the economy and logistics of officials’ travels; means of transportation; the accommodations and medical care provided to traveling officials; and the institutions of efficiency control designed to ensure that officials complied with requirements for the speed of travel.

 

Brian Lander (Columbia University)

“Environmental Consequences of the Zheng Guo Canal”

The construction of the Zheng Guo canal played an important role in the rise of the Qin Empire and had a significant environmental impact. Using archaeological settlement data to situate it in the long-term environmental history of the Guanzhong basin, I argue that the project was responsible for the agricultural colonization of the only remaining non-agricultural land in the basin. Contra those who argue that it was built without a dam, I will show that there was in fact a massive dam across the Jing River valley but that it may not have been in use more than a few decades. I will discuss the question of how much land the system could have irrigated and suggest that its success may have had more to do with drainage and desalinization than in irrigation. Finally, I will situate the project in the context of the long-term replacement of the natural ecosystems of North China’s lowlands with farmland.

 

Andrew Meyer (Brooklyn College)

“The Faces of Cao Mo: ‘Fact’ and Meaning in Early Chinese Historiography”

Cao Mo 曹沫 was immortalized as the first of the noble “Assassin Retainers” in the Records of the Historian by Sima Qian circa 100 BCE. Before that, however, Cao’s career in literature was erratic. During the Warring States (481-221 BCE), his persona varied from text to text. In the Zuo zhuan he appears as a low-born but wise advisor who counsels Duke Zhuang of Lu. In the Guanzi he is an unscrupulous ruffian who flouts ritual in favor of force. A newly discovered tomb text, Cao Mo zhi zhen, further complicates the picture: its portrait does not entirely accord with any of the transmitted depictions of its protagonist.  As I demonstrate in this paper, Cao Mo presents us with an illuminating case study in early Chinese uses and constructions of the past. Exploring the malleability of a figure like Cao Mo helps us better understand the historiographic enterprise as it existed in the Warring States and early empire. By reading the texts in which Cao appears against one another and against other writings that formed the context in which they were produced, I examine the varying and intersecting discourses of the past in early China and the processes of textual production in which they were embedded.

 

Charles Sanft 陳力強 (University of Tennessee)

“Publicly Posted Documents in the Han and Xin Periods”

The transmission of information from the central government to the general population in the Han period (206/2 BCE – 220 CE) relied upon a combination of techniques, including the public posting and reading of texts. Although received histories refer to this final, decisive step, early readers misunderstood the references and the processes of dissemination have become clear only with the availability of excavated examples. In this talk I describe the characteristics of these documents and the formulae that mark them and indicate the manners in which their content was to be made known. I present and discuss representative examples and discuss the implications of this communications medium for our understanding of early imperial society.

 

Nicholas M. Williams 魏寧 (Hong Kong Baptist University)

“Reading the ‘Li sao’ as Composite Text”

This paper offers a new approach to the “Li sao” 離騷, analyzing the poem as a composite of various shorter pieces, not unlike its companions in the Chuci 楚辭 anthology, the “Nine Songs” 九歌 and “Nine Pieces” 九章. Taking inspiration from Huang Linggeng’s 黃靈庚 revival of a suggestion by Lü Zuqian 呂祖謙 (1137—1187), we posit that the poem was edited into its present form by Liu Xiang 劉向 (79—8 BC) as a composite work in sixteen sections. The “Li sao” itself asks: “Since the custom of this age is to follow the current— / What is there then that can be ever without change?” In other words, as human cultures evolve, how can anything preserve its integrity? The “Lisao” itself is not exempt from the force of this question, but a reexamination of its textual history indicates how Liu Xiang collaborated in the effort to maintain and defend the symbolic narrative of Qu Yuan’s unimpeachable integrity. This interpretation has significance consequences for our understanding of the Chuci anthology, as well as textual transmission and poetic culture in early China.