Abstracts for the SSEC 2016 conference

Listed alphabetically by presenter surname

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Sarah Allan (Dartmouth College), “Legends of Abdication and the Rise of Confucius; Confucius and the Rise of the Legends of Abdication”

This paper is based on transmitted texts and three Warring States period bamboo-slip manuscripts: Tang Yu zhi dao 唐虞之道, Zigao 子羔, and Rongchengshi 容成氏. It will argue that the rise of Confucius’ reputation as a sage soon after his death (c. 479 B.C.E) was integrally related to the rise of the legends of abdication in high antiquity in the same period. Preconditions for the interest in abdication as a means of political succession were: (1) the breakdown of the Zhou lineage system in the fifth century B.C.E, the spread of literacy, and the rise in importance of a class of people who did not inherit family estates and depended on their skills, including literary ones, for advancement (shi 士). (2) the ideological crisis that resulted from the failure of the Western Zhou theory of dynastic cycle to explain or offer a remedy for the political and social conditions of warring states and the disintegration of hereditary hierarchies. Concomitantly, Confucius served as a model (even among those who were not his followers) for the idea of abdication of the good to the good as an ideal. This idea was closely associated with the rise of the legend of Yao and Shun, which became popular soon after Confucius’ death.


Jörn Grundmann (University of Ediburgh), “The X Gong xu Inscription Read as a Political Proclamation”

In this paper I propose reading the inscription on the mid- to late Western Zhou X Gong xu as a proclamation expressing the unity of a stratified sacrificial community in politico-religious outlook. The text integrates three distinct status groups into a shared pattern of commitment. Those groups are the heads of patrilineal kin groups (min 民), followed by their male kin (xiaoyou孝友) and affinal relatives (hun’gou 婚媾). The text proclaims each group’s eagerness in fulfilling its ritually prescribed role according to a broad notion of de 德. This term, I argue, describes a politico-religious pattern of commitment derived from an inherited ritual order which binds participants from all strata of aristocratic society to the fulfilment of a shared goal, namely implementing Heaven’s charge and thus securing the continuation of Heaven’s blessings. By employing the logic, imagery, and language of Western Zhou ancestral sacrifice in order to express and validate its political message, the text employs a mode of discourse familiar from the Odes and the Documents. Regardless of its exact dating, the X Gong xu inscription, like the earliest strata in the Classics, mirrors an attempt at proclaiming a politico-religious order which transcends individual clan boundaries. Moreover, the order it presents is described to develop in accordance with divine will which elevates it into the rank of a political theology.


Moonsil Kim (Rhode Island College), “The Discrepancy between Laws and their Implementation: An Analysis of Granaries, Statutes, and Rations during the Qin and the Han Periods”

This paper investigates the regulations on grain storage and the ration system during the Qin and Han periods (221 BCE- 220 CE), using the Shuihudi 睡虎地 Qin legal texts and Zhangjiashan 張家山 Han legal manuscripts. The "Statutes on Granaries" (Cang lü 倉律) and the "Statutes on Food rations at Conveyance Stations" (Zhuan shi lü 傳食律) are compared to administrative documents from Liye 里耶 and Xuanquan 懸泉 to prove that there were significant discrepancies between these statutes and the actual distribution of food. This research

on the process and the amount of ration of local granaries reveals that the highly-detailed articles on the issue of food rations were designed not to guarantee a certain amount of rations to the recipients but to prevent the abuse of government property.


Rens Krijgsman (Oxford University), “Seizing Moments and Breaking Boundaries: The Duke of Zhou as Genre defying Author in Early China”

With recent discoveries of excavated manuscripts, each ascribed to various authors, questions on the roles and perceptions of authorship in Early China abound. Most have argued that before the early Han dynasty, Early China has no authors in the modern sense of the word. In this paper, I want to challenge that claim by closely examining the portrayal of the Duke of Zhou in the Warring States manuscript “The Duke of Zhou’s Dance to the Zither” (Zhougong zhi Qinwu周公之琴舞) from the Qinghua collection. I argue that the Duke is portrayed in this text as an author of sufficient literary skill to break ritual propriety and genre boundaries in his poetic compositions. While it is highly unlikely that this description of the Duke’s authorship is anything other than a contemporary attribution, it nevertheless allows us to examine the representation of the Duke as a proxy to understand contemporary shifts in authorship and genre construction. This shift required the emergence of key qualities of modern authorship such as improvisation, creativity, and playfulness with genre. I show in this paper that these qualities were already emerging in the Warring States. The history of authorship in early China, rather than starting with early Han constructions of Qu Yuan traceable to Sima Qian and the librarians, needs to be understood through Warring States developments in engagement with manuscript and writing.


Brian Lander (Harvard University), “The Book of Odes and Zhou Environmental History”

The Odes are the most important early Chinese texts for understanding the environment of the Zhou world. By comparing them with zooarchaeological and archaeobotanical records we can learn about the strengths and weaknesses of each type of source for doing environmental history. Excavated animal and plant remains are direct records of past environments, and reveal the relative dietary importance of different food types, but in most cases only the most common species are discovered. Conversely, the Odes mention virtually every type of excavated plant and animal, as well as many that have not preserved, but their vocabulary is often unclear. Moreover, the collection has a complex history of oral transmission and later editing. Despite these difficulties, the Odes depict how people felt about, and interacted with, their environments in a way that archaeology cannot, and reveal the poetic ideals of the aristocracy. While millets and pigs are the most frequently excavated plants and animals, the most common plants and animals in the Odes are mulberry (for making silk; a symbol of feminine work) and horses (associated with men and warfare). The Odes reveal a world in which a wide variety of wild plants and animals were commonly known and could be used metaphorically in song. As the human population of North China’s lowlands subsequently grew, eliminating most wild ecosystems, wild plants and animals also faded from the consciousness, and the literature, of the North Chinese elite.


Lei Chinhau (Hong Kong Baptist University), “King Zhao’s Southern Expeditions: Reconstruction and Analysis of a War Covered up by the Official Historians”

King Zhao’s southern expeditions and his tragic defeat at the Han River was the greatest military setback experienced by the Western Zhou Dynasty, which symbolized the transition from a phase of territorial expansion into one characterized by decline and disorder. Despite its historical significance, due to the lack of evidence in transmitted texts we know little about this incident in terms of the sequence of events, as well as its causes and consequences. Based on an exhaustive examination of bronze inscriptions dated to the reign of King Zhao, this paper aims to provide a reconstruction and analysis of the war by using the calendrical, geographical, political-economic, and socio-ethnic information contained in the bronze inscriptions. I will start with a reconstruction of the sequence of events by using the calendrical information provided by the bronzes. I will move on to reconstruct the war by adopting a historical geographical approach based on recorded place names. I will then turn to the political-economic and socio-ethnic information and argue for a structural explanation for the causes of the war. Finally, I will show that the loss of the war inevitably intensified the existing structural crisis, accounting for political struggles and disorder characterizing the latter half of Western Zhou history.


Li Kin Sum (Sammy) (Hong Kong Baptist University), “The Visual and Acoustic Powers of the Edicts on Qin Metal Weights”

Scholars are well aware of the acoustic power of ancient Chinese poems, in which rhyming or assonating patterns can be readily detected. But few have noticed the acoustic power of ancient Chinese prose pieces such as the edicts of the unification of the measurement system, issued by Qin Shihuang 秦始皇 (r. 247-210 BCE) and subsequently by Qin Ershi 秦二世 (r. 210-207 BCE). Based on William Baxter and Laurent Sagart’s reconstruction of old Chinese pronunciation, I have discovered that the Qin imperial authors invested an unusual amount of effort in drafting the edicts, assiduously crafting them with assonating and occasionally even rhyming patterns. The acoustic power of these two important edicts cannot be ignored. Since the edicts were usually cast on or engraved into the bronze and iron weights produced during the Qin 秦 dynasty (221-207 BC), we should not overlook the ways in which the edicts were designed and laid out on the surface of the metal weights. I have discovered that the arrangements of the characters of the edicts on the weights underwent various degrees of deliberation. Typically, the edicts that appear on the iron weights were engraved in a shallow and comparatively coarse manner, while those on the bronze weights were beautifully cast and laid out with great regularity. Exploration of the visual and acoustic powers of the edicts on the Qin metal weights will produce new evidence for the fields of both art history and phonology of ancient China.


Timothy O’Neill (Drake University), “Recontextualizing the Fangyan”

This paper examines the metalinguistic theory of the Fangyan.  This dictionary, formally an imitation of the Erya (echoing Yang Xiong’s other famous imitations), was left incomplete and first edited by Guo Pu.  Using Guo Pu’s preface and the internal macrostructure and microstructures of the Fangyan, I argue that Yang Xiong first establishes the basic epistemology of Chinese philology in this dictionary.  The Fangyan assumes that there were geographic subsets of different state languages which over time, with more and more contact between the ancient states, began to coalesce into a common standard language.  By realizing that the contemporary vernacular languages of different regions still use some of the ancient words no longer part of the common standard language, it becomes clear that a better understanding of regional vernacular words will help clear up the lexicological issues surrounding the interpretation of old texts—and this is the entire point of the Fangyan. Yang Xiong also coins the technical philological term zhuanyu “language change,” which means sound similarities between synonymous words in contemporary regional vernacular languages which point to prior lexical identity or influence via contact—in other words, evidence of sound change at the level of the word through space and time.  This metalinguistic theory undergirds the entire length and breadth of Chinese philology and ultimately forms the epistemological basis for nearly all interpretations of the classics.  I conclude that the Fangyan should be more widely recognized as the fountainhead of traditional philology and as a core text of Chinese civilization.


Jonathan Pettit (Purdue University), “The Production of Sacred Maps in the Later Han Dynasty”

Early notions of sacred geography in China are typically studied from the excavated maps (such as the Mawangdui tomb 3, 168 BCE) and Han encyclopedic literature, most notably the Shanhai jing 山海經. It is, however, difficult to discern the ritual contexts behind the production of these texts. More specifically, it is unclear what kinds of social actors made such geographic information, and how these texts might have appealed to readers. This paper begins with an examination of two examples of Han sacred maps: passages from weft texts (chanwei 讖緯) and maps of the Five Marchmounts (wuyue 五嶽). This paper explores the sacred geography in these Later Han texts by focusing on the common themes in the various fragments of these texts. I argue that we can garner insight into the Later Han writers who circulated stories about China’s sacred geography despite the fact that these fragments are now only found in later medieval encyclopedic literature.


Matthias L. Richter (University of Colorado at Boulder), “Limitations to the Phonetic Source Value of Manuscript Characters”

One of the many virtues of Baxter and Sagart’s Old Chinese (2014) is the use of recently excavated manuscripts as evidence for Old Chinese pronunciation. This talk will name some aspects of early Chinese writing practice that should be considered as possible limitations to the source value of manuscript characters, in particular a lack of orthographic consistency in early Chinese writing practice and potential misidentification of phonophoric elements by scholars today.


Shi Jie (University of Chicago), “Neither Flesh nor Soul: Visualizing Prince Liu Sheng’s Melting Body in Western Han China”

In early Chinese burials, body and soul normally formed the two centers. The former was situated in the inner coffin (guan) and the latter was symbolized by the empty spirit seat (shenzuo) located somewhere in the outer casket (guo). However, in the cliff-cut Mancheng Tomb 1 of Prince Liu Sheng (d. 113 BCE) in Hebei province, the duality was complicated by a third middle zone: a wooden outer coffin (waiguan) situated between the coffin and the casket. In the middle zone, the excavators found dozens of rare objects, including ritual jades and weapons. Previous scholarship, which linked the number of nested coffins in a tomb to the deceased’s political status, remained silent on the religious function of the outer coffin. This paper delves into the physical and symbolic structure of the tomb and demonstrates that the intermediary outer coffin was the place for an “outfit” which was neither the physical body nor the disembodied soul. Taking a new approach called “material religion,” through a close examination of the forms, types, and arrangement of these objects in light of other more recent archaeological discoveries, this paper argues that the outer coffin was a visual commentary on the much more nuanced, dialectical relationship between body and soul in early Chinese thought. Three problems are to be discussed: (1) the objects of the outer coffin were arranged spatially to resemble a shapeless “body”; (2) this “body” mediated between the deceased’s body and his soul; and (3) a probable philosophical basis for the “melting body” was the idea of “fluid body” (liuxing) in excavated and transmitted texts of the late Warring States and early Western Han.


Pauli Tashima (University of North Carolina, Greensboro), “The Fan Sheng vs. Chen Yuan Debates: Microcosms of the Unsettled Academic Field at the Founding of the Eastern Han”

In the opening years of Emperor Guangwu’s reign (25–58 CE), the court debates between Fan Sheng 范升 (fl. 28) and Chen Yuan 陳元 (fl. 28) over the merits of creating Academicians’ posts for the Zuo Tradition are significant intellectual and political moments in the early history of the text’s reception. Therefore, existing scholarship on this set of debates has justifiably focused on the end results of these official-scholars’ rhetorical arguments, mobilized by Fan Sheng to bar, and by Chen Yuan to promote, the official establishment of the Zuo Tradition with the emperor’s approval. However, much less studied are this pair of scholars’ asymmetrical rhetorical means, speaking to incompatible sets of values espoused by Fan Sheng and Chen Yuan, which have wider implications for our understanding of the intellectual shifts and divergences present at the time, beyond those immediately concerning the fate of the Zuo Tradition’s standing. For example, the Fan-Chen debates represent disagreements over the legitimacy of official versus personal authority in ascertaining meaning, the value of mediated instruction versus immediate contact, the consequences of comparing the Zuo Tradition to the Shiji, and the adjudication of worth based on established consensus versus individual perceptiveness. My paper examines the memorials Fan and Chen submitted to Emperor Guangwu, as preserved in the Hou Hanshu, arguing for their relevance to unsettled issues of the day as they relate to exegetical, transmissive, textual, and intellectual authority in the early years of the Eastern Han (25–220).