2005 Annual Meeting: Border-Crossing Sessions


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Session 96: New Insights from the Yellow Earth: Reinterpreting Early China through Recent Archaeological Discoveries: Sponsored by the Society for the Study of Early China

Organizer: Robin D. S. Yates, McGill University

Chair: Susan Weld, CECC

Discussant: Constance A. Cook, Lehigh University

Since archaeological excavation and publication resumed after the hiatus of the Cultural Revolution, numerous new discoveries have been made of sites, texts, and other artifacts that have led scholars to question long-held beliefs about the origins and nature of the Chinese cultural tradition in general and the two historical watersheds in particular, the development of the Erlitou culture and the creation of the Chinese empire, that gave shape, sense and meaning to the idea of "China." This panel’s papers will explore how the new data force us to re-examine the trajectory of early Chinese history and culture. Allan will discuss the establishment of a cultural hegemony that spread from the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age site of Erlitou, Henan Province, to the whole of the East Asian subcontinent, a culture that she argues can be legitimately called "Chinese." Xing will analyze the new bamboo slip Zhou Yi manuscript that the Shanghai Museum saved from the international antiques market in the light other newly discovered textual data and offer an interpretation of the intellectual positions of divination schools and their role in cultural life. Yates will analyze the role of law as the institutional foundation of the early Chinese empire by examining the government archives of a small Qin dynasty city in Hunan, comparing the practice of Qin officials with statutory, prescriptive, regulations. This panel will alert the Asian scholarly community, and invite the audience to discuss these latest remarkable finds.

Erlitou and Erligang: Towards a Cultural Hegemony

Sarah Allan, Dartmouth College

For many years, scholars have debated the relationship of the later historical records that mention the Xia and Shang "dynasties" to the archaeological and paleographic evidence and the relationship of the archaeological remains of the central plains to those of other regions. In this paper, I wish to look at this problem from a different perspective. Instead of asking the question as to whether or not the Xia was a state and whether that state was centered at the site of Erlitou, Yanshi, Henan Province, and coterminous with the archaeological remains of what has been identified as Erlitou culture and evaluating the accuracy of the transmitted historical records, I wish to examine the establishment of a cultural hegemony in the East Asian subcontinent. I will argue that an elite culture first took form in the early second millennium BCE center at Erlitou. This elite culture came to dominate the entire Chinese continental region by the end of the Shang Dynasty. It was associated with a particular set of religious practices, centered on ancestral offerings. Key to its formation was the association of bronze with ritual practice. Archaeologically, its markers in the Shang Dynasty are bronze vessels with a common set of motifs and ritual forms and certain types of jade artifacts. Although these artifacts do not imply political authority, and local cultural diversity remained, this elite culture laid the foundation for a common culture that defined itself in terms of shared rites. This we may legitimately call "Chinese" civilization.

Reading through Graphs: Textual Structure and Divinatory Schools in Early China

Wen Xing, Trinity University

In 1994, a collection of Chu slips of Warring States date appeared on the antiques market in Hong Kong. Among these priceless documents, subsequently acquired by the Shanghai Museum, was the earliest extant version of the Zhou Yi classic, the divination manual traditionally attributed to King Wen, founder of the Zhou dynasty. The red and black marks in this text have generated much scholarly interest since they were reported. The recent publication of the material (Spring, 2004) provides a new opportunity to study issues relevant to their interpretation. As divination was central to political and religious culture in early China and of continuing intellectual interest in later times, this paper will examine the characteristics of graphic forms in early divinatory texts starting from the Shang oracle bone inscriptions and will discuss their significance and implications. From the perspective of excavated textual material, it is clear that graphs played a very important role in the divinatory tradition. Textual materials from Chu tombs, including Zidanku, Baoshan and Xincai, Qin tombs, such as Shuihudi and Wangjiatai, as well as Han tombs, including Shuanggudui, Mawangdui and Yinwan, present us with much evidence. I will explore the structural significance of some representative graphs as well as the intellectual stances of different divinatory schools reflected in those related structures. This endeavor will help solve the puzzle of the red and black marks in the Shanghai Zhou Yi manuscript and also provide a better understanding of early Chinese divinatory texts and schools in general.

Law in the Making of the Empire: Evidence from Newly Discovered Qin Slips from Liye, Hunan

Robin D. S. Yates, McGill University

In late 2002, an extensive salvage excavation and survey was made of Liye township, Hunan, that proved to have been a small city in Warring States, Qin, and Han times. In Well #1, an extensive hoard of Qin slips was discovered. 36,000 slips and boards were retrieved, with approximately 100,000 graphs written on them. These consist of records of the local Qin government office and many of them are precisely dated, some to the hour, from 222 BCE. to 210 BCE. By far the largest hoard of Qin slips discovered to date, they provide extremely detailed records of day-to-day government business at the local level. Previous discoveries of Qin slips, e.g., those made at Shuihudi, Hubei (1975), consist of Qin statutes. The latter were the prescriptions of how the bureaucratic system was supposed to work. The Liye slips reveal how it actually did work. This paper will compare the prescriptions in the statutes with the day-to-day activities and concerns of the officials, and explore the nature of Qin social relations and legal procedures in comparison with those revealed by the early Han Zhangjiashan legal texts of ca. 186 BCE (published in 2001). Law provided the institutional basis for the creation of the Chinese empire that lasted into the 20th century, so these extraordinary new documents allow us, for the first time, to understand the actual mechanisms that the state manipulated to gain control over the diverse populations of the country and meld them into an enduring unified empire.