Presentations Scheduled for 2009-2010


(Seminar papers will be posted here about 10 days before the meetings in which they are presented).



Sunday, 25 October, 2009; 12:30-5:00 pm


Kuang Yu Chen (Rutgers University): “The beginning of writing in China: A comparison with other original writings” pdf


Abstract: There have been only four or five original writing systems independently invented in human history. The major questions related to the study of these original writings deal with the dating, the driving forces that led to the invention and the mode of their development. Based on the structural analysis of Chinese writing, the recent archeological findings in China, and the study of other original writings we proposed that the genesis of oracle bone inscriptions (OBI) was very much like the production of cellular proteins from a linear polypeptide to a functional three dimensional mature protein. As such, we proposed a similar “funnel model” to illustrate the beginning of Chinese writing in the form of OBI. We further proposed a linear model to illustrate the development of Chinese writing. The models may explain the relative stability of Chinese writing and why it did not become a phonetic language.


Olivier Venture (École Pratique des Hautes Études): “Inscriptions and writing in Early China” pdf


Abstract: In my presentation I propose an overview of each kind of Shang and Western Zhou written materials. Relying on an analysis of archaeological context, of the functions of inscribed objects, and of the content of inscriptions, I highlight the relationship between these “excavated texts” and what may be called “ritual practices”. Having established this relationship, I become reluctant to consider that such inscriptions could have been used, during this period, for “communication with spirits,” as supported by some scholars. I am rather inclined to think that this last practice developed later in Chinese history. The purpose of writing, in most of these inscriptions, was to record various acts related to rituals. By giving these ritual acts an everlasting form, Shang and Zhou people perhaps expected in return to extend the spiritual (or divine) benefits proceeding from these acts. On another hand, I will also show that, even if the context of the inscriptions remained unchanged for centuries, many features indicate that the way these texts were considered by members of the aristocratic society evolved over time.


Duan Tianjing (Jilin University, visiting Columbia): “Important Clues to Pre-Shang and Zhou Cultures in Northern Hebei: The Excavation and Discoveries at Nanfangshui site (2006)” pdf


Abstract: From April to July, 2006, Jilin University excavated the Nanfangshui site in Tangxian County, Hebei Province of China. The present paper discusses the discoveries we made at Nanfangshui, based on first-hand materials. The cultural deposit in the site can be divided into largely three periods: Pre-Shang, Western, and Eastern Zhou. These materials offer us important clues to understanding the cultural image and social political relations in the north part of the Central Plain the second and first millenniums BC. The few Pre-Shang period remains indicate contacts between the region and the Lower Xiajiadian Culture in the north and the Yueshi Culture on the Shandong Peninsula. Western Zhou remains constitute the main cultural deposit in this site. Two culture traditions are detected at the site: one probably belonged to the Zhou population, and the other was possibly associated with Shang descendents. The Nanfangshui site is significant because so few sites dating to the Western Zhou period have been investigated in this region.


Saturday, 5 December, 2009; 1:00-5:00 pm


Moss Roberts (New York University): “Reuniting Shen-self with Its Lost Word Family with a Comment on the Daoist Term for Self  (Zi)” Pdf-1, pdf-2


Abstract: The Confucian clichés lishen and xiushen, establish self, cultivate self, emphasize the social character of the term.  While shen may refer to the physical body and also to the life time of an individual and even pregnancy, the dominant significance is social: character, identity, place in society.  Thus shen refers to performance of a service (to an implied superior) or simply submission to the requirements of a given role in life for which chen and zi, vassal and child (hidden components of the graph), are the archetypes of obedient conduct. The term zi plays a large role in the Dao De Jing.  The basic meaning is starting point, “first person,” and an important extended meaning is ‘always remaining as it was from the start, not subject to alteration (improvement).’ Nothing to li-establish or xiu-develop; hence wuweiZi represents the liberated and autonomous self, or self-as-being in creation’s infinite (ten thousand) variety.  (Being is unmodified; existence is mutable.)  Laozi’s philosophical instinct is not too different from Lucretius’ with his swerving atoms.


Paul Goldin (University of Pennsylvania): “Persistent Misconceptions about Chinese ‘Legalism’” pdf


Abstract: The reasons for avoiding the term “legalism” in the study of classical Chinese philosophy were summarized years ago by Herrlee G. Creel, and most scholars would probably agree, if pressed, that the term is flawed, and yet one continues to find it deployed in published books and articles—almost as though no one were prepared to admit that it has to be abandoned.  I believe that “legalism” is virtually useless as a hermeneutic lens; indeed, in many contexts it obscures more than it clarifies.  Even as a bibliographical category, as it was frequently used in imperial times, its value is questionable.  In this paper, I shall first review the weaknesses of the term “legalism,” then ask why scholars persist in adopting it even though they can hardly be unaware of its defects, and finally suggest a better approach to the material that is conventionally categorized as “legalist.”


Saturday, 30 January, 2010; 1:00-5:00 pm


Anne B. Kinney (University of Virginia): “Women in the Book of Odespdf


Abstract: Many scholars from the time of Zhu Xi onward have regarded many of the interpretations of Mao’s Odes (Mao shi) as far-fetched. Yet, while we might agree with Zhu Xi’s view, instead of simply dismissing the commentaries as so much Confucian white-wash over romantic subject matter, the “Minor Preface” can be mined for its wealth of information concerning Han views on women’s roles irrespective of how strained these interpretations may be for understanding the original meaning of the odes. Thus, while the mysteries surrounding the original date, attribution, and subject matter of a given ode remain, we can still use the commentaries to understand how scholars and readers in Han times understood these texts and how they might have been used as a vehicle for propagating women’s morality. Reading the Odes, particularly the “Airs of the States,” through the Mao-Zheng commentaries also restores an astonishingly woman-centered focus of this text. Furthermore, if we integrate what we can learn from the Mao recension of the Odes with early narratives such as the Zuo zhuan that expand on the historical events the “Preface” only alludes to, we may approach a view of early Chinese history that is both closer to Han understandings and more accommodating to women’s voices than contemporary readings generally allow.


Chang Pao-San (National Taiwan University):  “The Issue of Hermeneutics in the Study of the Shijingpdf 


Abstract: Literary records, including both received and excavated texts, are the basis for studies of the Shijing. Proper hermeneutic methods for the research of these texts are a major foundation of these studies. A correct hermeneutic approach can ensure the reliability of the results; on the other hand, if the methodology is unsuitable, it will lead to an erroneous result.  Therefore, here are five issues related to the study of the Shijing and textual hermeneutics: 1) Shijing textual hermeneutics must be based upon the fundamental principles of word meanings and commentarial explications; 2) In Shijing textual hermeneutics, one must possess an abundant knowledge of Shijing scholarship; 3) Shijing textual hermeneutics cannot neglect related knowledge from other fields; 4) Shijing textual hermeneutics should take into account the level of accuracy in other sources' inferences; 5) In Shijing textual hermeneutics, one should not make excessive annotations. Through a discussion of the above five points, I hope to emphasize the importance of textual hermeneutics in the study of the Shijing, and I look forward to greater importance being given to these issues by Shijing scholars.


Saturday, 27 February, 2010; 1:00-5:00 pm


Kate Pechenkina (Queens College, CUNY): “Life in the Early Farming Communities of Northern China: A Bioarchaeological Account” pdf


Abstract: Analysis of human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts allows us to reconstruct many aspects of life in ancient communities. During my talk, I will discuss how diet, health, activities, and patterns of violence changed over time in ancient China. The skeletal collections that I focus on come from archaeological sites spanning a time range from the Early Neolithic (ca 10,000 years ago), when millet and rice agriculture were first developed in East Asia, to the late Zhou dynasty (ca 2500 years ago), when millet was being gradually supplanted as a staple crop by wheat. During this long span of time, population density generally increased and distinct social hierarchies became established. The resulting economic, demographic, and political changes, along with changing ecological conditions, had a considerable influence on patterns of interpersonal violence, the distribution of infectious diseases, the severity of dietary deficiencies, and other aspects of the human condition.


David Sena (University of Texas at Austin):  “Narratives of Lineage History in the Shi Qiang pan and Qiu pan pdf


Abstract: This paper offers a comparison of narratives of lineage history appearing in two important bronze inscriptions dating to the Western Zhou dynasty (1045-771 BCE).  While similarities between the inscriptional texts of the Shi Qiang pan and Qiu pan have garnered great attention, this paper argues that subtle differences in the presentation of lineage reveal the ways in which such narratives were tailored to bolster differing claims of social and political legitimacy on the part of their individual sponsors.


Saturday 10 April, 2010; 1:00-5:00 pm 


ECS Symposium: “Guicheng and Bronze-Age Archaeology in Eastern China” (Li Feng, Jeremiah Trinidad-Christensen, Nick Vogt, Elizabeth Berger, Columbia University)


Abstract: Guicheng, measuring 7.5 km3, was a prominent Bronze-age city located in the eastern part of the Shandong Peninsula during the 10th to 5th centuries BC. During the four field seasons conducted by Columbia University, the Institute of Archaeology (CASS), and Shandong Provincial Institute of Archaeology between May 2006 and August 2009, the immense city-complex was systematically cored, surveyed, test-excavated, and mapped. The symposium presents a group of four papers which will each discuss an aspect of the project. Among the subjects of discussion are: the cultural and historical contexts of the site, methods of the fieldwork and the results, digital modeling of the site and environ, computer analysis of the surface sherds distribution, computer modeling of the underground structures. While an official monographic report is under preparation, the symposium will highlight the major contributions of the project both to understanding cultural relations in Early China and to field archaeological method.