Early China Seminar at Columbia University 2011-2012

Presentations Scheduled for 2011-2012


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



1. Oct. 1, 2011 (Saturday), at 1 PM, Kent Hall 405


Kenneth Holloway (Florida Atlantic University; visiting Boston): “The Transition from Immanent to Transcendent: Situating Religion in the ‘Xing zi mingchu’ between the Analects and the Daode jingPDF


       Portions of the recently excavated manuscript the “Xing zi mingchu性自命出 emphasize transcendent principles while others that are particularly interested in the immanent. The key to moving between these two frameworks is qing , which leads us from a focus on society to connecting with the Dao. A divide exists in section 16 of the text between the social problems in the first half where our actions create tension with others, and seeing beyond these finite problems to embrace the Dao. Before we reach this higher understanding, even when we are righteous and humane we are loathed and refuted. After we understand the Dao, this friction is gone. Qing is a construct that relates directly to our lives, in section 9 it is how we know sounds in general and music in particular can be trusted.  Dao is larger than this; it includes all things in section 7. A significant amount of scholarship has argued that the “Xing zi mingchu” is a missing link between the Analects and Mencius. Some have opposed this and seen it as closer to Xunzi. My paper will argue that its ideas are best understood as religious, and that its religious ideals help us bridge the rupture between the immanence of the Analects and the transcendence of the Daode jing


Andrew Meyer (CUNY, Brooklyn College): “The Baseness of Knights Truly Runs Deep士之賤也, 亦甚矣: The Crisis and Negotiation of Aristocratic Status in the Warring States” PDF


       Prior scholarship on the Masters’ texts of the Warring States has given little attention to the social contexts in which they were produced. The most detailed study was that of Hsu Cho-yun, who used the Masters’ texts to support his thesis that the Warring States was a period of accelerated social mobility that saw the rise of the “shi” class. While my reading of these texts does not contradict Hsu’s assertions about social mobility, it does not support the notion of a “rise of the shi class.” Rather, I see in these texts evidence of pervasive status anxiety among their authors. The Warring States saw the deterioration of the established mechanisms for the production, maintenance, and social recognition of aristocratic status. Many elites who wished to participate in the political sphere, particularly those who produced and used the Masters’ texts, found their claims to aristocratic status under scrutiny or attack. This paper attempts to reconstruct the basic elements of this “crisis of aristocratic status” and analyze the strategies that the authors of the Masters’ texts adopted in confronting it. 



2. Nov. 19, 2011(Saturday), at 1 PM, Kent Hall 405


Charles Sanft (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton): “Population Records from Liye 里耶PDF


       In 2002 archaeologists excavated some 37,000 Qin dynasty writing strips and fragments from the Liye 里耶 site in Hunan. Only a portion of these have so far been published, but prominent among those are records dealing with registration of the population. These documents provide new information about Qin governance, and what the bureaucracy recorded and did not record about the populace. In this paper I examine examples of these documents and other relevant materials, and consider what they tell us about the function and effects of population registration under the Qin.


Lillian Lan-ying Tseng (ISAW, NYU): “Picturing Heaven in Early China” PDF


       Lillian Tseng will be presenting her new book, Picturing Heaven in Early China, to the Early China Seminar. The book was published by Harvard University Asia Center in summer 2011. The presentation will discuss mainly the contents of the introduction and the first chapter of the book. The introduction, “Images and References,” addresses the significance of studying visual representations of Heaven in Han China. The first chapter, “Constructing the Cosmic View,” focuses on the Bright Halls, the emblem of Heaven’s mandate, erected by three Han rulers. Based on transmitted texts and archaeological finds, Tseng will discuss the three Bright Halls in their particular historical contexts, emphasizing issues such as legitimacy and politics, form and symbol, ritual and audience.


3. Feb. 11, 2012 (Saturday), at 1 PM, Kent Hall 405


Matthias L. Richter (University of Colorado at Boulder): “How manuscripts reflect the process of text accretion: The case of Xing zi ming chu 性自命出 and Xing qing lun 性情論PDF


       Long before the discovery of greater numbers of early Chinese manuscripts, historical textual criticism had begun to generate an increasing awareness of the composite nature of early Chinese texts and their gradual accretion. Yet, modern approaches to interpreting these texts are still very much informed by notions of textual identity that are based on how a certain text is embedded in a compilation or associated with an author or patron figure. Expectations of ideological coherence within Warring States texts tend to be exaggerated, if they are primarily based on arrangements that were devised only in the early empire. Manuscripts contain valuable information on contemporary ideas about the extension and hierarchy of textual units. To become less reliant on retrospective notions of textual identity in interpreting manuscript texts, we must grant the analysis of codicological information such as layout and punctuation greater weight. The proposed paper will argue that the different codicological arrangements of the texts in the Guodian manuscript Xing zi ming chu and the Shanghai museum manuscript Xing qing lun reflect different stages in text accretion.


Sun Yan (Gettysburg College): “Material Culture, Social Identities and Power of the Western Zhou: Case Studies of Yu and Peng Lineages in north China” PDF


       The Yu (弓鱼) and Peng () lineages were active in the northern frontier of the Western Zhou.  They were distinguished by their ethnic makeup and cultural provenance. The means and degree of their absorption of the Huaxia Culture were also different. Through studies of these two cases, this paper aims to investigate how social identities of individuals and lineages of these two groups were conveyed through inscriptions on bronzes, constructed through artifacts in tombs and displayed through burial rituals and practices. The research is in light of recent theoretical discussions on the dynamic role of material culture in its ability to reflect, create and transform individual and group identities. The paper intends to reveal individual and group identities are multifaceted and dynamic under Zhou’s nation building process from the mid-11th c. to 10th c. BCE. 


4. April 6-7, 2012 (Friday-Saturday), at 9:30-5:00 PM, Kent Hall



An International Conference on the Early History and Archaeology of Qin
帝國之前 早期秦國歷史和考古國際學術討論會

Wang Hui, Jiao Nanfeng, Zhao Huacheng, Chen Chao-Jung, Robin Yates, Yuri Pines, David Pankenier, Kuang Yu Chen, Li Feng.

Conference Poster    Program


5. May 12, 2012 (Saturday), at 1 PM, Kent Hall 405


Gopal Sukhu (CUNY, Queens College): “Wang Yi’s Commentary on Chuci and the Woman Who Commissioned It” PDF


       For many centuries scholars habitually looked to the oldest commentary, that of Wang Yi (d. 158 C.E.), for explanations of some of the more difficult parts of the Li sao and other sections of the Chuci (The Songs of Chu). After the great Song dynasty philosopher Zhu Xi (1130-1200) cast doubt on the commentary by pointing out certain absurdities in it, new commentaries burgeoned, especially during the Qing dynasty; however, few scholars from the Song period until now ever questioned the basic premises of Wang Yi’s commentary, even when they claimed to be offering “new” interpretations. Part of the reason for this is the idea, which took root during the Han, that Wang Yi, being from the region where the state of Chu once existed, had certain types of local cultural knowledge that other scholars did not have. Moreover, the earliness of the commentary gave it a certain authority. The “absurdities” in his explanations, noticed by Zhu Xi and many others, were thought to be signs of certain defects in his knowledge, training, etc. No one ever thought that Wang Yi might have had a political agenda, and that the “absurdities” in his commentary were to a certain extent intentional and systematic. My paper will attempt to expose the political motivations behind the Wang Yi commentary, describing the influence over him of a powerful woman of the time, empress Deng Sui. I will adduce evidence to support my claim that she commissioned his commentary with the understanding that through it he would further her political project. I will also show how he followed her orders, tacit or not, with great care.


Erica Brindley (Pennsylvania State University): “A Critical Evaluation of Archaeological and Textual Scholarship on the Yue/Viet of the Southeastern Border” PDF


       By applying a critical, interpretive lens to our current understandings of Yue culture and identity, I will reconstruct complex processes of cultural change and ethnic transformations that steer us away from dichotomized conceptions of dominance and subordination on the part of the northern and southern elements, Zhu-Xia (or “Zhou”) and Yue. In analyzing problems and limitations in scholarship and sources on the Yue, I will try to make sense of sparse statements, silences, and basic assumptions. For example, to what extent do archaeologists conflate material cultures with ethnic groupings? How can scholars assert Han dominance when the very concept of “Han” may not have existed as an ethnic or cultural identity?


Huang Xiaofen (East Asian University, Japan): “A Study of Qin Straight Road — Zhidao 直道 of the Qin Dynasty” PDF


       The Straight Road 直道, constructed in the time Qin Shi Huangdi 秦始皇帝, was an imperial superhighway which connected the Ganquan Palace 甘泉宫), a spiritual site for the Qin capital Xianyang, and the city of Jiuyuan 九原 on the northern frontier. Based on GPS research, this paper systematically discusses the route and the artifacts and architectural remains along this road. The paper clarifies that physic road consisted, depending on the topography of the area, of a base, a road surface, shoulders and side-ditches at average 30 meters wide (maximum 50 m). The Qin Straight Road was created by high level civil engineering technology and reflected the political order of the imperial society. It lacked features of a commercial or civil road. While the Straight Road maintained its essential functions under the Western Han Empire, it was used as “a road of northern military operations and diplomacy” from time to time. Finally, it was abandoned with purpose destruction at the middle of Eastern Han, some 300 years after its creation.


Susan Beningson (CUNY): “The Northern Wei Capital at Pingcheng: A Report from Recent Fieldwork on Ritual Architecture and Ethnicity in Early Medieval China” PDF


       The Northern Wei (386-534) rulers established three capitals during its reign, first at Shengle, then at Pingcheng (modern-day Datong), and finally at Luoyang. The Tuoba Xianbei state was multicultural, encouraged by the forced resettlement of its population to each new capital. During the second half of the fifth century Confucian structures such as the Mingtang, Lingtai and Biyong were built in Pingcheng, as well as increased activity at the nearby Buddhist cave-temples at Yungang. My paper is part of a larger project on Pingcheng and will discuss daily life at the capital, the city plan and architecture, economics and trade, and issues of ethnic identity under the Northern Wei. Recent excavations will also be explored, as well as the lasting impact of the Northern Wei and how this time period helped set the stage for modern China.