ECS Program 2012-2013

(Papers will be posted here for the registered members of the seminar about 10 days before the meetings in which they are presented).


September 15, Saturday,

Rowan Flad (Harvard University): “Opening New Fields: The Origins and Development of Civilization in Ancient Sichuan, China” PDF

The Sichuan Basin in China has been a major breadbasket and population center for Chinese states and empires since the late fourth Century BC.  Despite this, the region has only recently become an intense focus of archaeological research as it has become clear, based on accidental finds and discoveries made in the course of development projects, that a complex civilization developed that predated the earliest historical records that document societies in the area.  Most famous were the discoveries at Sanxingdui in 1986 of two sacrificial pits, which contained gold, bronze, ivory, jade and other material remains of this lost civilization.  Despite these tremendous finds, however, only in the past decade has systematic research focused on trying to document the broader social and political context within which these pits were buried, and the conditions that led up to the establishment of Sanxingdui.  This talk reviews some of this recent work and examines the process by which the Chengdu Plain was first occupied. A challenging modern landscape in the Chengdu Plain has required a multi-tiered methodology for archaeological survey in the region. The data we have collected allow us to evaluate this process by comparing aggregate data across the survey zone.

James Stoltman (University of Wisconsin, Madison): “Ceramic Petrography, An Old Fashioned Technique Provides New Insights into Bronze Age Chinese Society” PDF

Petrography is a venerable geological technique that provides reliable identifications of minerals and rocks. This presentation reports the results of recent and ongoing research on Chinese ceramics from Yinxu (Anyang), Houma, and Guicheng using the venerable geologic technique of petrography. This research has revealed the enormous sophistication and complexity of Bronze Age Chinese artisans not just in making ceramic vessels to perform various tasks but in the fabrication of models and molds in order to make spectacular bronze containers and weapons.

November 10, Saturday

Newell Ann Van Auken (University of Iowa): “Teaching the Spring and Autumn: Two Early Commentarial Traditions Embedded in the Zuǒ zhuŕnPDF

This study takes as its focus some of the earliest surviving commentarial remarks on the Spring and Autumn, a group of passages that have not been transmitted as an independent text, but that have come down to us embedded in another early work associated with the Spring and Autumn, the Zuǒ zhuŕn 左傳. The Zuǒ zhuŕn is best known for its historical narratives, but it also contains approximately 180 passages that comment directly on Spring and Autumn records. These commentarial remarks may be divided into two sets on the basis of formal features, content, and patterns of distribution in the Zuǒ zhuŕn. This evidence suggests that the two types of remark were not drawn from a single source, but from two very different sorts of texts. Both were aimed at explaining and teaching the Spring and Autumn, but they apparently had different organizations and pedagogical aims. Even though neither source text has survived intact, the fragments preserved in the Zuǒ zhuŕn allow us to derive a surprising amount of information about what these early commentarial works may have been like.


Crispin Williams (University of Kansas): “Scribal Variation and the Meaning of the Houma and Wenxian Covenant Texts’ Imprecation Ma Yi Fei Shi麻夷非是PDF


The paper presents the findings of a survey of the imprecation phrase ma yi fei shi麻夷非是and its variations, as written (using brush and ink) on several thousand excavated covenant texts (mengshu 盟書) from Houma侯馬 and Wenxian 溫縣. I argue that the findings support Zhu Dexi 朱德熙and Qiu Xigui 裘錫圭’s analysis of the phrase as mi yi bi shi 靡夷彼氏 “Wipe out that shi (shi, I suggest, referring to the covenantor and his direct male descendants). Through comparison of scribal hands, I demonstrate that those variations which do not fit this analysis were produced by a small number of scribes who, in almost all cases, exhibit uncertainty in their understanding of the phrase. I conclude that such variations are unreliable and do not require us to reject Zhu and Qiu’s analysis. These examples suggest that formulaic stock phrases, such as this imprecation, were liable to be misinterpreted even during the period in which they were in common use. Identification of scribal hands was essential to this analysis, demonstrating not only the importance of this methodology in such research, but also the potential value of these materials for furthering our understanding of scribal habits in early China.


February 9, Saturday

Martin Kern (Princeton University): “Ideologies of Kingship in the ‘Yaodian’: Style, Argument, and Purpose” PDF

This paper presents a rhetorical and ideological analysis of the first chapter of the Shangshu, the “Yaodian,” that in the “Modern Text” version of the classic includes what in the forged “Ancient Text” version are the “Yaodian” and the “Shundian.” Without trying to rehabilitate the “Ancient Text” version, I argue that the “Yao” and the “Shun” parts are indeed profoundly distinct in both rhetoric and ideology, and that it was the “Shun” section that appealed directly to an early imperial (Qin-Han) audience: while the “Yao” section represents a model of charismatic (and to some extent idiosyncratic) rulership prior to the establishment of a well-ordered world (and state), the “Shun” section presents an ideal of kingship eminently compatible with early imperial rule. (In this context, it may be more than accidental that the series of observations that has led scholars to date the entire “Yaodian” chapter into Qin-Han times all come from the “Shun” section.) Altogether, I argue to read the “Yaodian” not as a work of mythological or historical narrative but as a piece of early political rhetoric: not as a disinterested account of the past but as an intervention into Warring States through early imperial political debates. As part of this analysis, I also challenge the traditional reading of the text as narrative; through detailed linguistic analysis, I show that important parts of the text—most significantly its first section—is not narrative but speech.

 Li Feng (Columbia University): “A First Reading of the Qiye 耆夜 among the Qinghua Strips and the Related Issues about the Textual Transmission of the Shijing Poems” PDF


The Qiye text among the Qinghua manuscripts describes a reception to celebrate the Zhou’s successful campaign against the polity of Qi (also known as Li ). The event was attended by most politically influential figures of the early Western Zhou time and was highlighted by the Duke of Zhou’s composition of a poem named “Cricket” (Xishuai 蟋蟀) towards the end of the session. Interestingly, “Cricket” is the title of a poem now included in the “Tang feng唐风 section of the Shijing, and the two, though related to each other in content and form, are clearly two different poems. The paper offers a close reading of the Qiye text including the “Cricket,” diverging in many places from the “original” reading published by the Qinghua University research team. The paper shows that the Qiye “Cricket” maintains language as well as script features of the Western Zhou period along with astronomically based political meanings. But these features of what might have been an original composition were completely lost when the poem was revised/recomposed, in the author’s interpretation, to become one of the poems in the Shijing — the Shijing “Cricket”.        

April 13, Saturday

Ethan Harkness (New York University): Almanacs as a Window on Early Chinese Natural Philosophy” PDF

Traditional studies of the Chinese natural philosophy of the late Warring States period through the Western Han dynasty have based their analysis on data gleaned from transmitted texts, including elite, historically-and-politically-oriented works like Zuozhuan and more explicitly focused explications of natural philosophy such as chapters three, four and five of Huainanzi.  Numerous discoveries of excavated texts in recent decades, particularly the sub-genre of almanac-like texts known as rishu  , now provide a wealth of new data and an alternative perspective on early Chinese natural philosophy as well as an improved sense of its possible quotidian applications.  In this talk, I will take examples from a variety of almanacs to illustrate their potential not only to refine our current understanding of early Chinese thought, but also to suggest new questions about perceptions of the natural world, man's role therein, and the process by which the correlative cosmology that became a prominent feature of both political and proto-scientific thought took shape.


Maxim Korolkov (Columbia University): “Study of Ancient China in Russia: Recent Developments” PDF

This presentation summarizes some developments in the study of early China by the Russian scholars. These include the progress in the traditional large-scale translation projects focused on classical writings such as the Shi ji translation accomplished in 2011 and the ongoing work on the Zhou li and Zuo zhuan translations; the emerging attention towards the excavated paleographic texts; and new hypotheses concerning the early state formations and the emergence of writing in East Asia. I will also discuss the recent China-related archaeological excavations and contributions to the archaeological survey of the northern border regions of ancient Chinese oecumene.

May 19, Sunday

Joachim Gentz (University of Edinburgh): “Divinatory Hermeneutics and Early Canon Exegesis in China” PDF

Divinatory practice provides the conceptual background for a movement in the 4th century BC that aimed at making ideal texts and ideal persons as authors of these texts and that eventually led to the canonisation of text corpora and the divinisation of sages in Han times. This making of ideal texts took divinatory texts and their hermeneutics as model and accordingly followed basic assumptions about text, author and interpretation from divinatory practices. Following this first hypothesis the paper will argue that the institutional function of the classics thus replaced the institutional function of divination. This move had, as I will argue in the end, decisive consequences for an understanding of, and dealing with, the author function and freedom and creation in the writing of texts in early China.


Rod Campbell (New York University): “The Tiesanlu Bone Working Site: Recent Work and Implications for Shang Archaeology” PDF


Recent work at Anyang has begun to focus on the nature of the settlement and its infrastructure. One crucial aspect of this work has been the discovery of several new workshop areas and further excavation of others previously known. The study of these workshops presents a side of the Great Settlement Shang unknown from the oracle-bones and previous elite, mortuary, focused archaeology. Of these workshops sites, that with the greatest potential to shed light on Shang production organization and economic networks is perhaps the bone working area at Tiesanlu. With hundreds of middens, tombs, structures and storage pits spread over 4000m2 of excavated exposure dating from the major phases of Anyang and perhaps the world’s largest assemblage of archaeologically excavated animal bone, Tiesanlu is unique in world archaeology. This talk will attempt to marshal evidence for the nature of the production at this site, its changes over time, and the implications for Shang production and economy in general.