Major Topics in East Asian Civilization

Questions on the Reading

Week 2

Questions on the Reading for week 2
Tuesday: Sources of Chinese Tradition, pp. 41-111.
Thursday: Sources of Chinese Tradition, pp. 112-183, 190-206. *Book of Songs, poem # 1 and Preface.

Introduction to "Disputers of the Dao: The Way to Order in the Warring States Period."

The legitimacy of the kings of the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1045-256 BCE) rested on a nexus of kinship, ritual, and ancestral sacrifice. The Zhou house claimed the most powerful ancestral spirits with whom only the royal family could communicate through sacrifice, divination, and other religious practices. This privileged position materialized in walled cities, palaces, altars, chariots, and especially elaborate bronze ritual implements. Such insignia of power were concentrated in the capital, but they were also bestowed on feudal princes who ruled outlying regions on the king's behalf.

During the Warring States period (479-221 BCE) the feudal states defected and waged war on one another. The ideal order collapsed and with it the basis of its legitimacy. The ensuing chaos and destruction inspired philosophical queries into new grounds of legitimacy that would ensure a lasting peace. Most of these philosophers were traveling political advisors who attempted to gain influence at the contending courts where they might implement their policies. These philosophers generally did not doubt the validity of the central concepts that had underpinned the Zhou dynasty during its heyday. Rather, they believed that the true meaning of concepts such as "the Way" (dao), virtue (de), ritual (li), and Heaven (tian) had been lost and attempted to recover their original, true meaning.


Map of the Tracks of [the Sage King] Yu. This seventeenth-century map shows the rather irregular boundaries of the nine ancient regions or provinces of China supposedly demarcated by Yu the Great. This reconstruction is based on a study of the description of these regions in the "Yu gong" chapter of the Shu jing. It contravenes the more schematic, geometrized versions of the jiu zhou (nine provinces) favored by cosmographers of the Han era.  
The story of the filial Shun. Detail of an engraved stone slab from a sarcophagus. Late Northern Wei Dynasty, about 520-530.

Shi Qiang bronze pan vessel. Middle Western Zhou period, end of tenth century BCE. From JZhuangbai, Fufeng, Shaanxi Province.

The Shi Qiang pan vessel is in many respects the most important of all Western Zhou bronze vessels, a position attributable almost entirely to its 270-character-long inscription (see detail below), which might justly be described as the first conscious historical writing in China. In two balanced halves, it juxtaposes an outline of the first seven Western Zhou kings with a similar genealogy of four generations of the Wei family. The inscription concludes with a prayer that Qiang's own merits be acknowledged and that he be granted a long life so that he may contiue to serve the Zhou kings. The inscription is equally important as evidence for the rise of poetry in China, being stylistically identical to the four-character rhyming line structure of the Shi Jing (Classic of Poetry).


English Translation of the Shi Qiang pan Inscription


Chime of twenty-six bronze zhong bells. Middle Spring and Autumn Period (c. 550 BCE). Xiasi, Xichuan, Henan Province.

This is the largest continuous bell-chime so far known from the Chinese Bronze Age. The bells tilt toward the player, permitting greater accuracy in striking than in vertically suspended bells--an important feature, since each yongzhong can emit two notes, depending on whether it is struck in the center or midway to the side. (The interval between the two notes usually approximates either a minor or a major third.) This acoustic phenomenon is caused by the bell's almond-shaped (pointed-oval) cross section. The chime still emits tones similar to those heard during the Bronze Age. Its range extends over five octaves, with up to ten different notes per octave.

The inscribed text, translated below, identifies the individual for whom this chime was made as the grandson of a Chu king.


Bronze Zhong Bells Inscription

It was the first month, in the first quarter, day dinghai. I, Wangsun Gao, selected my auspicious metals and for myself made [these] harmonizing bells. They are long-vibrating and sonorous, and their fine sound is very loud. With them, sternly and in a very dignified manner, I reverently serve the king of Chu.

I am not fearful and make no mistakes. I am gracious in my administrative demeanor. I am thoroughly familiar with the awe-inspiring ceremonies. I am greatly respectful and am at ease and composed. I am fearful and very careful; earnestly planning [my actions], I am good at defending [my ruler]. For this I am known in the Four States. I respectfully keep my treaties and sacrifices, and as a result forever obtain happiness. Martial in warfare, I consider and carefully plan [my strategies] and am never defeated.

Glistening are the harmonizing bells. With them feast in order to please and to make happy the king of Chu, the various rulers and the fine guests, our fathers and brothers and the various gentlemen. How blissful and brightly joyous! For ten thousand years without end, forever preserve and strike them.



  1. How do the assigned texts view government and morality? What are the sources of government authority? What is the nature of government and power? What do the texts view as the basis of morality and how do they view the ideal man or woman? What is the relationship between government, morality, and the Way (Dao)?

  2. How do the different texts use history in their arguments? How do you distinguish between myth, legend, and history?

  3. Consider the form of the translated texts. How do you imagine their authors and their audiences? How do literary and rhetorical devices further arguments made in the texts? How would you classify the texts in terms of genre?

  4. Imagine yourself as a Confucian, Daoist, or Legalist adviser to a ruler during the Warring States period. Come to class prepared to advocate and defend your views