Li Feng


Professor of Early Chinese History and Archaeology, Columbia University

East Asian Languages and Cultures

407 Kent Hall; Mail Code: 3907






An archaeologist and a historian, I conduct researches focusing on Bronze-Age China. As an archaeologist, my early field work dates back to 1980s-1990s when I was an Assistant Research Fellow in the Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Beijing), posited to work on the capital sites Feng and Hao of the Western Zhou period (1045–771 B.C.) in Shaanxi. In 2006-2011, as the PI of Columbia’s first archaeological project in China, I organized and co-directed the international collaborative archaeological survey and test-excavation of the late Bronze-Age city-site in Guicheng, Shandong. As a historian, I spent much of my past time on bronzes and their inscriptions and explored ways to use them as sources for interpreting early states and society in China. To achieve this goal, I grounded earlier and continuously my research in questions such as date, casting technology, authenticity, and inscriptional calligraphy of the bronzes and their inscriptions. The same research demand also led me to intermittent work on the Shang oracle bone inscriptions as well as the bamboo or wooden manuscripts excavated from Warring States to Han tombs.

I am interested in issues such as the rise and political dynamics of early states, transition to imperialism, writing and the development of literacy, bureaucracy and administration, early society political economy, and regional variations of Bronze-age society and culture and cross-regional communications. In recent years, I am especially interested in the study of social and economic conditions of states or non-state communities as new ways to address early China. For the same purpose, I am also interested in the comparative study of early states and civilizations.

Believing that we can achieve better knowledge about the past through impartial treatment of all surviving evidence, archaeological, inscriptional, and textual, I look for ways to integrate the material form of evidence and the written records in the study of early states and societies. Since 2015, I have been serving as the Faculty Director of the Tang Center for Early China at Columbia University and the content co-editor of the Tang Center Series in Early China from Columbia University Press.



Published Books 


Landscape and Power in Early China: The Crisis and Fall of the Western Zhou (1045-771 B.C.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, March 2006. Paperback 2009.

This book addresses the complex relationship between geography and political power in the special context of the crisis and fall of the Western Zhou. Drawing on the latest archaeological discoveries, the book shows how inscribed bronze vessels can be used to reveal changes in political space, and how the three disciplines, archaeology, history, and geography can work together to achieve a coherent understanding of the Bronze Age past. Embracing an interdisciplinary approach and enhanced by the full coverage of sources, the book thoroughly reinterprets late Western Zhou history and questions deeply into the causes of its gradual decline and eventual fall.





Bureaucracy and the State in Early China: Governing the Western Zhou. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, December 2008. Paperback 2013.


The book explores and interprets the origins and operational characteristics of one of the World’s earliest bureaucracies on the basis of the contemporaneous inscriptions of royal edicts cast onto bronze vessels, many of which have been discovered quite recently in archaeological explorations. The inscriptions clarify the political and social systems of the Western Zhou state and the ways in which it exercised authority. The book also discusses the theory of bureaucracy and criticizes the various models of early-archaic states on the basis of close reading of the inscriptions. It redefines the Western Zhou as a kin-ordered and settlement-based state.








Writing and Literacy in Early China: Studies from the Columbia Early China Seminar, edited by Li Feng and David Prager Branner. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011. Paperback 2013.


Writing and Literacy in Early China examines a topic of international importance: the emergence and spread of literacy in ancient human society. Writing arose separately in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Mesoamerica, and China. Modern Chinese orthography preserves logographic principles shared by its most ancient forms three thousand years ago, making it unique among all present-day writing systems. In the past three decades, the discovery of previously unknown texts dating to the third century BCE and earlier as well as older versions of known texts has revolutionized the study of early Chinese writing.


This new volume brings together studies by eleven sinologists from multiple disciplines to clarify the origin and social dimensions of literacy in Early China. Taking writing as a phenomenon of literacy, the studies examine a series of issues: possible stages in the invention of the Chinese writing, ways by which literacy was acquired, evidence of the multiple social spheres they represent, extent of literacy across regions, classes, genders, and professional social groups, etc. This is the very first book on early literacy in China.




2013, 2014

Early China: A Social and Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. First print 2013, new print 2014.


Early China offers critical new interpretation about the period from the beginning of human history in China to the end of the Han Dynasty in AD 220. The volume draws on the most recent scholarship and archaeological discoveries from the past thirty years, highlighting key issues in early Chinese civilization such as the origins of the written language, the rise of the state, Shang and Zhou religions, bureaucracy, law and governance, the evolving nature of war, the creation of empire, the changing image of art, and the philosophical search for social order. Beautifully illustrated with a wide range of new images, this book is essential reading for all those wanting to know more about the foundations of Chinese history and civilization










Guicheng: An Archaeological Study of the Formation of States on the Jiaodong Peninsula in Late Bronze-Age China, 1000-500 BCE, 2 volumes, edited by Li Feng and Liang Zhonghe. Beijing: Science Press, 2018.


The Guicheng Project was established in 2006 as an international research collaboration between Columbia University, the Institute of Archaeology (CASS), and the Shandong Provincial Institute of Archaeology. Guicheng enjoyed a high degree of political dominance and cultural diversity during the late Bronze Age until its conquest by the state of Qi in 567 BCE. In 2007-2011, the entire city-complex of 7.5 km2 has been systematically surveyed and mapped, the central citadel test-excavated.  The Chinese-English full-text bilingual monograph presents the results of Guicheng survey and test-excavation. Volumes I includes ten chapters that describe the fieldwork in Guicheng and related analyses of the city’s spatial organization, regional settlement system, and the local ceramic traditions. Volume II includes five chapters that review the archaeological discoveries made at the city-site and the surroundings in 1896-2006, mainly of bronzes, ceramics, and jade objects. Three appendices: I. “C14 Dating of the Guicheng City-Site”; II. “Results of Flotation at the Guicheng City-Site”; III. “Animal Remains Discovered during the 2009 Test Excavations”. A contribution to LBA archaeology that offers in-depth analyses of the process of cultural amalgamation as foundation for the rise of indigenous states on the Shandong Peninsula. 1163 pages, 143 color plates.




Studies of Bronzes and Inscriptional Calligraphy. Shanghai: Classical Books Publisher, 2019.




This new book offers systematic discussion and critical analysis of the phenomenon of calligraphy in bronze inscriptions from the Western Zhou period (1045-771 BC). It further utilizes features in the calligraphy of the bronzes inscriptions as clues to reveal the technical process of their casting as well as their workshop organizations. The appendices offer chronological standards based on the periodization of archaeologically excavated sets of bronzes.











《西周的滅亡:中國早期國家的地理和政治危機》, 上海:上海古籍出版社,2007年。

Landscape and Power in Early China: The Crisis and Fall of the Western Zhou (1045-771 B.C.). First Chinese edition. Shanghai: Classical Books Publisher, 2007.









《西周的政體:中國古代的官僚制度和國家》, 北京:生活·读书·新知三联书店,2010年。

Bureaucracy and the State in Early China: Governing the Western Zhou. First Chinese edition. Beijing: Sanlian Publisher, 2010. 




















《西周的滅亡:中國早期國家的地理和政治危機》(增訂本), 上海:上海古籍出版社,2016年。

Landscape and Power in Early China: The Crisis and Fall of the Western Zhou (1045-771 B.C.). Supplemented and second Chinese edition. Shanghai: Classical Books Publisher, 2016.


















    Erly China: A Social and Cultural History, translated by Chungkyu Lee. Seoul: Korean Edition.










《早期中國社會和文化史概論》, 臺北:國立台灣大學出版中心,2019年。

Early China: A Social and Cultural History. First traditional Chinese edition. Taipei: National Taiwan University, 2019.