Society for the Study of Early China: 10th Annual Conference
June 2, 9, and 16, 2022
Online, via Zoom

Zoom link:
Meeting ID: 986 7434 3286

NB: Conference sessions begin at 7:00 am Pacific Time / 10:00 am Eastern Time / 3:00 pm London / 4:00 pm Bern / 10:00 pm Hong Kong and Shandong. Each panel lasts two hours. The time limit for presentations is 20 minutes. With three people per panel, this means the presentations will last an hour, and then we will have another hour for Q&A.

Panel 1: June 2, 2022

Moderator: Maria Khayutina, Institute for Sinology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich

“Social Hierarchy and the Choice of Metal Recycling at Anyang, the Last Capital of Bronze Age Shang China”
Liu Ruiliang
British Museum

Because of intrinsic complexity buried within the chaîne opératoire of metallurgy, copper-based objects are often regarded as important markers of social evolution. Anyang, the last capital of the Chinese Shang dynasty (ca. 1200-1050 BCE), became one of the largest metal consumers in Eurasia during the second millennium BCE. However, it remains unclear how Anyang people managed to sustain such a large supply of metal. By considering the chemical analysis of bronze objects within archaeological contexts, this paper shows that the casting and circulation of metal at Anyang was effectively governed by social hierarchy. Objects belonging to the high elites such as Fuhao (the consort of the King Wu Ding), particularly the bronze ritual vessels, were made by carefully controlled alloying practice (primary) using very pure copper, whereas the lower elites only had access to bronzes made by secondary alloying practice and copper with more impurities. Such contrasts allow scholars to identify those objects which are less likely to have been made by mixing and recycling. This finding has very important implications for not only the chemical and isotopic determination of provenance for future studies, but also the fundamental strategy employed by the Shang rulers in order to satisfy the requirement for bronzes by different social classes, therefore sustain the entire political and ritual system.

“Between the King’s Family (王家) and the Great Houses (大門): The Political Implications of Historical Writing in Warring States Period Chu”
Benjamin Gallant
Harvard University

As suggested by the Baoshan corpus, elite families played a far more important role in government in Chu than in Qin, and written law was much less developed. This paper will argue that the history of the Zhou and Spring and Autumn periods thus remained relevant as an intellectual and political resource in Chu into the Warring States period, and that many anecdotes about Chu's past found in transmitted texts like the Guoyu and in the Shanghai Museum bamboo slips served as a model for Chu elites to think through the relationship between the King and elite families, and define both a ritual order and normative limits on the power of the Chu sovereign. Thus anecdotal accounts of Chu nobles challenging the king, seeking revenge against him, or joining neighboring state engaged in war with Chu served not only as accounts of the past, but also as arguments about the need for proper treatment of elites by the king, and the ritual standards that entailed. Normative accounts of the relationship between the king and elite families in the Zhou past like Huangmen 皇門 in the Tsinghua bamboo slips could well have been used in this way as well. In simultaneously connecting themselves to the king while asserting a degree of autonomy, Chu nobles created a social order quite different from that of Qin, though it is difficult to determine how much it varied from other states during this period.

“Living Under Rank Inflation: The Late Warring States - Early Han Transition Recharted”
Dewei Shen
Stanford University

It has long been assumed that “Han inherited the institutional legacy from Qin” (Han cheng Qin zhi). Recent scholarship based on newly excavated manuscripts, however, challenges this view. New evidence makes clear that a critical intermediate stage existed between 209 and 202 BCE, when a tentative, mixed rank system was adopted by Liu Bang, the founder of Han. Modeled on the Chu institution (sensu lato), this make-do system operated to reward those who joined Liu’s camp to fight against first the Qin regime and then, more importantly, the warlord Xiang Yu. Only in 202 BCE under Liu Bang’s imperial order was this mixed rank system converted wholesale into a new one, which used the framework of Qin’s twenty-step rank system but with fundamental modifications. Such a systemic transformation soon gave rise to unprecedented status inflation among rank-holding populations, causing widespread social and political problems in the postwar (i.e., early Han) period. By tracing the remarkable institutional change in third-century BCE China, this paper reveals that a variety of late Warring States institutional resources were mobilized and re-engineered to contribute to the foundation of the Han state. More broadly, this rank system-centered new model offers an important alternate view that illuminates how the first imperial transition in China transpired on the ground in the late first millennium BCE.

Panel 2: June 9, 2022

Moderator: Constance Cook, Department of Modern Languages & Literatures, Lehigh University

“Taiyi and the Sun: The Case of the Taiyi sheng shui"
Francesca Puglia
Bern University

The present paper investigates the meaning of Taiyi 太一 in the fourth century BCE Chu manuscript Taiyi sheng shui 太一生水, excavated from Guodian tomb no. 1. Scholars are still debating plausible interpretations for this manuscript, its possible affiliation to the Daodejing 道德經 tradition, and the internal coherence of the two halves of the text. And, in particular, there is no consensus about the meaning of the compound Taiyi, literally “Great One.” Up to the present time, it has been interpreted as an alternative name for the dao 道 of the Daodejing, for the Pole Star, or as referred to the deity Taiyi, known from early imperial cults. The problem with these interpretations lies in the fact that they contrast, under different respects, with Taiyi’s description as it emerges from the text. This research aims at providing a new reading of the Taiyi sheng shui as a coherent whole, in which Taiyi is explained as an alternative name for the sun. This claim is supported by an analysis of the concrete vocabulary employed in the text to describe Taiyi as moving and as the mother and the warp of the ten thousand things, and by highlighting its role in the cosmological process that brings the year to completion. The claim that Taiyi is the sun is further corroborated by a comparison of the Taiyi sheng shui with pre-imperial and early imperial astronomical and mythological sources on the sun, including other Chu sources.

“Poetry as Commentary in the Tsinghua Verse Albums: A Case Study Concerning the Previously Unknown Verses of the Zhou Gong zhi qinwu
David Lebovitz
Hong Kong Baptist University

Modern studies of the Shijing (Classic of Poetry) have sought largely to peel away the canon’s accumulated commentarial layers, so as to reveal a universal folk literature beneath, or to illuminate some original context in which Chinese poetics arose. The layer deemed most obfuscating for many readers is the set of “lesser prefaces” (xiaoxu) that are transmitted in the canonized Mao shi, wherein they ascribe a specific historical context to each poem. In part because the Mao shi became prominent only in the Eastern Han, the historicizing hermeneutic is sometimes regarded a Han phenomenon. Nonetheless, the Tsinghua manuscripts include several texts that I term “verse albums,” in which sequences of songs—including renditions of Shijing poems alongside previously unknown verses—are prefaced by a contextualizing narrative much like that of the “lesser prefaces.” These new sources suggest that a historicizing mode of exegesis was prevalent as early as the Warring States, even if the specific historical attributions may have varied among early exegetic traditions. Moreover, although research on these manuscripts has thus far focused almost exclusively on their known, canonical poems, this study examines instead the  previously unknown verses, applying an intertextual analysis to these “lost poems” in the Zhou Gong zhi qinwu (The Duke of Zhou’s Zither and Dance). Based on this analysis, I argue that not only did the prefatory narratives in verse albums function as a commentarial layer—so too did the lost poems that contextualize the performance of canonical poems.

“Beyond Confucius: How Wang Mang Reinvented the Chinese Classical Tradition”
Peter Tsung Kei Wong
Princeton University

In 295 CE, Wang Mang, the most bookish and dramatic ancient usurper, died his second death. His head, first cut off by his enemies in 23 CE and then kept next to Confucius’s shoes and Liu Bang’s sword in the palace by subsequent emperors for two centuries, was burnt to ashes in an accident. That the head was placed with the sword seems reasonable as both Wang and Liu were dynastic founders. But why was it also placed alongside the sage’s shoes? This paper proposes that the picturesque juxtaposition encapsulates a long-forgotten fact: Wang, like Confucius, drastically reshaped the Chinese classical tradition. If Confucius’s image as an author was only retrospectively and gradually constructed throughout the Western Han, I show that Wang, collaborating with Liu Xin and Yang Xiong, produced and publicized—but not secretly forged— a wide range of new classics, which covered (and therefore consolidated) all the nine subcategories of classical knowledge newly established in Liu Xin’s Seven Surveys 七略 (c. 5 BCE). In the process, which lasted for two decades, Wang set a feedback loop in motion: his supporters portrayed him as a sage so as to qualify him for producing new classics, and the textual production in turn reaffirmed and reinforced Wang’s status as a supreme sage. The neoclassical project, completed just before Wang’s political takeover, thus paved the way for Wang’s reign and created a new ideal of kingship-cum-authorship that combined the uncrowned king Confucius’s cultural prestige and Liu Bang’s political and military power.

Panel 3: June 16, 2022

Moderator: Miranda Brown, Department of Asian Languages & Cultures, University of Michigan

“Tabling, Marking, and Punctuating: Organizing Knowledge in Early Imperial China”
Maddalena Poli
University of Pennsylvania

The tomb of Marquis of Haihun 海昏侯, one of the nine tombs of a cemetery in modern Jiangxi first robbed and then scientifically excavated starting in 2011, is one of the most significant findings of the last decade. Its rich material (circa 7,000 objects, 5,200 bamboo strips and 170 wooden tablets) will open several lines of investigation in the courtly culture and burial rituals of the Western Han dynasty. In this paper, I focus on the manuscripts recovered from this tomb. In particular, I discuss the presence of written elements that bear witness to practices of knowledge management. For example, the manuscript of the Book of Odes 詩經 is preceded by an elaborate table of content; chapters from the Analects 論語 are titled and numbered; the manuscript of the Classic of Filial Piety 孝經 uses punctuations to signal breaks among passages. Although this paper is limited to preliminary thoughts based on initial publications on the tomb’s manuscripts, such as the Haihun Hou jiandu chulun 海昏簡牘初論 Initial discussions on the Haiun Hou strips and tablets while waiting for forthcoming volumes, it argues that by looking at structural features used to shape these texts we may begin to comprehend practical aspects in the organization of knowledge, both for the individual and the community, that structured significant events such as the ongoing process of textual canonization during the first century BCE. 

“Evolution of the Rules of Avoidance for Official Appointments During the Qin and Han Periods”
Aaron Zhao
University of California, Santa Barbara

The “rule of avoidance,” a distinctive feature of the government of imperial China that restricted recruitment of officials based on their home origins, exhibits remarkable continuity. While much has been written about this system as it operated in later imperial China, much less has been published concerning the early imperial period. This article, built on Yen Gengwang’s 嚴耕望 monograph Zhongguo difang xingzheng zhidu shi (History of Administrative Institutions of Local Regions in China), attempts to offer a more comprehensive and dynamic view of the rules of avoidance in early imperial China. Drawing on evidence from the manuscripts from Zhangjiashan tomb no. 247, Shuihudi tomb no. 11, and the Zoumalou site, late Warring States weapon inscriptions from Shang Commandery (shangjun 上郡) as well as received texts, I trace the evolution of the rules of avoidance in the formative years of the imperial bureaucracy from the late 3rd century BCE to the early 3rd century CE. I argue the following: 1) senior officials were excluded from their home origins in Warring States Qin; 2) governorship during the late Qin state also had a fixed term, and governors were rotated after having served a full term; 3) restrictions on subordinate officials did not appear until the end of the Qin empire; 4) these restrictions were consistently applied for the most part of the Han; 4) contrary to the conventional wisdom, the rule, at least in appearance, did not fully collapse after the end of the Han.

“Engraving the Granary Model: Art and Imperialism in the Southern Frontier of Han China (206 BCE-220 CE
Fanghan Wang
Shandong University

The granary, the most frequently represented architectural structure in Han China, started to absorb local artistic features in the south with imperial expansion. In this paper, I focus on a unique bronze granary model engraved with patterns, discovered in the Tomb 1 of Huangnigang in Hepu, Guangxi. Through a detailed visual analysis on the pictorial program and craftsmanship, I explain how the owner, a local magistrate, utilized art to express multiple ambitions of Han imperialism in the southern frontier. It will thus enrich our understanding of imperial management in the south that has been understudied due to the lack of textual evidence. This study emphasizes three aspects of imperialism that were embedded in the artistic schemes of the granary model. The first aspect is the development of agriculture. I analyze how granaries, a subject matter deeply rooted in the political ideology of the central polity, became prominent in the south. Secondly, I examine the management of a multicultural frontier by tracing the transmission of bronze incision and iconography among cultures in the south, including the Yue, the Chu and the Dian. The last aspect highlights the role of imperial agents, projected on a variety of engraved auspicious omens.  I situate the interest in omens within a broader historical context and reveal the political implications in maintaining the frontier. The significance of Hepu, a harbor officially established in the Han to facilitate maritime exchange, further extends the investigation on the officer’s role in the management of trade.