Conference of the Society for the Study of Early China

The Fourth Annual Conference of the Society for the Study of Early China will take place on Thursday, 31 March 2016, in Seattle, WA. You can find the details, including exact location and schedule, online here: As in past years, the 2016 SSEC conference will be held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies. You do not, however, need to register for the AAS event to attend the SSEC conference.

Abstracts for the SSEC 2016 conference, listed alphabetically by presenter surname:

Sarah Allan (Dartmouth College), “Legends of Abdication and the Rise of  Confucius; Confucius and the Rise of the Legends of Abdication”

This paper is based on transmitted texts and three Warring States period

bamboo-slip manuscripts: Tang Yu zhi dao 唐虞之道, Zigao 子羔, and

Rongchengshi 容成氏. It will argue that the rise of Confucius’

reputation as a sage soon after his death (c. 479 B.C.E) was integrally

related to the rise of the legends of abdication in high antiquity in

the same period. Preconditions for the interest in abdication as a means

of political succession were: (1) the breakdown of the Zhou lineage

system in the fifth century B.C.E, the spread of literacy, and the rise

in importance of a class of people who did not inherit family estates

and depended on their skills, including literary ones, for advancement

(shi 士). (2) the ideological crisis that resulted from the failure of

the Western Zhou theory of dynastic cycle to explain or offer a remedy

for the political and social conditions of warring states and the

disintegration of hereditary hierarchies. Concomitantly, Confucius

served as a model (even among those who were not his followers) for the

idea of abdication of the good to the good as an ideal. This idea was

closely associated with the rise of the legend of Yao and Shun, which

became popular soon after Confucius’ death.

Jörn Grundmann (University of Ediburgh), “The X Gong xu Inscription Read  as a Political Proclamation”

In this paper I propose reading the inscription on the mid- to late

Western Zhou X Gong xu as a proclamation expressing the unity of a

stratified sacrificial community in politico-religious outlook. The text

integrates three distinct status groups into a shared pattern of

commitment. Those groups are the heads of patrilineal kin groups (min

民), followed by their male kin (xiaoyou孝友) and affinal relatives

(hun’gou 婚媾). The text proclaims each group’s eagerness in fulfilling

its ritually prescribed role according to a broad notion of de 德. This

term, I argue, describes a politico-religious pattern of commitment

derived from an inherited ritual order which binds participants from all

strata of aristocratic society to the fulfilment of a shared goal,

namely implementing Heaven’s charge and thus securing the continuation

of Heaven’s blessings. By employing the logic, imagery, and language of

Western Zhou ancestral sacrifice in order to express and validate its

political message, the text employs a mode of discourse familiar from

the Odes and the Documents. Regardless of its exact dating, the X Gong

xu inscription, like the earliest strata in the Classics, mirrors an

attempt at proclaiming a politico-religious order which transcends

individual clan boundaries. Moreover, the order it presents is described

to develop in accordance with divine will which elevates it into the

rank of a political theology.

Moonsil Kim (Rhode Island College), “The Discrepancy between Laws and  their Implementation: An Analysis of Granaries, Statutes, and Rations during the Qin and the Han Periods”

This paper investigates the regulations on grain storage and the ration

system during the Qin and Han periods (221 BCE- 220 CE), using the

Shuihudi 睡虎地 Qin legal texts and Zhangjiashan 張家山 Han legal

manuscripts. The “Statutes on Granaries” (Cang lü 倉律) and the

“Statutes on Food rations at Conveyance Stations” (Zhuan shi lü 傳食律)

are compared to administrative documents from Liye 里耶 and Xuanquan 懸

泉 to prove that there were significant discrepancies between these

statutes and the actual distribution of food. This research

on the process and the amount of ration of local granaries reveals that

the highly-detailed articles on the issue of food rations were designed

not to guarantee a certain amount of rations to the recipients but to

prevent the abuse of government property.

Rens Krijgsman (Oxford University), “Seizing Moments and Breaking Boundaries: The Duke of Zhou as Genre defying Author in Early China”

With recent discoveries of excavated manuscripts, each ascribed to

various authors, questions on the roles and perceptions of authorship in

Early China abound. Most have argued that before the early Han dynasty,

Early China has no authors in the modern sense of the word. In this

paper, I want to challenge that claim by closely examining the portrayal

of the Duke of Zhou in the Warring States manuscript “The Duke of Zhou’s

Dance to the Zither” (Zhougong zhi Qinwu周公之琴舞) from the Qinghua

collection. I argue that the Duke is portrayed in this text as an author

of sufficient literary skill to break ritual propriety and genre

boundaries in his poetic compositions. While it is highly unlikely that

this description of the Duke’s authorship is anything other than a

contemporary attribution, it nevertheless allows us to examine the

representation of the Duke as a proxy to understand contemporary shifts

in authorship and genre construction. This shift required the emergence

of key qualities of modern authorship such as improvisation, creativity,

and playfulness with genre. I show in this paper that these qualities

were already emerging in the Warring States. The history of authorship

in early China, rather than starting with early Han constructions of Qu

Yuan traceable to Sima Qian and the librarians, needs to be understood

through Warring States developments in engagement with manuscript and


Brian Lander (Harvard University), “The Book of Odes and Zhou Environmental History”

The Odes are the most important early Chinese texts for understanding

the environment of the Zhou world. By comparing them with

zooarchaeological and archaeobotanical records we can learn about the

strengths and weaknesses of each type of source for doing environmental

history. Excavated animal and plant remains are direct records of past

environments, and reveal the relative dietary importance of different

food types, but in most cases only the most common species are

discovered. Conversely, the Odes mention virtually every type of

excavated plant and animal, as well as many that have not preserved, but

their vocabulary is often unclear. Moreover, the collection has a

complex history of oral transmission and later editing. Despite these

difficulties, the Odes depict how people felt about, and interacted

with, their environments in a way that archaeology cannot, and reveal

the poetic ideals of the aristocracy. While millets and pigs are the

most frequently excavated plants and animals, the most common plants and

animals in the Odes are mulberry (for making silk; a symbol of feminine

work) and horses (associated with men and warfare). The Odes reveal a

world in which a wide variety of wild plants and animals were commonly

known and could be used metaphorically in song. As the human population

of North China’s lowlands subsequently grew, eliminating most wild

ecosystems, wild plants and animals also faded from the consciousness,

and the literature, of the North Chinese elite.

Lei Chinhau (Hong Kong Baptist University), “King Zhao’s Southern Expeditions: Reconstruction and Analysis of a War Covered up by the Official Historians”

King Zhao’s southern expeditions and his tragic defeat at the Han River

was the greatest military setback experienced by the Western Zhou

Dynasty, which symbolized the transition from a phase of territorial

expansion into one characterized by decline and disorder. Despite its

historical significance, due to the lack of evidence in transmitted

texts we know little about this incident in terms of the sequence of

events, as well as its causes and consequences. Based on an exhaustive

examination of bronze inscriptions dated to the reign of King Zhao, this

paper aims to provide a reconstruction and analysis of the war by using

the calendrical, geographical, political-economic, and socio-ethnic

information contained in the bronze inscriptions. I will start with a

reconstruction of the sequence of events by using the calendrical

information provided by the bronzes. I will move on to reconstruct the

war by adopting a historical geographical approach based on recorded

place names. I will then turn to the political-economic and socio-ethnic

information and argue for a structural explanation for the causes of the

war. Finally, I will show that the loss of the war inevitably

intensified the existing structural crisis, accounting for political

struggles and disorder characterizing the latter half of Western Zhou


Li Kin Sum (Sammy) (Hong Kong Baptist University), “The Visual and Acoustic Powers of the Edicts on Qin Metal Weights”

Scholars are well aware of the acoustic power of ancient Chinese poems,

in which rhyming or assonating patterns can be readily detected. But few

have noticed the acoustic power of ancient Chinese prose pieces such as

the edicts of the unification of the measurement system, issued by Qin

Shihuang 秦始皇 (r. 247-210 BCE) and subsequently by Qin Ershi 秦二世

(r. 210-207 BCE). Based on William Baxter and Laurent Sagart’s

reconstruction of old Chinese pronunciation, I have discovered that the

Qin imperial authors invested an unusual amount of effort in drafting

the edicts, assiduously crafting them with assonating and occasionally

even rhyming patterns. The acoustic power of these two important edicts

cannot be ignored. Since the edicts were usually cast on or engraved

into the bronze and iron weights produced during the Qin 秦 dynasty

(221-207 BC), we should not overlook the ways in which the edicts were

designed and laid out on the surface of the metal weights. I have

discovered that the arrangements of the characters of the edicts on the

weights underwent various degrees of deliberation. Typically, the edicts

that appear on the iron weights were engraved in a shallow and

comparatively coarse manner, while those on the bronze weights were

beautifully cast and laid out with great regularity. Exploration of the

visual and acoustic powers of the edicts on the Qin metal weights will

produce new evidence for the fields of both art history and phonology of

ancient China.

Timothy O’Neill (Drake University), “Recontextualizing the Fangyan”

This paper examines the metalinguistic theory of the Fangyan. This

dictionary, formally an imitation of the Erya (echoing Yang Xiong’s

other famous imitations), was left incomplete and first edited by Guo

Pu.  Using Guo Pu’s preface and the internal macrostructure and

microstructures of the Fangyan, I argue that Yang Xiong first

establishes the basic epistemology of Chinese philology in this

dictionary.  The Fangyan assumes that there were geographic subsets of

different state languages which over time, with more and more contact

between the ancient states, began to coalesce into a common standard

language.  By realizing that the contemporary vernacular languages of

different regions still use some of the ancient words no longer part of

the common standard language, it becomes clear that a better

understanding of regional vernacular words will help clear up the

lexicological issues surrounding the interpretation of old texts—and

this is the entire point of the Fangyan. Yang Xiong also coins the

technical philological term zhuanyu “language change,” which means sound

similarities between synonymous words in contemporary regional

vernacular languages which point to prior lexical identity or influence

via contact—in other words, evidence of sound change at the level of the

word through space and time.  This metalinguistic theory undergirds the

entire length and breadth of Chinese philology and ultimately forms the

epistemological basis for nearly all interpretations of the classics.  I

conclude that the Fangyan should be more widely recognized as the

fountainhead of traditional philology and as a core text of Chinese


Jonathan Pettit (Purdue University), “The Production of Sacred Maps in the Later Han Dynasty”

Early notions of sacred geography in China are typically studied from

the excavated maps (such as the Mawangdui tomb 3, 168 BCE) and Han

encyclopedic literature, most notably the Shanhai jing 山海經. It is,

however, difficult to discern the ritual contexts behind the production

of these texts. More specifically, it is unclear what kinds of social

actors made such geographic information, and how these texts might have

appealed to readers. This paper begins with an examination of two

examples of Han sacred maps: passages from weft texts (chanwei 讖緯) and

maps of the Five Marchmounts (wuyue 五嶽). This paper explores the

sacred geography in these Later Han texts by focusing on the common

themes in the various fragments of these texts. I argue that we can

garner insight into the Later Han writers who circulated stories about

China’s sacred geography despite the fact that these fragments are now

only found in later medieval encyclopedic literature.

Matthias L. Richter (University of Colorado at Boulder), “Limitations to the Phonetic Source Value of Manuscript Characters”

One of the many virtues of Baxter and Sagart’s Old Chinese (2014) is the

use of recently excavated manuscripts as evidence for Old Chinese

pronunciation. This talk will name some aspects of early Chinese writing

practice that should be considered as possible limitations to the source

value of manuscript characters, in particular a lack of orthographic

consistency in early Chinese writing practice and potential

misidentification of phonophoric elements by scholars today.

Shi Jie (University of Chicago), “Neither Flesh nor Soul: Visualizing Prince Liu Sheng’s Melting Body in Western Han China”

In early Chinese burials, body and soul normally formed the two centers.

The former was situated in the inner coffin (guan) and the latter was

symbolized by the empty spirit seat (shenzuo) located somewhere in the

outer casket (guo). However, in the cliff-cut Mancheng Tomb 1 of Prince

Liu Sheng (d. 113 BCE) in Hebei province, the duality was complicated by

a third middle zone: a wooden outer coffin (waiguan) situated between

the coffin and the casket. In the middle zone, the excavators found

dozens of rare objects, including ritual jades and weapons. Previous

scholarship, which linked the number of nested coffins in a tomb to the

deceased’s political status, remained silent on the religious function

of the outer coffin. This paper delves into the physical and symbolic

structure of the tomb and demonstrates that the intermediary outer

coffin was the place for an “outfit” which was neither the physical body

nor the disembodied soul. Taking a new approach called “material

religion,” through a close examination of the forms, types, and

arrangement of these objects in light of other more recent

archaeological discoveries, this paper argues that the outer coffin was

a visual commentary on the much more nuanced, dialectical relationship

between body and soul in early Chinese thought. Three problems are to be

discussed: (1) the objects of the outer coffin were arranged spatially

to resemble a shapeless “body”; (2) this “body” mediated between the

deceased’s body and his soul; and (3) a probable philosophical basis for

the “melting body” was the idea of “fluid body” (liuxing) in excavated

and transmitted texts of the late Warring States and early Western Han.

Pauli Tashima (University of North Carolina, Greensboro), “The Fan Sheng vs. Chen Yuan Debates: Microcosms of the Unsettled Academic Field at the Founding of the Eastern Han”

In the opening years of Emperor Guangwu’s reign (25–58 CE), the court

debates between Fan Sheng 范升 (fl. 28) and Chen Yuan 陳元 (fl. 28) over

the merits of creating Academicians’ posts for the Zuo Tradition are

significant intellectual and political moments in the early history of

the text’s reception. Therefore, existing scholarship on this set of

debates has justifiably focused on the end results of these

official-scholars’ rhetorical arguments, mobilized by Fan Sheng to bar,

and by Chen Yuan to promote, the official establishment of the Zuo

Tradition with the emperor’s approval. However, much less studied are

this pair of scholars’ asymmetrical rhetorical means, speaking to

incompatible sets of values espoused by Fan Sheng and Chen Yuan, which

have wider implications for our understanding of the intellectual shifts

and divergences present at the time, beyond those immediately concerning

the fate of the Zuo Tradition’s standing. For example, the Fan-Chen

debates represent disagreements over the legitimacy of official versus

personal authority in ascertaining meaning, the value of mediated

instruction versus immediate contact, the consequences of comparing the

Zuo Tradition to the Shiji, and the adjudication of worth based on

established consensus versus individual perceptiveness. My paper

examines the memorials Fan and Chen submitted to Emperor Guangwu, as

preserved in the Hou Hanshu, arguing for their relevance to unsettled

issues of the day as they relate to exegetical, transmissive, textual,

and intellectual authority in the early years of the Eastern Han (25–220).

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