AAS/NE 2012
Classical China Today
Moderator: Dennis Grafflin, Bates College
AAS/NE Meeting, Amherst, Saturday 20 October 2012


Dennis Grafflin

Introduction to the Panel
Dennis Grafflin (Bates College)

Recent research has altered our perception of the Chinese classical period in several ways, permitting a new understanding of the texts, revealing interrelations among them, and giving a historically intelligible pattern of development for material and political culture. The University’s Warring States Project has been in the forefront of this research, and thus year new Project publications began to appear. One is the journal Warring States Papers, whose first volume was released this spring, and is available after the panel, at the book display in Fayerweather Hall. The panel itself will focus on several aspects of this new picture, taking up topics from the first and forthcoming volumes of the journal.


A Taeko Brooks

Fable and Fact in Spring and Autumn
A Taeko Brooks (University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

One thing widely believed about Spring and Autumn is that under Chi Hwan-gung in the 07th century, Chi was modernized, giving it an advanced mass army and making Hwan-gung the leader of the states (Ba or Hegemon). But in the chronicle of the time, the Chun/Chyou from neighboring Lu, there is no mention of this change, and no sign of a military leap forward. One thing not known about Spring and Autumn, which however does register in the Lu chronicle, is a system of solidarity alliances among the northern states, extending over more than a century, which helped Chi and the other weak northern states resist the threat from stronger southern Chu. If for the fable of early Chi modernization we substitute the fact of this solidarity system, a more accurate picture of Spring and Autumn emerges. That picture is of a China whose mutually belligerent but weak states were only unified by the threat of outside attack.

Paper Handout

E Bruce Brooks

The People in the Poems
E Bruce Brooks (University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Already in classical times, the Confucians complained about the licentious poems of the Shr. But in the same collection, there are also poems of quite a different character, which describe exemplary women, and not depraved and licentious ones. On the male side of things, some poems protest the hardships of military service, while others praise the loyalty of soldiers and their wives. How did these different views of love and war come to be in the same collection? I briefly show how the poems of sexual laxity and military complaint are earlier, and reflect the customs and feelings of the larger populace, whereas the ritually correct poems of courtship and the patriotically effective poems of personal sacrifice are later propaganda, added to offset the socially negative effect of the earlier ones. That is, the love poems of the Shr have been moralized, and the war poems of the Shr have been militarized. To listen to only one of these conflicting voices is to get the Shr wrong, and to miss the great drama of the age, in which the humble preferences of ordinary people were superseded by the grander designs of elite propaganda.

Paper Handout


Karen Turner

Law and Memory in the Shu Jing
Karen Turner (Holy Cross College)

This paper explores the intersection between memories, imaginations, and worries about the future in the Shu. As Henry Maine argued long ago, in the West, changes in the laws were often justified by claims that new laws actually echoed principles embodied in the old laws. But Maine based his observations about "legal fictions" on alterations to laws within an established, legitimate legal system. In early China, however, worries about the violation of basic human rights as the centralized state began to impose draconian laws prompted the construction of a literature of resistance, a body of texts that presented an idealized past as a counterweight to the aims of state builders. I discuss the impetus that prompted these writers to manufacture a tradition in which wise rulers heeded warnings that laws must limit abuse of power. When resistance texts are read in tandem with the excavated material, we see that their authors were unusually prescient about the human costs of a legal system based on bureaucratic principles. Chinese writers who witnessed the construction of the Empire produced a body of political theory that was unusually sophisticated for any early society, because they refused to accept the legitimacy of state sponsored laws. These writers understood all too well that the architects of the centralizing states used laws as a means to manage human resources, rather than to protect ordinary people from abuses of power.

[The speaker prefers to have her paper represented by her abstract]


Alvin P Cohen

Popular Religious Belief
Alvin P Cohen (University of Massachusetts at Amherst

One consequence of the incorporation of the larger population into the structure of the warmaking state, both as agricultural producers in an increasingly managed economy, and as soldiers in an increasingly militarized society, was the appearance of popular language and beliefs into that had previously been a largely elite literature. Such beliefs can be seen in the stories of supernatural retribution - the only resort of those who had suffered injustice in life - which appear in the 04th century in the Dzwo Jwan and in the Mician ethical tracts, the latter of which actually argue for the recognition of popular deities by the governmental elite. Beside their value as comparative material for similar traditions in other cultures, these stories tell the other side of Warring States legal history: the cases where Warring States law failed in practice to reach what the larger populace thought of as justice, or to prevent arbitrary injustices by the rulers of the time.

Paper (includes Handout) [The paper will be published in Warring States Papers v2]

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