Competing Systems 1

E Bruce Brooks, University of Massachusetts
Competing Systems in Pre-Imperial State Formation
First International Conference on Chinese History, Waseda University, 14-18 September 2000

This presentation at the First International Conference on Chinese History is a sample of how philological study of the source texts has implications for the political history of early China. It also illustrates a systematic difficulty the Project faces in presenting its work: before it can report its results, it must first establish a way of dating and reading the evidence that is not yet widely accepted by historians. It may serve as a short introduction to our text theories themselves, linked to a conclusion which emphasizes that their application does make a difference to history.

The lecture is here transcribed in segments which will print out in convenient-sized pieces. The exposition has been slightly expanded from the original, which had a 30-minute time limit. Some clickable comments and references to pages at this site have been added. For an impression of the Conference itself, see the Waseda page in the News section.

The competing systems I want to discuss are two: the political system of the Spring and Autumn period, and that of the Warring States period. I will also consider the former as seen through the eyes of the latter. Before doing so, I must first give a long text-critical introduction. This is because my dates for the sources are not those familiar to most scholars, and I must justify them before proceeding.


The evolution leading to the establishment of the Chinese empire is undoubtedly one of the great events in world history. Unfortunately, it is in just those pre-Imperial centuries that the text sources available to historians become both few in number and uncertain in character. As a result, we have little direct knowledge of political events to serve as a background for reading the philosophical texts. Doubts also arise about the adequacy of the philosophical texts even as evidence for intellectual history. In turn, the text record as a whole is an uncertain basis for interpreting the archaeological record. These difficulties are felt to some degree by every student of the period.

In this situation, perhaps even a modest contribution may be acceptable. In what follows, I will outline the methodological approach which I have pursued in my own researches, indicate some useful results which I believe that this method has reached in the Warring States period, and then briefly sketch some implications of those results for the preceding Spring and Autumn period.


All lectures and abstracts posted on this site are Copyright © by their authors.

Go To Part #2 of Competing Systems

24 Sept 2000 / Contact The Project / Exit to Lectures Page