Competing Systems 2

Methodology

Some of the principles I recommend are well established in the science of history generally, but their application to early Chinese history has tended to be imperfect. One of these principles is a maxim identified especially with Leopold von Ranke: that contemporary documents are of more value to the investigator than are histories written at a later period. As a general principle, this is surely very obvious. When applied to the study of early Chinese history, however, it will tend to sound shocking. It means, for instance, that the archaeologically recovered Houma oath texts are more important to the historian than the venerated Shr Ji. Since it has been the habit of international Sinologists in particular to begin their investigations by reading the Shr Ji, simply implementing the principle of Ranke will require of them a major change of procedure.

Once we have excluded material from other periods, it is still necessary to examine the contemporary material with great care. Evidence for diversity within a text, for instance, must be given due weight, and the tendency for writings to be attributed to ancient figures must be compensated for. It was noted by Jang Sywe-chvng that the philosophical texts were typically not created by the founding figure, but were instead largely products of the later school. It was shown by Tswei Shu that this was true for the Analects, whose last five chapters in particular were not only later than, but disorganized in relation to, the earlier portions of the work. The names of these scholars are more or less remembered in our time, but their results have had little impact on those working with the texts, who continue to treat those texts as unitary productions which accurately reflect the ideas of the founding figure. To accept the results of Jang and Tswei in practice requires abandoning this familiar approach, and entering unknown territory.

The results of Jang and Tswei are also capable of further development. It is in this area that I have attempted to make my own contribution, by studying the structure and intertextual relations of these works, and by categorizing the types of text-formation process that seem to have produced them. My finding, so far, is that a book written by a single author, under a single impulse, which is the model with which Chinese philology has tended to operate, is actually rare in the Warring States period. It is more common, as Jang has suggested, for school texts to develop continuously over time, and thus to reflect, layer by layer, the changing advocational viewpoint of the sponsoring group. In addition to this more or less continuous accretional procedure, texts can also be formed in layers, by intermittent addition, as in the Shan/Hai Jing (whose first five chapters seem to be its core, and the only part of the present work that can be ascribed to the pre-Imperial period), or by simple accumulation of diverse material, as in the large corpus of statecraft theory which goes under the name of the Gwandz. There are other types as well, which I will not here take the time to describe.

 

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