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While the word “Qin” refers to the earliest imperial regime that emerged in continental East Asia in the late third century BCE, it also represents a long-lived historical narrative of “Great Unification” (dayitong), which claims the territorial unification of the Chinese ecumene under one mighty, messianic ruler is the inevitable end of early Chinese civilization. This teleological narrative, made possible in large part by the deliberate erasure of historical memory from the very beginning about what Qin indeed destroyed and created, has straitjacketed our understanding of the process of China’s first imperial transition on the ground. In this talk, I will focus on a place named Jiangling 江陵 in southern Hubei. As the former capital of Chu—the then-most powerful state in South China—Jiangling fell to the Qin invasion in 278 BCE. Thanks to new archaeological and manuscript evidence, important early memories of Jiangling unknown to us before have been recovered in recent decades. They reveal complex political and cultural interactions between the native communities and the colonial power that shaped the area postconquest. Such a microhistorical case study opens up new avenues for reconstructing local experiences with empire in late first-millennium BCE China, which has the potential to help us escape, in historiography and research methodology, from the age-old, Qin-centric “Great Unification” mantra.
This event is a hybrid event with in-person attendance restricted to Stanford affiliates (ID holders) only. Please register here.
About the speaker:
Dewei Shen is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for East Asian Studies and a Fellow at the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University. He specializes in historical archaeology and early jiandu manuscript studies, with a focus on early Chinese empires. Prior to coming to Stanford, Dr. Shen received his PhD at Yale, where he was awarded the Marston Anderson Prize for Distinguished Dissertation. He also received the generous Tang Post-Doctoral Research Award in Ealy China Studies from Columbia University that supports his ongoing research projects, including revising his dissertation into a book manuscript, which is tentatively entitled “Locating the First Imperial Transition in China: A Microhistory of Jiangling (369 – 119 BCE).”
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