Monday, September 17

We'll begin class with a very short quiz on the Spring-Autumn & Warring States "master narrative" readings.

Reading assignment:  The Economy of Early ChinaTechnological Change in Warring States China

The "master narrative" for Classical China has come to an end for us -- you've now had a chance to observe the basic structure of political myth and political change, running from the tale of the Zhou conquest in 1045, through the fall of the Western capital (771), the era of the hegemons (early 7th to early 5th centuries), the rise and disappearance of the southeastern states (Wu and Yue), the era of usurpation and the growth of states claiming "kingships" (5th through 4th centuries), the restructuring of Qin and the response pattern of vertical and horizontal alliances (4th through third centuries), and the final Qin triumph in 221.

We interrupted this narrative only to pause for a look at Confucius and the early shape of the doctrines associated with him.  Now we return for a closer look at Classical China, from a variety of perspectives. The nature of our sources will do much to shape our discussion -- our richest store of data lies in the direction of intellectual history, in the form of many "philosophical" works authored by founders and followers of a variety of teacher-student lineages, which offered solutions to the political disruptions of the time by formulating doctrines that competed with Confucius's. We'll be discussing these over a series of meetings, starting later this week. 

First, however, we will examine what we know about the economy and social structure of the Classical era, and that will be the topic of Monday's class. Your first reading is largely composed of a translation from Sima Qian's Shiji, a history written about 100 B.C., and our most complete record of early China. Sima Qian was a pioneer in supplementing narrative accounts with monographic [single topic] discussions of various important institutional areas, such as ritual, music, astronomy, water conservation, and economics.  Portions from the last of these are translated in your first reading, which supplements the discussion with digressions summarizing what we know from archaeology or other textual sources about the issues Sima Qian raises. Take note of the fact that the early sections of his treatise represent a highly schematized and "synchronic" (a one-time portrait) account of the basic structures of Zhou society (projected back to the Western Zhou). It's difficult to assess how much of this account reflected reality, but some of it certainly did, and it is, in any case, a good summary of how the Classical elite most probably conceived the model of a properly organized society. Later sections of Sima Qian's account seem to be much more closely based on historical record and event, as the treatise discusses issues of taxation, price control, coinage, and so forth.

The brief second reading on agriculture, metallurgy, and water conservancy expands on what we read in Sima Qian's treatise, and focuses on certain key economic areas about which we have sufficient data to at least begin a discussion.