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A Defined Chu? Political Continuity and Integration in the Yangtze Region during Western Han

Sat, April 2, 5:15 to 7:15pm, Washington State Convention Center, Floor: 6th Floor, Room 611

Abstract

In contrast to the northwest and eastern regions of the Western Han, administrative units along the Yangtze River plain remained relatively stable over the empire’s two centuries. This statement remains true even despite the spectacular collapse of the southern kingdoms of Huainan and Hengshan during the reign of Wudi, since nearby commanderies and even the kingdom of Changsha persisted until the end of the Western Han. How can we explain the continuity of these administrative borders? This paper tries to avoid imperial court discourse on Chu in order to see what our sources, transmitted and excavated alike, can tell us about patterns in politics and governance in the region and how they compare to other parts of the empire. In particular, the paper surveys recent excavated sources that offer new insight into administrative practices and institutions of the pre-imperial Chu kingdom that might have allowed for a relatively smooth and continuous transfer of power to Qin and Western Han. Additionally, the paper explores the provisional hypothesis that the Yangtze region was distinctive for its unimportance. As a lightly populated area that did not pose a significant military threat to the empire, the region remained comparatively undisturbed by the changes that completely redrew administrative boundaries in the northwest and east. Despite imperial court discourse that belittled Chu as a wild and untamed region, then, from an administrative and political point of view it appears to have been one of the areas most integrated into the imperial center.

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