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Status and Geography in Early Imperial China

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

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel


Family, rank, office, and wealth were important, interlinked axes for achieving and expressing status in China’s early imperial period (late 3rd century BCE-2nd century CE). The relationship between status and local practices and networks, however, has remained obscure. This panel asks two questions: 1) How did people in early China living outside of capital cities achieve and express status? 2) Given biases in transmitted and excavated sources alike, can we even speak of regionally specific practices? Historians have long lamented a strong court bias in transmitted sources, since it forecloses almost all examination of regional experiences free from a perspective that privileges the capital. Fortunately, documents recovered from non-capital sites over the last several decades, as well as new insights into the material culture of the early imperial period, offer opportunities for reassessing our knowledge of the local in early China. How did resources and networks at the local level allow people to achieve their ambitions? Do newly discovered sources enable us to read transmitted texts against the grain and study regionally-specific experiences? Can we speak meaningfully about variations between local resources and networks? Each panelist will focus on a particular geographical area, examine available sources for clues as to how the ambitions and achievements of imperial subjects might have reflected localized components even while forging connections to the capital. The discussant, a historian of the ancient Mediterranean, will assess the research results and the methodologies used by the panelists in order to prompt a discussion with the audience.

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