[Review] 陳松長《馬王堆帛書研究》 (Chen Songchang: Studies on the Mawangdui Silk Manuscripts)

Chen Songchang 陳松長, Mawangdui boshu yanjiu 馬王堆帛書研究 (Studies on the Mawangdui Silk Manuscripts), Beijing 北京: Shangwu yinshuguan 商務印書館 2021. ISBN 9787100196345; 6, 440 pages; 198 RMB.

Reviewed by Michael Friedrich (Universität Hamburg)

Almost fifty years ago, tomb 3 of the early Han Mawangdui 馬王堆 site (hereafter MWD) in Changsha was excavated in December 1973 and could be dated to 168 BCE. The archaeologists unearthed a wealth of artefacts similar to those found in tomb MWD 1 which had already been excavated in 1972. However, a lacquered chest containing two bamboo manuscripts and more than two dozen silk manuscripts had a much longer-lasting impact on the study of ancient China than the mummy of the tomb owner found in MWD 1.[1]

Due to the political struggles of the time, so it is said, the excavation campaign and the treatment of the artefacts immediately following it were a far cry from international standards and caused, in addition to a lack of documentation, further damage.[2] All silk artefacts from the site, including the two paintings hanging on the eastern and western walls of the coffin chamber and the T-shaped banners from MWD 1 and MWD 3 were transferred to the Palace Museum in Beijing, because the Hunan Provincial Museum 湖南省博物館 (officially now Hunan Museum) did not have any previous experience with this type of artefacts. The Palace Museum treated the most spectacular ones first, among them the two scrolls containing the Laozi 老子 text. After conservation and mounting on paper, the fragments of the artefacts were taken back by conservators of the Hunan Provincial Museum.[3]

The history of research on the MWD written artefacts has yet to be written, a first and apparently incomplete overview is provided in the latest edition of the manuscripts’ contents from 2014.[4] According to this summary, three main stages may be discerned:

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[Review] 刘继刚《甲骨文所见殷商灾害研究》(Liu Jigang: A Study of Disasters during the Yin Shang Dynasty as seen in Oracle Bone Inscriptions)

Liu Jigang 刘继刚, Jiaguwen suo jian Yin Shang zaihai yanjiu 甲骨文所见殷商灾害研究 (A Study of Disasters during the Yin Shang Dynasty as seen in Oracle Bone Inscriptions), Beijing: Kexue Chubanshe 科学出版社, 2022. ISBN 9787030722331; X, 207 pages, 108 RMB.

Reviewed by Thomas Crone (FAU Erlangen-Nürnburg)

This book examines the representation of disasters in oracle bone inscriptions from the late Shang dynasty (ca. 13th century–11th century BCE). Disasters are a ubiquitous topic in oracle bone inscriptions, as almost every inscription is connected in one way or another with an attempt to prevent or investigate ominous and harmful events of various magnitudes. However, to date, no comparable monograph has attempted to explore the matter to its fullest extent or for its own sake.[1] Moreover, to broaden the horizon of the textual and material evidence under discussion, Liu Jigang supplements his analysis of the oracle bone inscriptions with excursions into traditional literature and published reports on archaeological excavations. This makes the monograph a welcome and much-needed piece of research, and the author has worked extensively on the subject of catastrophes in early Chinese literature.[2]

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New Publication: “Questioning Cultural Exemplarity: Two Decades of Intangible Heritage Practices” (China Perspectives)


This special issue is the second result of a workshop organised at the European Research Centre for Chinese Studies (Beijing) in December 2020 by the EFEO Beijing Centre and the Centre franco-chinois en sciences sociales. The editorial of Guillaume Dutournier and Florence Padovani (guest editors) is available at China Perspectives.

[Review] 杨海英《从〈唐将书帖〉看明清时代的南兵北将》 (Yang Haiying: Southern Soldiers and Northern Generals during the Transitional Period of Ming & Qing. From the Perspective of Letters from Chinese Servicemen during Campaign in Korea)

Yang Haiying 杨海英, Cong “Tang jiang shu tie” kan Ming-Qing shidai de nanbing beijiang 从《唐将书帖》看明清时代的南兵北将 (Southern Soldiers and Northern Generals during the Transitional Period of Ming & Qing: From the Perspective of Letters from Chinese Servicemen during Campaign in Korea), Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe 中国社会科学出版社, 2022. ISBN 978-7-5203-8941-9, 512 pages, 189 RMB.

Reviewed by Barend Noordam (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

In 1592 the Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598), who had only recently politically unified a Japan ravaged by more than a century of civil war, decided to invade Korea, which at that time was ruled by the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1897). The Koreans were not prepared to resist the Japanese onslaught, the largest amphibious landing in world history up to that point. Around 150,000 Japanese soldiers participated in the operation, with another 140,000 joining in a second landing in 1597.

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[Review] 翁有为《近代中国之变轴:军阀话语建构、省制变革与国家》(Weng Youwei: The Axis of Change in Modern China: The Construction of the Discourse on Warlordism, the Reform of the Provincial System, and the State)

Weng Youwei 翁有为, Jindai Zhongguo zhi bianzhou: Junfa huayu jiangou, shengzhi biange yu guojia 近代中国之变轴:军阀话语建构、省制变革与国家 (The Axis of Change in Modern China: The Construction of the Discourse on Warlordism, the Reform of the Provincial System, and the State). Beijing: Renmin chubanshe 人民出版社, 2021. ISBN 978-7-01-022952-2; 2, 19, 338 pages, 86.00 RMB.

Reviewed by Clemens Büttner (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)

Weng Youwei’s The Axis of Change in Modern China is a perplexing book with an elusive message, although the book is not without merit. Its self-declared goal is to uncover the “inherent logic of historical development” (历史发展的自身逻辑, 〈代前言〉, p. 1) that supposedly informed China’s modern history from the second half of the 19th century to the (from the author’s perspective) inevitable victory of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949. Weng pursues this goal by analyzing “three central issues” (三大轴心问题) that he feels decisively shaped the course of China’s social transformation in the late Qing and early Republican eras: The “construction of the modern warlord discourse” (近代军阀话语之建构), the “reform of the provincial institutional [system] and the evolution of society” (省区制度之变革与社会之演进), and the “transformation of the contemporary state” (现代国家之转型). However, the reason why these three issues are especially suitable for uncovering said logic is not sufficiently made clear, and Weng’s overall argument only works if the reader shares the author’s – virtually axiomatic and never explicitly expressed – assumption that the rise and victory of the CCP were scientifically inevitable.

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[Review] 吕庙军《清华简与文武周公史事研究》(Lü Miaojun: Research on Tsinghua Bamboo-Slip Manuscripts and Historical Events of King Wen, King Wu, and the Duke of Zhou)

Lü Miaojun 吕庙军, Qinghua jian yu Wen Wu Zhou gong shishi yanjiu 清华简与文武周公史事研究 (Research on Tsinghua Bamboo-Slip Manuscripts and Historical Events of King Wen, King Wu, and the Duke of Zhou), Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe 上海古籍出版社, 2021.
ISBN 978–7–5732–0021–1, 329 pages, 88 RMB.

Reviewed by Felix Bohlen (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

The discovery of the oracle bones in the early 20th century marked a new era for modern historical research on early China. Ever since, excavated texts on bone, bronze, bamboo, silk, and wood regularly grab headlines and receive strong scholarly attention. The so-called Tsinghua manuscripts, a corpus of numerous manuscripts on bamboo slips, are the latest significant find of this sort. The collection was acquired in 2008 by Tsinghua University in Beijing, although the texts were probably illegally looted from an ancient tomb, and their exact provenance remains unknown. Despite these unfortunate circumstances, academia widely considers them authentic sources from the Warring States Period (ca. 480–221 BCE), primarily based on philological arguments. Since the discovery and subsequent successive publication, these manuscripts have been subject to intense debate and extensive research.[1] Lü Miaojun’s book, under review here, is another study in this field, written for specialists in Western Zhou history (1045–771 BCE) and the Tsinghua manuscript collection. As such, the book requires readers to have at least some basic knowledge of the history of the Western Zhou and the source texts.

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[Review] 李小尉《新中国初期的中国人民救济总会研究》(Li Xiaowei: Research on the People’s Relief Association of China in the Early Period of the PRC)

Li Xiaowei 李小尉, Xin Zhongguo chuqi de Zhongguo renmin jiuji zonghui yanjiu 新中国初期的中国人民救济总会研究 (Research on the People’s Relief Association of China in the Early Period of the PRC), Beijing: Renmin chubanshe 人民出版社, 2020. ISBN 9787010221021, 441 pages, 90 RMB.

Reviewed by Henrike Rudolph (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)

In the 1930s and 1940s, refugees flocked to the larger cities of war-ridden China in search of safety, a steady income, or at least something to eat. Many returned to their villages or found work in the expanding industrialization programs after 1949. Others, such as disabled veterans, orphans, and impoverished peasants, still roamed the streets when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power. In the existing scholarship, we find diverging assessments of the extent of the problem and the need for state relief programs. While some scholars claim that urban poverty was a problem quickly solved by expanding industrial employment,[1] others argue that it severely affected the consolidation of the new regime.[2] Officially, social relief (shehui jiuji) targeted only those who fell through the cracks of the proposed production unit and commune system because they could not work and had no family to support them. However, especially in the early 1950s, large parts of the population were still affected by devastations of war or natural disasters and looked to the government for assistance.

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Illegal Caravan Trade and Outlaw Armed Escorts in the Qing Dynasty: Critical Analysis of Two 18th Century Memorials

by Laurent Chircop-Reyes (CEFC, associated CECMC and IrAsia)

Cases of attacks on merchants by brigands abound in the official reports of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). Successive emperors ordered local governors to solve the brigandage problem. Apart from imperial measures intensifying military patrols in certain areas where brigandage was endemic at varying degrees, merchants (especially those from Shanxi Province) hired private escort companies (biaoju 鏢局) to ensure caravan protection during journeys over land and water.

Full text of the research note see: doi.org/10.25360/01-2023-00004

[Review] 陳少明《夢覺之間:〈莊子〉思想錄》(Chen Shaoming: Between Waking and Dreaming. Reflections on the Zhuangzi)

Chen Shaoming 陳少明, Mengjue zhijian: ‘Zhuangzi’ sixiang lu 夢覺之間:《莊子》思想錄 (Between Waking and Dreaming: Reflections on the Zhuangzi). Beijing: Shenghuo Dushu Xinzhi Sanlian Shudian 生活・讀書・新知三聯書店, 2021. ISBN 978-7-10-807105-7, xvii, 219 pages, 52 RMB.

Reviewed by Dennis Schilling (Renmin University of China, School of Philosophy)

Qui sait si cette autre moitié de la vie où nous pensons veiller n’est pas un autre sommeil un peu différent du premier, dont nous nous éveillons quand nous pensons dormir ? (Blaise Pascal, Pensées, fragment 164)[1]

… who knows whether the other half of our life, in which we think we are awake, is not another sleep a little different from the former, from which we awake when we suppose ourselves asleep? (tr. W. F. Trotter)[2]

When giving his new essay collection the allusive title Sixiang lu, Chen Shaoming may have thought there exists a kind of intellectual affinity between two “classics,” the Pensées of Blaise Pascal and the Zhuangzi – in doubt and reflection, in the way of looking at things, or perhaps in literacy and style. And indeed, some passages in the Pensées look very Zhuangzian in some respects.

Chen Shaoming (born 1958), professor at the Department of Philosophy of Sun Yatsen-University in Canton, is widely known for his studies in intellectual history.[3] Together with Liu Xiaofeng (劉小楓, born 1956) and inspired by Leo Strauss’ (1899–1973) classicism, Chen edited the series Classics and Interpretations (經典與解釋) of European philosophical works.[4] His interest in the “classics” is further documented by methodological reflections on how contemporary philosophical analysis should conduct a dialogue with traditional thought, taking into account the different natures of philosophical expression in earlier times and traditions. Narratives are given particular attention in his methodological considerations. In the foreword of his essay collection Persons, Affairs and Things in the World of the Classics,[5] Chen portrays his approach as an “Imagining of Ideas” (觀念的想像): In order to understand traditional philosophy, we first have to understand its “setting,” i.e., how classical Chinese literature communicates ideas. When reading ancient Chinese philosophical literature, we are often not confronted with questions and concepts but stories reflecting the experiences and views of the ancients. When taking those narratives as a starting point for philosophical analysis, we first must complete our knowledge about content and context, and, having taken into account all the sources available to us, then imagine the world and experiences behind them. Having understood the stories and their thinking, we push our imagination a step further to more abstract ideas portrayed in these specific accounts of philosophical speculation.[6]

The new essay collection Between Waking and Dreaming continues Chen Shaoming’s approach to reading narratives philosophically or, to put it another way, doing philosophy narratively. Once more, we must use our imagination in order to enter the “world” of the Zhuangzi, “a reality free of assigned tasks” (無事實) expressed in “empty words” (空語) (p. 41).[7] Yet Chen’s collection also contains new aspects: Imagination is not merely a hermeneutical tool but a subject of investigation itself.

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[Review] 李尹蒂《晚清农学的兴起与困境》(Li Yindi: The Rise and Dilemma of Agricultural Science in Late Qing Dynasty)

Li Yindi 李尹蒂, Wan Qing nongxue de xingqi yu kunjing 晚清农学的兴起与困境 (The Rise and Dilemma of Agricultural Science in Late Qing Dynasty), Beijing: Kexue Chubanshe 科学出版社, 2021. ISBN 978-7-03-069998-5, 241 pages, 98 RMB.

Reviewed by Jörg H. Hüsemann (Universität Leipzig)

A series of crises made the 19th and early 20th centuries a turning point in Chinese history. Imperialist powers violently forced the empire to open its markets to the opium trade, the millenarian Taiping rebellion devastated large parts of southern and central China, millions died during the North China Famine of the 1870s, and the ruling house suffered humiliating military defeats in the Sino-Japanese War and the Boxer Rebellion, to name but the most infamous catastrophic events. While these crises challenged the Qing rulers’ claim to power and shook the political and social structures, they also created room for the development of new ideas. Scholars and state officials tried to promote “Self-Strengthening” to protect imperial rule from external attacks and internal strife. Against this historical background, the actors discussed in Li Yindi’s monograph introduced their approaches to modernizing Chinese agriculture.

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[Review] 张昌平《吉金类系:海外及港台地区收藏的中国青铜器研究》(Zhang Changping: Auspicious Metals’ Categories and System: A Study of Chinese Bronze Vessels Collected Overseas and in the Hong-Kong and Taiwan Region)

Zhang Changping 张昌平, Ji jin xi lei: Haiwai ji Gang Tai diqu shoucang de Zhongguo qingtong qi yanjiu 《吉金类系:海外及港台地区收藏的中国青铜器研究》(Auspicious Metals’ Categories and System: A Study of Chinese Bronze Vessels Collected Overseas and in the Hong-Kong and Taiwan Region). Beijing: Kexue Chubanshe 科学出版社, 2020. ISBN: 978-7-030-67212-4, 305 pages, 128 RMB.

Reviewed by Maria Khayutina (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

Complex polities, often called “early states,” began forming on the territory of the present-day People’s Republic of China during the third Millennium BCE. The introduction of bronze-casting technology during the early second Millennium BCE gave a significant impetus to the rise of new political elites, who now could equip their troops with more lethal and awe-inspiring weapons and – even more conspicuously – allowed those elites to display their power and prestige using metal ritual paraphernalia. Indeed, Neolithic elites already employed elaborated sets of ceramic vessels for sacrificial offerings to their ancestors and feasting with their allies and retinues. Magnificently shimmering metal vessels and, somewhat later, musical bells made by skilled craftsmen enabled the kings of the Shang (ca. 1600–1046/45 BCE) and Zhou (1046/45–256 BCE) dynasties to host impressive sacrificial feasts. Leaders of smaller polities and aristocratic families followed their example and similarly commissioned vessels and bells.

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