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Rethinking Early Chinese Historiography

Event date: May 11 - May 15, 2019

    Yuri Pines (The Hebrew University)
    Martin Kern (Princeton University)


    Chinese empire was renowned for high cultural prestige and exceptional productivity of history writing. In distinction, only a very few historical texts survived from the millennium preceding China’s imperial unification of 221 BCE. Yet recent paleographic discoveries and a more nuanced understanding of transmitted texts allow us to reassess the formative age of China’s historiographic tradition. Our symposium gathers specialists in history, philosophy, literature, paleography, and archeology, for a joint exploration of a broad variety of historical and quasi-historical texts now available. Our goal is to understand the role of history-writing in the intellectual and political life of pre-imperial China. Who produced historical texts, and for what audiences and purposes? What were the sources that historians utilized, and how did they get access to them? What inspired trust in the historian, and where was his authority coming from? How did historical texts circulate? How are they related to contemporaneous ideological cleavages? What was their role in the formation of regional and trans-regional identities? How did history-writing evolve during these centuries and how is it related (or not) to subsequent imperial-age historiography? What are the differences and similarities between early Chinese historiographic traditions and those in other ancient civilizations? By engaging these questions we hope to raise our understanding of early Chinese historiography to a new level.