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The Politics of the Past in Early China
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Expected online publication date: June 2019
  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online ISBN: 9781108348843

Book description

Why did the past matter so greatly in Ancient China? How did it matter and to whom? This is an innovative study of how the past was implicated in the long transition of power in early China, as embodied by the decline of the late Bronze Age aristocracy and the rise of empires over the first millenium BCE. Engaging with a wide array of historical materials, including inscriptional records, excavated manuscripts, and transmitted texts, Vincent S. Leung moves beyond the historiographical canon and explores how the past was mobilized as powerful ideological capital in diverse political debate and ethical dialogue. Appeals to the past in early China were more than a matter of cultural attitude, Leung argues, but were rather deliberate ways of articulating political thought and challenging ethical debates during periods of crises. Significant power lies in the retelling of the past.


‘Vincent S. Leung has produced an exceptional piece of intellectual history. The book is a powerful testament to the fact that the past is not necessarily a neutral, objective given; it can be a high-stakes enterprise involving contested notions of heritage, origin, and authority that reflect concerns and interests in the present.'

Erica Brindley - Pennsylvania State University

‘This well-annotated study of Chinese historiography from the Bronze Age through Sima Qian stands out for its wide range of sources, including received texts and palaeographical material, such as bronze inscriptions and manuscripts on bamboo. Also notable is the author's grasp of secondary studies, in both Chinese studies and the philosophy of history generally.'

Paul R. Goldin - University of Pennsylvania


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