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With the exception of legal texts, surviving records of rape in early China have been the subject of little academic study to date. This is the result of a number of factors, including the criminalization of both consensual and non-consensual sex outside of marriage in ancient China, the tradition of using euphemistic vocabulary to refer to such topics, considerable variation, depending on time and place, as to what constitutes rape and discomfort that some very famous men are said to have committed crimes of rape and sexual violence. This article examines two famous and well-documented incidents – one concerning the rape of a woman in peacetime, the other an instance of mass gang rape during war – to explore the specific challenges of studying sexual violence in ancient civilizations. Ignoring early accounts of rape serves to significantly distort our understanding of some key events in Chinese history and perverts the textual record.
Headhunting has a long and well-documented history in China, but most people are today unaware of this practice, first recorded in Shang oracle bones and regularly mentioned in ancient Chinese texts until the Han dynasty. This ignorance is because headhunting subsequently came to be seen as a barbaric practice and knowledge concerning its long history was destroyed: this was achieved by inventing a new character, guo 聝, which means “to cut the ear of a dead enemy combatant” and using this to replace (and thus confuse meanings with) an older character guo 馘, which refers specifically to headhunting. Ancient texts in which headhunting practices are documented have been misunderstood and misrepresented by imperial era scholars to prevent anyone from seeing that ancient China was a headhunting culture. This study shows how dominant cultural norms can impact on the way in which texts are read.
The Xinian or Annalistic History is one of an important collection of ancient bamboo texts donated anonymously to Qinghua University in 2008. The Xinian covers events from the history of the Western Zhou dynasty (1045–771 b.c.e.), through the Spring and Autumn Period (771–475 b.c.e.) and into the Warring States era (475–221 b.c.e.). Since the first publication of this manuscript in 2011, it has been the subject of much research, though this has usually been focused on the sections which have important parallels within the transmitted tradition. This article proposes a new way of understanding the Xinian, as a compilation produced from at least five source texts, and provides a complete translation of the entire text. Furthermore, although the contents of the Xinian are frequently at variance with the transmitted tradition, in particular the account of events given in the Zuozhuan, in some instances it may prove the more reliable source. The Xinian also provides some information concerning the history of the early Warring States era that helps to explain events in this generally badly documented era.
Since they were first excavated in 1983, the early Han dynasty texts discovered in Tomb M247 at Zhangjiashan have been the subject of much scholarly research. This paper focuses on the Gai Lu, the only military text excavated at this site, and one that continues to pose many problems. Although the manuscript of the Gai Lu appears to have been written at the very beginning of the Western Han dynasty, the text is highly corrupt and is likely to have gone through many recensions prior to being buried in this tomb. The antiquity of this text is entirely consistent with its status as an early example of a yin-yang military text, an important branch of strategic thought in early China which is recorded in the “Yiwen zhi” chapter of the Han shu, but which is now survives only through archaeological material. These have allowed scholars to interpret transmitted military texts in an entirely new light. The Gai Lu represents an extremely important example of such a yin-yang text, and also forms part of a major early Chinese literary genre: writings connected with the conflict between the kingdoms of Wu and Yue.