Recently discovered epigraphic sources of Qin's history often seem to contradict the conventional wisdom regarding the history of this state. Thus, the recently published inscription on the jade tablets records a prayer to Mountain Hua by one of the last Qin kings, in which the latter surprisingly laments the demise of the Zhou house–an action for which traditionally Qin was blamed. On the other hand, some of the Shuihudi Qin statutes contain equally surprising statements according to which the Qin populace on the eve of the imperial unification was clearly differentiated from the members of the Xia ethno-cultural community. In both cases the apparent contradiction between the new evidence and the conventional interpretation of the received texts caused most of the scholars to neglect the confusing evidence altogether or to reinterpret it in accord with the traditional views.
In my paper, I suggest that the new evidence can be reconciled with the received texts, if due attention is paid to the complexity of cultural and political dynamics in the state of Qin prior to the imperial unification of 221 B.C.E. During the last two centuries of the Warring States period Qin appears to be engulfed in two contradictory processes of estrangement from and re-integration with the “Central States.” On the one hand, radical reforms of the mid-fourth century B.C.E. brought about not only sociopolitical but also cultural changes, creating the cultural gap between Qin and the rest of the Zhou world. Concomitantly, endless military conflicts between Qin and its neighbors further strengthened the cohesiveness of Qin's populace, increasing furthermore the sense of antagonism between the people of Qin, particularly among the lower strata, and the dwellers of eastern states. On the other hand, however, Qin's eventual separation from the rest of the Zhou world was counterbalanced by the equally powerful integrative factors. The influx of eastern advisors perpetuated cultural ties between Qin and its neighbors, while the desire of Qin rulers to facilitate incorporation of the eastern territories into their expanding realm dictated a more flexible policy of building rather than destroying political and cultural bridges with the Zhou world. Understanding this ongoing tension between conflicting integrative and centrifugal tendencies allows us to build a new interpretative framework for the Qin history, fully incorporating the received and the unearthed texts.