China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
As with many other grand concepts in the humanities and social sciences, there is no single definition of “empire.” In general, though, most modern commentators agree on certain characteristics: Empires are very large, often multi-ethnic polities that usually lack fixed or permanent borders and are governed by central governments. Certainly, many of these characteristics were true for the Qin (221-206 BCE) and Han (206 BCE-220 CE) dynasties. However, despite a growing number of studies on early Chinese imperial history, scholarship has yet to more thoroughly discuss how exactly the very concept of empire itself was imagined and negotiated in the fledgling empire. Apart from Martin Kern’s study of the First Emperor’s stele inscriptions (2000), few studies have broached the subject so far. This is largely due to a relative dearth of pertinent information in received literature. Then again, archaeology has greatly contributed to ameliorate the situation as numerous administrative and legal manuscripts have surfaced from late pre-imperial and early imperial settlement sites and tombs. Through analyses of philosophical and historiographical sources, tomb assemblages, and excavated manuscripts, this panel introduces an innovative, comprehensive methodolgy to think about the ancient past. Its individual papers will show how empire was conceptualized in relation with the imperial capital, at the northwestern periphery, in mortuary contexts, and publicized through workshop-produced court art. More importantly, the panel will thus explain that spreading and maintaining the idea of empire in various secular and sepulchral contexts was vital to the very existence of the early Chinese empires.