Communication and Cooperation in Early Imperial China - Presentation by Charles Sanft

03/08/2012 - 4:00pm - 5:30pm

Government in early imperial China, especially under the famous First Emperor of Qin, is often viewed as totalitarian and cruel. At the same time, many ancient political philosophers argued for essentially non-coercive government. In this talk, Professor Sanft employs interdisciplinary theory to suggest that cooperation played a large role in Qin governance, and that state-wide communication was the most important means for that. Using evidence from both transmitted historical sources and recently excavated materials, he offers an interpretation that challenges common understandings and presents a way to take often undervalued ideas about government seriously. The picture that emerges from this analysis indicates that the Qin dynasty and the First Emperor succeeded not because of authoritarianism, but because of innovative communication that integrated the realm into a functioning whole.

Charles Sanft is a member of the Institute for Sinology and East Asian Studies, University of Muenster, and a former member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He uses interdisciplinary theoretical work that emphasizes cooperation and communication in human societies to analyze the history of the first centuries of imperial rule in China under the Qin and Western Han periods. In Spring 2012 he is in residence at the IAS and is affiliated with the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures.


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