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Xu Jian – The Legendary Yelang State in Southwest China, What, Where and by Whom? Rethinking the roles of historical writing and archaeology in reconstructing ancient history

November 30, 2017 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

Speaker: Xu Jian, Professor of Archaeology and Art history, Department of History, Sun Yat-sen University; HYI Visiting Scholar
Chair/discussant: Rowan Flad, John E. Hudson Professor of Archaeology, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University

For decades, Chinese archaeologists have searched extensively in current Guizhou and northeastern Yunnan for remains of the legendary state Yelang, which is still out of sight by large. The Yelang state, ranging from the 4th to the 1st century BCE, is depicted ambiguously in the Records of Great Historian as one of the targets and victims during the Western Han’s expansion in the Southwest. The continuing findings of large burial sites in Zhongshui, Weining and Kele, Hezhang call great attention by high qualified or exotic artifacts from elite tombs, unusual burial practice hinting a long-distance contact, and a certain degree of social complexity revealed by the hierarchy system in the measurements of the burials, but some key features, assumed as indexes of Bronze culture by the dominant Childe school, such as city wall or fortifications, ceremonial, administrative or general public architecture, are absent from these sites. Did the Yelang state really exist in history? Have archaeologists already exposed its nucleus or is its urban center still under the ground and beyond archaeologists’ reach? What are the possible shape and characteristics of the Yelang state? This presentation will take into account all these issues, and raise a further discussion on how to reconstruct history by historical writings from an etic perspective and archaeological finds gained in a framework based on experiences from dramatically different settings.


November 30, 2017
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
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Harvard-Yenching Institute

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