Chang’an 26 BCE, from dreams to drains

Collaborative Group

Professor Michael Nylan, Professor Griet Vankeerberghen


History and East Asian Studies


Chang’an, capital of the Western Han dynasty, was one of the two greatest cities of the classical era. This project is a richly textured and fully annotated micro-history of the capital region with a sharp focus on the reign of Emperor Cheng (r. 33-7 BC), which saw great changes taking place in the social, political, and religious realms as well as in the palaces where the first imperial libraries were being created. Propelled by wider, cross-cultural questions, this study will integrate information garnered from texts, artifacts, and archaeological sites to understand the role Chang’an played in the late Western Han imperial project and in the formation of the Chinese traditions and promote a sustained dialogue among classicists concerned with Hellenism and ancient Rome.

Nylan and Vankeerberghen come to this project as specialists in Early China. Nylan has contributed essays to several books comparing classical civilizations; Vankeerberghen and another collaborator recently received funding from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their research project “Ancient World Elites: Aristocratic Power in Antiquity.” The collaboration will result in a monograph, which will provide new readings for all major texts relating to late Western Han and include comparisons of Chang’an to its contemporary cultures, Rome and Alexandria. Other outcomes will include a sourcebook and a website (

Award period: June 1, 2011 – June 30, 2012