Program

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships , Henry Luce Foundation/ ACLS Program in China Studies Postdoctoral Fellowships

Project

Courtly Institutions, Politics, and Status in Early Imperial China, 206 BCE-9 CE

Project

Water Control and Political Culture in Early Imperial China

Department

East Asian Languages and Literatures, and Religious Studies

Courtly Institutions, Politics, and Status in Early Imperial China, 206 BCE-9 CE

This dissertation investigates courtly institutions during the Western Han dynasty, the first period of sustained imperial unification in China. How did the “court” operate and how was it defined? The questions invite an alternative narrative to outdated notions of China as an “autocratic” empire. Analysis of written and material sources reveals a fundamental shift: from an emperor-centered institution, the court became a more inclusive body with an increased range of responsibilities and more entry points for participation in courtly life and politics. By the end of the Western Han, the emperor’s power was sharply limited, even while celebrations of and debates about imperial power continued. Such discussions allowed court members to fashion their own status within courtly institutions that operated with increasing independence.

Water Control and Political Culture in Early Imperial China

This project asks two basic questions: What role did water control play in establishing the early empires? How do early Chinese texts represent hydraulic engineering? Water control practices had been used for millenma prior to imperial unification in 221 BCE, and archaeological evidence, excavated manuscripts, and received texts show that hydraulic engineering comprised a complex set of practices that involved local and imperial interests. It was not until long after unification, however, that water control emerged as a category of technical expertise, in response to controversies at the early imperial courts regarding the consequences of environmental manipulation. The emergence of "hydraulic engineering" (shui ft), then, cannot be understood outside of debates regarding the proper limits of state power as well as the organization and management of imperial space.