Viewing the Han Empire from the Edge, Second Century BCE - Second Century CE


Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Grants to Individuals in East and Southeast Asian Archaeology and Early History Dissertation Fellowships (North America)




This dissertation focuses on the northwestern frontier of the Han Empire (from the second century BCE to the second century CE) to explore how the presumed boundaries between the Han and “barbarians” were constantly blurred through the negotiation of material as well as symbolic resources and manpower between the imperial court, representatives of the state at the local level, Han subjects, and “barbarians.” Current discoveries of Han frontier documents, mainly from Dunhuang and Juyan, offer examples that illuminate how the imperial ideology about the frontiers and foreigners were maintained, challenged, and negotiated in frontier societies. An analysis of daily activities in the region demostrates that social interaction and identities in the frontier societies were highly dynamic and underwent complex historical processes. If there was such a concept as a “Chinese” people in the Han Empire, this category should be understood as a marker of elite status rather than ethnicity.