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The Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project: Two Approaches to Dating

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In chronological studies, approximations through carbon-14 analysis can be improved with more work. But a mistaken date reached by historical detective work is either right or wrong, and if wrong it must be discarded: one cannot "improve" a flat mistake. Almost every date in the Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project's published report is wrong. The basic cause of error is the Project's failure to examine carefully counterevidence in the "Shijia" chapters of the Shiji, in bronze inscriptions, and in the "modern text" Bamboo Annals. The present paper examines two results of this error: The eighth Western Zhou king Li Wang is wrongly given a pre-exile reign of 37 years, following the Shiji "Zhou benji." (A pre-exile reign of 18 years is probably correct.) Accordingly the Shanfu Shan ding, date "37th year," and the Jin Hou Su bell set, date "33rd year," are dated in Li Wang's reign rather than in Xuan Wang's reign, as they should be. The former must be dated to 789 BC, counting from 825 BC rather than from 827 BC, showing that the Nivison-Shaughnessy "two yuan" theory is correct (the Project ignores inscription evidence for this theory). The latter must be dated to 795–794 BC, and one result of the correct dating is to show that Wang Guowei's "four quarters" analysis of lunar phase terms in dates is correct. Either of these results is enough to upset the Project's entire chronology for the Western Zhou. Adequate attention to the "modern text" Bamboo Annals would have shown that no official endorsement of a chronology is justifiable until the status of this text is settled. This text is often judged to be a late forgery, but the question of its authenticity is in fact actively debated.

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