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To Rule by Manufacture: Measurement Regulation and Metal Weight Production in the Qin Empire


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After annexing his opponent states, the Qin First Emperor in 221 bce issued an edict to regulate the measurement system of lengths, volumes, and weights throughout the empire. This edict was inscribed on a great number of metal objects to be used as prototypes or standards for the measurement system. How the molds for the weights and crucibles of metal were prepared are essential questions regarding the production of these standards. By examining the weights and tracing the history of their industrial production, this article focuses on studying their material features, which enable us to understand the operation of the Qin foundries that produced them and their relationships with the government. It is hypothesized that the weights were produced at multiple local workshops rather than in a centrally administered factory, but that the foundries’ production methods were determined by the government’s political agenda to communicate its regulation policy to its subordinates. In addition, the study explores the Qin industrial organization and how the maintenance and large-scale distribution of the standardized weights reflected the policy implementation of the Qin empire.
Après avoir annexé les Etats qui s’opposaient encore à lui, le premier empereur des Qin promulgua en 221 avant notre ère un édit qui fixait les systèmes de mesure pour les longueurs, volumes et poids dans tout l’empire. Cet édit fut gravé sur un grand nombre d’objets métalliques devant servir de prototypes ou d’étalon. L’une des questions essentielles que pose la production de ces poids-étalons est la façon dont étaient préparés les moules pour façonner les poids et les creusets où était fondu le métal. En examinant les poids-étalons qui ont subsisté et en retraçant l’histoire de leur production industrielle, cet article concentre l’attention sur leur matérialité, ce qui nous permet de comprendre le fonctionnement des fonderies des Qin qui les ont produites, et leurs rapports avec le gouvernement. Il avance l’hypothèse que les poids furent produits dans de nombreux ateliers locaux plutôt que dans une fonderie centrale administrée par l’Etat, mais que les méthodes de production mises en œuvre par ces ateliers étaient déterminées par le gouvernement, qui avait pour objectif de faire systématiquement connaître et appliquer ses règlementations à ses subordonnés. De plus, cet article explore l’organisation industrielle des Qin et la façon dont l’entretien et la distribution à grande échelle des poids standardisés reflètent plus largement les méthodes de mise en œuvre des politiques décidées par l’Etat impérial des Qin.


Affiliations: 1: Hong Kong Baptist University


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/content/journals/10.1163/15685322-10313p01
2017-08-28
2018-06-21

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