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Method, Logic, and the Debate about Western Zhou Government: A Reply to Lothar von Falkenhausen

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In response to Lothar von Falkenhausen’s contention that the Western Zhou government was hopelessly stuck in a kinship structure that operated in accordance with the order of aristocratic lineages, the present paper offers new theoretical grounds as well as new inscriptional evidence showing that the Western Zhou government was a bureaucracy invented precisely to allow the Zhou king to overcome or manipulate the restrictions imposed by a kinship structure, in order to achieve actual political and administrative goals. This is the central debate in the study of the Western Zhou government as the fountainhead of the long-standing Chinese political culture and institutions. To refute the ill-conceived “anthropological model” of the Western Zhou government, the paper carefully examines the logical confusions, the wrong methodological choice, and the misinformation about contemporaneous bronze inscriptions as well as about current archaeology exhibited in Falkenhausen’s review, thus reconfirming bases for a correct understanding of the Western Zhou government already offered in Bureaucracy and the State in Early China (Cambridge 2008). Furthermore, the paper discusses intellectual norms in book reviews in the West and China and offers new insights into the date of the Ling group of vessels, a central problem in the dating of Western Zhou bronzes. The paper provides an important cornerstone for future constructive studies of the Western Zhou government and the issue of bureaucracy in Chinese history.

Affiliations: 1: Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University ; 2: Research Center for Chinese Frontier Archaeology, Jilin University


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