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The Ancient Highlands of Southwest ChinaFrom the Bronze Age to the Han Empire$
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Alice Yao

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199367344

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199367344.001.0001

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The D(eb)atability of the Past

The D(eb)atability of the Past

The Past in the Imperial Present

(p.215) Chapter 7 The D(eb)atability of the Past
The Ancient Highlands of Southwest China

Alice Yao

Oxford University Press

Chapter 7 returns to the question of “how natives write” and the enigmatic barbarian seals of the introduction. Each seal’s epigraphy is deciphered to arrive at names for these frontier actors, but inconsistences complicate their political identities. Most seals were fake titles, yet the names and designs they bear refer to changing spatial-temporal politics. How individuals selected and copied titles from among the range of king, marquis, assistant, magistrate spoke not to aspirations but to specific calculations timed to coincide with policies of the imperial center. Depending on the moment, the same title could either invoke legitimacy or violate imperial mandates; the practice of writing thus confounds Han sovereignty while employing its terms. This decipherment reveals how preexisting genealogies grounded “insurgent” forms of political action. Where historians confront this as incongruous evidence, archaeology reveals how barbarian scripting allowed for an autochthnous history of the Bronze Age to evolve and develop.

Keywords:   Barbarian seals, imperial historiography, Han titles, writing, Bronze Age autochthony

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