University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term > Witchcraft and the Rise of the First Confucian Empire

Witchcraft and the Rise of the First Confucian Empire

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  • UserDr Liang Cai, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas; Visiting Fellow at Wolfson College
  • ClockWednesday 20 February 2013, 13:00-14:00
  • HouseCombination Room, Wolfson College.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Graham Allen.

In my book on this subject I offer a new reading of the emergence of the first Confucian empire, based on my rediscovery of the rich statistical data stored in the tabular charts that Sima Qian, the founding father of Chinese historiography, included in his famous Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian), as well as in the voluminous number of fascinating stories of the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE –8 CE) that survive from the period. My book shows that, despite the standard paradigm that has attributed the political rise of the Confucians to Emperor Wu (141–87 BCE ), only six of the seventy-seven high officials under his rule were regarded by their contemporaries as Confucians. Not only were they a powerless minority in the political realm, but during the first 120 years of the Western Han dynasty the learning community that studied and revered the Confucian classics suffered fragmentation. In his effort to negotiate and rectify this reality, Sima Qian created a coherent ideological community on paper that ignited the Confucians’ collective consciousness and eventually contributed to their solidarity. I argue that it was a witchcraft scandal in 91–87 BCE , long been ignored by scholars, that permitted China to become a Confucian empire. This four-five year witch hunt created a power vacuum in the central court, providing the Confucians with the opportunity to seize high positions, evolve into a new elite class, and realize their political dream, a dream that Confucius himself had envisioned hundreds of years earlier.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term series.

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