The Ch’in and Han Empires,22I B.C.-A.D.220 – THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF CHINA

The Qin dynasty or Ch'in dynasty, was the first dynasty of Imperial China.


Volume I
The Ch’in and Han Empires,22I B.C.-A.D.220

Work on this volume was partially supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Grant RO-20431-83.

When The Cambridge History of China was first planned, more than a decade ago, it was naturally intended that it should begin with the very earliest periods of Chinese history. However, the production of the series has taken place over a period of years when our knowledge both of Chinese prehistory and of much of the first millennium B.C. has been transformed by the spate of archaeological discoveries that began in the 1920s and has been gathering increasing momentum since the early 1970s. This flood of new information has changed our view of early history repeatedly, and there is not yet any generally accepted synthesis of this new evidence and the traditional written record. In spite of repeated efforts to plan and produce a volume or volumes that would summarize the present state of our knowledge of early China, it has so far proved impossible to do so. It may well be another decade before it will prove practical to undertake a synthesis of all these new discoveries that is likely to have some enduring value. Reluctantly, therefore, we begin the coverage of The Cambridge History of China with the establishment of the first imperial regimes, those of Qin and Han. We are conscious that this leaves a millennium or more of the recorded past to be dealt with elsewhere, and at another time. We are equally conscious of the fact that the events and developments of the first millennium B.C. laid the foundations for the Chinese society and its ideas and institutions that we are about to describe. The institutions, the literary and artistic culture, the social forms, and the systems of ideas and beliefs of Qin and Han were firmly rooted in the past and cannot be understood without some knowledge of this earlier history. As the modern world grows more interconnected, historical understanding of it becomes ever more necessary and the historian’s task ever more complex. Fact and theory affect each other even as sources proliferate and knowledge increases. Merely to summarize what is known becomes an awesome task, yet a factual basis of knowledge is increasingly essential for historical thinking.

Since the beginning of the century, the Cambridge histories have set a pattern in the English-reading world for multi-volume series containing chapters written by specialists under the guidance of volume editors. The Cambridge Modern History, planned by Lord Acton, appeared in sixteen volumes between 1902 and 1912. It was followed by The Cambridge Ancient History, The Cambridge Medieval History, The Cambridge History of English Literature, and Cambridge histories of India, of Poland, and of the British Empire. The original Modern History has now been replaced by The New Cambridge Modern History in twelve volumes, and The Cambridge Economic History of Europe is now being completed. Other Cambridge histories recently undertaken include histories of Islam, Arabic literature, Iran, Judaism, Africa, Japan, and Latin America.

In the case of China, Western historians face a special problem. The history of Chinese civilization is more extensive and complex than that of any single Western nation, and only slightly less ramified than the history of European civilization as a whole. The Chinese historical record is immensely detailed and extensive, and Chinese historical scholarship has been highly developed and sophisticated for many centuries. Yet until recent decades, the study of China in the West, despite the important pioneer work of European sinologists, had hardly progressed beyond the translation of some few classical historical texts, and the outline history of the major dynasties and their institutions.

Recently, Western scholars have drawn more fully upon the rich traditions of historical scholarship in China and also in Japan, and greatly advanced both our detailed knowledge of past events and institutions and also our critical understanding of traditional historiography. In addition, the present generation of Western historians of China can also draw upon the new outlooks and techniques of modern Western historical scholarship, and upon recent developments in the social sciences, while continuing to build upon the solid foundations of rapidly progressing European, Japanese, and Chinese studies. Recent historical events, too, have given prominence to new problems, while throwing into question many older conceptions. Under these multiple impacts, the Western revolution in Chinese studies is steadily gathering momentum.

When The Cambridge History of China was first planned in 1966, the aim was to provide a substantial account of the history of China as a benchmark for the Western history-reading public: an account of the current state of knowledge in six volumes. Since then, the outpouring of current research, the application of new methods, and the extension of scholarship into new fields have further stimulated Chinese historical studies. This growth is indicated by the fact that the history has now become a planned fifteen volumes but will still leave out such topics as the history of art and of literature, many aspects of economics and technology, and all the riches of local history.

The striking advances in our knowledge of China’s past over recent decades will continue and accelerate. Western historians of this great and complex subject are justified in their efforts by the needs of their own peoples for greater and deeper understanding of China. Chinese history belongs to the world not only as a right and necessity, but also as a subject of compelling interest.


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