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"Logics of Legitimacy" as seen in the Documents classic and related materials
During the academic year 2016-17, I intend to finish a new translation of one of the Five Classics of early China, the Documents classic or Shangshu (literally, the Venerable Documents). The Documents (sometimes misnamed the Book of History) is one of the few compilations to have survived from the period prior to unification in 221 BCE, apart from the Shang oracle bone inscriptions, a small collection of early bronze inscriptions, the Odes classic, and the original layer of the divination classic known as the Book of Changes or Yijing. This project requires that I think early and often about what I have come to think of as the "logics of legitimacy" (the implicit social contracts that bound rulers and members of the governing elite), when trying to conceptualize for myself the larger significance of such a mammoth project.
By the time that I would hope to take up residence in Paris, September to January, I expect to have produced three full rounds of draft translations for the Documents, in the expectation that four or five such drafts will be needed altogether, at a minimum. I therefore would employ my time, aside from giving and attending lectures, honing the translation, but more importantly, writing the all-important Introduction and chapter "background" essays designed to explain ongoing problems in interpretation while laying out the significance of the variant readings attached to each passage.
Michael Nylan is Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. She is one of the foremost historians today working on early China and one of the world’s leading scholars of pre-modern China. Her interests span aesthetic theories and material culture, intellectual history and religious beliefs, with an emphasis on the sociopolitical context.