The Legendary Yelang State in Southwest China, What, Where and by Whom? Rethinking the roles of historical writing and archaeology in reconstructing ancient history

Nov 30 12:00–1:30pm
Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Ave., Cambridge

Xu Jian (Professor of Archaeology and Art history, Department of History, Sun Yat-sen University; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Chair/discussant: Rowan Flad (John E. Hudson Professor of Archaeology, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University)

Co-sponsored with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

For decades, Chinese archaeologists have searched extensively in current Guizhou and northeastern Yunnan for remains of the legendary state of Yelang, which is still largely out of sight. The Yelang state, ranging from the 4th to the 1st century BCE, is depicted ambiguously in the Records of the Great Historian as one of the targets and victims during Western Han expansion in the Southwest. The continual findings of large burial sites in Zhongshui, Weining and Kele, Hezhang call great attention by high qualified or exotic artifacts from elite tombs, unusual burial practice hinting at long-distance contact, and a certain degree of social complexity revealed by the hierarchy system in the measurements of the burials, but some key features, assumed as indexes of Bronze culture by the dominant Childe school, such as city wall or fortifications, ceremonial, administrative or general public architecture, are absent from these sites. Did the Yelang state really exist in history? Have archaeologists already exposed its nucleus or is its urban center still underground and beyond archaeologists’ reach? What are the possible shapes and characteristics of the Yelang state? This presentation will take into account all these issues, and raise further discussion on how to reconstruct history by historical writings from an etic perspective and archaeological finds gained in a framework based on experiences from dramatically different settings.