SOAS University of London

Manuscript Culture in Early China, Graham vs. excavated texts

Professor Michael Nylan

Date: 5 May 2015Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 5 May 2015Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: B111

Type of Event: Seminar

Note: Internal event not open to external attendees.

A.C. Graham (d. 1991) parsed texts, including the Zhuangzi, in terms of "school" affiliations. The wealth of excavated materials publicized since the1980s, however, shows first, that "school" affiliations are anachronistic for the pre-printing era; second, that intertextuality more likely relates to distinctive features of manuscript cultures, as opposed to print cultures; and third, that many of the masterworks and Classics once dated confidently to the Chunqiu and Zhanguo (i.e., pre-unification) periods were compiled in late Western Han, during two decades' work forming the palace libraries (26-6 BCE).

Michael Nylan defines herself as a historian of early China, whose work requires knowledge of Han and pre-Han material culture, a variety of forms of technical expertise (in astronomy, in medicine, and in optics), and wide familiarity with a range of philosophical masterworks.  From thebeginning, she has been equally interested in the modern reception of the distant past. A number of questions have driven Nylan's work, including these: What were the Classics, and what authority was invested in them? What did "the past" represent for thinkers and advisors to the court? How and to what degree did the media for early manuscript culture shape compositional styles and practices?  Is there any way to get "behind," "below," or "past" the extant texts to social realities? What did the early empires mean to those on the ground in early China, as compared with imperial Rome? She has given inaugural lectures, two lecture series, and keynote speeches at a variety of venues, including the Collège de France and the École pratique des hautes études (Ve section) in Paris, Peking University, National Taiwan University, Charles University in Prague, and the American Oriental Society. Two years ago she became the 79th Annual Morrison Lecturer at the Australian National University (and the first in early China, as it happens). She is the current recipient of a Guggenheim (America's highest academic honour) for her translation work on the Documents classic. She serves on a number of journal boards, here and in Asia.

The annual AC Graham Memorial Lectures are jointly organised at SOAS by the Early China Seminar at the Department of the Languages and Cultures of China and Inner Asia, the SOAS China Institute (SCI) and the London Confucius Institute (LCI), and they are supported by generous grants from the LCI and from the material. 

For further details please contact Professor Bernhard Fuehrer (