Literate Community in Early Imperial China

The Northwestern Frontier in Han Times

Charles Sanft
eISBN-13: 9781438475141

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Winner of the 2020 James Henry Breasted Prize in Ancient History presented by the American Historical Association

Honorable Mention, 2021 Joseph Levenson Pre-1900 Book Prize presented by the Association for Asian Studies

This book examines ancient written materials from China's northwestern border regions to offer fresh insights into the role of text in shaping society and culture during the Han period (206/2 BCE–220 CE). Left behind by military installations, these documents—wooden strips and other nontraditional textual materials such as silk—recorded the lives and activities of military personnel and the people around them. Charles Sanft explores their functions and uses by looking at a fascinating array of material, including posted texts on signaling across distances, practical texts on brewing beer and evaluating swords, and letters exchanged by officials working in low rungs of the bureaucracy. By focusing on all members of the community, he argues that a much broader section of early society had meaningful interactions with text than previously believed. This major shift in interpretation challenges long-standing assumptions about the limited range of influence that text and literacy had on culture and society and makes important contributions to early China studies, the study of literacy, and to the global history of non-elites.

ISBNs 9781438475127, 1438475144, 9781438475141
Language English