Forming the Early Chinese Court

Rituals, Spaces, Roles

Luke Habberstad

  • Published: January 2018
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; History; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 256 pp., 8 bandw illus., 1 map, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Forming the Early Chinese Court builds on new directions in comparative studies of royal courts in the ancient world to present a pioneering study of early Chinese court culture. Rejecting divides between literary, political, and administrative texts, Luke Habberstad examines sources from the Qin, Western Han, and Xin periods (221 BCE-23 CE) for insights into court society and ritual, rank, the development of the bureaucracy, and the role of the emperor. These diverse sources show that a large, but not necessarily cohesive, body of courtiers drove the consolidation, distribution, and representation of power in court institutions. Forming the Early Chinese Court encourages us to see China's imperial unification as a surprisingly idiosyncratic process that allowed different actors to stake claims in a world of increasing population, wealth, and power.
Luke Habberstad is assistant professor of Chinese literature at the University of Oregon.

"Few 'China topics' concern contemporary scholars more than the structures, functions, and powers of the central state. This book will be important for scholars teaching and writing about the evolution of centralized power. Its significance lies in re-envisioning and re-narrating the historical processes that led to the formation of formal government bureaucracy in the Former Han, as a series of personal relationships evolved toward a structure of offices, each with rank, functions, and rewards."
-Jonathan Lipman, Mount Holyoke College

"An interesting and important contribution to our knowledge about early China."
-Hans van Ess, Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich

Chronology of Dynasties and Han Reign Periods

Introduction: Forming the Early Chinese Court

Part One Rituals
1. Sumptuary Regulations and the Rhetoric of Equivalency
2. Who Gets to Praise the Emperor?

Part Two Spaces
3. Parks, Palaces, and Prestige

Part Three Roles
4. Politics, Rank, and Duty in Institutional Change
5. The Literary Invention of Bureaucracy