To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
China and Inner Asia
In Session: Between Evolving Standards and Persistent Diversity: Manuscripts and Inscriptions in Pre-Imperial and Early Imperial China
4: The Pragmatics of Standardization: Document Norms and their Implementation in Early Imperial Administration
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Hamburg, CSMC, Germany
The sheer number of excavated administrative documents from early imperial China (221 B.C.E.–220 C.E.) suffices to show the extent to which the bureaucracy of the time depended on writing at all administrative levels. With a view to the necessities as well as the possible problems of a document-based administration, this paper approaches the area of conflict between standardization and diversity in the production of administrative documents in two case studies.
Recently published sources from the imperial Qin period (221–207 BCE) have provided the unique opportunity to compare administrative documents from a former prefectural archive with normative rules regulating their production. The first part of the paper focuses on documents drafted on individual tablets, for which Qin ordinances stipulated exact measurements and also defined other features such as the adequate number of characters per column. The second part investigates grain disbursal tallies. Although Qin statutes contained specific prescriptions on the formulations to be employed, actual scribal practice exhibits a variance with regard to visual organization. With the help of these case studies, the paper explores to what extent official document norms were implemented in every-day practice or purposefully neglected; which features of administrative documents tended to be more standardized than others, and for what reasons; and to which degree standardization “makes sense” with a view to legibility and handling, and when it might start to be a hindrance rather than a benefit.