Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
This lecture takes us back to the late 3rd century BCE in China, to experience the momentous creation of the first empire in East Asia, as seen through excavated documents and tombs. These restore some of the voices of those silenced by the ravages of time and by the biased editing of ancient historians. The lecture is divided thematically into “voices of the state” and “voices of the people.” For the voices of state actors, we hear an announcement from a governor in recently-conquered territory in the south which informs us that the Qin were determined to stamp out “deviant” religious practices and sexual habits among its new subjects; a scribe’s aide-memoire, thrown in a well at the end of the dynasty, tells of Qin attempts to control language after the unification; an ordinance promulgated by the First Emperor calls for conserving peasant agricultural labor; and an edict of the Second Emperor of Qin displays surprising sympathy for his subjects. For the voices of commoners and soldiers caught up in these events, we hear legal cases from the time just before and after the unification that narrate the difficult lives and legal plight of those ensnared by the Qin laws. A state musician appeals his wrongful conviction for cattle rustling and tries to free his impounded family; a destitute Qin army veteran confesses to a brazen assault and robbery in the capital; and a woman denounces herself for engaging in a street brawl that led to a miscarriage. We shall also hear touching letters from Qin soldiers that give poignant voice to the concern of two young men for their friends and relatives back home. And finally, we will hear the voices of the fallen victims to the Qin conquest, see through the mass graves of soldiers, exposing the enormity and horror of war.
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