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Political Cosmography in Warring States China: Some Examples

Vera Dorofeeva-Lichtmann (Ostasiatisches Seminar der Universitaet Goettingen)

This paper is concerned with the part played by the intrusion of spatial thinking into Chinese political thought. In particular, it is focussed on sets of ancient Chinese "geo-political" units (principaities or kingdoms) represented as highly regular cardinally-oriented structures. Multiple references to these structures are found across diverse ancient Chinese texts.

Unfortunately, these structures become uncomfortably elusive when we try to define them, as it is difficult to conform their "political" content and "spatial" form to Western frames of reference which tend to more sharply differentiate the domains of political thought and conceptions of space. The elusiveness of these structures seems to be one of the main reasons why they are almost totally ignored in secondary sinological literature concerned with both political history and conceptions of space. Yet, there is some evidence to suggest that regular cardinally-oriented representations of principalities or kingdoms may have conveyed sophisticated political concepts in spatial terms.

A good example is provided by two representations of the so-called "Seven Mighty Kingdoms" (Qi xiong) of the Warring States period found in the Liao di chapter of the Wu-zi, a treatise on the art of war of the 4th-3rd centuries B.C. These representations will first be discussed with respect to the principles and patterns accepted in Chinese cosmography of 2nd half of the 1st millenium B.C. and then analysed within the framework of a specific historical setting. The proposed examination enables one to reveal that that differing arrangements of a set of kingdoms served to convey dramatically different political concepts.

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