The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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Social and Political Conflicts in the Frontier Regions of the Qin and Han Empires (221B.C. to A.D.220): An Exploration on the Wooden Documents from Juyan, Jianshui Jinguan and Xuanquan

Principal Investigator

LAI Ming Chiu

Total Fund Awarded


Funding Source

RGC General Research Fund

Abstract of Project

        This project proposes the exploration of the newly unearthed documents to the study on the social issues and political conflicts in the frontier regions during the Qin and Han periods (221B.C. to A.D.220). As reflected in the Qin and Han standard histories, many ethnic groups inhabited in the Han frontier, like the nomadic people of Xiongnu 匈奴 in the northern and northwestern China, the tribes of Qiang 羌 in the western China and tribes of Luo Yue 駱越 in the southern China. Both political and cultural conflicts happened when Han government imposed the imperial laws and decrees, as well as Confucian rites on these ethnic groups. Recognizing the diversity of multi-ethnic groups and the uniqueness of socio-cultural environment of the frontier regions, historian noted that there were conflicts between the Han and the indigenous population during the assimilation process. Considering the tensions and antagonizes between the ethnic groups and Han people, this project intend to have a thorough understanding on the political and social situation in the Han frontier. The proposal writer will explore concrete cases recorded in newly unearthed documents, namely the wooden slips from Juyan 居延, Jianshui Jinguan 肩水金關 and Xuanquan 懸泉. For comparative purpose, the author will also investigate the Qin documents from Liye 里耶 and the collection from Yuelu shuyuan 嶽麓書院.
        This research holds that the process of establishing a unified empire was a long term development. Empirical evidences exhibited that there were a lot of socio-political obstructions and cultural barriers in such a vast empire. The issues of eliminating cultural plurality or preserving regional peculiarities and local uniqueness were the significant aspects in the course of building up the Han Empire. Han government imposed institutional devices to assert political unity, but it did not imply the existence of a cultural uniform empire simultaneously. Therefore, social and cultural diversities were the prominent phenomena in Han China.
        In brief, this project will greatly enhance our understanding of Han China of the following significant aspects:

  • The ruling strategy of Han rulers in response to the social and political conflicts;
  • The nature and the crux of the social incidents and ethnic conflicts between the Han and ethnic minorities in the frontier region;
  • To confirm that social and cultural diversities were the prominent phenomena in Han China.
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