Sanctioned Violence in Early China

By Mark Edward Lewis

Subjects: Chinese Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791400777, 382 pages, August 1989
Hardcover : 9780791400760, 382 pages, August 1989

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Table of contents




The Social Uses of Violence
Sanctioned Violence and the Warring States Transition


1. The Warrior Aristocracy


Warfare and Sacrifice
The Segmentary Aristocracy
Warfare and Honor
Blood Covenants


2. The Warring State


Warfare and the Warring State
Oaths and Sacrifice
Vengeance and Collective Punishments


3. The Art of Command


The Commander and Texts
The Commander and the Army
The Commander and Battle
The Commander and the Ruler


4. Cosmic Violence


The Calendar of Violence
Cosmic Kickball
Imperial Hunts and Animal Combats
Feats of Strength and sorcery


5. The Social History of Violence


The Myths of the Sage-Kings
The Yellow Emperor and his Adversaries
The Myths and the New Year Festivals
The Violence of Beasts and Men
Myths of Sacrifice and Heaven's Mandate


6. The Natural Philosophy of Violence


Qi in Man and Nature
Qi and Violence
The Sage Commander
The Socialization of Qi




Works Cited



This book provides new insight into the creation of the Chinese empire by examining the changing forms of permitted violence—warfare, hunting, sacrifice, punishments, and vengeance. It analyzes the interlinked evolution of these violent practices to reveal changes in the nature of political authority, in the basic units of social organization, and in the fundamental commitments of the ruling elite. The work offers a new interpretation of the changes that underlay the transformation of the Chinese polity from a league of city states dominated by aristocratic lineages to a unified, territorial state controlled by a supreme autocrat and his agents. In addition, it shows how a new pattern of violence was rationalized and how the Chinese of the period incorporated their ideas about violence into the myths and proto-scientific theories that provided historical and natural prototypes for the imperial state.

Mark Edward Lewis is University Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Cambridge.


"The interpretation of warfare is rich in providing a coherent statement on a subject poorly understood by Westerners. This book is a substantial and highly original piece of work. " — Roger T. Ames

"What I like most about the book is the author's mastery of the essential primary and secondary sources, and that he has marshalled these to discuss an essential theme in ancient Chinese history. The author's knowledge of the anecdotal literature is extremely good and impressive. I also like the fact that he is using materials ignored by earlier scholars as well as newly-excavated manuscripts. " — Jeffrey Riegel