The Construction of Space in Early China

By Mark Edward Lewis

Subjects: Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791466087, 506 pages, June 2006
Hardcover : 9780791466070, 506 pages, December 2005

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents




Units of Spatial Order
The Empire and the Reconstruction of Space


1. The Human Body


Discovery of the Body in the Fourth Century b.c.
The Composite Body
Interfaces of the Body


2. The Household


Households as Political Units
Households as Residential Units
Households as Units of Larger Networks
The Household Divided
Household and Tomb


3. Cities and Capitals


The World of the City-States
Cities of the Warring States and Early Empires
Invention of the Imperial Capital


4. Regions and Customs


The Warring States Philosophical Critique of Custom
Custom and Region
Regions and the Great Families
Regional and Local Cults
Rhapsodies on Regions


5. World and Cosmos


Grids and Magic Squares
The Bright Hall and Ruler-Centered Models
Mirrors, Diviner’s Boards, and Other Cosmic Charts
Mountains and World Models



Works Cited

Shows how the emerging Chinese empire purposely reconceived but was also constrained by basic spatial units such as the body, the household, the region, and the world.


This book examines the formation of the Chinese empire through its reorganization and reinterpretation of its basic spatial units: the human body, the household, the city, the region, and the world. The central theme of the book is the way all these forms of ordered space were reshaped by the project of unification and how, at the same time, that unification was constrained and limited by the necessary survival of the units on which it was based. Consequently, as Mark Edward Lewis shows, each level of spatial organization could achieve order and meaning only within an encompassing, superior whole: the body within the household, the household within the lineage and state, the city within the region, and the region within the world empire, while each level still contained within itself the smaller units from which it was formed. The unity that was the empire's highest goal avoided collapse back into the original chaos of nondistinction only by preserving within itself the very divisions on the basis of family or region that it claimed to transcend.

Mark Edward Lewis is Kwoh-ting Li Professor of Chinese Culture at Stanford University and the author of Writing and Authority in Early China, also published by SUNY Press.