Lecture | The Great Unity Ideal: The Key to China's Imperial Longevity?


Lecture Information:

Speaker: Yuri Pines (尤锐)

Host: Lu Yang (陆扬)

Theme: The Great Unity Ideal: The Key to China's Imperial Longevity?

Date: October 10 (Wednesday), 2018

Time: 19:00–20:30

Location: Room B101, Second Gymnasium, Yenching Academy, Peking University

Language: English


One of the most notable features of imperial China is its exceptional durability. Having been established in 221 BCE in the aftermath of Qin (秦) unification, the imperial political system lasted for 2132 years, until the abdication of the child emperor Puyi (溥仪) on February 12, 1912. The empire was not indestructible— to the contrary, it underwent manifold crises, including longer or shorter periods of political disintegration. Yet remarkably, the unified empire was repeatedly resurrected at the very least in “China proper” (roughly comparable to the territory under control of the founding Qin dynasty). Such repeated resurrections of a huge territorial entity spanning more than twenty centuries are not attested to elsewhere in world history.

In Professor Yuri Pines’ talk, he will argue that the key to understanding the reasons for the imperial resurrections lies within the realm of ideology and the dominant political culture. The idea that peace and stability in “All-under-Heaven” is attainable only in a unitary state ruled by a single omnipotent monarch was formed in the centuries preceding the Qin unification, at the apex of political fragmentation of the Warring States period (453-221). Having become the common desideratum of the competing “Hundred Schools of Thought”, the ideal of “Great Unity” remained fundamental to Chinese political culture for millennia to come. By denying legitimacy to any but unifying regimes, this ideal facilitated common quest for reunification during the periods of fragmentation. The idea that “Stability is in Unity” became China’s foremost self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Yuri Pines (尤锐)  is Michael W. Lipson Professor of Asian Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Chair Professor Nankai University and Visiting Professor, Beijing Normal University. His research focuses on early Chinese political thought, traditional Chinese political culture, early Chinese historiography, and history of pre-imperial (pre-221 BCE) China; most recently, he is engaged in comparative studies of imperial formations worldwide.

His major monographs include The Book of Lord Shang: Apologetics of State Power in Early China is due in New York: Columbia University Press (2017); The Everlasting Empire: Traditional Chinese Political Culture and Its Enduring Legacy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012); Envisioning Eternal Empire: Chinese Political Thought of the Warring States Era (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009); Foundations of Confucian Thought: Intellectual Life in the Chunqiu Period, 722-453 B.C.E. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press,2002). He co-authored (with Gideon Shelach and Yitzhak Shichor) 3-volumes All-under-Heaven: Imperial China (in Hebrew, Raanana: Open University Press, first volume 2011, second volume 2013, the third is forthcoming); co-edited together with Lothar von Falkenhausen, Gideon Shelach and Robin D.S. Yates the Birth of an Empire: The State of Qin Revisited (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), and with Paul R. Goldin and Martin Kernthe Ideology of Power and Power of Ideology in Early China (Leiden:Brill, 2015). He also published over 100 articles and book chapters.