This thesis analyses a change in the ways people composed and engaged with texts during the Warring States (481-221 BCE) period in Early China. It examines changes in the textual sphere as a result of an emergent manuscript culture, that is to say, the increased spread and reliance on manuscript texts for the communication of ideas. This shift moved away from the predominantly oral, commemorative, and ritual use of text in earlier periods, and provided key elements that would function in the text based discourse of the early empires. It influenced the way text across a variety of genres of writing was used and understood, structured and composed, and how it was collected and combined to form new arguments.
I focus on texts from the Documents 書, and Odes 詩 genres, in addition to philosophical texts dealing with the past, and collections of sayings and arguments dealing with questions from cosmological to ethical issues. These materials form the mainstay of Warring States intellectual discourse, and exemplify the following textual developments: 1) the rise of collecting materials into compilations; 2) the emergence of genre classification; 3) the development of new authorship functions, 3) an increase in textual structuring and the integration of lore about the past, 4) the development of commentarial traditions, 5) the emergence of an explicit, self-reflexive understanding of writing and transmission, 6) advances in material structuring of manuscript-texts that interrelate form and content.
The analysis is based primarily on excavated materials not edited during the early empires, and engages with comparative and interdisciplinary theory. It argues against models solely based on transmitted sources, which explained Warring States developments as a response to socio-political contexts. Instead, it posits developments in the textual culture itself as a necessary condition to explain the changes in intellectual discourse of the period.