Early Chinese Empires were colonial regimes. The major aim of my dissertation is to elaborate on previous interpretations of cultural change and to highlight the negotiation of identity between imperial and local agents in a colonial context. Colonial encounters not only have occurred in modern times, but also in early Imperial China. The state of Qin (778 BC-221 BC) conquered the entire land of Sichuan (316 BC). This region may well have been Qin’s first colony before it finally unified China and created an empire (221 BC). Forceful military acquisitions of the land and the construction of a colonial landscape reshaped the indigenous cultures. The adoption of the metropolitan cultures (traditionally recognized as “sinicization”) continued for more than five hundred years.
In the past, historians have tended to view cultural change under Qin and Han colonial rule as a normative process, by which the superior metropolitan cultures were passively accepted by the “naturally” inferior, local peoples of ancient Sichuan. However, the society of ancient colonial Sichuan was dynamic, composed of complex interactions among mobile individuals and groups. Local and metropolitan identities emerged nearly simultaneously. Micro and macro identities developed in close relationship with each other and were mutually constitutive. The peoples in ancient Sichuan were not merely “sinicized,” but rather that they often played an active role in constructing their local cultural identities within greater imperial world.
Studies of ancient China often take cultural contact as monolithic and portray China as a state/empire with a monotonic voice. This dissertation seeks to deconstruct the Sino-centric identity through the investigation of the contact between China and her neighbor, ancient Sichuan. I see the cultural contacts as a set of diversified, uneven and heterogeneous interactions, rather than a one-way process. This dissertation deploys an interdisciplinary approach to address this question and to produce a critical synthesis based on the methods of history and archaeology; it analyzes textual sources in the form of standard histories, local histories and inscriptional evidence; and material cultures from burials and other sites. These approaches are well integrated with each other and will be used in both macro and micro contexts. Several expressions of identity are examined including local intellectual agency, ritual practice, and the compilation of local history.