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Reviewed by:
  • Violence, Kinship and the Early Chinese State: The Shang and their World by Roderick Campbell
  • Wang Haicheng
Violence, Kinship and the Early Chinese State: The Shang and their World. Roderick Campbell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. 358 pp., 36 b&w illus., 4 maps. Hardcover US $100, ISBN 978-1-107-19761-9.

The monograph under review describes itself as an up-to-date synthesis of Shang China. The first two of its eight chapters, "Being, Society and World: Toward an Inter-Ontic Approach" and "Cities, States and Civilizations," are reviews of earlier scholarship. Chapter 3, "Central Plains Civilization from Erlitou to Anyang," describes the major phases of the early Bronze Age in north China. It includes a review of evidence for war and sacrifice and a quantitative analysis of burials. The next four chapters focus on the Anyang site and period. Chapter 4 is "The Great Settlement Shang [i.e., Anyang] and its Polity: Networks, Boundaries and the Social Economy." It uses oracle-bone inscriptions to characterize the polity, discussing its exercise of authority and networks of power. Chapter 5, "Kinship, Place and Social Order," argues that the fundamental unit of Shang society was the lineage, the king being the apex lineage leader. Chapter 6, "Violence and Shang Civilization," finds that the conduct of war and sacrifice changed from ad hoc to systematic over the course of the Anyang period. Chapter 7, "Constructing the Ancestors: The Social Economy of Burial," interprets a shift in mortuary practice, from lavish expenditure to economy, as a deliberate change from material to symbolic [End Page 226] expression of social status. The last chapter, "Technologies of Pacification and the World of the Great Settlement Shang," is a recapitulation. It is followed by three table appendices on the topics of: (A) Shang political geography as seen in oracle-bone inscriptions; (B) chronology based on archaeology and transmitted texts; and (C) Anyang burial data.

The author states the aims of his book in the preface. In the hope that "what is gained in synthetic juxtaposition and the perspective thus derived outweighs what is lost in lack of specialization," he combines "oracle-bones, an abandoned eleventh-century (BCE) city and Bourdieu" (p. xix). The book begins with two chapters of critique devoted to a select group of scholars who have written studies of Shang or comparative studies that involve it: K. C. Chang, David Keightley, Norman Yoffee, John Baines, Bruce Trigger, Liu Li and Chen Xingcan, Robert Bagley, and Sarah Allan. In the author's judgment, all have failed to understand the nature of Shang civilization, and one reason for their failure is a confusion they all share about definitions of "civilization" and "the state." The way out of this confusion, he believes, is to put terminology aside and focus on specifics. He seeks to explain "the actual mechanisms mediating between power, belief and social practices" (p. 4), "flesh out the articulation between material conditions, practices and discourse to get to a more fully contextual approach" (p. 10), investigate "the relations between specific institutions, technologies, social practices and ideas" (p. 19), understand "the particular social economy" (p. 23), "build an understanding of the relationship between land, urban center, and people from the specifics of Shang evidence" (p. 32), and obtain concrete knowledge "about second millennium BCE economic organization in North China" (p. 39) and "the actual mechanisms of expansion, the specifics of exchange, the particular relationships of power" (p. 40). In short, he promises to show us, concretely and specifically, "how Shang society worked" (p. 28).

As he begins to describe the material record in chapter 3, we learn that specificity, at least as the author understands it, is not possible until the Anyang period. For the first phase of his "Central Plains Metropolitan Tradition," the Erlitou period, "the present state of information makes it extremely difficult to do more than speculate about the social practices, attitudes and networks of exchange in which they were produced, exchanged and consumed" (p. 57). Since "the data presently available … is far from sufficient to do much more than speculate" (p. 58), "the political organization of the polity centered at Erlitou is unclear" (p. 59). For the succeeding Erligang...


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