This article studies the economic structure of early Chinese empires (Qin and Western Han) by focusing on the contribution of market exchange to the distribution and transportation of metal goods. Emphasis is placed on the part played by market forces in integrating and connecting communities on a regional level, an issue that has not been comprehensively addressed in the literature but was essential to market exchange in ancient China. A tripartite framework is proposed for conceptualizing three forms of market exchange or regional integration: dendritic, administrative-integrated, and fully integrated. These models may also be applied to the study of interregional interaction. An analysis of distribution patterns of everyday iron and bronze items from burial contexts within the capital region (Wei river valley) of the Qin and Western Han empires reveals a major shift in the development of the market system and sub-regional integration between the Qin and Western Han periods. The change in degree of integration shows that the region went from a more dendritic to a fully-integrated model, though one still dominated by major administrative centers (especially Chang'an). The new approach for investigating market exchange used in this article offers a framework through which the structuring principles of ancient markets, forces driving change in market systems, and underlying mechanisms of administrative control over the movement of material culture can all be explored in the context of ancient China. The discussion of integration at a regional level sheds new light on the market system during the formation of massive, unified, early Chinese empires.


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pp. 117-158
Launched on MUSE
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