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Majority Rule and Consortial Policymaking: The Evidence from Early China | The Annual Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture

Thursday, March 30, 2023 at 4:45pm to 6:15pm

Physical Sciences Building, 120
245 East Avenue

Michael Nylan (History, UC Berkeley) gives this year's Annual Hu Shih Distinguished Lecture on "Majority Rule and Consortial Policymaking: The Evidence from Early China."

Inspired by Hu Shih’s many contributions to the study of Chinese history — among them, his careful outline of “the logical method in ancient China” and his many writings on “freedom” — this talk intends to challenge a popular narrative equating “Asian values” or, more narrowly, “Chinese tradition,” with “one-man, top-down rule.” The talk will instead show first, that a range of theoretical writings in classical Chinese advocate consortial rule and wide consultation, for cogent reasons, and second, that not only the Han histories but also the built environment in the Western Han capital of Chang’an attest to the importance the court placed on facilitating frequent exchanges between members of the governing elites and those they governed, via well-established institutions, networks, and communication corridors. The newly excavated materials support this revisionist picture for all administrative levels during the early empires in China, suggesting that Hu Shih's optimistic vision of a brighter Chinese future was not entirely utopian. Please rsvp for the in-person event. Though we request an rsvp, no one will be turned away as long as we have capacity.

Michale Nylan bio:

Michael Nylan 戴梅可generally writes in three disciplines: the early empires in China, philosophy, and art and archaeology.  Her current projects include a reconstruction of a Han-era Documents classic (submitted to press; under review); a general-interest study of the "Four Fathers of History" (Herodotus, Thucydides, Sima Qian, and Ban Gu), which is nearly done, and a study of the politics of the common good in early China tentatively entitled The Air We Breathe.  Recent published books include Chang'an 26 BCE: an Augustan age in China, with substantive comparisons to Rome and the Roman empire; The Chinese Pleasure Book; and two translations, of Yang Xiong's Fayan and The Art of War.

Research Interests

Early China and its modern reception: Seven centuries of Warring States through Eastern Han (475 BC–AD 220), with an emphasis on sociopolitical context; aesthetic theories and material culture; and cosmological belief; gender history and the history of such emotions as "daring" and "salutary fear" (aka prudential caution).

New Research

My new research is on the Four Fathers of History (Herodotus, Thucydides, Sima Qian, and Ban Gu); on the distinctive sociopolitical and culture conditions for classical learning in the two Han dynasties; and on "the politics of the common good" in early China.

Two book-length translations for the University of Washington Press ("Classics of Chinese Thought") series: (1) The Documents (Shu ching), in collaboration with He Ruyue, Shaanxi Shifan daxue; and (2) Wang Ch'ung's Lun heng.


PhD, Princeton University, 1976-81. East Asian Studies.

MA, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1970-73. History.

BA, University of California at Berkeley, 1968-70. History.

Additional Training:

Cambridge University (Oriental Studies) and the Institute of Archaeology (Beijing)

Dial-In Information

We encourage participants to join us in person and rsvp but for those who are unable to do so, please register here.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, History, Government, East Asia Program, China and Asia-Pacific Studies, Cornell China Center


history, government, East Asia program, Einaudi, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Einaudi Center, asianstudiescal



Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Amala Lane


Michael Nylan

Speaker Affiliation

History, UC Berkeley

Speaker Web Site

Dept. Web Site

Disability Access Information

EAP is happy to provide accessibility assistance with advance notice.

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A reception follows the lecture

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