Michael Nylan’s public lecture, New Perspectives on Han Urban Life, focuses on the evidence at hand for Western Han capital of Chang’an (second and first century BCE). That magnificent capital – nearly three times the size of Rome, nearly four times larger than Alexandria, and seventeen times bigger than Byzantium – does not figure largely in today’s historical imagination, though its achievements clearly rivaled those of Augustan and Hadrianic Rome.
Thanks to the rich store of newly excavated sites and artifacts found at over 6,000 separate digs since 1949 – some of it on view in this illustrated slide lecture – students of early material culture have begun the painstaking work of reconstructing many aspects of the former capital, from the residential wards to the old palace library (built on a scale comparable with that of Alexandria) to the defenses, parks, and offering sites, not to mention the complex network of rivers, canals, and bridges expressly designed to supply the roughly two million people in the metropolitan area with sufficient clean water and fresh food. Taken together, the new evidence has forced us to rethink nearly everything we knew about early China, generating eight new hypotheses about the court and capital. These new perspectives considerably complicate and enrich our ideas of how life was lived in urban areas during the classical era in China.
Professor Nylan is one of the foremost historians today working on early China and one of the world’s leading scholars of pre-modern China. Her interests span aesthetic theories and material culture, intellectual history and religious beliefs, with an emphasis on the sociopolitical context.
Professor Nylan is a RSAP Distinguished Visitor and her visit to ANU is funded by the RSAP Distinguished Visitor Program.
Refreshments served from 5.30pm