Early China Seminar Lecture Series
Title: “Coining Chinese Civilization: The Emergence of Civilizational Consciousness in Early China”
Speaker: Uffe Bergeton, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Time: September 20, 2019 (4:30-6:30 PM)
Location: Faculty House (*please check the announcement board in the first floor lobby for room information)
Drawing on his book The Emergence Of Civilizational Consciousness In Early China: History Word By Word (Routledge, 2019), Uffe Bergeton’s presentation traces the emergence of civilizational consciousness in pre-Qin China. He approaches this question in ways that establish a fresh hermeneutical dialogue between ancient Chinese and modern European concepts of ‘civilization.’ New mappings of diachronic changes in the meanings of Old Chinese words are used to determine when pre-Qin thinkers first began to think of themselves as belonging to a ‘civilization.’ Beyond the word wen 文, which is sometimes translated into English as culture or civilization, semantic histories of other key terms, such as yi 夷 and Xia 夏, are also proposed. The key argument is that a language-specific form of civilizational consciousness took shape around the middle of the first millennium BCE when the word wen was coined (or lexicalized) in the meaning ‘civility/civilization’ and a contrast between the ‘great ones’ (Xia) and the ‘civilizationally inferior others’ (yi) emerged.