Secondary State Formation in Shandong during the First Millenium BCE


A review of On the Periphery of a Great ‘Empire’: Secondary Formation of States and Their Material Basis in the Shandong Peninsula during the Late Bronze Age, ca. 1000-500 B.C.E., by Minna Wu.

Minna Wu’s dissertation is a sweeping study that investigates the social and cultural changes that different groups in Shandong Province underwent in the face of Western Zhou colonial expansion. The time span of the study covers the time from the Late Shang Dynasty (ca. 1250 – 1045 B.C.E.) all the way through to the Warring States (ca. 481 – 221 B.C.E.), but its main focus is on the Western Zhou conquest of Shang in 1045 B.C.E. and the subsequent eastward push of Zhou cultural hegemony. The questions that the author seeks to answer include: What strategies people in different parts of Shandong used when encountering the Western Zhou? What kinds of interactions gave rise to the formation of states in this part of China? And what kind of contribution these states made towards the formation of Chinese civilization? In addressing these questions, Wu engages with several important bodies of anthropological and social theory, while methodologically, she combines historical, archaeological, and paleographic evidence in order to weave a unique narrative encompassing a thorough introduction to the geography and anthropogenic history of Shandong, and also a new perspective on the agency and motivations of Shandong peripheral polities as cultures and social structures changed over the course of the province’s colonization by the Western Zhou.

The content of the dissertation unfolds in five chapters. In the first chapter, Wu sets up the theoretical and methodological framework under which she conducts her primary analyses. First, she outlines the various models of culture contact derived from anthropological theory that scholars have applied in various ways to archaeological data. Wu reviews several different models, beginning with World Systems and Acculturation Theories. These two theories are both premised on a power differential between two interacting cultures, with one group accepting and adopting the cultural customs and trappings of the other. After describing previous attempts to apply these two models of culture change to various archaeological contexts, Wu concludes that both are insufficient to explain change in Shandong because they assume a passive periphery relative to an active and imposing core; it thus does not attribute nor even acknowledge the agency of the receiving culture. She then reviews more recent models that are more focused on the nature of reciprocal culture change in which two cultures mutually influence one another in the arena of interaction over time. She discusses “negotiated peripherality,” “middle ground theory,” and creolization in particular, arguing that these models are more advantageous because they assume the creation of a mixed or hybrid new culture from the interactions of multiple groups of people. While she concludes that her analysis will favor these latter interpretations, she cautions against not striking the correct balance between donor and recipient cultures and neglecting the larger social and historical forces that impacted the region under study.

In the second half of the chapter, Wu engages with social theory, specifically with ideas of pristine versus secondary state formation and its applications to Chinese material culture. A “state,” in the author’s view, is a “social-political organization that has the ability to wield power over diverse communities and maintain itself as a single overarching political entity” (p. 19). Within this broader definition, she differentiates pristine states as an “indigenous development [of state structures and institutions] in the absence of external influence” (p. 20) from secondary states, the formation of which she describes as a process that is “stimulated by influences stemming from elsewhere or deriving from pre-existing forms” (p. 20). According to Wu, secondary state formation is a useful concept for analyzing the processes of social and cultural change as the process of state development overtook Shandong following the expansion of Central Plains states like the Shang and Western Zhou.

Wu concludes her first chapter with an overview of three forms of secondary states that she believes can be represented by the material culture and textual records of Shandong during the Zhou period. The first is the regional state, which she defines as those states that were directly established by the Zhou court through appointment of royal kin and trusted allies to govern strategic locations throughout newly conquered territories. The second type formed under direct political and economic incorporation into the larger Zhou political system, and includes those states that might have previously been part of a different political network. The third are those states that have local indigenous origins and that formed through interaction with the political more complex Zhou state. Wu examines in detail these three types of states through three important case studies in her third through fifth chapters.

In the second chapter, Wu provides an overview of Shang expansion into Shandong. She begins with a description of the environment and landscape of the province before moving directly into the archaeological evidence for early Shang presence in Shandong. Utilizing a combination of archaeological and paleographical data, Wu identifies important variations in the process by which Shang elite culture penetrated Shandong, drawing a geographical distinction between western Shandong and the peninsula and a temporal distinction at the start of the Middle Shang period. According to her findings, Shang expansion into Shandong began in the Upper Erligang Phase (ca. 1450 – 1350 BCE) of the Late Neolithic, but was limited to small pockets and isolated areas throughout western Shandong even through the Early Shang period. This was followed by a dramatic increase in Shang material culture presence during the Middle Shang period. The subsequent expansion during the Late Shang period followed two general routes of expansion, north and south. The northern route was centered in the Jinan area at the site of Daxinzhuang, while the southern route connected through the Wen and Si River valleys to the Central Plain and Huai River, and even further into the Lower Yangzi delta in northern Jiangsu. Interestingly, Wu argues that Shang expansion into northern Shandong during the middle period may have been for economic reasons, specifically, the area’s proximity to sea salt, which they likely transported from the coast back to the Shang center. Wu relies on recent excavations along the Bohai Gulf coast in order to support this hypothesis. Importantly, Wu also demonstrates that current archaeological evidence does not support a strong Shang presence in the peninsular area even at the very late stages of the Shang period. Whereas western Shandong became increasingly incorporated into the expanding Shang state, the peninsula remained culturally separate, with pottery evidence exhibiting strong features of the Yueshi and subsequent Zhenzhumen archaeological cultures. This, Wu concludes, was the situation in Shandong immediately prior to the Western Zhou conquest of Shang, the consequences of which had dramatic effects on the social and cultural organization of the region thereafter.

Where Wu’s work in this chapter shines is in her integration of archaeological and paleographical evidence in order to connect the realities of human behavior with recorded political activities. Her cogent comparisons between the burial features and pottery styles of sites like Qianzhangda and Daxinzhuang in Shandong with those of the Shang core sites like Anyang clearly demonstrate a connection between those sites and elite Shang culture, while her use of Oracle Bone and Bronze inscriptional evidence of Shang’s political relations strongly corroborate the material culture evidence. Overall, this chapter sets the stage for her analysis of different methods of Zhou occupation of Shandong, which she conducts over the course of the final three chapters.

The third chapter focuses on the first of the three types of secondary states that Wu claims developed in Shandong over the course of the Zhou period, namely, the “regional state.”  She characterizes a regional state as a colony that was established directly by Western Zhou political mandate, and that was “responsible for the reproduction not only of the material components of the Zhou culture, but also of the social and political system of the Zhou” (p. 65). Using the state of Qi as a case study, Wu analyzes the process by which this kind of state was established in northern Shandong as it is exhibited by archaeological and then paleographical and historical evidence. Her archaeological analysis is divided into two sections, elite contexts and non-elite contexts; all of the archaeological sites she refers to are located in and around the modern Zibo in northern Shandong. The elite context is centered on the site of Chenzhuang, which comprises several large and elaborate burials along with a protective wall, building foundations, sacrificial earthen platforms, and pottery kilns. Wu argues that this site should best be understood as a Qi high elite cemetery site that was in use from the Early Western Zhou to the Middle Western Zhou period. This is due, she says, to the high concentration of bronzes and jades at the site that are stylistically consistent with examples from the Zhou core area in Shaanxi, as well as to the contents of the inscriptions that many of them bear, which refer to members of the Jiang 姜 clan receiving appointments and rewards for service from the Zhou kings as well as intermarrying with the Zhou royal lineage. Wu argues that these “symbols of power” are evidence of “colonial imposition” on the part of the Zhou upon the Zibo area, and were part of a system used by the Zhou to “redistribute key ritual goods…and thereby to confer prestige, building support for the state authority” (p. 90). The elites represented by this cemetery sites, she claims, were most likely individuals appointed by the Zhou king to serve as a political arm of the royal court in newly conquered territory, and that eventually developed into the state of Qi.

The non-elite archaeological contexts discussed in the second section exhibit three different material culture traditions – Western Zhou, Shang, and indigenous – that Wu argues demonstrate the process by which the appointed Qi elites facilitated the penetration of Zhou elite culture, and thus political authority, among the local population of Shandong. She analyzes the evidence of cultural mixing of these three traditions over time and concludes that it was in the Late Middle Western Zhou period that Zhou material culture began to become widespread among the non-elite population around the Zibo area, leading to a nearly complete overtake of local culture and becoming largely mainstream by the Late Western Zhou. Prior to this, Wu notes, there was only sporadic evidence of Zhou pottery traditions among local assemblages, so during the Early Western Zhou, elite culture was limited to elite populations.

In the second half of the chapter, Wu traces Qi’s developmental trajectory into the Spring and Autumn period. She first highlights the ways in which, over the course of its expansion into Shandong while it served the Zhou court, Zhou culture was mixed with that of indigenous traditions, producing a new “Qi Culture.” She relies specifically on measurable archaeological features such as the presence of rank status among burials, bronze and pottery vessel assemblage compositions, vessel typology and style, and inscription rhetoric as evidence of the emergence of a unique Qi culture in the beginning of the middle Spring and Autumn Period. She then moves on to discuss the changes in the internal politics and administrative structures within the Qi State in an attempt to understand, primarily using transmitted historical records with some reference to bronze inscriptions, Qi’s independent state-building strategies. Through synthetic readings of the Guoyu and the Zuozhuan, Wu identifies several political and social innovations that Qi underwent, including the establishment of control over individual citizens based on occupational units and access to wealth, the emergent practice of political power being held in the hands of non-royal clans and non-elite individuals – what we might call a “meritocracy” – the creation of the Prime Minister (xiang 相) office within government, and the effective establishment and control over the Hegemon (Ba 霸) system with its own leader as inaugural titular position holder. Throughout her analysis in this chapter, Wu pays close attention to the relationship between Qi and Zhou, from burial practices to international diplomacy, and in this way demonstrates that the development of Qi from a regional state to a powerful independent one could only have happened vis-a-vis its relationship with Zhou.

In the fourth chapter, Wu shifts her attention to the second type of secondary state introduced in her first chapter, the “state with Dong Yi origins.” These states, she says, refer to those polities that were ruled by leaders of non-Zhou, indigenous local origins and who were referred to by the Zhou as “Dong Yi” (Eastern Barbarians). In analyzing this type of state, Wu tackles the question of how much local agency can be detected into the material culture record of the Jiaodong Peninsula and thus how people may have reacted and adapted to growing Zhou presence and influence on the region. The analysis unfolds in three parts. First, she reviews the material culture conditions of the Jiaodong Peninsula prior to Zhou incursion, focusing on the ecological features that she believes contributed to settlement and indigenous cultural development independent from Central Plains cultures, such as access to shell fish, salt, and copper ore. She then identifies nine phases of archaeological cultures, primarily through pottery, of which the Zhenzhumen (ca. 1300 – 957 B.C.E.) and Nanhuangzhuang Cultures (ca. 1045 – 771 B.C.E.) correspond to the Late Shang and Early to Middle Western Zhou, respectively. Then, using archaeological evidence from three clusters of sites located in the Huang River, Wulong River, and Yantai areas of the Jiaodong peninsula, combined with bronze inscriptional evidence of Zhou military campaigns unearthed both in Shandong and Shaanxi, Wu argues that beginning in the early Western Zhou period, a “population associated with the Western Zhou state including at least some ethnic Zhou from Shaanxi…must have been active in the [Jiaodong] region” (p. 139).

In the second part of the chapter, Wu discusses the term “Dong Yi” from an inscriptional perspective, saying that the concept is actually a rather slippery one because we can only understand it from a Zhou perspective; we do not know what people of Dong Yi origin may have called themselves. What is clear, however, Wu says, is that what we understand to be the Dong Yi were not a single entity, but rather a multitude of different groups that were categorized as culturally other by the Zhou, but who at different times were differentially allied with or against the expanding Zhou state.

In the third part of the chapter, Wu examines one of these Dong Yi states, the state of Lai, in order to analyze the details of their relationship with the Zhou. The site considered to be the most representative Lai is the ancient city of Guicheng, which has been under survey and test excavation by a joint project spearheaded by Columbia University, the Institute of Archaeology (CASS), and the Shandong Provincial Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Relics for the last several years. Wu first provides an overview of the site’s general layout as determined by several seasons of surface survey, making particular note of the presence of an inner as well as an outer city wall. These walls, she argues, were constructed at different times, the inner wall during the Western Zhou period and the outer during the Eastern Zhou, which created, by the time of the Warring States period, in a “double-city” plan. This type of plan is rare in Shandong, and likely corresponds to a period of expansion from the original settlement size from the Western to Eastern Zhou, with the outer wall having likely been constructed as a means to protect the city’s dramatically enlarged population. Through analyzing the several dozen bronze vessel inscriptions from the site, Wu is able to demonstrate that during the middle Western Zhou period, while there existed groups of people possessing bronzes cast in the local style and bearing non-Zhou stylistic features, the Guicheng area had a pre-dominantly Zhou-style elite bronze culture. This, she argues, was likely due to the presence of “a certain concentration of Zhou elite settlements within Guicheng at the center mixed up with settlements that were possibly occupied by the indigenous agents or communities at a distance from Guicheng” (168). By the late Western Zhou period, however, she notes that bronzes begin to exhibit increasing local idiosyncrasies in both style and assemblage composition, while bronzes bearing close similarities to metropolitan Zhou styles in Shaanxi begin to disappear. This, Wu argues, is evidence that Lai began to develop on its own during this period.

Pottery analysis revealed two distinct traditions at Guicheng, one belonging to the Zhou and the other to indigenous culture. Interestingly, Wu finds that although Zhou and indigenous pottery sherds maintained separate stylistic characteristics throughout most of the Western Zhou period, they consistently appeared together in both settlement strata as well as burials, and that this pattern persisted into the Eastern Zhou period. She also observed that a general selection for vessels types that differ from the Zhou core areas is also present in Guicheng, which signals a subtle, but important distinction within the cultural traditions in the area that is indicative of the retention of unique local culture in the face of Zhou presence and influence. Finally, Wu notes that the Late Western Zhou strata at the site real and increase in the prevalence of indigenous pottery styles that similar to the bronzes, suggest a surge in cultural and likely political independence of Lai from mainstream Zhou culture during this later period.

In the final part of the chapter, Wu uses bronze inscriptions dating to the Eastern Zhou period to document the state of Lai’s increasing power relative to its neighbors. She argues that after the Western Zhou declined in the Central Plains Lai was able to take on a stronger position within the power dynamics of the Jiaodong Peninsula. Despite later being destroyed by Qi in the year 567 B.C.E., Lai was well into the Eastern Zhou period powerful enough to compete militarily with its neighbors, which is evidence of the importance of its previous relationship with the Western Zhou. She says that “the close connections and communications in both material and personal between Guicheng and the Zhou core region brought new ideas, organization, and new modes of social interaction, and thus had important impacts on the indigenous community with Dong Yi origin. The cultural contact between the two areas must have increased the social complexity of the local polity and greatly encouraged the formation of the state of Lai under Zhou influence, since it seems that there was no pre-existing state-level polity either documented in the texts or evidenced in archaeological materials in the Jiaodong Peninsula before the Zhou period. Under such circumstances, in which external forces stimulate and have great influence on the local community, a process of state formation is initiated” (p. 169).

The focus of the fifth chapter is the third type of secondary state that formed in Shandong, specifically, those that were originally part of the Shang political network. According to Wu, these types of states can be divided into two main groups. The first are those who took part in the Rebellion of the Three Supervisors against the Western Zhou during the reign of King Cheng (r. 1042 – 1006 B.C.E.) and that were destroyed as a consequence. The second group, and the one that she explores in detail here, are those states that possibly collaborated with the Zhou and thus were able to survive into the Spring and Autumn period. Of this latter group, Wu chooses to use the state of Ji in northern Shandong as a case study due to its relatively understudied condition as well as the recent discoveries of both archaeological remains and bronze inscriptions associated with Ji from the Shouguang area of northern Shandong. Wu cleverly introduces a Late Western Zhou Ji vessel inscription unearthed in Yantai in 1969 as her lead-in to the analysis, and spends the bulk of the chapter leading the reader through the process by which this inscription came to be located northern Shandong. This process unfolds in three sections.

In the first section, Wu undertakes the tremendous task of synthesizing a number of Oracle Bone and bronze vessel inscriptions related to Ji that have been differentially unearthed at the Late Shang settlement site of Gucheng in northern Shandong and in the Late Shang capital in Anyang, Henan. Centering her analysis on a set of 19 bronze vessels from Gucheng, and Oracle Bones as well as bronze inscriptions from Anyang (many of which were unearthed from the famous tomb of Fuhao), Wu argues that originally, the Ji lineage was based in Gucheng during the Wu Ding reign of the Late Shang. Paleographical variations of the character Ji 己 on inscriptions from different geographical locations lead Wu to further suggest that sometime during the Late Shang, two branches of this original lineage split off and relocated to different parts of the Shang world. The first group intermarried with the Bing 幷 lineage and took the characters Ji Bing 己幷 as their new name; this new lineage, Wu believes, remained in Shandong. The second group took the character Ji 㠱 as its name and inscriptional evidence of this lineage name in Anyang leads Wu to suggest that this group relocate to the Central Plains likely because “the Ji polity sent one of its lineage members to the Shang court, serving as a diviner, henceforth he was referred to as ‘Ji’ [㠱] in the Shang royal divinatory records” (p. 200). Through this nuanced discussion, Wu is able to show that the Shang royal court and the Ji polity in Shandong had a very intimate relationship during the Late Shang period.

In the second and third parts of the chapter, Wu discusses the effect of the Western Zhou conquest of Shang on this formerly Shang-affiliated state. She first identifies two important Ji-related clan emblems on Early Western Zhou bronzes, Jihou Ya Yi and Ji Ya Yi, and focusing on the inscriptional evidence of these two emblems, argues for a situation wherein after the Zhou conquest of Shang, different branches of the original Ji 己 lineage were relocated, the first to the Yan state area around modern Beijing, and the latter to the Tengzhou areas of western Shandong. It is this latter branch, associated with the Ji Ya Yi emblem, that later moved into northern Shandong and established the state of Ji, and to which Wu turns for the remainder of the analysis. Using inscriptional evidence from early and middle Western Zhou bronzes, Wu demonstrates the strong political and cultural connections that the Ji state had with the Zhou core in three spheres of interaction: participation in royal events, personal interaction with the Zhou king through holding court office, and participation in military alliances with the Zhou. She then reviews inscriptional evidence of Ji’s relations with neighboring Shandong-based states like Lai, Qu, and Lu during the middle Western Zhou in order to make the point that Ji seems to have quickly adopted and applied Zhou protocol for interacting with peer states, including casting bronzes to commemorate events such as marriages and rituals. Non-inscriptional evidence, Wu says, supports her claims, as archaeological survey done throughout northern Shandong reveal Western Zhou cultural traditions in abundant evidence. Unlike the material culture record of the state of Lai, discussed above, there seems to have been a general trajectory of gradual cultural integration into the Zhou system in Ji, with little assertion of indigenous cultural traditions or resistance against Zhou hegemony. She notes also the organization of Ji settlements follows the “segmentary state” model espoused by the Western Zhou, in which settlements of different states can be geographically interspersed throughout a given region.

Unfortunately, according to Wu, Ji’s efflorescence in northern Shandong was to be short-lived. In the final section of the chapter, Wu argues that after the fall of the Western Zhou in the Central Plains, Ji lost must of the advantage it had against its more powerful neighbors. During the early Spring and Autumn period, transmitted historical texts record Ji’s political dependence on the neighboring state of Lu, with whom it often intermarried and used as a buffer against the expanding Qi state, with whom it was often in conflict. It seems that without the Western Zhou core, Ji was not able to maintain itself in the face of expanding enemies, and became the first state in Shandong to fall to Qi in 690 B.C.E.

In the concluding chapter of the dissertation, Wu first categorizes the three case studies into three modes of secondary state formation. The first, represented by Qi, she calls “direct installation,” wherein “new social processes associated with state development was due in large to the presence of colonial agents” (p. 250). The second, represented by Lai, is designated as “indirect stimulation,” and differs from the first scenario because of the absence of forceful structural imposition on the part of the core; it thus acknowledges the agency of the periphery and understands change through the dissemination of ideas and materials but not because of core agents. The third and final scenario is exemplified by the Ji state, and Wu calls it “cooperative” or “integrated” transformation, in which the core plays a greater role in influencing indigenous cultures to adopt and reproduce core structure; in this type of scenario, Wu claims, members of the indigenous culture community were themselves agents of the core.

In the final section of the conclusion, Wu outlines four factors that she believes her case studies have in common: first, each was dependent upon the Western Zhou core for their early development; second, in each case, regional-level interaction provided opportunities for transformation into important regional powers; and third, the existing pre-Zhou sociocultural situation played a crucial role in the direction of each state’s development; and finally, geographical and ecological conditions also contributed to the different outcomes of these states. In essence, what Wu’s case studies demonstrate is that when discussing culture change within he context of secondary state formation, no single factor is determinative of either development or decline, but that the pre-existing conditions of any social group is important to the trajectory of that group’s integration into a larger system.

Overall, Wu’s dissertation is a useful and informative application of secondary state formation theory to early Chinese data. Recent scholarship within the Early China field has leaned more and more towards finding ways to use Chinese archaeological data to engage with western theoretical discourse, though very rarely have these attempts met with clear and definitive successes. Wu’s contribution to this ongoing dialogue is commendable, and her conclusions and observations on social and cultural change in Shandong are very valuable. On a methodological level, her use of disparate sources of data, archaeological, historical, and paleographical, in order to write a single narrative demonstrates a mastery of the material, and illustrates the potentials of this type of work. In addition, her Appendix A, which is a compilation of Oracle Bone and bronze inscriptions related to Shandong and its multitude of Shang and Zhou period states is in and of itself an important contribution and should be considered as a useful reference tool for both students and scholars in the future. If anything, Wu’s dissertation is an example of the thorough, complex, and engaging types of histories of early China that can be written when one takes all forms of evidence into careful consideration, without privileging any one source over another. It will be exciting to see this scholar’s contributions to the field in future.

Glenda Ellen Chao
Ph.D. Candidate
East Asian Languages and Cultures Department
Columbia University

Primary Sources

Archaeological data from published site reports
Survey and excavation data from the Guicheng Archaeological Survey Project in Shandong
Oracle Bone Inscriptions
Bronze Inscriptions
Hanshu 漢書
Guoyu 國語
Shiji 史記
Shijing 詩經
Zuozhuan 左轉

Dissertation Information

Columbia University. New York. 2013. 359 pp. Primary Advisor: Feng Li.

Image: Gaoqing Site, Shandong; image taken by the author.

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