This ambitious book looks into the reasons for the exceptional durability of the Chinese empire, which lasted for more than two millennia (221 B.C.E. - 1911 C.E.). Yuri Pines identifies the roots of the empire's longevity in the activities of thinkers of the Warring States period (453-221 B.C.E.), who, in their search for solutions to an ongoing political crisis, developed ideals, values, and perceptions that would become essential for the future imperial polity. In marked distinction to similar empires worldwide, the Chinese empire was envisioned and to a certain extent 'preplanned' long before it came into being. As a result, it was not only a military and administrative construct, but also an intellectual one. Pines makes the argument that it was precisely its ideological appeal that allowed the survival and regeneration of the empire after repeated periods of turmoil. "Envisioning Eternal Empire" presents a panoptic survey of philosophical and social conflicts in Warring States political culture. By examining the extant corpus of preimperial literature, including transmitted texts and manuscripts uncovered at archaeological sites, Pines locates the common ideas of competing thinkers that underlie their ideological controversies. This bold approach allows him to transcend the once fashionable perspective of competing 'schools of thought' and show that beneath the immense pluralism of Warring States thought one may identify common ideological choices that eventually shaped traditional Chinese political culture. The result is a refreshingly novel look at the foundational period in Chinese intellectual history.
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Yuri Pines is Michael W. Lipson Professor of Chinese Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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