Good Days and Bad Days Echoes of the Third-Century BCE Qin Conquest in Early Chinese Hemerology

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Ethan Harkness



This article presents an in-depth study of a constellation of interrelated texts trans- mitted in three Chinese rishu 日書 (“daybook”) manuscripts dating from the third to first centuries BCE. All of the manuscripts have an archaeologically verified provenance in the central Yangtze River Valley region of the former Warring States kingdom of Chu, and taken together they reveal in unusual detail the effects, both intentional and possibly unintentional, of Qin assimilation policies after the transfer of authority beginning with the conquest of the Chu capital in 278 BCE . These effects are shown to reverberate for millennia in China’s rich tradition of hemerology and related technical arts, and by doing so, they weave a surprising human tapestry connecting nameless diviners, minor officials of the early empire, the First August Thearch of Qin, Mongols, Manchus, and others . Methodologically, it is suggested that despite the idiosyncratic nature of these manuscripts, productive analysis of structural elements remains possible and worthwhile.

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