Working with Sources in History

Ancient China


Analysing sources such as pictures, sculpture, photographes, excerpts from films, pieces of tet, objets and buildings is an important critical thinking skill in humanities.

Origin

First you need to find out where the source was made, when it was made, where it was made, and who made it.
You might also ask why it was made.
It is also useful to know something about the circumstances in which it was produced (if possible).

Purpose

When the investigations about the origins have been completed (to the best of your ability) you can decide whether the source will be useful for your purpose
What are you trying to find out by examining the source?

Value

A source needs to be evaluated (tested) to check how accurate it might be.
Is the source reliable (accurate)? The reliability of the evidence in a source can depend on what you want to use it for. It might be reliable in some parts and unreliable in others. Even if it is unreliable, a source might still be useful for some purposes. Reliability can often be checked by cross-referencing a source with other sources.
Is the source biased or does it contain some bias? When looking at sources, it is important to be able to distinguish between fact, opinion and judgment.

Limitation

What are the limitations of the source? Is it useful for the purpose of analysis?
Evaluation of a source involves assessing the limitations.
A source that experts might decide is biased or misleading could still have a use. Some sources might not be helpful for one task (and therefore, limited) but can be for another.
If the source is full of bias and opinion maybe it has limited use for the purpose.
If there are a number of sources and they contradict (disagree), the historian has to make a judgment on them, or state that there is doubt in the final account.
The historian's final story about the past is an interpretation based on the available evidence. However much material the historian has to work with, it is never possible to give a definitive answer to the question asked.

I - Introduction to Ancient China (Interrogating sources)


Source A - Gifts to the West


Invention
xxxxx
China
xxxxx
Europe
paper

2nd century BC

AD 1150
wheelbarrow

1st century BC

12 century AD
umbrella

4th Century BC

AD 1600
printing - block

8th century AD

AD 1423
printing - moveable type

11 century AD

AD 1456
playing cards and paper money

9th century AD

AD 1331 & 1661
segmental arch bridge

7th century AD

14th century AD
iron plough

6th century BC

18th century AD
chain pump

1st century AD

16th century AD
magnetic compass

4th century BC

AD 1190
kite

5th/4th century BC

AD 1589
gunpowder

9th century AD

AD 1330
silk

from about 1300 BC

AD 552-4
stirrup

3rd century AD

about AD 500

Source B - Maps


qin-dynasty-map1.jpg
han-dynasty-map2.gif
tang-dynasty-map1.gif
northern-song-dynasty-map1.gif
(Maps from http://www.chinatravel.com/china-map/ancient-china-maps/)

Source C


An artist's impression of the First Emperor of China. None of the pictures painted of him during his life time have survived.
(Ancient China Year 7 (MYP 1) Study Guide, Mrs. Davison, p. 8)
634823501574350000.jpeg

Questions (p. 7)

  1. Source A: Can you think of any reason(s) for the late adoption or discovery of Chinese inventions in Europe?
  2. Source B: Using the maps, explain what has happened to China between 221 BC and 1279 AD
  3. Source C: Where might the artist have gotten his information in order to make such a drawing of Emperor Zheng?





II - The Harshness of the Rule of the First Emperor (Interrogating sources)


Source A, p. 9

The Great Wall of China

external image greatwall.jpg


Source B, p. 10

Coins from four fo the warring States.

The round coin with the square hole was the money of the state of Qin which the First Emperor ordered all Chinee people to use.
(Ancient China Year 7 (MYP 1) Study Guide, Mrs. Davison, p. 10)

T_O_72008_3.jpg
banliangqin1.jpg
roundspadeobv.jpg
knife3a.jpg

Source C, p. 10

Bowl

Characters carved on a pottery measure from the reign of the First Emperor. They say: "As soon as he took power, the emperor ordered his ministers to get rid of variations in laws and in weights and measures. There doubt existed he set a single clear standard. In the twenty-sixth year of his reign ne empire is united and the...people enjoy peace."
(Ancient China Year 7 (MYP 1) Study Guide, Mrs. Davison, p. 10)

gs032.jpg

Source D, p. 10

LAW

Zheng standardizes the law

"In 221 BC the laws of Qin became the laws of the whole empire. All Chinese people therefore now lived by the same laws. If they broke the laws, they now suffered common punishments.

Qin law said that everybody was responsible for each other's good behaviour. Responsibility started in the family. Families were organized into groups of ten and had to report to the authorities any crime done within the group. If they did not report it, they had to share the wrong-doer's punishment when the crime was discovered. In addition, the wrong-doer was punished along with their father and their mother and families, and their wife or husband and their family. Hundreds of people therefore risked being punished for one person's crime."
(From a textbook printed in Britain in 1991)
(Ancient China Year 7 (MYP 1) Study Guide, Mrs. Davison, p. 10)

Source E, p. 11

ROADS

The roads of the time were described by a government official:
"He (The First Emperor) ordered the building of post-roads all over the empire...These highways were fifty feet wide, and a tree was planted every thirty feet along them. The road was made very thick and firm at the edges, and rammed down with metal hammers."
Chia Shan, Chih Yen (Words to the Point) 178 BC.
(Ancient China Year 7 (MYP 1) Study Guide, Mrs. Davison, p. 11)

Source F, p. 11

Written Language

"The greatest changes were made to the written language. Then, as now, the Chinese did not have an alphabet, so they did not write in words made of letters. Instead, they wrote in characters which combined pictures with ideas. However, not everybody wrote in the same way. many words had more than one character to represent them. Prime Minister Li Si was given the job of standardising them. He scrapped around a quarter of all the character then in use, leaving around 3,000 characters which he modernized and simplified. He also laid down rules for handwriting so that everyone wrote the same way. As a result, people who needed to write (for example, government officials, merchants and scholars) could now communicate more easily with each other."
(From a textbook printed in Britain in 1991)
(Ancient China Year 7 (MYP 1) Study Guide, Mrs. Davison, p. 11)

Questions (p. 11)

  1. Source F: Why did Zheng reduce the number of characters in the Chinese system of writing ?
  2. Source D: Why did Zheng think that by making whole families responsible for the behaviour of a single member that there would be fewer crimes?
  3. If you were a professional historian writing about Zheng's rule, which would be of more genuine value to you - Source E or Source F? Justify aour answer.
  4. Using Sources A to F, explain the things that Zheng did to strengthen China. (Write your answer like this: "In Source A, I can see the Great Wall and this strengthened Chiina because...." etc..



III - The Execution of the Scholars (Interrogating sources)


Source A, p. 12

Painting of the burning of books

BurningOfTheBooks.jpg

Source B, p. 13

"The Scholars, spreading the news among themselves, thmselves weeded out some 460 of their number who had violated the prohibition. These were all buried alive at Xianyang."
Sima Qian, Shi Ji (Historical Records), about 100 BC, translated by M. Giles in China Review, 1889.
(Ancient China Year 7 (MYP 1) Study Guide, Mrs. Davison, p. 13)

Source C, p. 13

"The body of literates (scholars) made enquiries one from the other and ended by expelling from their body over 460 individuals guilty of this misdemeanour (crime),. All of whom were butchered at Xianyang."
Translated by M. E. H. Parker, China Review, 1889.
(Ancient China Year 7 (MYP 1) Study Guide, Mrs. Davison, p. 13)

Source D, p. 13

"The story has often been made more gruesome by interpreting keng, the word used to desciribe the deaths of the scholars, as meaning 'buried alive'. The word probably really means put to death rather than to bury (either dead or alive)... Used as a noun, keng means 'pit'. This is the basis for the argument that it means 'to bury' or even 'to bury alive'. However, keng (as a verb) really means only to destroy or 'put to death'."
Derk Odde, The State and Empire of Qin, in the Cambridge History of China, volume 1, 1986.
(Ancient China Year 7 (MYP 1) Study Guide, Mrs. Davison, p. 13)

Questions (p. 13)

  1. Using Source A, explain what is shown in various parts of the picture.
  2. Why did the Emperor order the execution of the scholars?
  3. Sources B and C give differing accounts of the events. However, what do they both agree happened to the scholars?
  4. Using Source d, explain why historians have given different accounts of the execution of the scholars.

(You can read about the original text, Records of the Grand Historian, also known by its Chinese name Shiji (Chinese: 史記; pinyin: Shǐjì; literally "Historical Records"), written from 109 to 91 BC, by Sima Qian, on WIkipedia.





From the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Pendant in the form of a knotted dragon, Eastern Zhou dynasty (770–256 B.C.), 3rd century China Jade (Nephrite) H. 3 1/8 in. (7.9 cm), W. 2 1/16 in. (5.2 cm) Gift of Ernest Erickson Foundation Inc., 1985 (1985.214.99)
Pendant in the form of a knotted dragon, Eastern Zhou dynasty (770–256 B.C.), 3rd century China Jade (Nephrite) H. 3 1/8 in. (7.9 cm), W. 2 1/16 in. (5.2 cm) Gift of Ernest Erickson Foundation Inc., 1985 (1985.214.99)


Female Dancer, Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.–9 A.D.), 2nd century B.C. China Earthenware with slip and pigments H. 21 in. (53.3 cm) Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)
Female Dancer, Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.–9 A.D.), 2nd century B.C. China Earthenware with slip and pigments H. 21 in. (53.3 cm) Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)


Also see the Chinese Han Lacquer Cup at the British Museum site.