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Local chronicles of Yue culture

XU JIJUN | 2022-12-08 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

A Special Chronicle of the Yue Culture 

Lead editor: The Compilation Committee of Zhejiang General Chronicles 

The Yue people were an ancient ethnic group that emerged in the lands of present-day Zhejiang Province. The Yue State (20th century–222 BCE) was the first kingdom in Zhejiang history to be mutually verified by a large number of historical documents and unearthed cultural relics. The Yue culture is a major root of modern Zhejiang culture. The Yue State was historically famous for the story of “King Goujian sleeping on the brushwood and tasting the gall,” a metaphor for hard work to achieve one’s aims, and composes an important part of the Chinese national spirit. 

A Special Chronicle of the Yue Culture gives a comprehensive description of the Yue culture from its material, spiritual, and institutional aspects. It systematically elaborates on the entire development process of the Yue culture, from its origin, development and prosperity, to decline. It clarifies Yue’s other name “Yuyue,” the origin of the ethnic group and its name, its relationship with neighboring ethnic groups, the source of the Yue aristocratic ruling group, and the relative network of the Yue culture. 

The book tries to offer original and objective views on the Yue culture. The Yue State was originally built by the Yuyue people in southern China. Ancestors in Zhejiang combined their creativity with the advanced ideas from others to achieve considerable local development. They competed and integrated with other ethnic groups, participated in the first great unification of Chinese history and culture, and jointly created the “axial age” of Chinese civilization in which a great many classics were born. 

From the late Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BCE) to the early and middle stages of the Warring States Period (476–221 BCE), as the Yue rose to become a major state in southeastern China, its handicraft industry flourished, establishing the foundation of the industry of historical classics in Zhejiang. The commerce of the Yue State integrated the advantages of official and private businessmen, improved the state’s leading position in commerce, and maximized commercial interests while paying attention to social benefits. 

The key to the political success of the Yue State was King Goujian’s “attempting to launch every possible reform in order to revenge on the Wu State.” The comprehensive reform encompassed political reform, as well as military and diplomatic affairs. Political reform was centered on but not limited to the “five policies,” which were recorded in Yuegong Qishi [Records of King of Yue]. 

Carvings of the Yue State are introduced in the book, and they focus on the “coolie” or the slave class, which was the lowest and most extensive in Yue society. Their works convey the inner rhythmic beauty implied by strong images and heavy work, and demonstrate the “thematic transmission from deity to man” and “discovery of human value” in Chinese art history. 

Xu Jijun is a research fellow from the Institute of History at the Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences.