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Differences between Chinese and Western Scholars in the Study of Xia Culture: From the Perspective of Sarah Allan’s “The Myth of the Xia Dynasty”

China Social Science Review

No.3, 2020

 

Differences between Chinese and Western Scholars in the Study of Xia Culture From the Perspective of Sarah Allan’s “The Myth of the Xia Dynasty”

(Abstract)

Han Ding

Sarah Allan’s “The Myth of the Xia Dynasty” (1984) was important for Western research on the Xia. Among Chinese scholars, it has been much cited and often refuted. Allan argued that the written sources for the Xia dynasty constitute a series of structural oppositions to Shang myths: the Zhou justified their conquest of the Shang by historicizing the myths surrounding the Xia to support their concept of the Mandate of Heaven and thus the legitimacy of their conquest of the Shang. Despite the substantial differences in the study of Xia culture between China and the West, we can gain a basic understanding of the Western approach to Xia culture from Allan’s study. Western scholars generally believe that until empirical evidence based on written material from archaeological sites emerges, one should not link legends to archaeological finds without such evidence, but should rather “divide and rule;” archaeological sites’ association with the Xia should be the conclusion of research rather than its premise. However, the research premise of many Chinese scholars hypothesizes an association between written sources on the Xia and archaeological evidence on Erlitou culture. “Legends” have a certain basis in historical fact; the job of research is to discard the false and retain the true therein. The gulf between Chinese and Western research on Xia culture can be attributed to the lack of consistency in the theoretical basis of the two sides.