Command and commitment: terms of kingship in Western Zhou bronze inscriptions and in the Book of Documents
Grundmann, Joern Peter
What is usually referred to as Zhou kingship in early China studies are the symbolic forms of an enhanced politico-religious identity we find articulated in the Zhou grand narrative in numerous passages throughout transmitted and excavated literary sources. In other words, our understanding of the concept of Zhou kingship in the main mirrors the order of ideas which came to stand for the former in the early Chinese literary tradition (ca. 950 - 350 BCE). How this order relates to historical forms and practices of political organization and their concerns in Western Zhou elite society has so far not been considered systematically. The present study sets out to analyse the development of the model of Zhou kingship in literary sources from the context of the central issue of political organization addressed in elite Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, namely the conferral and the receipt of royal commands. Based on the analysis of the exchange of speech acts between king and appointee, it aims to show that kingship was first and foremost perceived in these sources as a relational framework within which the king and his allied elites defined their mutual dependency in terms of quasi patron-client relations. It argues that royal commands were not issued on the basis of pre-existent authority relations. Instead they called for the appointee‘s decision to assume a commitment on which the latter‘s participation in the institution of Zhou kingship ultimately relied. From this basic assumption, developed on the basis of texts from early to mid- Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, this study proceeds to analyse how the commemoration of the Zhou alliance‘s foundational origins as well as the elaboration of the ideology of the Heavenly Mandate in mid- to late Western Zhou bronze inscriptions and in the transmitted Book of Documents ultimately built around this contractual element, the dynamics of command and commitment. At the core there always stands a delegation of authority or a perpetuation of authority relations. Yet as we proceed into the mid- and late Western Zhou period, the terms of kingship begin to transcend the implicitness and immediateness of the formulae used to seal the conferral of royal authority in early to mid- Western Zhou bronze inscriptions as they were rendered explicit within a rhetoric of crisis and of motives. The present study describes this process as a transformation of the terms of kingship from the level of the constitutive bond formula onto the level of cultural meta-reflection. Lastly I will demonstrate how the concept of Zhou kingship delineated in this study was inextricably linked to the idea of the autonomous or self-determined individual as the basic unit in the conception of the Zhou ruling organization. Kinship and marriage alliance, as most scholars suggest, may have constituted the main factor in the overall cohesion of Western Zhou elite society, but at least on the discursive level retained in texts from bronze inscriptions, the autonomous individual, defined through the ability to reach political decisions and to assume commitments, forms the basic unit in the fabric of Western Zhou kingship understood as the sum of proto-political bonds. This point will be illustrated based on a set of concepts centred on the image of the heart (xin 心), most prominent among them de 德, that entered the idea of Zhou kingship in form of a rhetoric of commitment. Together, these three points provide a framework to understand the literary construct of Zhou kingship from the perspective of its institutional context and its early historical development.