Not Seeing Like an Emperor: The Ambiguity of Trust in Early China
Trenton Wilson - Postdoctoral Associate in East Asian Studies and Lecturer in History
This talk examines debates about the visibility and invisibility of the emperor and imperial institutions as a site for thinking about the meaning of trust (xin) in early China. I argue that these debates can be fruitfully organized around two paradigms, what I call the invisible seer paradigm and the visibly blind paradigm. These two paradigms organize many discussions, but this talk will focus on two sites: ritual and law. In both places there was a struggle to articulate the proper balance between sight and blindness revealing the ambiguity of xin in early China.
Trenton Wilson is a scholar of early Chinese intellectual and political history. His dissertation, “Empire of Luck: Trust and Suspicion in Early China,” examines political and ethical debates around institutional trust in the Qin and Han empires. He is especially interested in problems of bureaucracy, surveillance, amnesty, fate, and luck in discussions of early Chinese institutional design. He is also interested in the development of Han classicism, classical commentary, and intellectual culture the early and medieval periods. In his research, he uses excavated materials, excavated administrative documents, and other excavated manuscripts. In 2017-2018, he spent a year reading excavated materials at the Center for Bamboo and Silk Manuscripts at Wuhan University.
Wilson received a B.A. in East Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Kansas in 2009, an M.A. in Chinese Philosophy from Peking University in 2012, and a Ph.D. in History from University of California, Berkeley in 2021.
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