I only know the book because K.C. Chang mentioned it in his Shang Civilization, and it seemed interesting (plus a cheap copy was available). I’ve only begun to skim the first chapter; my real goal at this time is The Early Chinese Empires by Mark Edward Lewis, of which I have read the first two chapters—with mixed feeling.
In the preface McC. Adams writes, “The substance of this study was presented in April, 1965, as a third annual series of lectures at the University of Rochester in honor of Lewis Henry Morgan.” Of what importance this may be to anyone—possibly to “people in the know” —I know not; but, for my sake, noting it as a curiosity, I feel that some words of commemoration are due. In 1966, anthropology was yet a relatively young study, and the first chapter’s opening paragraph reflects this:
The generalizing, comparative study of the origins of early states has been an important research theme since before the emergence of anthropology as a conscious, distinctive intellectual approach. Indeed, the view that “savagery,” “barbarism,” and “civilization” form stages in a universal evolutionary sequence lay very close to the core of thought and speculation out of which anthropology arose. With the subsequent, increasingly conscious and refined, acquisition and analysis of both historical and ethnographic data, the deficiencies of this view became so strikingly apparent that for a long time the diversity of cultures received greater stress than their similarities. If today the tide has begun again to run in the opposite direction, perhaps at least a part of the explanation lies in the persuasiveness and vigor with which it has continued to be affirmed over the years that the early civilizations provide a significant example of broad regularities in human behavior.
McC. Adams begins with some exposition on the lecture series’ namesake, Mr. Morgan, critiquing, through him, some of the limitations of the older views or ideological frameworks through which anthropology approached data—critiquing but not in any case judging condemnatorially, rather justly appreciating—and suggesting how the study had evolved in its precepts:
In comparison with Morgan’s usage, there has emerged not merely a difference in terminology but a significant conceptual advance beyond his demarcation in terms of convenient, easily recognizable traits of successive stages in what he seems to have regarded as a preordained path of progress leading upward to civilization. The more recent view is one that, instead, focuses attention on the disjunctive processes of transformation connecting one qualitatively distinctive level of sociocultural complexity with another. In fact, for purposes of systematically comparing the seemingly parallel and largely independent processes of growth leading to the formation of early urbanized polities or states, the concept of major, successive organizational levels now seems perhaps the single most indispensible one. Such levels may be regarded as broadly integrative patterns whose basic functional relationships tend to remain fixed (or, at least, tend to occur in fixed sequences), while their formal, superficial features vary widely from example to example. Given the much greater variability in the occurrence of individual features associated with the Urban Revolution than Morgan was aware of, including even such seemingly basic attributes as the degree of urbanism in settlement patterns and the invention of writing, the employment of the concept of levels permits us still to proceed beyond the acknowledgement of diversity to the recognition of genuine evolutionary parallels.
The Han criticism of Qin as a creature of savage custom and of Qin law as an expression of barbaric local practices reached its apogee with the first great Han critic of Qin, Jia Yi, who wrote under Emperor Wen. His most celebrated discussion of Qin, “The Discursive Judgment Censuring Qin,” connected Qin’s terrain, its customs, and its rulers to one another and to its ultimate downfall.
But—because I can scarcely grasp the full import of Lewis’s argument—let me not say that I accept or refute his conclusions. I hardly know whereof I read.