Chang was writing pre-1980 (the year of its copyright), so, apart from his insight, his summation reflects the state of knowledge of his day. (Present day astronomical data and genetics would probably have simplified some of his surmises.) Time surely has confirmed him in the following:
The Three Dynasties (san tai 三代) period of Hsia, Shang, and Chou evidently was a crucial period in the ancient history of China: written records began in this period, the politics that eventually coalesced to form what we know as China first formed then, and the foundations for many customs and institutions found throughout Chinese history were laid down during this interval. Ever since the beginning of scientific archeology in the early decades of this century, many scholars have been expecting to see important contributions made by archeology to the history of the Three Dynasties period. With the important archeological discoveries of the last decade, such contributions are at hand.
I believe we are now at a stage where we can recognize some of the new directions in which Three Dynasties studies will be going. One of the issues worthy of pursuit that one sees emerging in the currently available data pertains to the formation of states in ancient China. It is now evident that two elements that have formed the cornerstone of our understanding of the Three Dynasties history are due for a basic overhaul. These are an emphasis on the vertical, successional relationship of the Three Dynasties, and the view of the Three Dynasty sequence of development as an island of civilization in the middle of a sea of barbarous contemporaries. Rethinking both old data and new data resulting from recent archeology has led me to conclude that these two views constitute important barriers to a true understanding of the ancient history of China. I am convinced that the concepts of the horizontal interrelationship of the three dynasties is key to the formation process of the ancient Chinese states.
In the Western imagination, China’s history has been inextricably linked to the notion of “empire.” But in fact, more than a millennium of Chinese history passed before anything resembling an empire ever existed. For centuries, six separate states battled for military supremacy, until in 221 B.C. the Qin dynasty defeated the last of its rivals and unified the country. Military conquest is only part of the imperial story, however. China owes its ability to endure across time, and to re-form itself again and again after periods of disunity, to a fundamental reshaping of Chinese culture by the earliest dynasties, the Qin and the Han. Politics and military institutions were reconfigured, of course. But so were literary and religious practices, kinship structure, village life, and even cityscapes.
Taken together, the Qin and Han empires constitute the “classical” era of Chinese civilization, as did the Greeks and Romans in the West.
It is curious, almost, and ironic, that Chang acknowledges having to transliterate (presumably from pinyin(?)) into Wade-Giles. Here of course, “in the modern,” Wade-Giles has been done away with. It is gross to put “Shang” and “Qin” into one sentence—I have made no secret elsewhere of my disdain for the abolishment of Wade-Giles—but one must “go with the flow” and so I must learn to accommodate myself. No matter how you slice or dice it, “Qin” is abominable; but this is one battle I have not the esfuerzas to wage.
It is even more curious—and I can’t conceive what might possibly be the reason (save for a kind of “dumbing down”)—but the Harvard series is all transliteration; nary a Chinese word is to be found, not even in the bibliography. Chang’s books, of course, are replete; and you would think the usage should be standard. Possibly Harvard Press did not want to scare away lay persons like myself with too many characters; but I resent their absence.
Edwards is a good writer; and perhaps the text is meant as only the most basic, generalized introduction. That is what I need, of course. So let me refrain from complaining too fiercely.