We will write a custom Critical Writing on Records of Literacy in Qin and Early Han Dynasties specifically for you
301 certified writers online
Purpose and Context of the Text
The main aim of the text is, according to the author, to review the records of literacy among the lower orders during the Qin and early Han dynasties. Although it is not clear to what extent the members of the lower orders could be considered ‘literate’ and what graphs and signs they could recognize, Yates argues that literacy was demanded from the state so that the lower orders could be able to understand specific documents and ideologies (341).
Moreover, literacy was also used by the resistance groups who approached it as a source of power (Yates 341). The text is written for students and scientists who are already familiar with the history of Early China, and, preferably, at least partially understand Chinese, since the author provides quotations from the original text (translations are added too). The text also focuses on previous studies of Early China, e.g. disputes with the work of Mark Edward Lewis.
As the author states, there is not enough evidence of what was understood by ‘literacy’ during the period of the Early Chinese Empire, so Yates tries to provide new information about it (340). The research was completed in 2011 and refers to the articles written in the 1990s and 2000s. Thus, much new information is provided.
The Kinds of Reasoning
The text is divided into several parts, where the author examines different pieces of evidence from the book Mozi, scribes (legal documents), reports and letters from soldiers, and state documents directed to women of lower orders. Yates’ theory is based on the evidence that suggests members of the lower order could read and write, although to a limited extent. The chapter begins with a suggestion that is examined in the sections mentioned above (Yates 341).
Yates proceeds, introducing the first evidence from the book Mozi. The next extensive chapter is devoted to the scribes, legal documents that bureaucracy operated with. Yates also presents the brief history of the scribes and their role in the life of the citizens and the state (345). In this section, Yates examines and analyses several documents that had various functions, but all confirmed that lower orders needed writing and reading skills to communicate with the authorities. In the section named ‘Soldiers’, Yates presents evidence in the form of military reports and letters that soldiers wrote during their duty. Yates concludes that soldiers also possessed writing and reading skills, although they were limited, enough to fill out a report (362).
Women from the lower orders were also literate to some extent since they were able to understand or edit some of the documents that belonged to them or their husbands (Yates 366). Thus, Yates can conclude from the evidence he presented. The logic of these conclusions is clear, but not all sources are valid enough to support Yates’ conclusions. At the end of the chapter, Yates provides a conclusion briefly summarizing the results of his analysis.
Evidence in the Text
Yates approaches different pieces of evidence to support his theory. In the first section, he examines the chapters from the book Mozi, which could be considered literary evidence, although it does document the life of the lower orders and provides detailed descriptions of their life. However, this book was badly damaged, and not all chapters of it were found, so the accuracy of this source remains partly doubtful. The next texts, i.e. scribes, military reports, and letters from soldiers, as well as statutes addressed primarily to women and their households are historical evidence.
The main advantage of the evidence that Yates uses in his text is that he provides the original, Chinese texts or abstracts from the texts too. Thus, readers can get acquainted with the primary sources without any mediator. However, for those who are not able to read the original texts, Yates provides accurate and correct translations.
The sources Yates uses are primary, although he also refers to studies of other scholars to support his views.
Although the arguments Yates uses are strong, the author himself states that the evidence he provides might be circumstantial; it is also not clear how ‘literate’ the ordinary people were. Supposedly, they possessed basic skills in writing and reading; some of them could read and complete more complicated texts than the others (Yates 345). The method of analysis seems to be unproblematic, although the author often refers to his works to support some of the evidence.
More diversity in sources would improve the text’s credibility. Judging by the title of the chapter, a reader will imply that scribes and military evidence, as well as the evidence from female members of the lower orders, will be extensively presented; nevertheless, the author focuses mostly on the scribes, leaving several pages of analysis to letters from soldiers and women’s literacy. It is comprehensible since scribes provide the biggest amount of historical data. However, the expectations of a reader may not be satisfied because of the partly misleading title of the chapter.
Yates, Robin DS. “Soldiers, Scribes, and Women: Literacy among the Lower Orders in Early China.” Writing and Literacy in Early China: Studies from the Columbia Early China Seminar. Ed. Li Feng and David Prager Branner. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2011. 339-369. Print.