Supplementary Material

Politics of Time on the Southwest Frontier of China’s Han Empire

ABSTRACT In this study of the Han imperial conquest of southwest China, I argue that time is a technique of political control in precapitalist empires and a source of power asymmetry that local subjects understood and actively sought to curtail. From the expansion of political economy to the invention of universal histories, imperial policies incorporate heterogeneous geographies and subjects into unified temporal frames, thus obscuring differences in social experience. Drawing from subaltern and colonial anthropologies, I argue that resistance to state time is neither restricted to modern colonialism nor realized only in moments of organized rebellions. Archaeological research from the southwest frontier of Han China highlights how native subjects, referred to as the Dian culture, enlisted the dead to detach ideas of personhood and political agency from imperial temporalities. A focus on the resurgence of former funerary practices not only provides an overlooked point of entry to local interventions in the temporality of social reproduction but also reveals how the making of biosocial contemporaneity entangled both imperial agents and frontier subjects. This study demonstrates archaeology’s contribution to a wider disciplinary engagement with the intersubjective or shared time of our subjects.


Objects of time-reckoning during the Han Dynasty. Han imports, such as this TLV-style bronze mirror (top left: 12.4 cm in diameter) buried in Shizhaizhan grave 13 and bronze Liubo chessboard (bottom left: 24 cm in width) from Heimajing in Gejiu, Yunnan, were inscribed with cosmological diagrams. The layout of a central square and radiating lines produce a diagram of day cycles—an arrangement of sixty binomes—within the Han calendar. These objects functioned as astro-calendrical devices. The Han monetary system introduced the minting of a succession of bronze wuzhu coins (top right) from 118 BC. These round coins were replaced in AD 9 with the introduction of bronze spade coins and a heavier round coin inscribed with the four characters “Da Quan Wu Shi” (bottom right). Coins shown here were excavated from Pingpo cemetery ground in Qujing, Yunnan.

Share this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *