Book Review: Forming the Early Chinese Court: Rituals, Spaces, Roles By Luke Habberstad. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017. xii + 240 pp. $30.00 (cloth).

Research output: Journal PublicationsReview article


The history of the Han empire is at once familiar and strange. It is familiar because we actually do know a fair amount about what happened. Most histories of the Han are a rehearsal of essentially the same sequence of events—the legendary battle between Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, imperial consolidation of Emperor Wu, rise of a Confucian elite, the interregnum of Wang Mang, and so forth—all of which are documented in well-preserved contemporary records. It is also strange, however, because we actually understand so little of it. Bearing the burden of being the grand beginning of imperial China, the Han has long had a historiography shot through with nationalist foundational myths, of one variety or another, that are less concerned with how the Han historically came to be than how it participated in the invention of China in hindsight. This is a type of historiography that is less interested in why a certain event happened, than in the simple fact that it did happen; narratives of Han history are therefore often mere chronological collections of events, intended mainly for historical identification rather than historical understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-219
JournalJournal of Chinese History
Issue number1
Early online date29 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020



  • Han empire
  • Early China
  • Early imperial China
  • Political history
  • Intellectual history
  • Rituals
  • Space
  • Imperial capital

Cite this