Virtual Lecture: Heng Du, "Exploring Textual Dating and Its Implications" (On Altars of Soil Lecture Series)

Nick Vogt Discussion

As part of the lecture series "On Altars of Soil: Unearthing New Narratives in Early Chinese History," the Indiana University East Asian Studies Center Colloquium, with the co-sponsorship of the Tang Center for Early China, presents the following virtual lecture on Friday, February 25, 2022 from 12 noon to 1:15 PM EST:

"Exploring Textual Dating and Its Implications"

Heng Du, University of Arizona

By addressing the meanings and implications of textual dating, this talk resumes an earlier conversation on the question of textual identity from the lecture series “On Altars of Soil.” As Christopher Foster has insightfully articulated, encounters with archaeological and manuscript evidence challenge scholars to reimagine the nature of texts. By synthesizing scholarship from different fields produced in the aftermath of “manuscript turns,” I propose a more descriptive and generalizable approach to the dating of texts, which is predicated on an alternative approach to the mapping of relationships between the dating of an individual witness (e.g., a manuscript) and what is conventionally thought of as the dating of a text (e.g., the publication date of Mrs. Dalloway or the dating of the Analects). The latter, I suggest, usually does not indicate the timing of a text’s origination, but that of its finalization—in other words, a moment of transformation in how a text is disseminated, transmitted, and interpreted within a specific social context. I will turn to the early histories of texts such as the Laozi and Zhuangzi as test cases.


Heng Du, Assistant Professor in the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona, is a book historian specializing in the study of Early China. Her current book project, Paratext and the Transformation of Early Chinese Writings, expands the concept of “paratext” to locate the redactional intentions of the nameless thinkers and compilers involved in manuscript production. She is also interested in the comparative study of book cultures in the ancient world. Of her existing publications, the article that holds particular relevance to this talk is “The Author’s Two Bodies: The Death of Qu Yuan and the Birth of Chuci Zhangju.” T’oung Pao 105 (2019): 259–314.

To register for the lecture, please visit:

For additional information on the On Altars of Soil series, please visit the initiative website at or contact the organizers, Glenda Chao (Ursinus College) and Nick Vogt (Indiana University), at: onaltarsofsoil (at) We look forward to hearing from you!

The On Altars of Soil series is sponsored by the East Asian Studies Center at Indiana University; the College Arts and Humanities Center, Indiana University; and the Tang Center for Early China, Columbia University.