Abstract and Keywords
This chapter gives a chronological sketch of China’s past as a real and imagined part of a culturally larger history. It addresses the significance of the historiographic paradigms of colonization and Sinicization, highlighting the literary genres and frontier contexts that complicate linear narratives of empire and literary practice. The final section on the “Polyscriptic Northwest” introduces the diversity of literatures in foreign scripts and languages that flourished alongside Literary Chinese texts in eastern Central Asia (China’s Northwest). Throughout the first millennium ce, mass migration across the politically polycentric Northwest led to different practices of acculturation. This included the adoption of non-Chinese and Chinese writing for religious and secular purposes. Given the traditional prestige of writing in China as a signifier of civilization (wen), this encounter with foreign (non-Sinographic) scripts, and not simply foreign languages, marks a watershed; hence the heuristic emphasis here on “polyscriptic” rather than multilingual.
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