Liang Cai

Liang Cai

Associate Professor

457 Decio
Ph.D., Cornell University
Time Period(s)
Empires & Colonialism, Intellectual, Political, Religious

Dr. Liang Cai has specialized in Chinese political and intellectual history. Focusing on Qin-Han dynasties(221 BCE -23 CE), the fountainhead of Chinese civilization, Dr. Cai’s publications cover Confucianism, bureaucracy, law, social networks, and archaeologically excavated manuscripts. Collaborating with computer scientists, Dr. Cai has been engaged in a digital humanities project that aims to create a structured biographical data and social network analysis of early Chinese empires. 

Among Dr. Cai’s other areas of research and teaching expertise are classical Chinese thought, China in world history, early imperial China, and legacy of Chinese empires in contemporary China and global communities.

Dr. Cai’s first book Witchcraft and the Rise of the First Confucian Empire contests long-standing claims that Confucianism came to prominence with the promotion of Emperor Wu in the Han dynasty. It was a witchcraft scandal in 91–87 BCE, she argues, that created a political vacuum and permitted Confucians to rise to power and transform China into a Confucian regime. Her book won the 2014 Academic Award for Excellence presented by Chinese Historians in the United States and was a finalist of 2015 Best First Book in the History of Religions presented by the American Academy of Religion. Dr. Cai is finishing her second book entitled Save the Empire from Serfdom?: Confucian Virtue, Emperor’s Law, and Convict Politics in Early Chinese Empires (221 BCE -23 CE). In the light of great divergence between East and West, this book attempts to answer a fundamental question in the formative age of Chinese bureaucratic empires ( 221 BCE -23 CE): could law or morality be sources of power independent from the government and thereby compete with political authority?

Selected Publications 

Witchcraft and the Rise of the First Confucian Empire.  Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2014. Pg. 300.  Paperback, 2015

“How Strong is Your Love for Your Parents? Childlike Mindset and Confucian Filial Piety,” the Bulletin of the Jao Tsung-I Academy of Sinology, forthcoming.

“Confucians, Social Networks, and Bureaucracy: Donghai 東海Men and Models for Success in the Western Han China (206 BCE–9 CE)”, Early China, 42(2019), 237-271.

“Western Han Dynasty,” in Routledge Handbook of Imperial Chinese History edited by Victor Cunrui Xiong & Kenneth J. Hammond, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge, 2019. pp. 25-38.

“The Hermeneutics of Omens: The Bankruptcy of Moral Cosmology in the Western Han China (206 BCE-8 CE),” The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, volume 25, issue 03 (2015), 439-459.

“When the Founder is Not a Creator: Confucius and Confucianism Reconsidered,” in Varieties of Religious Invention, edited by Patrick Gray, Oxford University Press, 2015. pp. 62-82.

“Excavating the Genealogy of Classical Studies in the Western Han Dynasty (206BCE-8 CE),” Journal of American Oriental Society, 131.3 (2011), 371-394.

“‘Who Said, ‘Confucius Composed Chunqiu’? the Genealogy of the ‘Chunqiu’ Canon in the pre-Han and Han Periods,” Frontiers of History in China, 5.3(2010): 363-385.