UCLA's David Schaberg Wins Prize for Best Book on Pre-20th Century China


Cover of Prize-Winning Book, David Schaberg working with Asia Institute K-12 Teachers' Seminar

Association for Asian Studies 2003 Levenson Prize Awarded to David Schaberg's A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography.

On March 28, UCLA Professor David Schaberg received the 2003 Joseph Levenson Prize for the best study of 20th-century China. His work, A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography, was published by Harvard University Press. The Levenson Prize is the Association for Asian Studies' foremost award in Chinese studies.

A Patterned Past focuses on the rhetoric, narrative patterns, and intellectual content of two collections of historical anecdotes, the Zuozhuan and Guoyu. Prof. Schaberg argues that the coherence of these 4th century bce documents stems from the efforts of Confucian officials to offer a moralized interpretation of the past. They wanted these histories to guide the rulers they served or advised.

In making the award, the selection committee wrote:

"In A Patterned Past:  Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography, David Schaberg shows how intelligent individuals in early China strove to make sense of their historical experience.  The book's main sources are the Zuozhuan and the Guoyu, which jointly constitute pre-Imperial China's most important body of historical narrative. These texts portray members of a highly cultivated aristocratic social milieu manipulating language and shaping memory in a quest for the principles of ritually correct behavior. Schaberg shows masterfully how these protagonists formulated and presented their arguments in a competitive rhetorical arena. 
"The book, like its source texts, touches upon the full richness of pre-Imperial Chinese culture.  With its unique blend of historical, philological, and philosophical perspectives, it creates a new basis for understanding a crucial formative stage of Chinese intellectual history; and through its well-presented comparisons with Western traditions, above all
with ancient Greece, it opens up the world of the Zuozhuan and the Guoyu to readers from the Humanities and Social Sciences at large.  Scholars in and outside the China field will come away impressed by the author's erudition, his sophisticated command of his analytical instruments, his mastery of the elegant yet difficult language of the sources, and his own luminous writing."
Asked to comment upon the honor, Prof. Schaberg said, "Receiving the Levenson has been immensely gratifying.  But I hope that the award's significance goes further than that:  the field of early China studies is in the midst of a historic change in the sources available to it,
in its methods, and in the nature of its international scholarly exchanges. New work on both sides of the Pacific and in Europe is changing the way that the early Chinese past is being related to the history of the world; it's an exciting time.  If I'm not mistaken, the Levenson prize reflects some of that energy and excitement."

Prof. Schaberg took his bachelor's degree at Stanford University in 1986, completing a special comparative literature program exploring Chinese, Greek, and German literature. In 1996, he earned his doctorate at Harvard University, also in comparative literature (Chinese, Greek, and Latin). He joined the UCLA Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures in 1996 and is now an associate professor.

Prof. Schaberg's research agenda has not slowed. In fact, at the AAS meeting where he received the Levenson Prize, he also presented "Speaking of Documents: Shu Citations in Warring States Texts" as part of a panel on "Written Texts in Oral Contexts." In addition to AAS, Prof. Schaberg is an active member of the Society for the Study of Early China. His next book is tentatively titled Narration and Polemics in Early Chinese Thought.

Prof. Schaberg's colleagues at the Dept. of East Asian Languages and Cultures made him Director of Graduate Studies. Prof. Schaberg's research is highly regarded, but his classroom skills may be even more impressive. Both undergraduate and graduate students rave about his enthusiasm and energy in presenting material and helping students improve their own skills of analysis and communication. They report that he as earnest a listener as he is a speaker and that he is genuinely concerned with their ideas and questions. It is obvious that he puts an enormous amount of time into providing his students with insightful criticism. After 9/11, Prof. Schaberg was among the UCLA faculty who responded by developing special courses for the fall 2001 quarter to help students cope with the tragedy. This course, "Literature as Mourning," drew upon ancient Greek and Chinese works dealing with loss, sufferning, and mourning. This past quarter, Prof. Schaberg taught a fiat lux honors colloqium course "Chinese Strategies," described as "[a] reading of the early Chinese military classic, Sunzi's work on the art of war, with discussions of its place in philosophy and its relation to the martial arts novel, the gangster movie, and modern images of Asian masculinity."  

But scholars of early Chinese thought and history and UCLA students are not the only people to benefit from Prof. Schaberg's efforts. He is a regular presenter in Asia Institute-organized teacher training seminars both at UCLA and in school districts such as Walnut Valley, Rowland, and Hacienda La Puente. Drawing upon poems from the Book of Songs and other sources, Prof. Schaberg, has helped teachers grapple with early Chinese notions of love and beauty, as well as expressions of mourning. Prof. Schaberg has also worked with UCLA Extension to reach the wider public. Last November he organized and spoke in a symposium exploring "Symbols of Power" in China, that brought four distinguished scholars to UCLA and included a museum tour.

Leveraging the power afforded by the tools of the digital age to open new windows into the early Chinese world is among Prof. Schaberg's current aims. Together with UCLA Art History Professor Lothar von Falkenhausen and colleagues elsewhere, Prof. Schaberg is developing an online interactive database of early East Asian texts that will greatly enhance the ability of scholars and students to discover links among these works and their authors and will provide teachers and students with contextual materials (translations, glossaries, maps, images, and bibliographies).

Through his research and teaching, David Schaberg is helping many better understand the innovations of early Chinese philosophers and historians as well as the social and intellectual-cultural context in which they worked.

Click to read portions of the Introduction and Chapter Eight, "Writing and the Ends of History," of Prof. Schaberg's book.

Additional information:
Harvard University Press page on A Patterned Past
A spring 1999 profile of David Schaberg in UCLA Magazine
List of previous recipients of the AAS Levenson Prize (UCLA History Professor Philip C.C. Huang received the prize for 20th century China in 1992)
About the Levenson Prize
UCLA at the 2003 Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting

Published: Wednesday, April 02, 2003