David N. Keightley

Professor Emeritus
Research Interests: 

David Keightley studied the origins of Chinese civilization in the Neolithic and early Bronze Ages, employing the archaeological and inscriptional evidence. He had a particular interest in the formation of political and religious culture—ancestor worship, divination, and the development of bureaucracy—viewed in cross-cultural perspective.

Representative Publications: 


Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978; 2d ed. and paperback, 1985.

[Editor]. The Origins of Chinese Civilization. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

The Ancestral Landscape: Time, Space, and Community in Late Shang China (ca. 1200-1045 B.C.) Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California at Berkeley, 2000.

Review Articles:

"Religion and the Rise of Urbanism." Journal of the American Oriental Society 93 (1973):527-538

"Where Have All the Swords Gone?: Reflections on the Unification of China." Early China 2 (Fall 1976):31-34

"Ping-ti Ho and the Origins of Chinese Civilization." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 37 (1977):381-411.

"Akatsuka Kiyoshi and the Culture of Early China: A Study in Historical Method." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 42 (1982):139-192.

"Shang China is Coming of Age: A Review Article." Journal of Asian Studies41 (1982):549-557

"Oracle-Bone Collections in Great Britain: A Review Article," Early China 14 (1989):173-82. (Chinese translation in Chung-guoshi yen-chiu dong-tai 1991.7:20-24.)

"Sources of Shang History: Two Major Oracle-Bone Collections from the People's Republic of China," Journal of the American Oriental Society110.1 (1990):39-59.

"Graphs, Words, and Meanings: Three Reference Works for Shang Oracle-Bone Studies, With an Excursus on the Religious Role of the Day or Sun." Journal of the American Oriental Society 117.3 (1997):507-24.


"On the Misuse of Ancient Chinese Inscriptions: An Astronomical Fantasy." History of Science 15 (1977):267-272

"Space Travel in Bronze Age China?" The Skeptical Inquirer 3.2 (Winter 1978):58-63

"The Religious Commitment: Shang Theology and the Genesis of Chinese Political Culture." History of Religions 17 (1978):211-224

"The Bamboo Annals and Shang-Chou Chronology." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 38 (1978):423-438

"The Late Shang State: When, Where, and What?" in Keightley, ed., The Origins of Chinese Civilization (1983):523-564

"Late Shang Divination: The Magico-Religious Legacy." In Henry Rosemont, Jr., ed., Explorations in Early Chinese Cosmology. Journal of the American Academy of Religion Studies 50.2 (1984):11-34

"Zhongguo zhi zhengshi zhi yuanliu: Shang wang zhanbu shifou yiguan zhengchue? (The Origins of Orthodox Historiography in China: Were the Shang Kings Always Right?)." Guwenzi yanjiu 13 (1986):117-128

"Archaeology and Mentality: The Making of China." Representations 18 (Spring 1987):91-128.

"Prehistory" and "The First Historical Dynasty: The Shang." The New Encyclopedia Britannica: Macropaedia (Chicago 1987) 16:62-67

"Shang Divination and Metaphysics," Philosophy East and West 38.4(October 1988):367-397

"Zhongguo gudai di jiri yu miaohao (Lucky Days and Temple Names in Ancient China)." Yinxu bowuyuan yuankan (1989):20-32

"The Origins of Writing in China: Scripts and Cultural Contexts," in Wayne M. Senner, ed., The Origins of Writing (University of Nebraska Press,1989):171-202

"Craft and Culture: Metaphors of Governance in Early China." Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Sinology. Section on History and Archaeology (Taipei, 1989)31-70

"Early Civilization in China: Reflections on How It Became Chinese." In Paul S. Ropp, ed., Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization (University of California Press, 1990):15-54.

"Clean Hands and Shining Helmets: Heroic Action in Early Chinese and Greek Culture." In Tobin Siebers, ed., Religion and Authority (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993): 13-51.

"Chinese Religions--The State of the Field: Part I, Early Religious Traditions: The Neolithic Period Through the Han Dynasty (ca. 4000B.C.E.-220 C.E.): Neolithic and Shang Periods." JAS 54.1 (1995):128-45.

"A Measure of Man in Early China: In Search of the Neolithic Inch."Chinese Science 12 (1994-95): 16-38.

"Art, Ancestors, and the Origins of Writing in China." Representations56 (Fall 1996): 68-95.

"Shamanism, Death, and the Ancestors: Religious Mediation in Neolithic and Shang China (ca. 5000-1000 B.C.)" Asiatische Studien 52.3 (1998):763-831.

"The Environment of Ancient China." In Michael Loewe and Edward L. Shaughnessy, eds., The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C. New York, Cambridge University Press,1999. Pp. 30-36.

"The Shang: China's First Historical Dynasty." In Michael Loewe and Edward L. Shaughnessy, eds., The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. 232-91.

"At the Beginning: The Status of Women in Neolithic and Shang China." Nan nü: Men, Women and Gender in Early and Imperial China 1.1 (1999):1-62.

"Theology and the Writing of History: Truth and the Ancestors in the WuDing Divination Records." Journal of East Asian Archaeology 1.1-4 (1999):207-30.

"The Diviners' Notebooks: Shang Oracle-Bone Inscriptions as Secondary Sources." In Actes du Colloque International Commemorant le Centenaire de la Dcouverte des Inscriptions sur Os et Carapaces; Proceedings of the International Symposium in Commemoration of the Oracle-Bone Inscriptions Discovery. Eds. Yau Shun-chiu and Chrystelle Marchal. Paris: Editions Langages Croiss, 2001. Pp. 11-25.

"The 'Science' of the Ancestors: Divination, Curing, and Bronze-Casting in Late Shang China." Asia Major 14.2 (2001):143-87. Special Volume in Honor of the Eightieth Birthay of Michael Loewe.

"Epistemology in Cultural Context: Disguise and Deception in Early China and Early Greece." In Early China/Ancient Greece: Thinking Through Comparisons, eds. Steven Shankman and Stephen Durrant. Albany, State University of New York Press, 2002. Pp. 119-53.

"The Making of the Ancestors: Late Shang Religion and Its Legacy." In John Lagerwey, ed., Chinese Religion and Society: The Transformation of a Field. Vol. 1. Hong Kong: cole Francaise d'Extrme-orient and the Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2004. Pp. 3-63.