Although long considered to be a barren region on the periphery of ancient Chinese civilization, the southwest massif was once the political heartland of numerous Bronze Age kingdoms. Their distinctive material tradition-intricately cast bronze kettle drums and cowrie shell containers-have given archaeologists and historians a glimpse of the extraordinary wealth, artistry, and power exercised by highland leaders in prehistory. After a millennium of rule however, imperial conquest under the Han state reduced local power, leading to the disappearance of Bronze Age traditions and a fraught process of assimilation. Instead of a clash between center and periphery or barbarism and civilization, The Ancient Highlands of Southwest China examines the classic study of imperial conquest as a confrontation of different political times. Alice Yao grounds an archaeological account of the region where local landscape histories and funerary traditions bring to light a history of competing elite lineages, warrior cultures, and of kingly genealogies. In particular, this book illustrates how buried precious material objects-drums, ornate weaponry, and cowries-enabled the transmission and memorialization of biographies and lineage wealth across successive generations. A provocative picture emerges of imperial absorption and change as a problem entangling the generational time of highland leadership and its political cycles and the penetration of Chinese dynastic history as well as time of bureaucracy and state economy. Yao extends conventional approaches to empires to show how prehistoric forms of temporal experience can complicate imperial efforts to incorporate and unify time.