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Session 133: The Problem of North and South in Middle and Late Imperial Chinese Politics
Organizer: Seunghyun Han, Harvard University
Chair: Si-yen Fei, University of Pennsylvania
Discussant: Robert Hymes, Columbia University
Keywords: southerner, northerner, court politics, northern court, Jiangnan elite.
From the Song period on, the problem of north and south emerged as an important matter in the theater of court politics. It involved a whole range of issues such as the power struggle between northern and southern ministers, state attempts to curtail the dominance of the examination system by southerners, and state plans to promote economic and cultural development in the north. These issues entailed tensions and conflict between southern and northern officials, between the court and southern literati, or even between southern and northern states. This panel seeks to illuminate such dynamics of north-south politics from the perspective of both the state and the literati in the period from Southern Song to Qing dynasties, and to examine the changing meanings of the north and south in each historical time.
First, Hilde De Weerdt shows how the Southern Song court tried to curtail the flow of information about north China, then Jin territory, when the expansion of print culture inevitably made such attempts fruitless. Peter Ditmanson approaches the event of the 1313 Yuan adoption of Daoxue Neo-Confucianism from the standpoint of the northern court/Jiangnan literati rivalry over intellectual authority. Chang Woei Ong, based on his analysis of the discourse at the Ming court about Jiangnan, argues that such construction of stereotypical images of Jiangnan was politically maneuvered and mobilized to strengthen the state vision of building an ideal society.
Lastly, Seunghyun Han examines the ratio of northern/southern Han high court officials of the mid-Qing period and highlights the transition from the northerner-dominated last decades of Qianlong to the Jiaqing period when the court took on a distinctively southern color.
The Northern Homeland in Southern Song News and Publication Policies
Hilde De Weerdt, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
"The north" carried multiple meanings in twelfth-century Song political culture. In the geopolitical imagination of the literati, it stood for the lost terrain, the people and the cultural tradition of the Central Plains; its recovery ought to determine court policy. The north became the object for the gathering and the dissemination of news and printed materials. This paper investigates Song policies on the distribution of news and printed materials and argues that literati discourse on the northern homeland provided both the impetus for the systematization of publication policies and the reason behind their limited effect.
The Song court insisted on the need of strict government control over the spread of news into and from the north. It devised a set of policies to control information externally and internally. The court’s attempts to control and legally curtail the dissemination of current information about and for the north were directed at the appetite for news among the growing number of literati and commercial efforts to satisfy the demand. Literati discourse of the northern homeland fed the appetite for news and was a key feature of the imperialist identities of Song literati. The twelfth-century expansion of print culture amplified the dissonance between court policies and literati opinion about the north, a dissonance the court proved unable to contain despite the systemization of publishing regulations.
Ambiguous Victory: Southern Responses to the Adoption of Daoxue Neo-Confucianism at the Yuan Capital at Beijing
Peter Ditmanson, Colby College
This paper explores the responses of scholars in the Jiangnan region to the adoption of Daoxue Neo-Confucianism by the Mongol Yuan court at Beijing in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. This process began when a series of advisors to Qubilai Khan became interested in daoxue teachings in the 1240s. By the latter decades of the century, the scholar-statesman Xu Heng had become Qubilai’s leading Chinese advisor and one of the most prominent northern representatives of daoxue. When the Mongol court adopted daoxue teachings as the official curriculum for the restored civil service examinations in 1313, Xu Heng was posthumously granted sagely honors in the Confucian temple, the first since the Song master, Zhu Xi.
For daoxue advocates in the Jiangnan region, these developments marked a victory for their program over other scholastic traditions from the Jin and Southern Song dynasties. However, these changes also marked a degree of lost prestige and authority. Daoxue proponents in the south had developed independent and prestigious lineages of transmission of their teachings. With the adoption of daoxue by the court, the advocates of these lineages now saw their doctrinal authority overtaken by Beijing. With the promotion of the daoxue curriculum in the examination system, the private teachings of these lineages were promulgated and printed throughout the empire. The larger implications of this paper will shed light on the contending perceptions of scholarship and moral authority between north and south during the 13th and 14th centuries.
The "Problematic" Jiangnan in Ming Political Discourse
Chang Woei Ong, National University of Singapore
Since the great Tang-Song tradition which witnessed the rise of the south, there had been ongoing criticism from various groups on the people and culture of the region called the "south"—too much wealth, too many successful yet incompetent candidates in the civil examination, the riches too unruly, the custom too extravagant, the people’s character too weak but too cunning, the literati too ostentatious, etc. All these, it was argued, were harmful to the vision of building a world in which simplicity and honesty, among others, were to be the shared virtues.
This paper will demonstrate that, in the course of Ming history, the "south" became highly segregated, and many regions that were physically in south China were excluded from the "problematic south" in the political discussions and debates that took place in the court, and Jiangnan, literally meaning "the region to the south of the Yangzi River," came to be identified as the region where the bulk of the problems originated. The paper will also explore (1) the different contexts in which, and the various ways by which Jiangnan was conceived of as a problematic region in Ming political rhetoric and how the conceptions changed over time, (2) what measures were proposed or employed to solve the "problems," and (3) how these conceptions and measures were challenged by the defenders of Jiangnan. It will be argued that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the southern scholar-officials were among the harshest critics of the lifestyle of Jiangnan.
"Unavoidably of the Suzhou Clique": The Politics of North and South in the Mid-Qing Central Bureaucracy
Seunghyun Han, Harvard University
While Ho Ping-ti showed many years ago the regional variations of jinshi production during the late imperial period, the study of the geographic composition of high officials at court still remains underexplored. It is especially true for Qing, as scholarly focus has been directed to the examination of the ethnic composition of Manchu and Han officials, while the north/south distribution of Han officials, an age-old problem for emperors since the Song, has failed to attract much attention. In my paper, I analyze the geographic distribution of Han high officials in the mid-Qing period and argue that just as the ethnic ratio at court was shifting, so too was the composition of Han northerners and southerners in the highest echelons of the Qing bureaucracy.
Examining the number of Han high officials and the length of their service, I argue that the last decades of the Qianlong reign were markedly northerner-dominated, and that in the subsequent Jiaqing period this trend was reversed in favor of southerners. Among the southerners themselves, while Hangzhou was continuously rather well-represented in both the Qianlong and Jiaqing courts, Suzhou, a rival city in producing the highest number of jinshi, failed to produce any high central official in the second half of the Qianlong period. This unusual underrepresentation of Suzhou men at court changed in the early 19th century as the city resumed producing high central officials. This early 19th century "southern turn" in the central bureaucracy, I argue, should be understood in relation to other contemporary cultural phenomena that reflected the rise of the south-increased enshrinement of Jiangnan local worthies and the increased compilation of Jiangnan local gazetteers.