AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 386

[ Interarea/Border-Crossing Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 386: The Politics of Marriage in Premodern East Asia

Organizer: Christopher S. Agnew, University of Dayton, USA

Discussant: Elizabeth E. VanderVen, Independent Scholar, USA

This panel will focus on the political function of marriage practices in East Asia in order to elaborate on how marriage served to advance the social and economic interests of elite and non-elite groups and how it reflects the adaptive strategies of social groups in periods of political upheaval and transition. The panel will explore how marriages crossed political boundaries and ethnic categories in ways that challenge certain tropes of nationalist historiography, and by highlighting moments of particular turbulence, the papers will suggest how marriage practice can serve as a salient interpretive device for illuminating the dynamics of rapid social and political change in East Asia. The first two papers challenge the nationalization of the historiography of Korean-Chinese relations by using marriage to undermine tropes of resistance and loyalty. Ping Yao’s paper examines the marriage practices of the elite of the conquered states of Paekche and Koguryo to argue that we can read from this a narrative of resistance and eventual accommodation to Tang hegemony. Sunhee Yoon’s paper argues that examining commoner marriage practices in seventeenth-century northeast Asia challenges a dominant historiography of Choson-Ming-Manchu relations structured around nationalist discourses of loyalty and resistance. Christopher Agnew’s paper on the marriage politics of the descendants of Confucius during the Ming and the Qing argues that an analysis of the patterns of marriage alliances reveals the shifting strategies used by this lineage to ensure the propagation of social power in both regional and central state administrations.

Family Politics and Marriage Strategy of Korean Noble Families in Tang Dynasty China (618-907)
Ping Yao, California State University, Los Angeles, USA

With the help of Silla, the Tang military forces conquered Paekche in 660 and Koguryo in 668. A huge number of Royal and elite families in these two kingdoms either surrendered or were captured and forced to resettle in the Tang empire. Tang epitaphs, especially the recently published ones, shed a light on how family politics and marriage strategies played out among these Korean nobles, and how ideals of family, marriage, loyalty, and filial piety were redefined and manifested. This paper will examine epitaphs of four such noble Korean families, Heichi, Fuyu of Paekche, and Gao, Quan of Koguryo. The tales of these families all point to an efficacious transformation: early hesitance and resistance soon gave way to eagerness for integration and advancement. By the third generation, these Korean families had produced top Tang generals, Tang royal consorts, and managed marrying into the most prominent Tang clans.

Marriage and Loyalty in Seventeenth-Century Chosŏn Korea
Sun-Hee Yoon, Loyola Marymount University, USA

The regional political changes that took place in East Asia in the seventeenth century led to the formation of marriage ties that extended beyond the usual ethnic and territorial boundaries. The insights gained from focusing on these marriages allow us to understand better the sociohistorical realities of that period and enable us to situate better the perspective of the official sources in which we find most of the information. Contrasting with official Choson sources that project the image of Choson resistance to “barbarian” Manchus and unflinching loyalty to the Ming, literary sources includes anecdotal evidence that suggests that the situation was far more nuanced. I propose to examine a number of cases of “multi-ethnic” marriages as a way of rethinking some of our assumptions about the formation of the Qing empire. I will use cases that demonstrate that these marriages led to the development of social and economic relations that did not fit the dominant trope of resistance and loyalty. I will then show that current scholarly modes of interpretation of that period tend to adapt the official Choson position to modern nationalist discourse. I propose to end my presentation by outlining new interpretative possibilities that pay closer attention to complexity and nuance.

Marrying Confucius’ Kin: Marriage and Politics in Qufu
Christopher S. Agnew, University of Dayton, USA

Marriage alliances are suggestive of the long term shifts in the political needs of elite families. The Kongs of Qufu, the recognized descendants of Confucius in late imperial China, sought to cultivate political alliances by marrying their ducal heirs to the daughters of other elite families. These marriage alliances were an important means through which the descendants of Confucius negotiated their particular ritual and symbolic position to construct political connections that facilitated the expansion of their socioeconomic power in western Shandong. The social position of the families that Kongs married changed periodically from the fourteenth through the eighteenth centuries, particularly in periods of social turmoil and dynastic crisis. This paper will examine marriage in Qufu in several ways. First, it will detail the marriage relations of Kongs in the Ming and Qing periods in order to track changes in influence. Second, the paper will detail how marriage relations impacted the internal power structure in Qufu by enabling contending family factions to solidify their positions with outside political support. Finally, the paper will discuss the ways in which marriage was represented by the articulators of Kong lineage ideology.