AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 504

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Session 504: Knowing Places: Cultural Geographies of Song China

Organizer: Ari Daniel Levine, University of Georgia, USA

Chair: Dagmar Schaefer, MPIWG, Germany

Discussant: Dagmar Schaefer, MPIWG, Germany

By interrogating how members of the Song literati elite experienced, navigated, and interpreted their senses of space and place, this panel explores new approaches to geographical knowledge in premodern China. We seek to analyze and critique how individuals encoded their experiences of spaces, how bodies of local and empire-wide knowledge about places were generated, how collective memory about sites was reproduced, and how imaginary landscapes could be mapped. Working with native terminologies and categories rather than social-science frameworks of dubious universality, each panelist examines how this geographical knowledge was culturally constructed, and circulated through discrete genres of literary and visual texts. Closely reading Southern Song ambassadors’ nostalgia-tinged descriptions of Jurchen-occupied Kaifeng, Ari Daniel Levine explains how they assimilated their subjective experiences of the city into a pre-conquest textual framework of geographical knowledge. Cong Ellen Zhang’s paper elucidates how discrete acts of naming government buildings created both local and empire-wide senses of place, and embodied the scholarly and political ideals of the literati who named them. Jeffrey Moser explicates two Southern Song thinkers’ divergent conceptions of cultural geography as indicative of larger intellectual trends, contrasting Wang Xiangzhi’s exclusively localist paradigm with Zhu Mu’s imagining of a broader, nationwide community. Through an exploration of the imagined landscapes of classical scholars, Martin Hofmann reveals how Song commentators on the “Tribute of Yu” employed maps to illustrate and resolve the text’s ambiguities, going as far as to create deliberately contradictory ones that depicted impossible geographies.

Welcome to the Occupation: Remapped Spaces and Transposed Memories in Southern Song Ambassadors’ Accounts of Jin-dynasty Kaifeng
Ari Daniel Levine, University of Georgia, USA

Aside from diplomats, after the Jurchen conquest 1127, few Southern Song subjects directly experienced the former capital of Kaifeng, beyond their own nostalgic or irredentist imaginings. Under the Song-Jin peace treaty of 1142, the two courts engaged in a regular exchange of embassies, allowing a select few southerners a rare glimpse of the occupied north. Passing through Kaifeng on a ritually prescribed path, ambassadors found a neglected, depopulated, and impoverished city, describing its destroyed and reconstructed urban spaces as metonyms for the dispiriting realities of the Jurchen occupation of the dynastic homeland. In this paper, I will analyze a set of late twelfth- and early thirteenth-century descriptions of Jin-dynasty Kaifeng, all of them written by men who had no direct personal memories of the city. Intended for an audience of literati peers, these private travel records assimilated and transposed their experiences of Jin Kaifeng into a pre-existing textual framework of geographical knowledge. Their authors shared a collective memory of its lost spaces, recognizing its rebuilt cityscape and ruined sites from pre-conquest textual accounts, and expressing disorientation about recent erasures and alterations. In their hands, Kaifeng’s urban spaces became legible not only for their survival under Jurchen rule, but for how far they deviated from textual representations of the pre-conquest past, evoking homelessness and nostalgia for a lost time and place.

Building Culture, the Culture of Building: A Study of Naming Song Government Office Compounds
Cong Zhang, University of Virginia, USA

The Song period (960-1279) witnessed a rapid increase in the number of landmark buildings and famous sites across the country, and many of these could be found in prefectural and county government office compounds. These ranged from main office halls to such accessory structures as pavilions, towers, and terraces. Extant local gazetteers show that most of these buildings survived decades, even centuries, and experienced multiple name change and renovation under different local administrators. These continuous, collaborative building, naming, and maintenance efforts elevated the fame of individual landmarks and that of the surrounding government office compounds as a whole. Literary representation and imagination played an especially significant role in this process. In their commemorative works, Song writers rarely elaborated on the functions and structures of their projects. Instead, naming and building structures within government office compounds were approached as ideal opportunities for these men to articulate their self-perception as Confucian gentleman, lofty scholars, and benevolent administrators. They accomplished this goal by identifying their projects as in harmonious existence with local scenery and in resonance with the words and deeds of celebrated figures in local history. This preoccupation with promoting these literati ideals resulted in the transformation of the office compounds from spaces for administration into embodiments of culture and virtue. As Song local gazetteers show, the same development also shaped local memory and contributed to the way local history was constructed.

One Land of Many Places: The Geographic Integration of Local Culture in the Southern Song
Jeffrey Moser, Brown University, USA

Of the various socio-cultural developments that scholars have attributed to the Southern Song, three of the most significant are the increasing commitment to local identification on the part of social elites, the transformation of Neo-Confucian moral learning from a local movement into national orthodoxy, and the solidification of a distinct ethno-national consciousness. This paper examines two texts—Wang Xiangzhi’s Yudi jisheng (1227) and Zhu Mu’s Fangyu shenglan (1239)—which, I argue, can help us to integrate these three developments into a more coherent narrative of the period as a whole. The limited existing scholarship on these two publications has, on the basis of their structural similarities and temporal proximity, tended to classify them together under the rubric “cultural geography.” In one sense, this classification is valid, as both texts are primarily composed of short entries on specific natural and man-made features of the Southern Song landscape. Close reading of the two texts suggests, however, that their authors perceived pursued the task of geographic compilation with distinct cultural agendas. Wang Xiangzhi embraced a localist paradigm that refused to privilege trans-regional communities or intellectual movements with national pretensions. Zhu Mu, on the other hand, integrated local geography into larger, statewide systems of communal identification. He did this by using geography as a matrix for plotting a nationally-shared literary imagination of place. In the process, he demonstrated how a literary canon could combat the centrifugal pull of localism, and how it therefore served both the interests of the state and the Neo-Confucian movement.

Cartographic Persuasion: Interpretations of the “Tribute of Yu” in Song Dynasty Maps
Martin Hofmann, University of Heidelberg, Germany

Throughout the Song dynasty (960-1279), the “Tribute of Yu” was one of the most intensely discussed chapters of the Book of Documents. Composed of only 1193 characters, this chapter provides a rather concise listing of predominantly geographical details. Yet, Song scholars were unable to identify several of these details with contemporary natural features. Therefore, they employed various argumentative strategies to provide explanations of the classical text and reconcile the geographical order of antiquity with that of the present. Whereas most scholars compiled in-depth commentaries, in some cases even separate treatises to explain the controversial passages, others chose to append intricate maps in order to clarify their interpretation. This paper will investigate the function of maps in the scholarly discourse on the “Tribute of Yu”. It proposes that these maps were used as a means of persuasion, supplementing, emphasizing, and clarifying textual statements or even explicitly repudiating the interpretations of former scholars. Rather than focusing on accuracy in terms of scale or spatial relations, Song scholars adjusted the outline of their maps and often relocated mountains, rivers, and borderlines in order to highlight specific issues of the debate. Some maps even deliberately depict contradictory or, at least in the eyes of their author, mistaken geographical settings to prove specific explanations wrong—truly unique items in the history of cartography.