AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 170

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Session 170: The Tang Empire as a Universal Northern Model

Organizer: Peter Ditmanson, University of Oxford, USA

Chair: Naomi Standen, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

Discussant: Naomi Standen, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

This panel explores the Tang Empire (618-907 CE) and Tang Taizong (r. 626-49) in particular as a significant model for later non-Han northern states. Recent scholarship has focused upon the multi-ethnic facets of the Tang Empire and its strong links to its non-Chinese neighbors. With its vast geographic reach, with a political and economic base in the northern regions of “China,” it provided a useful universal template for the formation of states that were not based upon a Han ethnic identity. This panel thus revisits the discussion of the sinicization of states that bordered upon or conquered Chinese territory, examining the place of the Tang in political and cultural discourse. To what extent were Tang-style institutions perceived to be Chinese? In what ways were Tang political and cultural precedents used? Hsu’s paper examines the ways in which Tang models of the civil service examinations were considered in the early years of the Liao (907-1125) and Jin (1115-1234) courts. Vivier explores the circulation of the ‘Essentials of Government’ of Tang Taizong in Inner Asia. Ditmanson examines the Tang as a statecraft model among Han advisors in the Mongol Yuan court (1271-1368). D’Haeseleer explores the image of Tang Taizong in Korean historiography, starting with the 645 military campaign against Koguryo. In exploring this discourse on Tang culture and institutions, this panel examines the larger issues underlying the processes of state formation and the evolution of cultural identity in that shaped the geo-political framework of northeast Asia from the tenth century on.

From the Tang Way to the Jin Way
Ping-yu Hsu, National Taiwan University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

This paper explores the question of why the Liao and Jin emperors adopted the Tang examination system to select officials in the beginning of their dynasties, and how the process was transformed to meet their need in sustaining their political authority over the Steppe, Manchuria, and North China. In his study on the formation of the Tang world empire, Tanigawa Michio has argued that the membership of nobility in the Sui and Tang dynasty was contingent on political status as officials, and not on having a prominent family name. By passing the exams and winning a post in the government, candidates were also recognized as members of the nobility. The relations between the Tang emperor and the leaders of the tribal groups outside the direct rule of the Tang government imitated this relationship between the emperor and the officials. When those tribal leaders were granted with official titles by the Tang emperor, their positions and political status in the world order under the Tang emperors were secured. This paper argues that the Liao and Jin emperors swiftly adopted the Tang government as their model because they had already participated in the Tang world order. Nevertheless, when they became the actual rulers of North China, relations between the emperor and his officials needed a total readjustment. Later developments show that the Liao and Jin rulers revised their institutions to assert new systems of differentiation among their subjects to rule the land of North China and Manchuria.

The Inner Asian Afterlife of Tang Taizong
Brian Vivier, University of Pennsylvania, USA

The Essentials of Government of the Zhenguan Era (Zhenguan zhengyao), a Tang-dynasty handbook of statecraft in the reign of Emperor Taizong, exercised broad influence over Inner Asian rulers from at least the tenth century onward. This paper assesses the dissemination and translation of the Essentials of Government among Inner Asians, the Khitan and Tangut in particular. What gave the text its appeal, and what made Tang Taizong—as portrayed in this text—such an appealing model? An investigation of these questions reveals the wide-ranging influence of the Tang dynasty in Inner Asia and the ways in which non-Han peoples drew on the legacy of the Tang in their own political and cultural discourse.

Governing the World: The Tang in Yuan Political Discourse
Peter Ditmanson, University of Oxford, USA

This paper explores the perceptions and uses of the Tang imperial model among Han Chinese advisors at the Mongol Yuan court (1271-1368). As these advisors negotiated their place within the vast multi-ethnic Mongol empire, they saw the Tang imperium, law code and other institutions as a model for structuring the empire. Han advisors drew upon several early models of multi-ethnic empires and advised Qubilai and other emperors to follow the examples of the rulers of the Toba Wei (386-581) and other “foreign” conquest empires that had integrated Han Chinese styles of governance and balanced civil and military institutions. The Tang, however, was a more complicated precedent. On the one hand, they regarded it as a universal and multi-ethnic model. On the other hand, they wrote about the Tang as a specifically Han type of empire that held its place in the succession of Chinese dynasties. For Han advisors at the Mongol court, the Tang was an important reference point not only for their vision of the Yuan Empire, but also for its place in history.

Tang Taizong in Korea
Tineke D'Haeseleer, Princeton University, USA

This paper explores the image of Tang Taizong in Korean historical perspective. The campaign against Koguryo in 645, led by Taizong in person, provides an interesting starting point with his personal presence in Korea. Because Korean sources rely heavily on their Chinese counterparts for information from this period, it is necessary to look first at the portrayal of Taizong in Chinese sources. The narrative of the Liaodong campaign corroborates Taizong’s image as an emperor of China who is firmly grounded in a non-Han tradition where military prowess was directly linked to political power. Despite the criticism of his entourage against this type of display of power and authority (and Taizong’s failure to conquer Koguryo) Taizong’s portrayal in the Chinese historical sources is very positive. He is seen as a caring ruler, greatly concerned with the welfare of his own population as well as Koguryo’s. This positive image was taken over by Korean historical sources for several reasons. First, as I already pointed out, Korean historians relied heavily on Chinese sources; second, the Tang was an ally of Silla, the victor of the wars on the Korean peninsula, and the state from which Koryo and Choson derived their legitimacy. A third point I would like to argue in this paper is that Taizong provided a unique model for kingship in East Asia, with universal appeal, and was used as such by Korean historians and scholars.