Lucas R. Bender (Yale University), Relationships Between the Three Teachings, and Between the Three Teachings and the State, at the End of the Period of Division

This article surveys thought about the relationships between the so-called Three Teachings (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism) at the end of the Period of Division, in the sixth century and the first decade of the seventh. In order to contextualize the statements that were made about this question in this period, I first offer a schematic account of how early medieval interreligious debates developed from the fourth century onward, showing that entries in these debates can be sorted into four dialectically interrelated modes that appear on the scene in sequential order. I then examine in greater detail arguments that fit into the third and the fourth of these modes, which predominated in the sixth century and the early seventh. In this period, government interest in the unifying potential of third-mode paradigms—which depict one or another of the Teachings embracing and superseding the others—drove the development of arguments that the Teachings were compatible because they belonged to different spheres. These disagreements, I suggest, may have played a role in ensuring that even the unified empires that would follow the end of the Period of Division never fully or lastingly succeeded in consolidating what had become a multipolar structure of religious authority.


Pablo A. Blitstein (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales), The Chains of Transmission: Authority and Mobility in Yan Zhitui’s Family Instructions

In the 6th century, when no single empire ruled over the major cities around the Yangzi and the Yellow rivers, migrants, prisoners of war, and refugees moved from one place to another. How did these “mobile people” understand and create social and political authority, especially in times of recurrent destruction and creation of “states?” In this article, we will argue that “transmission” was a key concept in this regard: it could be used as the converging point between mobile aristocrats intending to preserve family traditions and imperial institutions looking for “models” of superior behavior. We will concentrate on Yan Zhitui, a migrant aristocrat who lived in Southern and Northern cities, and on how he mobilized this concept. We will show that his most important text, Family Instructions for the Yan Clan, had a value well beyond its focus on the Yan family. By turning mobility into a legitimate basis of literati authority, it not only presented the Yan family as an eventual provider of social and political standards for a unified empire, but it also singled out aristocratic migrants as an instrumental group for the regeneration of both the aristocracy and the empire.


CAI Danjun 蔡丹君 (Chinese Renmin University), “The Study of the Han and the Way of the Han: The Political and Cultural Thought in Family Instructions for the Yan Clan

Interestingly, we find many “reading notes” on a series of works from and about the Han dynasty, including Shi ji, Han shu, Hou Han shu, and Han yuefu lyrics, in Family Instructions for the Yan Clan, a famous work written by Yan Zhitui’s (531–590s) in the Northern Qi and early Sui. These notes were not included in a work of “family instructions” accidentally. During the Sixteen Kingdoms and the Northern Dynasties, the Han dynasty was regarded by many as an ideal political paradigm, and research on Han thought and political system had made remarkable advances. Han shu, which often served as a reference book on political reform to the rulers in Northern Dynasties, was accorded with great importance in the north. Yan Zhitui’s “notes” reflect his active exploration of the ideology of the Northern Dynasties and his strong desire to bridge the gap between the north and the south. Thus, Family Instructions for the Yan Clan provides us with profound political and cultural thought that aimed to explore how to negotiate cultural differences and achieve social survival at a chaotic time, and understanding these notes is of great significance to the knowledge integration and historical review during the unification period of the Sui and Tang Dynasties.


CHI Li-Feng 祁立峰 (Chung-Hsing University), “The Imagined Community of the Western Liang: A Study of Xiao Cha’s (519–562) Poetic Writings”

In 554, the state of Western Wei captured Jiangling and ended the rule of Liang Emperor Yuan. They supported Xiao Cha (519–562), a grandson of Liang Emperor Wu, to ascend the throne at Jiangling and establish a new dynasty, known as the Later Liang or Western Liang. Subjugated to the Western Wei and then the Northern Zhou, the Western Liang existed for thirty-three years, with a small territory that was the equivalent of a prefecture of the former Liang dynasty. However, in 587, the sixth year of the Kaihuang era, Xiao Cong, the last Western Liang ruler, surrendered to the Sui Dynasty and was given the title of “Duke of Ju,” and his younger sister married a prince of Sui, Yang Guang, who later became the notorious Sui Emperor Yang. The Western Liang officially ended.

          During the period of division, the Western Liang was one of the rump states and still had political rights. This country survived as a buffer zone, located between the Northern Zhou and the Chen. Xiao Cha left behind a number of poetic writings, whose themes and literary style evoke the various experimental types and forms of poetry created by his father Xiao Tong, the compiler of the famous anthology Wen xuan, his uncle Emperor Yuan, or the poet Yu Xin. Apart from borders between states established through military forces, the “soft power” of culture and literature could also construct boundaries and continue the legacy of a state. Borrowing the term “imagined community” in contemporary discussions of nation-state, this study will focus on several pieces composed by Xiao Cha and a few of his family members, and explore the “imagined community” of the Western Liang.


Harrison Huang 黃則彰 (Columbia University), “Court Rituals and Poems of Yu Xin (513–81): Narrative Migrations in a Multipolar World“

To imagine multipolarity in terms of map conventions is to envision competing colors shifting in relative proportions, striking new balances of distribution, and finalized into fixed boundaries. Instead of fixating on boundaries, I attend instead to the excesses that overflow borders, such as the kidnapping of officials, the trafficking of ritual spectacles, and provocations of inter-state diplomacy. My paper examines multipolarity through the case of Yu Xin 庾信 (513—81), who, having served two rival courts, stood out as the most prominent figure of exile and diaspora in his times. I argue that his literary output and public persona enfolds a contradiction—tagged as either “loyalist” or “turncoat”—that we should not try to resolve but rather understand as a symptom of a multi-polar world, specifically as a multiplicity typified by diaspora and migratory meaning-making.

          The first part of the paper engages with the ritual hymns that Yu Xin fashioned for the Zhou court. While these works have received relatively little attention, they are particularly important for understanding how Yu Xin, as an agent of the northern Zhou, fashioned a dynastic genealogy that would be later adopted and reworked by the Sui and Tang histories. The second part focuses on what I call Yu Xin’s performance of public self-shaming, which acquired special traction since it could be co-opted by different and even competing narratives about political legitimacy. In contrast to approaching Yu Xin as speaking to a small audience of exiles, I argue that we should take seriously Yu Xin’s likening himself to the historian Sima Qian, and that works such as The Lament for the South 哀江南賦 reach beyond the personal sphere to constitute a larger, shared narrative that both northern and southern advocates could avail. The paper’s final section conceptualizes how meaning-making can be migratory, in which a final destination is signaled but never definitively reached. I discuss an apocryphal text attributed to Wang Tong 王通 (584­–617) that offers a way of thinking about Han-to-Tang dynastic succession that simultaneously espouses a single, proper lineage, while keeping both the northern and southern narratives in abeyance. Accordingly, we can see Yu Xin’s work as operating within a logic of multipolarity.


Annette Kieser (University of Münster), “Love for the South? Or: The Waning of a Southern Tradition”

During the Southern Dynasties large scale statuary was erected to guard the imperial tombs, the so-called “spirit roads.” The most impressive species are the ones carved for the tombs of Liang Wudi’s family: powerful feline creatures, their wings and ornaments enhancing their otherworldly nature, next to columns and steles. After Jiankang, the capital of the Southern Dynasties, had been conquered by Sui troops and virtually razed, the southern tradition of stone carving ended. Sui and Tang spirit road statuary followed northern examples, not only in style but also in composition: austere and stiff beasts in combination with statues of humans guarded the tombs. This development is quite astonishing, considering, for instance, the fact that a ruler like Sui Yangdi is known for his love of the southern culture. Spending much of his life in the southern “Yangzi-capital” Jiangdu and being married to a wife of southern imperial origin, he is said to have contributed to the reconciliation of north and south. In discussing reasons for the waning of the southern spirit road tradition, the paper will also contribute to the larger issue in what way rulers made (or made not) use of the material culture as a tool for unifying a divided empire.


Lu Kou 寇陸 (Bard College), “Heaven’s Will or Human Affairs: Making Sense of the Dynastic Rise and Fall in the Sui”

The “tripartite division” of the world (sanfen 三分, a term often used in the latter half of the sixth century to describe the political situation of the time) came to an end when the Sui dynasty conquered the Chen in 589 and subsequently reunified the realm. Yet the successful unification hardly dispelled the sense of “multipolarity” that had existed for decades, as in the “East” and “South,” where the Northern Qi and Chen were based, royal families and loyal servants of the previous dynasties still rallied support based on their claim of political legitimacy and even instigated rebellions in the early Sui. To strengthen imperial rule, the Sui court began its propaganda campaign to discursively invalidate this political multipolarity and delegitimate the previous dynasties by narrating their history, pointing out their right and wrong, and explaining the reasons of their downfall. With historical lessons properly drawn and imparted, the Sui’s rise to power was also justified and newly appointed officials, especially those who previously served in the rival dynasties, were able to identify themselves as new imperial subjects.

          This paper examines how Sui courtiers, rulers, and historians commented on the rise and fall of the Chen, Northern Qi, and Northern Zhou and thus situated the Sui within a pattern of historical development. Is Sui’s rise to power a result of following the path determined by Heaven (tiandao 天道) or a result of human endeavors and mistakes (renshi人事)? It is a question that Sui rulers and courtiers often asked and tackled. By examining Lu Sidao’s 盧思道 “Disquisition on the Rise and Fall of Northern Zhou,” “Disquisition on the Rise and Fall of Northern Qi,” Li Delin’s 李德林 “Disquisition on the Mandate of Heaven,” and a number of war proclamations against the Chen, this paper examines how the Sui writers meted out historical judgment while investigating the forces that shaped history, how the two modes of explaining historical development, tiandao and renshi, come into conflict and are reconciled, and how the idea of multipolarity was contended and reimagined to bolster, instead of undermining, imperial power.


LIU Xiang 劉祥 (Xi’an Jiaotong University), “The Hualin Park in Motion: Imitation and Competition amongst Courts in a Yu Xin (513–581) Rhapsody”

As a cultural space, where entertainment, politics, and literature converged, the Hualin Park 華林園 (aka the Fanglin Park) was built in every state capital during the Six Dynasties. Ever since the Hualin banquet hosted by Emperor Wu of the Western Jin, the Hualin Park had become the court’s major amusement park at the Shangsi Festival (the third day of the third month), a grand occasion for literary compositions that culminated in Wang Rong’s (466–493) “Preface to the Collection of Poems Written by the Winding Stream.” The ritualizatiom of literature and the culturalization of politics were the characteristics of the Hualin Park. This study focuses on Yu Xin’s “Rhapsody on the Mounted Archery in the Hualin Park on the Third Day,” which is a realization of the ritualization and militarization of the Hualin Park of the Northern Zhou. I argue that this work symbolized the integration of the literary techniques in the Southern Dynasties and the martial spirit of the Northern Dynasties, while it also revealed the gradual establishment of a new narrative strategy in the Late Northern and Southern Dynasties. The frequent reconstruction and change in the connotations of the Hualin Park not only depicted the legacy of “park and garden literature” but also revealed the realistic appeal for the issue of political legitimacy in the Period of Disunion, which showed the cultural competition amongst different political centers: Jiankang, Chang’an, Luoyang, and Yecheng.


Nicolas Tackett (UC Berkeley), Reunifications in Chinese History: The Founding of the Song and the Founding of the Sui”

This paper is part of a larger project on the transformative impact of periods of disunity on Chinese culture. Here, I will look at processes of reunification on the premise that each reunification has its own particularities. I will focus specifically on comparing the founding of the Song to the founding of the Sui.


Xiaofei Tian 田曉菲 (Harvard University), “Patchwork Empire: Fragmentation in Sui Poetry”

In 589, the Sui conquered the southern Chen dynasty and ended three centuries of division. Often considered a transitional period and a part of a long “dawn” to the “golden age” of Chinese literature, the Sui is also implicitly seen as a vessel into which the southern culture and northern culture were thrown together and remixed into a harmonic whole. This paper explores a powerful undercurrent in this so-called conquest dynasty by examining poems composed by, and exchanged amongst, members of the conquered states. The pervasive sense of loss and displacement calls into question the pat identity of the Sui as “the blender” in conventional literary historical narrative, and shows something new going on: the split between the “business as usual” court poetry written to imperial command and the utterance of dark private sentiments. Courtly poetry, born out of the need to represent empire, now faces its shadow: poets who used to be courtiers, be they in the imperial presence or not, now took off their court robes and spoke privately, candidly, as lost souls. Not only was this sense of loss particularly striking in a newly unified empire at the peak of its prosperity, but the candid expression of displacement and despair reflected a repression, hitherto not there, of private sentiments in the public discourse. The writing of empire and the writing of self diverged, and there was a drastic reconfiguration of the various places and pieces on the cultural map of the empire.