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In the Shadow of the Han

In the Shadow of the Han: Literati Thought and Society at the Beginning of the Southern Dynasties

Copyright Date: 1994
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    In the Shadow of the Han
    Book Description:

    Charles Holcombe's study of the society and thought of the Eastern Jin (318-420) elite is a valuable addition to what has . . . been a rather thin English-language literature on early medieval history.In the Shadow of the Hanmakes a compelling case ... that the 'period of disunity' between the Han and the Tang has been an unjustly neglected area. . . . It will prove stimulating reading for early medieval specialists, and . . . [for others] it will provide a highly competent and readable survey of a period that to this point has been poorly covered.-China Review International,Spring 1996

    "The Period of Division between the Han and Sui/Tang has not received the attention it deserves in the West, for our views of Chinese history have frequently been distorted by the identification of success and civilisation with great and long-lasting dynasties. The centuries which followed the fall of the Han, however, were valuable not only for China's future development, but also as an occasion of human experience. Professor Holcombe has made an important contribution to our understanding of medieval China, and his work should do much to encourage the study of this formative period of philosophy and history." -R. R. C. de Crespigny, Australian National University

    "Historical scholarship on the Southern dynasties has long languished as a moribund offshoot of the study of Chinese poetry and religion.In the Shadow of the Hanapproaches this challenging period with a much broader sensitivity to the elite culture of the time, placing it within a clearly conceived socioeconomic and political context. The intellectual puzzles of Neo-Taoism andhsüan-hsüehhave never been more lucidly grounded in a credible historical world. This is a pioneering study that puts every student of early medieval China in Charles Holcombe's debt." -Dennis Grafflin, Bates College

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6297-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. 1 Introduction: Reimagining China
    (pp. 1-24)

    In the third month of a.d. 318, news of the death of the last emperor of the Western Chin dynasty reached Ssu-ma Jui, the Prince of Chin, at his court in the city known as Chien-k’ang (modern Nanking).¹ The prince went into mourning, and shortly thereafter ascended the throne to become the first emperor, Emperor Yüan (r. 318–323), of a dynasty in exile, the Eastern, or second half, of the Chin (318–420). Whereas his predecessors in the Western Chin (265–317) had “faced south” to rule over the vast expanses of a unified China, Emperor Yüan exercised a...

  5. 2 Refugee State: A Brief Chronicle of the Eastern Chin
    (pp. 25-33)

    “The House of Chin is in decline, skulking far away beyond the River,” said one northerner disparagingly of the Eastern Chin dynasty in the middle of the fourth century.¹ His words were intended to absolve his rough northern ruler of any sense of disloyalty to the legitimate former Western Chin dynasty, as he assumed the title of founding emperor of a new northern one. Although the Eastern Chin remained the most stable and successful of all fourth-century regimes, it was a regime in exile. However ephemeral the fourth-century stream of petty northern semibarbarian kingdoms were—known to the history books...

  6. 3 The Socioeconomic Order
    (pp. 34-72)

    John Fairbank has observed that one of the most essential distinctions between Western history and Chinese history is that Europe “saw the growth of dominant social classes which were originally outside the framework of government and were based on private property.”¹ China did not. Early medieval China threatened to become an exception to this generalization, however. During the centuries after the fall of the Han dynasty, a powerful and independent-spirited literati class emerged if not directly to challenge, at least to undercut the authority of autocratic emperors.

    This new literati class was hardly unconnected to the central government, however. The...

  7. 4 The Institutional Machinery of Literati Ascendance
    (pp. 73-84)

    In the sixth century, toward the end of the Northern and Southern dynasties, Yen Chih-t’ui complained of scholars who “cultivate their persons for themselves, to seek advancement.” Yen claimed that these ambitious contemporaries contrasted unfavorably with the selfless scholars of old, who cultivated themselves only in order to benefit all humankind.¹ Although it is doubtful that such altruistic individuals ever really existed anywhere except in Yen’s own imagination, Yen’s concern that ambitious individuals were seeking political or social advancement through personal self-cultivation is both revealing and striking. It suggests a social order in which ideal ethical behavior was expected to...

  8. 5 Literati Culture
    (pp. 85-124)

    The third-century withdrawal of so much of the Chinese elite from active public service to a life of individual self-absorption is surprising.¹ Classical Chinese philosophy had been notably this-worldly in orientation, and the Chinese elite has traditionally been dedicated, above all else, to a life of service to the state. This uncharacteristic third-century retreat requires some explanation, therefore. How did such an attitude of lofty detachment ever come to typify early medieval literati behavior?

    The classic explanation for retreat into transcendent philosophy, religion, and even libertinism in the third century is that it resulted from despair at the collapse of...

  9. 6 “True Man”: The Power of a Cultural Ideal
    (pp. 125-134)

    If Chih Tun was not an ordinary Buddhist monk, still less was he typical of the Eastern Chin literati as a whole. Yet Chih’s religious devotion differed from that of many of his most distinguished secular contemporaries only by degree. It may even be said that Chih Tun is, indeed, representative of certain important tendencies in the early medieval elite carried to an extreme.

    Chih’s biography in Hui-chiao’sLives of Eminent Monksstresses his intimacy with several of the leading figures of his day, notable among whom were the future emperor Ssu-ma Yü, the renowned calligrapher Wang Hsi-chih, and the...

  10. 7 Epilogue: Imperial Restoration
    (pp. 135-140)

    The memory of the Ch’in and Han imperial tradition was sustained throughout the period of division, both by monarchs who aspired to recapture something of the lost imperial grandeur and by a literati class whose very eminence depended on an ideological complex not easily detached from the imperial political tradition. The special favors showered upon certain temporarily impecunious émigré literati by the Eastern Chin dynasty early in the fourth century reflected both their usefulness to the court as cultured guardians of the imperial ideal and the material reliance of those same literati on the patronage of the court. For a...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 141-186)
    (pp. 187-190)
    (pp. 191-232)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 233-238)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-241)