Research Meeting on Song China

Research Meeting with Patricia Ebrey and Anna Shields

Meadows Lecture Theatre, William Robertson Wing, Old Medical School (Doorway 4), Edinburgh EH8 9AG, UK

Patricia Ebrey (University of Washington) – 15:10–16:40

The Resilience of Chinese Empires:
How the Song Survived the Jurchen Invasion

Kitan envoys
© National Palace Museum, Taiwan, detail

In comparative context, Chinese empires stand out for their degree of centralization, how long they lasted, and how many times they were reestablished after periods of division. Scholars have proposed many explanations for what makes China an outlier in these regards, ranging from its geography, to its written language, the belief in the superiority of unity, legalist methods of political control, and the mutual support and shared interests of the state and the Confucian educated elite. But can we show that any of these were crucial in specific historical situations when the state proved resilient? Do they help explain the survival of dynasties when they were most threatened? This talk considers the case of the Song dynasty (960-1279), which barely survived the invasion of the Jurchen in 1127 and the loss of a third of the country. Yet within weeks a new emperor was on the throne and efforts were underway to rebuild the army. The new ruler had to dodge enemy armies and kept trying new combinations of councilors and generals, but after a decade or so a degree of peace was achieved, and the Song went on to thrive economically and culturally for more than another century. In analysing how this was accomplished, special attention is given to the nature of the monarchy and issues of leadership.



Anna Shields (Princeton University) – 17:00–18:30

Rewriting the Tang Dynasty Poetic Past:  Epistemic Hybridity in the Records of Events Concerning Tang Poetry 唐詩紀事

As we can see in the work of the PAIXUE project, the Song dynasty (960–1279) has long been recognized as a watershed moment for attitudes towards collecting, organizing, and transmitting the cultural legacies of the Chinese past—most famously with respect to the classical tradition of antiquity, but also with respect to scholars’ work to preserve the literary records of more recent dynasties. Northern Song scholars collected, edited, and transmitted in print the literature of the Tang dynasty (618–907), and Southern Song scholars expanded those efforts to include the early medieval period and the Han dynasty as well. This talk examines one influential text in this history of the transmission of knowledge, the Record of Events Concerning Tang Poetry 唐詩紀事 (c. 1160 CE), as a way to reflect on Song epistemic frameworks for the literary past. The Record of Events is usually situated in a centuries-old tradition of specialized anecdote collections or miscellanies (in this case, those concerning poetry), but the work is in fact an unusual hybrid in comparison to its presumed antecedents, combining features of dynastic history biographies, anthologies, and anecdote collections, and quoting directly from those sources. The portraits of Tang poets and poetry presented in the Record of Events are lively and memorable, and the work enjoyed a long printing history and sparked many imitations. What made this text so compelling to readers, and from where did derive its authority? What new epistemic assumptions regarding poetry and the work of a ‘poet’ did it build on or advance? The talk will conclude with some suggestions on how our reading of the Record of Events might contribute to literary reception history in a comparative framework.


You can find out more about Professor Patricia Ebrey here and about Professor Anna Shields here

Please find the poster here.

Song research meeting