Dividing the Realm in Order to Govern: The Dili Yan’ge Tradition and its Uses in Tang and Song China

Research meeting with Prof. Ruth Mostern (University of Pittsburgh)

David Hume Tower - LG.08, George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JX


On more than 1,000 occasions, the Song (960-1276) court founded, abolished, promoted, demoted, and reordered units of local and regional government – counties and prefectures – in an attempt to maximize the effectiveness of limited resources in a climate of shifting priorities, to placate competing constituencies, and to address military and economic crises. Spatial transformations in the Song field administration changed the geography of commerce, taxation, revenue accumulation, warfare, foreign relations, and social organization, and even determined the terms of debates about imperial power.  The concept of dili yan’ge 地理沿革 (geographical continuities and transformations) explicitly associated political power over territory with the authority to change spatial arrangements at will rather than with the capacity to keep them fixed in place forever.  In this talk I will introduce the dili yan’ge concept. Next I will explore the deployment of dili yan’ge during the late Tang, Five Dynasties and Song eras and the ways that change in the political landscape affected elite subjectivity.  Finally I will discuss how a digital gazetteer – a database about places and their changes over time – supports this kind of scholarship.

Ruth Mostern is Associate Professor of History and Director of the World History Center at the University of Pittsburgh.  She is the author of Dividing the Realm in Order to Govern: The Spatial Organization of the Song State (960-1276) (Harvard, 2011) and coeditor of Placing Names: Enriching and Editing Gazetteers (Indiana, 2016). She is also the Principal Investigator of the World Historical Gazetteer project (whgazetteer.org), which is funded by the United States National Endowment for the Humanities. Her newest book, Yu’s Traces: The Ecological and Imperial Worlds of the Yellow River, is currently under contract and in review at Yale University Press.