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Title: The construction of Zi zhi tong jian's imperial vision : Sima Guang on the Southern and Northern Dynasties
Author: Strange, Mark
ISNI:       0000 0004 2679 198X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2008
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The great drama of China has been the repeated attempts to bring under single control and preserve the unity of its vast territories, so varied ethnically, socially, and geographically. Han Chinese confidence in the integrity of their own identity has been lastingly unsettled by long periods of fragmentation into regional states, and even in times of political unity the heart-searching has continued: what went wrong? What lessons could be learned for the future? The Southern and Northern Dynasties’ era (317-589 AD) was the longest period of political fragmentation in the imperial era. Its political and social confusion gave rise to differences in later accounts of it. In the eleventh century, scholar-officials intensively debated the issue of imperial rule during this period. At stake was the integrity of the Han Chinese state. On one side were historians who accorded legitimacy to the barbarian dynasties of the north; on the other were those who favoured the southern Han Chinese-ruled dynasties. By the time Song’s power base transferred south in 1127, a strong sense of a Han Chinese identity had developed and pro-Southern opinion predominated. This study approaches the Southern and Northern Dynasties’s era indirectly. It examines it through the most prominent work of eleventh-century historiography, the keystone written history of early imperial China, Sima Guang’s 司馬光 Zi zhi tong jian 資治通鑑 – the main focus of this study. That text has played a central role in shaping later understanding of imperial China’s political traditions and, as a corollary, has contributed to the formation of a Han Chinese self-identity. Yet Sima Guang’s representation of China’s past, though well-researched and written, was inevitably coloured by personal political and social experiences, and by his current commitments – by spin, in fact. This study will argue that at the heart of Sima Guang’s representation of the Southern and Northern Dynasties was a concern for the political survival of the eleventh-century state under which he served. He needed to understand and explicate the political and moral lessons of the earlier period in order to present an imperial vision that would avoid its frailties. This study therefore investigates and demonstrates the previously unexplored extent to which contemporary political concerns informed Sima Guang’s account. By developing a reading of Zi zhi tong jian as an ideological and textual construct, and more than just a simple account of the past, this study affords insights into the composition of historical writing in imperial China, as well as the complexities of the political environment that spawned it. It shows that works of historiography like Zi zhi tong jian served a more nuanced function than later scholarship suggests, and it brings into focus important questions of historical and literary authority.
Supervisor: Dudbridge, Glen Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History of Asia & Far East ; Intellectual History ; Literatures of other languages ; Sima Guang ; Zizhi tongjian ; historiography