Between Family and State: Networks of Literati, Clergy, and Villagers in Shanxi, North China, 1200--1400

Submitted by James Miller on Tue, 02/14/2012 - 15:23
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TitleBetween Family and State: Networks of Literati, Clergy, and Villagers in Shanxi, North China, 1200--1400
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsWang, J.
Corporate AuthorsHansen, Valerie Shinohara, Koichi
Academic DepartmentProQuest Dissertations and Theses
Date Published2011
PublisherYale University
Place PublishedUnited States -- Connecticut
ISBN Number9781124806792
KeywordsHistory, Medieval history, Religious history

Over the past several decades, American historians of medieval China have reached a consensus about social change between 1200 and 1400. Drawing mainly from documents written by Confucian-educated literati in southern China, they have argued that the major shift in medieval Chinese society occurred in the strategies by which elite status was achieved by the highest status social groups, from the pursuit of high office at the national level to seeking leadership in local society. This picture of social change leaves out the very different forces at work in north China during the same time period. By employing the abundant epigraphical evidence available from Shanxi province, much of it newly uncovered, and looking at the networks that bound northern Chinese society together rather than focusing on individual social groups, like the literati, we see that existing interpretations are inadequate. These inscriptions from Shanxi depict a medieval local society very different from that described by literati writings, in which literati elites dominate. In north China, the Mongol conquest disempowered literati, and clergy and villagers acquired greater influence. New Buddhist and Daoist institutions rose to prominence, and villagers organized themselves through irrigation societies. Through new networks built around these institutions, the men and women in Shanxi remade local society and transformed the relationship between local communities and the state. Under Jurchen rule (the Jin dynasty, 1115-1234), Confucian-educated literati generally retained their status as political and social elites. Nation-wide literati networks were partly organized around the civil service examination and school education systems. They functioned to place educated men in schools and, ultimately, into political office. The Mongol conquest dramatically changed the social order by destroying the literati networks, and contributing to the rise of new social groups. The clergy of Complete Realization Daoism was one of the new emergent social groups. During the catastrophic Mongol invasion, Quanzhen Daoist networks filled an important function by providing havens for diverse groups, including former literati and women. In Shanxi, Quanzhen Daoist monks and nuns formed extensive networks through many Quanzhen projects--such as printing a new Daoist canon and building Quanzhen institutions like the Palace of Eternal Joy. The Mongol rulers from Khubilai (r. 1260-1293) onward established many pro-Buddhist policies that resulted in the rise of a new nation-wide Buddhist network. Under the Yuan dynasty (1270-1368), the Mongol state granted official positions and rank to religious clergy just as they did for civil officials. Buddhists and Daoists exercised state power through personal connections to Mongol rulers and autonomous systems of religious administration. The clergy's networks also connected to lay families through kinship networks surrounding powerful monks and nuns, who used their official status to provide economic advantage and social prestige to their lay families. In addition, both Daoist and Buddhists modified the concept of filial piety, an originally Confucian ideal concerning relations between parents and children, to create fictive family ties that helped the clergy reinforce cross-regional religious lineages spanning generations or to reconcile the clergy's obligations to their families with their religious vows. Additionally, Buddhist and Daoist churches played crucial roles in rebuilding local society in north China. Many powerless villagers sought protection from Buddhist and Daoist monasteries, which had massive landholdings, including farm land. Buddhists and Daoists participated in agricultural production in association with local residents. In the recovery of local agricultural economy in Shanxi, both Buddhists and Daoists helped repair and develop irrigation projects, and they acted as heads of local irrigation associations. By doing so, the clergy extended their influence in social institutions beyond monasteries, such as village organizations.