2012—2013 Forum on Peripheries
SAS Postdoctoral Fellow
East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Between Family and State: Networks of Literati, Clergy, and Villagers in Shanxi, North China, 1200-1500
Drawing primarily on documents written by Confucian-educated literati in southern China, American historians of medieval China have argued that the way in which the elite achieved social status in Chinese society between 1200 and 1500 led ultimately to the establishment of a Neo-Confucian order at the village level. A local perspective focusing on northern China yields an interpretation of social change in which the literati did not dominate. Abundant inscriptions from Shanxi province in north China show that the Mongol conquest disempowered literati and conferred greater influence to clergy and villagers. New Buddhist and Daoist institutions rose to prominence, and villagers organized themselves through irrigation societies. Through new networks built around these institutions, Shanxi men and women remade local society and transformed relations between local communities and the state. The Ming dynasty (1368–1644), which ruled China in the aftermath of Mongol rule, reinstituted privileged legal status for literati, suppressed religious groups, and exercised coercive power to establish a Neo-Confucian social order in village communities. Yet most northerners showed little interest in these trends. While Buddhist and Daoist organizations did decline, powerful village associations for the worship of local deities became the dominant social institution in late imperial Shanxi. Emphasizing the distinctive experience of social transformation in north China challenges prevailing historical interpretations, which take the southern model as universal for all of China.