The Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy

The Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy

by Nicolas Tackett


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Historians have long been perplexed by the complete disappearance of the medieval Chinese aristocracy by the tenth century—the “great clans” that had dominated China for centuries. In this book, Nicolas Tackett resolves the enigma of their disappearance, using new, digital methodologies to analyze a dazzling array of sources.

Tackett systematically mines thousands of funerary biographies excavated in recent decades—most of them never before examined by scholars—while taking full advantage of the explanatory power of Geographic Information System (GIS) methods and social network analysis. Tackett supplements these analyses with extensive anecdotes culled from epitaphs, prose literature, and poetry, bringing to life women and men who lived a millennium in the past. The Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy demonstrates that the great Tang aristocratic families adapted to the social, economic, and institutional transformations of the seventh and eighth centuries far more successfully than previously believed. Their political influence collapsed only after a large number were killed during three decades of extreme violence following Huang Chao’s sack of the capital cities in 880 CE.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674970656
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 08/29/2016
Series: Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series , #93
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 298
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Nicolas Tackett is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley.

Table of Contents

List of Figures ix

Acknowledgments xi

Conventions xiii

Map of Tang China xv

Introduction 1

The Transformation of Medieval Elites 3

Tomb Epitaphs as a Historical Source 13

1 The Bureaucratic Aristocracy of Medieval China 27

Clan Lists and the Classification of the Great Clans 29

The Demographic Expansion of the Medieval Aristocracy 36

The Geographic Dispersal of Great Clan Descendants 44

Bureaucratized Aristocrats 61

Conclusion 67

2 The Geography of Power 70

Localizing Elites 72

Capital Elites 81

National Elites in the Provinces 88

Other Elite Migratory Pathways 98

Conclusion 105

3 The Capital Elite Marriage Network 107

Reconstructing Patrilines 108

Localizing Patrilines 113

Geographic Distribution and Size of the Late Tang Political Elite 119

The Social Landscape of the Capitals 122

Marriage Networks and Social Capital 129

Conclusion 141

4 The Late Tang Provinces 146

The Late Tang Provincial System and the Hebei Autonomous Provinces 149

Recentralization after the Xianzong Restoration 155

The Tang Political Oligarchy and the Provinces 160

Social Mobility in Provincial Governments 170

Provincial Cultures 178

Conclusion 185

5 Huang Chao and the Destruction of the Medieval Aristocracy 187

Chang'an under Huang Chao 191

Devastation in Luoyang and the Provinces 206

The Demise of the Tang Elite 218

The Survivors and the New Structure of Power 231

Conclusion 235

Appendix A Guide to the Accompanying Database 243

Appendix B Estimating the Total Size of the Late Tang Capital Elite 248

Appendix C Sources of Ninth-Century Excavated Epitaphs 250

Bibliography 253

Personal Name Index 265

General Index 275

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