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Jour Fixe (RA C), November 24, 2011

Lecture by Prof. Naomi Standen (Birmingham)

Negotiated Settlements: Microecologies and the Eurasian Mode of Politics in the Tang-Liao Period (c. 7th to 12th centuries)

Transcultural_Asian_History

This lecture is funded by the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”, and organized by Research Area C "Health and Environment".

Location

Karl Jaspers Centre
Voßstraße 2, Building 4400
Room 212
69115 Heidelberg

Time: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Study of relations between political units in Eastern Eurasia has been dominated by models derived from the literate regimes based in the Yellow River valley, with concepts developed for one period frequently applied to entire eras, spanning millennia. John King Fairbank’s ‘tribute system’ is probably the most famous framework, and Thomas Barfield’s ‘outer frontier strategy’ the best known alternative. Fairbank assumes Chinese hegemony as the norm while Barfield allows agency to nomadic leaders, but most of these analyses take ‘China’ as the ‘civilised core’, dealing with variously less civilised imitators, invaders or marketeers.

Such analyses draw upon generalisations about the effects of gross environmental conditions on economic, social and political forms, and posit essentially binary relationships between ‘China’ and its counterparts. Anthropologists and increasingly archaeologists, working on geographically specific data, have complicated our understanding of ecologies, activities and communities in the traditional China-Inner Asian frontier zone. Historians of the Eastern Eurasian Middle Period (roughly 300-1400) are also beginning to give more attention to the known ecological diversity of the borderland region and to look more closely at the wide range of interactions there, involving leaders at several levels. This work is suggesting new explanations of well known patterns of events and behaviour.

Expanding upon recent developments in the field, this paper uses a case study on the Liao (907-1125) dynasty and its antecedents to explore an alternative model for relations between political leaders that does not presume ‘China’ as hegemon or sole source of methods, that explains ‘internal’ and ‘external’ relations among the leadership classes as parts of a single system, and allows for motivations other than the desire for wealth. This offers better explanations of Eastern Eurasian politics in the Middle Period, and will assist comparison with political systems and situations across the rest of Eurasia.

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