restricted access Remembering Sung I
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Remembering Sung I

As far as I know, the first gathering for the purpose of advancing Song studies on either shore of the Atlantic took place in the spring of 1961 at the annual Association for Asian Studies meeting in the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago. The atmosphere was quite informal, so I do not believe anyone took minutes. Despite the efforts of the AAS Secretariat, I have been unable to obtain documentation, for their copies of the AAS Newsletter do not go back that far. At the time I do not think we proclaimed this occasion as Sung I. Quite likely it acquired that designation only after plans were afoot for Sung II, which—after several delays—finally took place in Germany in 1971.

Alas, all but one of the six people I recall as fellow participants are now deceased and the only co-survivor, Jonathan Mirsky, has no recollection of the event! Can my memory be so faulty? Well, regardless, for better or worse, my account has to rely solely on my sagging memory with all its quirks, flying solo as it were with minimal instrumentation hoping not to crash . . .

Jonathan Mirsky, who was to become the well known expert on contemporary China and frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, was at the time working on the Tang. He was there (if indeed he was) because in 1961 there were neither enough Song or conquest dynasties scholars to lend credibility to our championship of Song studies nor was the number sufficient to convince the profession of the probability of our ever reaching critical mass. To be sure, the profession itself was so much smaller at the time. As I recall all too well, in 1960, there were two openings in Chinese history in the whole country (at the University of Iowa and at Swarthmore College). Thus, half a dozen was hardly an impressive number but it did amount at that time to not quite 1 percent of the 640 attendees at the 1961 meeting.1

Our number was small but the world was young and full of promise. We had a sense that just as the Song marked a new stage of Chinese history we [End Page 1] were embarking on a major and exciting intellectual enterprise. Only three years earlier, in 1958, the publication of Edwin Reischauer and John Fairbank’s East Asia: The Great Tradition2 had offered a stimulating alternative to the thoughtful, conscientious but wooden account provided in Kenneth Scott Latourette’s The Chinese: Their History and Culture (3rd edition, 1946) that had, while I was an undergraduate, put my interest in China to the test. That is not to deny that Latourette’s view of the Song as a period of “political weakness but cultural brilliance”3 was widely shared at the time and lingers on even today. Meanwhile, for those interested in Chinese thought, the appearance in 1960 of Theodore de Bary, Wing-tsit Chan, and Burton Watson’s Sources of Chinese Tradition4 began to make the thought of the Song as well as other periods accessible to undergraduates.

It is worth noting that it was Reischauer, the historian of Japan, who was responsible for the chapters on Tang and Song in the new East Asian textbook. Unfortunately no Japanese scholars were present in Chicago, but it was fitting that our meeting took place in the city where Edward A. Kracke, Jr. (1908–1976) had demonstrated the rewards of studying the Song. His Civil Service in Early Sung China, 960–10675 had been published in 1953 and he had taken the lead in training future Song scholars. Ed Kracke was not only a fine, thoughtful scholar but one who would have welcomed the revision of his ideas that later ensued largely from the work of his students and their students. He was also incredibly kind and considerate. Permit me just a couple of brief anecdotes: Those were the days before the invention of photocopying machines; so, when Ed came across several pages of Zhu Xi which he thought would interest me, he actually copied them out for me by hand. The fact that he would...