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One Land of Many Places: The Integration of Local Culture in Southern Song Geographies
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One Land of Many Places:
The Integration of Local Culture in Southern Song Geographies

Recent historiography on the Southern Song has been dominated by two related questions. The first is the degree to which localism guided the social and literary agendas of Southern Song literati.1 The second is the extent to which these literati constituted a supra-political national community with a shared culture and common worldview.2 The underlying question motivating much research in the field is the degree to which these two tendencies were in tension with one another. Did the irredentism of prominent intellectuals like Chen Liang 陳亮 (1143-1194) run counter to the provincialization of literati skeptical of activist statecraft agendas? Or did the geographic plotting of culture through locally-focused gazetteers and literary collections generate new sensitivity to the environmental determinants of civilization, transforming the loss of territory into an emergency for the nation?3 [End Page 235]

A pair of related texts produced in the early thirteenth century speak directly to these questions. The first is the Yudi jisheng 輿地紀勝 (1227), written by the Jinhua literatus Wang Xiangzhi 王象之.4 The second is the Fangyu shenglang 方輿勝覽 (1239), completed a little over a decade later by Zhu Mu 祝穆 (?-after 1246), a native of Fujian and one-time student of Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200).5 The two works share a number of characteristics. Both are [End Page 236] geographical treatises that include the entire territory under the jurisdiction of the Southern Song within their purview, and organize their content by administrative region, with the prefecture (zhou 州, fu 府, or jun 軍) as the primary unit. Both organize their information on each prefecture in similar ways, with separate sections detailing changes in name, jurisdiction, and administrative status over time; local customs; natural sites such as mountains and waterways; man-made sites such as halls, pavilions, and temples; famous people associated with the territory; and selections from poetry and prose written about the place. Both were composed as private projects by literati working outside the auspices of the state. Finally, both feature prefaces that collectively showcase a tension between the literary ambitions of their authors and the state-centered concerns of select readers.

This article will argue that these similarities are superficial, and that when the two texts are examined more closely, they reveal radically different conceptualizations of the relationship between local places and the nation. The Yudi jisheng locates the existence of the nation in the local places that constitute it; the Fangyu shenglan, by contrast, demonstrates that these places have meaning only insofar as they participate in a culture that is nationally shared. This difference in turn exposes the distinctive intellectual ambitions of their authors. Wang Xiangzhi promoted the locality as the principal venue for constructing cultural identity. Zhu Mu proposed that the value of literature and geography lay in their capacity to integrate human culture and the physical environment into a unified vision of civilization. That both propositions were viable in the early thirteenth century highlights the cultural tensions wrought by the social changes of the Southern Song and the emergence of Daoxue as a national discourse.

Existing comparisons of the two texts largely ignore the possibility that they had distinct agendas, assuming on the basis of their structural similarity and many shared sources that their authors had common goals. The most widely cited studies, by Cen Jiangong 岑建功, Tan Qixiang 譚其驤, and Li Yongxian 李勇先, focus primarily on the relative influence of the Yudi jisheng on the Fangyu shenglan. Cen Jiangong claims on the basis of its common purview and shorter length that the Fangyu shenglan is essentially an abridged edition of Wang Xiangzhi's work.6 By contrast, Tan Qixiang emphasizes the Fangyu [End Page 237] shenglan's originality. He notes the existence of a notice from the Liangzhe Fiscal Intendant at the head of the original edition, which certifies the receipt of an affidavit from Zhu Mu attesting that the book is the product of his own labors and should not be republished as a "Digest of the Yudi jisheng." Tan finds ample evidence in the book's content to support this claim of independent authorship. He argues that although the Fangyu shenglan adopts aspects of the...