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Multicultural China in the Early Middle Ages

By Sanping Chen

Publication Year: 2012

In contrast to the economic and cultural dominance by the south and the east coast over the past several centuries, influence in China in the early Middle Ages was centered in the north and featured a significantly multicultural society. Many events that were profoundly formative for the future of East Asian civilization occurred during this period, although much of this multiculturalism has long been obscured due to the Confucian monopoly of written records. Multicultural China in the Early Middle Ages endeavors to expose a number of long-hidden non-Sinitic characteristics and manifestations of heritage, some lasting to this very day.

Sanping Chen investigates several foundational aspects of Chinese culture during this period, including the legendary unicorn and the fabled heroine Mulan, to determine the origin and development of the lore. His meticulous research yields surprising results. For instance, he finds that the character Mulan is not of Chinese origin and that Central Asian influences are to be found in language, religion, governance, and other fundamental characteristics of Chinese culture. As Victor Mair writes in the Foreword, "While not everyone will acquiesce in the entirety of Dr. Chen's findings, no reputable scholar can afford to ignore them with impunity."

These "foreign"-origin elements were largely the legacy of the Tuoba, whose descendants in fact dominated China's political and cultural stage for nearly a millennium. Long before the Mongols, the Tuoba set a precedent for "using the civilized to rule the civilized" by attracting a large number of sedentary Central Asians to East Asia. This not only added a strong pre-Islamic Iranian layer to the contemporary Sinitic culture but also commenced China's golden age under the cosmopolitan Tang dynasty, whose nominally "Chinese" ruling house is revealed by Chen to be the biological and cultural heir of the Tuoba.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Encounters with Asia


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pp. i-ii

Title Page

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pp. iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv

Dedication Page

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pp. v-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword: Old Wine in New Bottles

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pp. ix-xii

After nearly half a century of isolation, China has recently reemerged as an integral member of the global economy and the international political structure. Since its rise has been so explosive, however, knowledge of Chinese culture and society in other countries is still sketchy...

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pp. 1-3

On the afternoon of July 30, 1980, three Chinese historians discovered, on a granite rock face inside a stone cavern in the Xing’an Mountains in northeast China (more exactly at 50º38′N, 123º36′E), an inscription dated September 5, 443, by far the most ancient sample...

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1. The Legacy of the Tuoba Xianbei: The Tang Dynasty

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pp. 4-38

In late autumn of the thirteenth year of Zhenguan (ad 639), under the reign of the second monarch of the Tang dynasty, Emperor Taizong, a major libel case broke out in the capital: a Taoist priest, Qin...

2. From Mulan to Unicorn

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pp. 39-59

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3. Brotherly Matters and the Canine Image: The Invasion of "Barbarian" Tongues

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pp. 60-82

It is likely that the great sage’s leading disciple, Zixia, had in mind Confucius’s ideal of a perfect society of “great harmony” and universal human love when he consoled a fellow disciple who complained...

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4. The Huns and the Bulgars: The Chinese Chapter

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pp. 83-98

The Jihu are also known as the Buluoji. They represent several separate clans of the Xiongnu and are said to be the offspring of the five branches of [the Southern Xiongnu headed by] Liu Yuan (?–315, the founder of the self-claimed Xiongnu dynasty of the Former Zhao 304–29). Another...

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5. The Mystery of the "White-Drake" Oracle: The Iranian Shadows

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pp. 99-118

The late John K. Fairbank summarized the rule of the several so-called non-Chinese dynasties of conquest as follows: “Once in power at Peking, though such non-Chinese dynasties made many innovations, on balance they utilized the Chinese tradition in governing China and to...

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6. Son of Heaven and Son of God

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pp. 119-156

In the preceding chapter, I pointed out the total absence of theophoric personal names in the Chinese onomasticon since antiquity, in sharp contrast to all other Old World cultures and civilizations. This previously unnoticed fact raises many intriguing questions regarding the origin...

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7. Bai Juyi and Central Asia

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pp. 157-182

On the evening of June 22, 1900, a Taoist monk at Dunhuang in northwest China discovered by accident a small, secret grotto hidden for more than eight centuries. Tens of thousands of handwritten (and occasionally printed) scrolls and booklets in various languages were stored inside. This chance find single-handedly changed the study of medieval China and Inner...

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Appendix. Turkic or Proto-Mongolian? A Note on the Tuoba Language

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pp. 183-192

As discussed in various chapters of this book, the Tuoba, or Tabγach, as they are recorded in the Orkhon inscriptions, played a critical role in the history of China, not only for founding the Northern (or Late) Wei dynasty (386–534), but also and perhaps more...


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pp. 193-236


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pp. 237-267


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pp. 268-276


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pp. 277-279

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206289
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243703

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Encounters with Asia