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Unbounded Loyalty

Frontier Crossings in Liao China

Naomi Standen

Publication Year: 2007

Unbounded Loyalty investigates how frontiers worked before the modern nation-state was invented. The perspective is that of the people in the borderlands who shifted their allegiance from the post-Tang regimes in North China to the new Liao empire (907–1125). Naomi Standen offers new ways of thinking about borders, loyalty, and identity in premodern China. She takes as her starting point the recognition that, at the time, "China" did not exist as a coherent entity, neither politically nor geographically, neither ethnically nor ideologically. Political borders were not the fixed geographical divisions of the modern world, but a function of relationships between leaders and followers. When local leaders changed allegiance, the borderline moved with them. Cultural identity did not determine people’s actions: Ethnicity did not exist. In this context, she argues, collaboration, resistance, and accommodation were not meaningful concepts, and tenth-century understandings of loyalty were broad and various. Unbounded Loyalty sheds fresh light on the Tang-Song transition by focusing on the much-neglected tenth century and by treating the Liao as the preeminent Tang successor state. It fills several important gaps in scholarship on premodern China as well as uncovering new questions regarding the early modern period. It will be regarded as critically important to all scholars of the Tang, Liao, Five Dynasties, and Song periods and will be read widely by those working on Chinese history from the Han to the Qing.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-viii

Maps, Figures, Tables

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

This book is an attempt to portray a world made alien partly by distance, but mostly by history. It is primarily about choices: choices of allegiance, choices of identity, choices of interpretation, the choices people make to negotiate turbulent times. It attempts to define the parameters within which a particular set of people made ...

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pp. 1-12

The reality of China as it exists today is impossible to ignore. But that should not lead us to imagine that China—or its borders—were a historical inevitability. When An Lushan rebelled against the Tang dynasty in 755, the Chinese empire fell apart.1 We know that eventually—over two centuries later—another Chinese empire ...

Part I. Borders, Boundaries, and Frontier Crossers: Concepts and Background

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Chapter 1. You Can’t Get There from Here: Rethinking Categories

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pp. 15-40

There are surely many issues whose definition according to later terms hinders our understanding of the tenth century, but those relevant to this study may be placed under three headings. First, borders: here research questions have tended to focus on why the Song were unable to be the expansive empire that the Tang had ...

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Chapter 2. Fed or Dead: Notions and Uses of Loyalty (Zhong)

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pp. 41-63

If our modern categories are of little help, then we must try to establish what ideas were available to the tenth-century frontier crossers as they made their decisions. The central concept is loyalty, translated from the Chinese word zhong. That this was understood differently in the early imperial period than in later times is clear, but ...

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Chapter 3. Crossing Boundaries and Shifting Borders: The First-Generation Liao Southerners

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pp. 64-104

It is hard to overestimate the difference between the eleventh century judgments and prescriptions of Ouyang Xiu and Sima Guang and the overwhelming uncertainties of the late Tang and early Five Dynasties. In 1005 the treaty of Shanyuan laid down a well-defined borderline between Liao and Song, marking the beginning of 120 years of...

Part II. Working for the Liao: Life Stories

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Chapter 4. Loyalties in the Borderlands: The Founder and the Confucian

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pp. 107-123

Han Yanhui and Zhang Li topped and tailed the earliest phase of Liao relations with the Southern regimes (c. 900–936), when the frontier region was very much a borderland. Han Yanhui crossed to the young Liao dynasty and made important contributions there establishing the institutions of a Tang-style administration. ...

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Chapter 5. An Emerging Boundary: Two Approaches to Serving the Liao

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pp. 124-148

Zhang Li crossed to Liao in 936 alongside his superior Zhao Yanshou. Zhang and Zhao served alongside Han Yanhui at the Liao court of the 930s and 940s, until both died in the late 940s. Zhao Yanshou was half a generation younger than Han Yanhui and Zhang Li, but in a fashion similar to them, he was living under his fourth different regime ...

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Chapter 6. Drawing the Line: Redefinitions of Loyalty

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pp. 149-171

In the half-century between the crossing of Li Huan in 947 and that of Wang Jizhong in 1003, the definition of the frontier changed greatly and in several aspects. In mid-century, Li Huan could still work on the premise that persuading one official to transfer his loyalty would have geopolitical significance, but by 1003 individual choices ...

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Conclusion. Locating Borders: Then, Now, and In Between

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pp. 172-185

In the opening decades of the tenth century the existence of multiple political centers in our frontier zone favored a highly pragmatic approach to borders and loyalty. Allegiances and boundaries were both largely personal or political in nature, and borders between regimes in the frontier zone were determined largely by the shifting ...


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pp. 187-210


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pp. 211-212


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pp. 213-240


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pp. 241-250


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pp. 251-270


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pp. 271-279

E-ISBN-13: 9780824865351
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829834

Publication Year: 2007