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The Jin Revisited: New Assessment of Jurchen Emperors

From: Journal of Song-Yuan Studies
Volume 41, 2011
pp. 343-404 | 10.1353/sys.2011.0030

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In scholarship specializing in the Jurchen (Nüzhen 女真 or Nüzhi 女直)1 Jin dynasty (1115–1234), the prevailing trend is to draw certain lines between the imperial reign times. The earlier Jin emperors beginning with the second, Taizong 太宗 (r. 1123–1134),2 Xizong 熙宗 (r. 1135–50)3 and Hai ling wang 海陵王 (r. 1150–61)4 are labelled as ‘sinicized’ emperors.5 The fifth, Shizong 世宗 (r. 1161–89),6 is seen as the emperor who tried to resist this sinicization by initiating a Jurchen ‘revival’ or ‘nativistic movement.’7 However, this characterization is not as assured as it might seem. By re-analyzing the political, cultural and educational measures of that time, it will become obvious that the Jin emperors were closely connected to one another in their political aims—that is, a resolute centralization of the government in imperial hands—and also in their ways of achieving them.

A new analysis will show that neither the hypothesis of a promotion of sinicization by Taizong, Xizong and Hailing wang nor of a ‘nativistic movement’ by Shizong is solid. All four of them had a way of ruling and of using political measures for their own sake, which cannot be described as either favoring or rejecting assimilation to the Han culture.8 They used Han politics to secure their own positions of power but also adjusted parts of the Han system to suit their needs. At the same time all of them were also well aware of the necessity of maintaining their distinct ethnic identity as the legitimacy of their rule was based on it. My analysis shows that the Jurchen Jin emperors, especially Taizong, Xizong, Hailing wang and Shizong, were strongly connected in their way of consolidating their power by centralization and by further institutional and cultural political measures also aimed at an ethnic differentiation. This leads directly to the research questions asked when re-analyzing the well-known sources from Jin, Song and Yuan times, which are: do they confirm the assumption of sinicization as well as of a ‘Jurchen revival movement’? And, if not, how can the reign times of the four Jin emperors in question be evaluated?

In analyzing the writings of modern Jin scholars, my main research questions are: Where and when did the idea of a break between Shizong and his predecessors develop? On what sources and evidences is it based? Who perpetuated it?

The first part of this article analyzes the sources about the Jurchen Jin, thereby referring both to those sources dating from the Jin, Song and Yuan times, and to modern scholarship. In the second section I will turn to the emperors themselves and analyze their reign periods. The article will end with a conclusion embedding the analytical results gained by re-visiting the Jurchen emperors into the framework of Jin research of the 20th and 21st centuries.

State of the Art

In finding answers to the research questions given above, the distinction between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ sources becomes blurred. As the theses and assumptions of modern Jin scholars are questioned, their works become ‘primary’ sources, while the early sources from Jin and Yuan times are used to reconsider the assumptions made in referring to them. Hence, I will introduce sources from Jin and Yuan times as well as contemporary scholarly works on the Jin.

Sources from Jin, Song and Yuan Times

The most extensive sources about the Jurchen and the Jin dynasty are written in Chinese and date from the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368).9 There also exist some contemporary sources like travel records written by Song envoys. Only very few sources in Jurchen script—mainly commemorative steles—have been found.10

The foremost work about the Jurchen and also their dynasty is the Jinshi 金史.11 It was composed under the editorship of Toghto (Chinese name Tuotuo 脫脫) (1314–1355) and presented to the court in 1345.12 The actual authors and compilers were the twenty-six officials—six Compilers (zuanxiu guan 纂修官) and twenty Supervisors (tidiao guan 提調官)—who worked under Toghto, among them sixteen Han scholars, the rest being Mongols and Turks.13 The Jinshi is based on several official records from Jin times14 and the works of three private historians...

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