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CONFUCIAN SECTARIANISM AND THE COMPILATION OF THE MING HISTORY* Thomas A. Wilson As part of the ideological consolidation of empire, a new ruling house summoned hundreds of scholars to court to form a special History Commission (shiguan) to undertake the daunting responsibility of writing the true and definitive history of the previous dynasty (zhengshi). The guiding principles in deliberating upon the many unresolved controversies left by their predecessors often transcended the conventional historian's sense of truth as factual accuracy, for more fundamental political and moral considerations impinged upon the historians' adjudication of the evidence. Few considerations shaped dynastic histories more profoundly than the goal of legitimating the newly established political and moral order, for, as both inheritors and vanquishers of the dynasty they chronicled, the court historians needed to justify the violent overthrow of an order that their sovereign wished to perpetuate. It is critical, therefore, to recognize that dynastic histories are something more than chronicles of times past, for they can shed light on the ideological circumstances of their compilation. One instance of how contemporary politics influenced history commissions was the compilation of the Song History (Song shi) in 1345. The Yuan dynasty's (1234-1368) court historians also compiled histories of the Liao (916-1125) and Jin (1115-1234), two non-Chinese dynasties that ruled China north of the Huai river during the Song (960-1279). Although seemingly innocent in their logical discreteness, these three histories suggested that the Liao, Jin, and Song shared equal status in the succession of legitimate dynasties (zhengtong), despite the long-standing assumption that there can be only one legitimate ruling house at any one time. By removing the Song from its privileged status as the sole legitimate dynasty of its day, the Mongol court historians avoided the question of which dynasty truly possessed Heaven's *An earlier version on this article was presented at the annual conference of the Association of Asian Studies in New Orleans (April 1991). I am grateful to Lynn A. Struve and Maureen Miller for their comments on that paper. Revisions of this article were supported by the American Council of Learned Societies. I would like to thank On-cho Ng and the anonymous readers for their comments. Late Imperial China Vol. 15, No. 2 (December 1994): 53-84 53 54Thomas A. Wilson mandate to rule. There were calls on the History Commission to compile one history, that of the Song, to which the Liao and the Jin were to be appended in the form of biographies of Liao and Jin rulers, as a way to affirm the Song's sole claim to the mandate of Heaven.1 Yuan court historians' refusal to take a stand on the issue makes sense in light of the Mongols' claim to legitimacy, which hinged on the premise that they directly inherited the mandate from the Jin, which they carried with them in the conquest of the Song. To deny legitimacy to the Jin undermined their own claim to the legitimate succession. The compilation of the Song History illustrates that political considerations not only affect the content of the chronicles, but that the complex form of official histories was particularly susceptible to intricate manipulation at several levels. As an historiographie genre, the official history is a hybrid of heterogeneous documentary forms. It comprises the basic annals (benji) of the empire organized according to the reigns of successive rulers, chronicles of hereditary households (shijia), tables (biao) listing the occupants of high bureaucratic posts, comprehensive treatises (zhi) on institutional and ritual statutes, geography and astronomy, among others, and finally typologized biographies (liezhuan) of a wide variety of people. The strength of this "annals and biographies" (ji-zhuan) genre, explained Liu Zhiji (661-721), one of the earliest theorists of Chinese historiography, is its capacity to address grand affairs in the annals, while covering the minutiae of small events in the biographies .2 The annals and biographies genre's polyvalent capacity to generalize on universal truths while promoting individuals as moral exemplars, as well as recounting the misfortunes of those who violate those truths, enhances its usefulness as a didactic tool in the throne's enterprise of legitimating itself and its moral order. By...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3257
Print ISSN
0884-3236
Pages
pp. 53-84
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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