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Reviewed by:
  • Transformative Journeys: Travel and Culture in Song China
  • Stephen McDowall (bio)
Cong Ellen Zhang. Transformative Journeys: Travel and Culture in Song China. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011. xvi, 304 pp. Hardcover $49.00, ISBN 978-0-8248-3399-2.

Scholars have long considered the Song (960–1279) to have been a critical moment in the development of Chinese travel literature. James Hargett notes that it was “during this period that the travel record became a widely practiced form of literary expression.”1 Richard Strassberg observes that by the end of the Song, “a number of influential texts had emerged to form a canon [of travel literature], while the important sites of literary pilgrimage had been mapped and inscribed.”2 While we usually attribute this shift to the development of infrastructure and the expansion of the civil service, we have thus far tended to be rather vague about the precise details of this elaborate system. In Transformative Journeys, Cong Ellen Zhang seeks to bring the travel of Song scholar-officials (shidafu 士大夫), a new elite that emerged during this period (p. 4), into a much clearer focus, examining the role of the imperial government in mobilizing officials, the impact of travel on the identity and status of the travelers themselves, and the role of travel in the development of local history. She argues that “the Song state was instrumental in creating and maintaining an elite group of scholar-officials,” and that through travel, these men “strengthened their position as the country’s political, social, and cultural leaders” (pp. 3–4).

Zhang’s use of official sources is impressive. She draws extensively from the Song huiyao 宋會要 (Collected essential documents of the Song) and the Qingyuan tiaofa shilei 慶元條法事類 (Categorically arranged compendium of administrative law of the Qingyuan [1195–1200] period), two collections that document the large number of official edicts and policies that were issued to regulate travel during the Northern and Southern Song periods (across which she sees a high degree of continuity; p. 15). At least some of the regulations and processes she [End Page 387] discusses would have been in place already during the Tang (618–907), but here Zhang is able to take advantage of the greater number of Song sources available, the result of an expanding publishing industry, but also of the more focused efforts at systematic regulation made by the central government, particularly during the Northern period. By examining the regulations (even those that have not survived) such as the Jiayou yiling 嘉祐驛令 (Regulations on the use of courier stations during the Jiayou [1056–1063] reign), promulgated in 1059 and the first set of its kind issued by the central government (p. 103), Zhang is able to trace in some detail the development of official travel infrastructure over time. On the other hand, given the “inexhaustible” extant materials on Song elite travel (p. 14), it is a shame that for firsthand literati evidence she chooses to turn repeatedly to Lu You’s 陸游 (1125–1210) Ru Shu ji 入蜀記 (Record of a journey into Shu) and Fan Chengda’s 范成大 (1126–1193) Wuchuan lu 吳船錄 (Diary of a boat trip to Wu), two wonderfully readable travel accounts to be sure, but also the two with which we are already the most familiar.3

Nevertheless, students and specialists alike will find chapters 2–5, in which Zhang meticulously examines the regulations, transport, lodging, porters, guards, paperwork, rituals, and receptions associated with official travel, to be a significant and original contribution both to travel studies and to Song studies more generally. There is real depth to Zhang’s examination of the practicalities involved in the movement of officials and the specific government offices involved. As well as official regulations, she draws on anecdotal writings such as Hong Mai’s 洪邁 (1123–1202) Yijian zhi 夷堅志 (Record of the listener), detailing the intricacies not only of the documents required by officials before they were able to travel, but also of how these documents were produced: the silk used was manufactured exclusively for government use, partly to prevent forgery, and the quality of each document depended on the rank of the official (p. 71). In chapter 6, Zhang highlights the enormous financial burden placed on...


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