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  • A Song Dynasty “Naturalist” Explores China’s Southwestern “Contact Zone”
  • Benjamin B. Ridgway (bio)
James M. Hargett, translator. Treatises of the Supervisor and Guardian of the Cinnamon Sea. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011. lxvi, 349 pages. Hardcover $80.00, ISBN 978-0-295-99078-1. Paperback $40.00, ISBN 978-0-295-99079-8. [End Page 400]

The publication of James Hargett’s complete and annotated English translation of the Treatises of the Supervisor and Guardian of the Cinnamon Sea by the University of Washington Press stands as a major milestone in the field of sinology as well as in Hargett’s prolific career. With this work, Hargett has succeeded in providing translations for all four of the major prose works of the twelfth-century traveler and literatus Fan Chengda (1126–1193). These include Fan’s Diary of Grasping the Carriage Reigns (1170), Diary of Mounting a Simurgh (1172), Diary of a Boat Trip to Wu (1177), and now the Treatise (1175).1 Fan’s thirty-plus-year official career took him to nearly every corner of the Southern Song empire, including the northern border with the competing Jurchen Jin dynasty (1115–1234) as well as into the expanding southwestern frontier. As Fan notes himself in the Treatises, “I was born in Eastern Wu but in the north served in You and Ji, in the south resided in Jiao and Guang, and in the west held office below the Min Mountains and Mount Emei” (p. 8). In the Treatises, Fan recorded his firsthand observations of the material culture, customs, and governmental administration of the southwestern frontier located in the Guangnan Western Circuit (modern-day Guangxi province), with special reference to the various non-Chinese Man peoples who inhabited that general region and lands nearby, including Hainan island. As such, Hargett’s felicitous, lucid, and thoroughly researched translation will be of particular interest to specialists in the fields of Chinese history, geography, and literature of the middle period. More broadly speaking, as the earliest and most detailed prose work in the Chinese tradition describing the southwestern frontier of the Chinese empire and the interaction there between Han Chinese and non-Chinese peoples, this translation should also draw the attention of scholars interested in comparative frontiers and “contact zones” or “social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other,” to borrow a term from Mary Louise Pratt.2

Hargett’s work is divided into two parts, a scholarly introduction and the complete annotated translation. The substantial introduction aims to place Fan’s work in its historical and cultural context, as well as to consider the generic affiliation and language of the Treatises. Hargett aids the reader in situating Fan’s Treatise by providing a brief history of the conquest and colonization of the southwestern regions known as “beyond the mountain range” (lingwai 嶺外), comprising modern-day Guangxi and Guangdong, by a succession of Chinese dynasties beginning with the Qin (221–207 b.c.e.) and Han (206 b.c.e.–220 c.e.) dynasties of early China and extending to the Tang (618–907 c.e.) and Song (960–1279 c.e.) during the middle period. Within this introduction, the most important point for understanding the southwestern frontier of the Song empire, as it came to be by the twelfth century, is Hargett’s introduction to the bridle-and-halter political-administrative units through which the Southern Song government administered the Guangnan Western Circuit, following a practice established during the Tang dynasty. These units allowed the Song government to establish a loose reign on [End Page 401] territory on the southwestern frontier without incurring the high expenses necessary to maintain a highly militarized border. Hargett summarizes that in the bridle-and-halter units, “willing or submissive local people were organized by the Song into a Chinese administrative hierarchy, usually headed by hereditary local chiefs who had near-absolute control over land distribution but who were subordinate to Chinese civil and military authority in the region” (p. xxvi). Furthermore, Hargett states that such units also entailed a “civilizing” impulse, for “the Chinese hoped this system would ‘convert’ or ‘Confucianize’ the various border peoples to a ‘cultured’ Chinese lifestyle” (p. xxvii...


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