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  • The Cambridge History of China, Volume 5, Part 2: Sung China, 960–1279 ed. by John W. Chaffee, Denis Twitchett
  • Patricia Ebrey
The Cambridge History of China, Volume 5, Part 2: Sung China, 960–1279 edited by John W. Chaffee and Denis Twitchett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xvii + 957. $196.00 cloth, $152.00 e-book.

The publication of the second Song volume of The Cambridge History of China is a milestone in Western scholarship on the Song period, one that has been several decades in the making. Denis Twitchett was already commissioning chapters in the early 1970s, though most of those chapters had to be abandoned after their authors’ deaths. In 1986 he recruited a group of young scholars to do additional chapters; some thirty years later they are senior figures in the field. A majority of the authors are Americans, mostly contemporaries of each other. (In fact, six of them got their PhDs in just six years between 1975 and 1980, a cohort to which I also belong.)

The ten chapters in this volume differ substantially in scope and length, the longest (139 pages) four times as long as the shortest (35 pages). The authors were given leeway to develop their chapters as they saw fit, with the result that some chapters concentrate on describing Song practices and institutions, citing mostly primary sources, while others also discuss the scholarly literature. All authors provide helpful glosses of Chinese technical terms. Readers already familiar with an author’s earlier publications will appreciate his or her efforts to boil down the arguments and consider more recent scholarship. For those who have not read an author’s books or articles, these chapters provide insightful introductions to the topic and the author’s work on it. They thus would be good points of entry for graduate students wanting to gain a grounding in a field.

Each chapter makes a distinct contribution and deserves a brief description. In the first chapter Charles Hartman gives an overview of [End Page 175] the Song government, tellingly beginning with office-holders. A prime feature of Song government practice, he writes, was “its intensely written, bureaucratic character” (p. 43). Even the highest officials regularly wrote out what they wanted to tell the emperor. The topics Hartman covers range from paperwork to consultative assemblies and how court audiences worked as both rituals and steps in the decision-making process. Hartman provides a sense of what it was like to slowly make one’s way up the career ladder, with the need for endorsements and ratings based on such quantifiable measures as the number of documents processed. Hartman then turns to an analysis of the monarchy, which to him includes not just the emperor but also those close to him, including eunuchs, empresses, chief councilors, and academicians. Hartman quickly dismisses the idea that the Song saw the beginnings of autocracy and shows the Northern Song instead to be the great age of the scholar-official. Hartman also draws attention to the success of empress regents, concluding that they contributed to “the political stability and the intensely literate, cultured character of the Sung monarchy” (p. 89).

Each of the next four chapters takes one facet of the Song state to analyze in more detail. In chapter 2, Peter Golas focuses on the financial side—the government’s collection and disbursement of revenue. He covers the wide variety of taxes levied, the government monopolies, and the maintenance of currency, often arguing that government measures favored economic growth. He generally sees New Policy reforms of finances as advances in efficiency, at one point calling the antireformers’ counterpolicies “backward looking and wholly inadequate” (p. 155). He does not see loss of the north as much of a setback to state finances, as it eliminated the need to ship grain long distances to supply the army. The Southern Song armies arrayed along the new northern border could be supplied from local sources, removing a major source of financial stress.

Wang Zengyu’s chapter 3, on the Song military system, condenses material in his book in Chinese on the subject.1 It deals with the size of the armies and their locations...


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