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Reviewed by:
  • Capital Cities and Urban Form in Pre-modern China: Luoyang, 1038 BCE to 938 CE by Victor Cunrui Xiong
  • Dong Wang (bio)
Victor Cunrui Xiong. Capital Cities and Urban Form in Pre-modern China: Luoyang, 1038 bce to 938 ce. London: Routledge, 2017. viii, 299 pp. Hardcover $170.00, ISBN 978-1-138-64814-2.

Recent publications show that scholars in the China field pay growing attention to China's second or third-tier cities, especially those that form the heartland of Chinese civilization. The book under review, by Victor Cunrui Xiong, a highly prolific historian of early and medieval China, also ventures beyond metropolises such as Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, and Guangzhou that offer foreign scholars fewer obstacles and well-established background knowledge. With a nod to Rome, Italy and to other Chinese cities, Xiong's historical study focuses on Luoyang from 1038 b.c.e. to 938 c.e.—the imperial and divine capital of thirteen Chinese dynasties on which the expanse of the Yi-Luo river basin converges. Located in the western part of today's Henan Province, Luoyang enjoyed strategic importance in history on the North China Plain. A work of diligence and sound intellect, Xiong's thorough book examines Luoyang's urban layout, landmark structures, demography, and administrative organization as well as its political, economic, social, religious, and cultural life before the eleventh century. The splendor of early Luoyang can only be imagined today. In Victor Xiong's words, "Luoyang was not merely a Weberian 'princely residence,' but a world-class urban center of political power, social interaction, business transactions, and cultural enrichment" (p. 53).

Composed of eight main chapters in chronological order, the book narrates Luoyang's rise and fall and role over nearly two millennia, grounded [End Page 156] in comprehensive archaeological findings, historical texts, epigraphy, as well as other primary and secondary sources. Chapter 1 traces the morphology and founding of Luoyang to Luoyi during the Western Zhou (1021–771 b.c.e.)—the "center of all under the heaven" and the perfect royal residence close to heaven as King Wu, his brother the Duke of Zhou, and King Cheng all claimed in the eleventh century b.c.e. By the Eastern Zhou period (770–256 b.c.e.), two urban centers or twin cities, known as Wangcheng and Chengzhou, emerged in, respectively, the western and eastern areas of Luoyi, in which resided luminaries and officials alongside commoners, including forced migrants of the ex-Shang subjects. Three hundred years after the demise of the Zhou, China's longest dynasty that lasted for eight hundred years, Luoyang was chosen by the Guangwu emperor, Liu Xiu, to become the capital of the Eastern Han (25–220 c.e.) dynasty—the topic of chapter 2. Enclosed in walls with a total area of about 10 square kilometers, Luoyang matched the glory of its contemporary Rome during the first and second centuries. Eastern Han Luoyang, counting a population of approximately 200,000 within its inner city and one million people in its close vicinity, was the largest city in the world at the time. Extravagant palaces, imperial parks, and a ritual network of structures for worship were constructed, making Luoyang an important hub for the worship of Daoist deities and the practice of monastic Buddhism. The "two great polities of Rome and Han China were a magnificent match," as Rafe de Crespigny has pointed out in his Fire over Luoyang: A History of the Later Han Dynasty 23–220 AD (p. 509). During the reign of Emperor He (r. 88–105 c.e.), however, Luoyang fell prey to conflict between the court eunuchs and imperial consort relatives that precipitated mutual destruction and civil war. In 190, Dong Zhuo, the regional military commander, who enthroned the puppet emperor Xian (r. 189–220 c.e.), imposed the westward relocation of Luoyang's residents to Chang'an (Xi'an). Amidst opposition, Dong Zhuo decided to raze Luoyang to ground, sparing nothing.

Chapter 3 tells how Luoyang, although in a dilapidated condition, was saved from total oblivion when Cao Pi, Emperor Wen, in 220 c.e. founded the new regional Cao-Wei dynasty with Luoyang as its capital. Under...


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