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  • In the Wake of the Mongols: The Making of a New Social Order in North China, 1200–1600 by Jinping Wang
  • Carl Déry (bio)
Jinping Wang. In the Wake of the Mongols: The Making of a New Social Order in North China, 1200–1600. Harvard University Press, 2018. xxii, 336 pp. Hardcover $49.95, isbn 978-0-674-98715-9.

This book tells a story that brings us into the aftermath of the devastating Mongol conquest of China. With an emphasis on the social elites of the Shanxi province, the objective is to illustrate "how northern Chinese men and women resiliently adapted . . . and created a radically new social order under the leadership of Daoists and Buddhists" (p. 4). While traditional historiography of social elites in China concentrates more on a Southern based narrative, underlying the dominant role of the Confucian literati culture, the author argues that this interpretative model does not apply to the Northern distinctive society in which "elite families had to rely on powerful religious institutions to help create and strengthen community solidarity" (p. 20). The author draws on unpublished and rarely or never studied stele inscriptions to better grasp the social transformations of the time revealed by interactions among rural communities. Aside from these steles which "were the most common way for northern individuals and institutions to express their social power" (p. 25), the author also relies on other sources like local gazetteers and literary anthologies. With a strong focus on the elites and on the institutions that dominated local society, the book reveals how religious institutions and clergy members all played important roles in social reorganization caused by dynastic transition, political reform, and natural disasters. [End Page 236]

The book is divided into five chapters structured by time period and topics. The first chapter helps to provide the baseline for Northern Chinese degree-holder society before the Mongol conquest, presenting the changing life of a well known scholar during the Jin Dynasty, Yuan Haowen 元好問 (190–1257). The next three chapters present the social, political, and economic dimension of religious institutions that created the distinctive social order in North China during the transformative era of the Mongol rule. While chapter two presents the Quanzhen Daoist order, chapter three deals with the Buddhist order at Mount Wutai and chapter four discusses the implication of these communities in developing local irrigation projects. As another measure of transformation, chapter five presents the Ming dynasty and how it also changed the recently developed socio-economic model and brought back literati culture to a central role.

The story of Yuan Haowen illustrates "the functioning of the typical Chinese examination based society" (p. 28). His life depicts the Jin-Yuan transition and his writings are a testimony of the transformation following the destructive Mongol invasion, marking "the disappearance of critical institutions that had sustained the Jin degree-holder society" (p. 49). After having lost all their property and being plunged into poverty, numerous scholars had to become peasants, and this generated "a new type of literati-peasant connection [and it gave] literati awareness of social problems and perspectives on social customs that differed from what they had been used to learning from texts" (p. 53). In these troubled times, the Quanzhen Daoist order, established between 1153–1160, offered a teaching "that particularly appealed to powerless people because of its religious simplicity, economic self-reliance, and charitable practices" (p. 63). Imperial patronage also played a crucial role in the development of the institution, and it help the devotees "to survive the chaos of their times" (p. 66). After having won great popularity among local people because of his relief work, Qiu Chuji 丘處機 (1148-1227), a religious leader from the Shandong province, was recognized as the leader of all Daoists by Chinggis Khan in 1220–1222, who then issued two edicts "exempting his disciples from taxes and the duty of labor service" (p. 67). Preoccupied by conquest, the Mongols conferred a great deal of autonomy and administrative responsibility to local group organizations that they felt were competent and reliable. The prominent position of the Quanzhen Daoist order helped the literati who suffered from the hardships of the time, especially after the suppression...


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