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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
  • Mark Halperin
Jinping Wang, In the Wake of the Mongols: The Making of a New Social Order in North China, 1200–1600. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2018. xxii, 336 pp. US $49.95 (hb). ISBN 978-0-676-498715-9

This book addresses a major historical question, how did the Mongol conquest change Chinese local society? A few essays in the important conference volume, The Song-Yuan-Ming Transition in Chinese History took up this issue, but they focused on south China. There, the foreign occupation left few lasting traces, as Confucian elites, lineage organizations, and well-developed commercial networks eventually proved decisive, be it in Jiangnan, Jiangxi, Fujian, Huizhou, or the Pearl River Delta.1 In the Wake of the Mongols turns our attention northward, specifically to what is present-day Shanxi, and reveals a very different landscape. First, the work reminds us of the unprecedented social, as well as physical, destruction wrought by the thirteenth-century invasion. Second, the book illustrates how Yuan rule departed from Han Chinese political practices, adopted decentralized approaches, favored hereditary succession, and "thus brought back a style of government based on aristocracy" (p. 9). Third, we see how the Buddhist and Daoist churches, granted extensive state patronage in various ways, played major roles in the reconstruction of Shanxi's social fabric and remained crucial players in the region's religious and economic life well into the Ming dynasty. Scholars have "known" aspects of this history, but none have demonstrated with such insight, clarity, and detail as Jinping Wang what this society looked like on the ground.

The first chapter, focusing on the literatus Yuan Haowen 元好問 (1190–1257), draws from Yuan's poetry, inscriptions, occasional pieces, and anecdotes to portray the Jin dynasty's "degree-holder society." Far more northern Chinese took the civil service examinations in the late twelfth century than in the late Northern Song, we learn, making the reigns of Jin Shizong 金世宗 (r. 1161–89) and Zhangzong 章宗 (1190–1208) a "golden age for [Han] Chinese literati" (p. 35). These men, for the most part, received at least some of their education in state schools. That said, however, Wang notes that military agencies held sway over their civilian counterparts, Jurchens laid claim to the state's upper ranks, and so successful Han candidates, with few exceptions, served only in local positions. This ambiguous situation turned much worse with the 1213/14 Mongol devastation of north China, which forced Yuan and his family to flee south of the Yellow [End Page 241] River. Yuan eventually passed the jinshi examinations in 1221, but his political career in the Jin's few remaining years was short, futile, and controversial, marred by his stele inscription for the ignominious Jin general Cui Li 崔立 (?–1234). In this sorry state of affairs, Yuan "found himself watching a local society also on the verge of collapse yet [was] unable to do anything about it" (p. 59). At the same time, Wang notes the lesserknown but telling biographies of the brothers Zhou Xianchen 周獻臣 (1188–1262) and Zhou Ding 周鼎 (1182–1218), associates of Yuan Haowen, whose lives illustrate the perils (and opportunities) brought on by armed conflict. The latter perished in combat, while the former surrendered to the Mongols, became an official, and eventually gained his family elite Hereditary Vassal (shizu 世族) status. The fates of the Zhous and Yuan underscore Wang's point that the final Jin collapse saw "the nearly complete extinction of the literati class" (p. 62).

Chapter 2 details how the Quanzhen 全真 (Perfect Realization) Daoist order helped rebuild post-1234 Shanxi society. Chingghis Khan exempted Quanzhen from state taxes and corvée duties, and granted the order control over North China's religious life. Graced with such protection, Quanzhen, with its systematic, nationwide organization, built scores of temples, congregations, and schools, and conducted a massive Daoist canon compilation project. Quanzhen also developed a sizable economic presence, accumulating land and operating mills and shops. These enterprises, all told, enabled the surviving would-be Confucian scholar-officials to maintain their elite legal (and social...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2050-8999
Print ISSN
0737-769X
Pages
pp. 241-244
Launched on MUSE
2019-11-02
Open Access
No
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