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  • The Way of the Barbarians: Redrawing Ethnic Boundaries in Tang and Song China by Shao-yun Yang
  • Christopher Atwood (bio)
Shao-yun Yang. The Way of the Barbarians: Redrawing Ethnic Boundaries in Tang and Song China. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2019. xii, 229 pp. Hardcover $95.00. isbn 978-02-95-74602-9. Paperback $30.00. isbn 978-0-295-74603-6.

In The Way of the Barbarian, Shao-yun Yang tackles one of the main tropes of the "Tang-Song transition": the idea of a cosmopolitan, xenophile Tang (618–907) being replaced by a proto-nationalist, xenophobic Song dynasty (960–1279). This change in the perception of the outside world is often seen as one of the ways in which a medieval China became "late imperial," if not "early modern," along with the rise of commerce and urbanism, Neo-Confucianism, and the new gentry society organized around the examination system. After a penetrating examination of the "barbarian" trope in Chinese thought from Han Yu (768–824) to Hu Anguo (1074–1138), Shao-yun Yang concludes that there was indeed a significant transition, but its origins, nature, and significance have been mischaracterized, out of a desire to make both the Tang and the Song more "like us" than they really were.

Shao-yun Yang, who teaches East Asian history at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, begins the Way of the Barbarians with a critique of the previous conceptual tools used to understand this shift in thought. These conceptual tools he summarizes as the "culturalism-to-nationalism" and "culturalism, not racism" theses associated with Joseph Levenson, Qian Mu, and Chen Yinke (p. 11). Seeing Classicism as advocating "culturalism," he contends, relies on an untenable wholistic conception of "culture." (Following his teacher Michael Nylan, Yang prefers "Classicism" to the usual "Confucianism.") In reality, Classicist thinkers divided what we would consider "culture" into morally based "mores" (liyi 禮儀) and submoral "folkways" (fengsu 風俗). "Nationalism" he finds problematic due to its implication that the weaker Song renounced in theory as well as fact dominion over "barbarian" lands formerly under the Tang—a claim for which he finds abundant counterevidence. Recent claims that Song identity was "racial" fall afoul of the geographical mutability of human nature inherent in the theory of qi; barbarians could become Chinese simply by moving into China, where the beneficial qi would turn them into what they could not be in peripheral lands—subjects capable of morality. Revisionist ideas that the Chinese did not have any unified view of "barbarians"—or that indeed terms like yi 夷 and di 狄 were not actually derogatory at all—are debunked on purely empirical grounds.

In place of these defective formulations, Shao-yun Yang sums up the late Tang's ideological innovations on the Sino-barbarian question in two different rhetorical strategies. The first he calls "ethnicized orthodoxy" and the second he calls "ethnocentric moralism." In the rhetoric of "ethnicized orthodoxy," pioneered by the famous late Tang literatus Han Yu, those who do not embrace [End Page 300] the speaker's own version of orthodox Classicism are not really Chinese; they are barbarians. "Ethnocentric moralism," which Yang first traces in the essays of Chen An (c. 805–871) and Cheng Yan (fl. 895–904), is another rhetorical strategy in which those who do not follow "ritual propriety and moral duty" (liyi) are not just bad Chinese; they are not actually Chinese at all. Both positions presume that "Chinese" and "barbarian" are neither objective sociological categories nor a subjective realities, but a label that depended on the speaker's own evaluation of the person's orthodoxy or morality. Those who do not measure up to the writer's standards are, whether they know it or not—and usually they do not—following the "Way of the Barbarians" (variously Yidi zhi dao 夷狄之道, Yidao 夷道, or Didao 狄道).

In chapter 1, Yang argues that "ethnicized orthodoxy" was Han Yu's innovation, and in chapter 2, he follows how this innovative rhetorical argument was deployed in debate with Liu Zongyuan (773–819) over the ethnic and moral status of Buddhism and Buddhists. In chapter 3, Yang traces the origin of ethnocentric moralist rhetoric in Chen An's "Chinese at Heart" and...


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