- The Kongs of Qufu: The Descendants of Confucius in Late Imperial China by Christopher S. Agnew
Christopher S. Agnew's ambitious The Kongs of Qufu: The Descendants of Confucius in Late Imperial China constitutes a longitudinal examination of exceptionalism on multiple levels. On the most fundamental level, to be sure, we must regard this exceptionalism foremost as genealogical. After all, from the Han dynasty (202 B.C.E.–220 C.E.) forward, only those Kongs of China based at Qufu (in the southwestern part of the present-day province of Shandong) succeeded in becoming the direct progeny of the fabled "first teacher," Kong Qiu or Confucius (551–479 B.C.E.). On this basis, they thereafter secured the perquisite of perennial enfeoffment by every successive regime of the imperial order. However, this pertinent fact of ancestry notwithstanding, what Agnew's study demonstrates even more deftly is the depth as well as the durability of the exceptionalism with which we are presented by the Qufu Kongs. Through it, he painstakingly illuminates the intricacies of how this lineage was able to withstand not merely dynastic change but also bureaucratic–administrative imperatives across the ages in ways that made its members truly anomalous, distinct from all others in the empire. In doing so, Agnew provides us with a portrait in patriliny that was profoundly adept at exploiting its distinctiveness to its own advantage across time and successful in doing it far more so in novel political and economic terms that we could hardly suspect than in the customary cultural and ritualistic ones that we might normally expect.
Apart from its "Introduction," which most advantageously offers a succinct survey of the existing Chinese- and Western-language secondary literature on the Kongs of Qufu as a lineage and its "Conclusion," which functionally serves more in the vein of an early twentieth-century epilogue than a restatement of prior arguments, Agnew's study consists of seven chronologically progressive chapters. The first chapter, "Inventing the Dukedom," explicates the watershed ritualistic debate of the mid-eleventh century resulting in the creation of the title of Duke for Fulfilling the Sage (Yansheng Gong 衍聖公), which was retained exclusively by the Qufu Kongs and not abolished until 1935.1 However, Agnew simultaneously contextualizes it as the product of factional politics arising during the early or Northern Song dynasty (960–1127), with one clear [End Page 243] ramification being the unprecedented creation of a county magistracy that was administratively separate from the ritualistic jurisdiction of the dukedom and yet still controlled by Kongs, at least at first. This bifurcation of what formerly was a unitary set of privileges vested in one man by imperial fiat was clearly intended to reduce the political influence of Kong lineage. The unintended effect it actually had, however, was to facilitate among the Qufu Kongs a level of self-rule that was replicated nowhere else in the empire, neither then nor later.
Yet, as Agnew makes known via chapters 2 and 3, this early fourteenthcentury designation of Qufu as the county capital and Queli as the ritualistic site of the ducal residence—comprised of the Kong Manor (Kong Fu 孔府), the Kong Temple (Kong Miao 孔廟), and the Kong Cemetery (Kong Lin 孔林)—resulted in a firm jurisdictional distinction between the two (i.e., a bureaucratic wall that had not previously existed). Although separated by a distance of merely nine li 里, or three miles, once the distinction was formalized by Zhu Yuanzhang (1328–1398) as founding emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), the administrative seat of Qufu and the cultural seat of Queli entered into a fraught and oftentimes antagonistic relationship that would continue into the twentieth century. Or, as Agnew states the matter, "Local politics thus took on the character of a struggle between these contending sites and ideas, between those who supported the centralized aristocratic administration of hereditary ducal power, and those who sought to press for the regularization of local administration to bring it more in line...