- China and the Mongols: History and Legend under the Yuan and Ming
The Variorum Collected Studies Series has gathered together here ten essays on Yuan and Ming history by Hok-lam Chan, one of the foremost scholars writing on China in the era of the conquest dynasties (tenth to fourteenth centuries) and on Ming China. Written over a twenty-five-year period, from 1967 to 1992, these ten essays represent an impressive array of scholarly interests. In particular, the question of how traditional Chinese modes of writing history fared under the conquest dynasties is explored in several of the offerings in this volume.
The first essay, "Chinese Official Historiography at the Yuan Court," originally published in 1981, shows that the Mongols' compilation of the Liao, Jin, and Song dynastic histories was motivated by a desire of the ruling Mongols to achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the Chinese population, and not out of a genuine Mongolian interest in Chinese literary culture. Chan also explains why the Xi Xia [End Page 409] kingdom, ruled by the Tanguts in Northwest China from 1032 to 1227, was not accorded its own standard history. Contemporary Chinese historians did not view the Xi Xia as legitimate, according to Chan, since the Tanguts were culturally far removed from the Chinese orbit. Also, Tangut-language source material was probably in large part inaccessible to the Yuan court historians. One might also speculate that the Mongols' own low opinion of Tangut duplicity, as evidenced in the 1227 Secret History of the Mongols account of why Chinggis decreed the annihilation of the entire Tangut population, may have entered into the decision not to grant the Tanguts historiographical standing.
In the same essay, Chan demonstrates that the dynastic histories of the Liao and Jin, compiled during the Yuan dynasty, with their vocabularies of non-Chinese terms, were more adept in treating the culturally different Khitans and Jurchens than the Yuan dynastic history, compiled under the Ming. In spite of the multiplicity of Mongolian, Turkic, and other foreign terms scattered throughout the Yuan shi, the early Ming compilers, working in haste, as Chan points out, neglected to include a vocabulary of foreign names and terms. Although Chan does not explicitly explore the cultural attitudes behind such historiographical decisions, one might speculate that in addition to being in a hurry, the early Ming compilers were simply evincing an attitude of lack of interest and disdain toward the foreign.
The second and third essays continue the exploration into the question of how traditional Chinese historiography fared under the conquest dynasties. Chan delves into the contributions of Wang E and Ma Duanlin, respectively, in "Wang O's Contribution to the History of the Chin Dynasty (1115-1234)" and "'Comprehensiveness' (T'ung) and 'Change' (Pien) in Ma Tuan-lin's Historical Thought."
Early Ming official history-writing and popular legends are the subjects of four essays in the volume. In "The Rise of Ming T'ai-tsu (1368-98): Facts and Fictions in Early Ming Official Historiography," Chan examines the image of the Ming founder in both the popular and elite traditions. The rise from peasant to emperor inspired many legends, anecdotes, and pseudo-historical accounts in Ming and later times. Zhu Yuanzhang in his own lifetime was involved in manipulating the historical record to shape the image he wished to project. The fanciful story of the Ming founder's miraculous birth even found its way into the seventeenth-century Mongolian chronicle, the Altan tobci.
Two essays on Liu Ji, the scholar-official who served as the Ming founder's chief political adviser, complement each other. In "Liu Chi (1311-75) and his Models: The Image-Building of a Chinese Imperial Adviser," Chan traces the process whereby the actual identity of Liu Ji was overwhelmed by a composite stereotype of the exemplary imperial adviser. The article explores the role of imperial adviser in Confucian political theory, looking back to the classical...