To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
China and Inner Asia
In Session: Hidden Structures: Data, Social Networks and Politics in Early and Medieval China
2: Teachers to the Throne: Social Network and Political Power in the Western Han China (202 BC E–9 C.E)
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
University of Notre Dame, United States
Beginning with Mencius (fourth century BCE), Confucians promoted themselves as masters of morality and teachers to the throne. This paper explores the fundamental historical change that took place when Confucians realized their dream. Via social network analysis, I show that by the middle of the Western Han, Confucians had managed to generally monopolize the position of tutor to the crown prince. When their students succeeded to the throne, they were rewarded with promotions to the highest official posts. Networks based on teacher-disciple relationships served as a social structure channeling political power to Confucians, helping them bypass the hierarchical ladder of the bureaucracy. The political philosophy advocated by Confucians for centuries legitimated the practice of transforming teachers without any administrative experience into immensely powerful ministers. I contend that Confucians’ ambition for political power created a paradox: they hoped to become, at the same time, the players and judges of the political realm. But neither their philosophical discourse nor their teacher-disciple networks could provide a solid, material basis for autonomy. As Confucians’ social prestige and power mainly derived from the official positions they occupied, they were at the mercy of political authority and could not achieve the moral independence they needed to protest against the politics.