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China and Inner Asia
In Session: After the Heavenly Qaghans: Multi-Ethnic Approaches to the Tang-Song Transition
3: The Political Legacy of Wu in the Tenth-Century Southern Kingdoms
Friday, March 26, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Eckerd College, United States
The Wuren 吳人 offer an unusually well-documented case study in non-Han alternatives of ethnogenesis. The leadership of the sixth-century Central Plains empires regarded them as a distinctive ethnic group, akin to the Koguryans, the Rouran, and the Huren of Central Asia. The Jiankang regimes had by this time developed a distinctive political culture of their own, which was partially rooted in local vernacular traditions: most notably, the historical legacy of Sun Quan and the power of Jiang Ziwen, the empire’s tutelary deity. In 589 the Sui conquerors intentionally eradicated this tradition, along with the city of Jiankang (at modern Nanjing), and the Tang submerged it with universalizing rhetoric and active suppression. But it did not go away. Unofficial and local histories and shrines celebrated Sun Quan as the “Great Emperor of Wu” in defiance of Tang imperial practice, a legacy the Wu state in the late ninth/early tenth centuries was able to build upon. Even as the Wu court claimed the mantle of the Tang, it also relocated back to the old Wu imperial seat of power, nestled amongst the tombs of past southern emperors, and actively revived the cult of Jiang Ziwen and other early medieval heroes who had resisted northern rule. Their emphasis on division between the Wuren and the peoples of the Central Plains poses a challenge to a singular definition of Sinitic political and ethnic identity.