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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Constructing Memories: The Making of Song Historical Sources
3: History as Statecraft: Lü Zhong’s 吕中 (fl. 1240s) Critique of State Activism
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
McMaster University, United States
Southern Song (1127-1279) literati developed their views of good government through a careful survey of their own dynastic history following the long-standing tradition of Chinese historical writing. Through the evaluation of historical precedents, they expressed their political visions and promoted institutional alternatives. By closely reading Lü Zhong’s 呂中 (jinshi 1247) two collections of lecture notes on the major issues and events of Northern and Southern Song political history, this article will illuminate what was probably the most significant purpose of historical writing in the Chinese tradition: “history as statecraft.” Through a methodical critique of Wang Anshi’s 王安石 (1021–1086) New Polices (xinfa 新法), the subsequent state activist regimes spanning the fifty years of the late Northern Song, and the troubled eras of ministerial tyrannies in the Southern Song up to the 1220s, Lü Zhong systematically developed his visions of good government, predicated upon a limited yet strong state, checks and balances in administration, open channels for expressing public opinion, and the conducive role of elites in local society. Furthermore, this article argues that the Southern Song Yongjia 永嘉 statecraft thinkers, especially Ye Shi 葉適 (1150–1223), informed Lü Zhong’s political visions, and that Lü Zhong’s lecture notes were widely circulated among generations of historically-minded intellectuals in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Their continuing discourses on the history of the Song dynasty helped to shape the master narratives of the official Song History (Song shi 宋史) in the Yuan dynasty.