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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Writing the Other: Narratives of China’s Borderlands
1: Hierarchy of the Other: Writing East in Early Medieval China
Monday, March 22, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
Sanguo zhi 三國志 (Records of the Three Kingdoms) was the first standard history to include a section on the Eastern Yi 東夷, which is one of the most comprehensive Chinese sources on early Korean history. Eastern Yi was a collective name of the polities located within Korean peninsula, parts of Manchuria, modern northeastern China as well as the Japanese archipelago. Standard histories that were compiled later, for the most part, reiterated the material on the Eastern Yi from the Sanguo zhi, yet still provided a glimpse on rich Sino-Korean exchanges and political interactions during the third-fifth centuries.
Ethnographic accounts in the “Eastern Yi” section share a similar narrative structure: descriptions of geographical features, system of officialdom, purported personality attributes, penal system and marriage and funeral customs. While the narratives included certain clichés and prejudices it was still a reliable record of practical use. The overall positive or negative evaluations directly correlated with the polities’ relationship status with China at the time and reflected political and social motivations behind creation of the certain image of one or another group of foreigners. The paper would probe the specific vocabulary and imagery used to distinguish between the uncomfortable and accepted “Other” to identify the underlying mechanisms of compilation and purpose of the ethnographic accounts in the standard histories.