2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 138

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Edges of the Mongol-Yuan World: Situating the Yuan Dynasty in New Spatial and Temporal Contexts

Organizer: Anne Gerritsen, University of Warwick, United Kingdom

Chair: Paul Jakov Smith, Haverford College, USA

Discussant: Morris Rossabi, City University of New York, USA

This panel seeks to shed new light on the Mongol-Yuan dynasty by bringing together a multi-disciplinary group of scholars. It proposes to investigate the ‘edges’ of the Yuan: the zones of interaction between the Yuan dynasty (or what we have come to think of as the Mongol’s interpretation of the Han-Chinese mode of control over Han-Chinese territory) and what was beyond it. These zones of interaction are spatial and temporal, material and intellectual. Dunnell looks at the contact zone in Central Asia, and specifically at the role of the Tanguts in the Mongol political formation, while Park explores the interaction in port cities such as Quanzhou and Guangzhou, where Han Chinese gradually acquired more understanding of the Islamic world. Yu’s zone is temporal: she looks at the ways in which literati painters of the Yuan appropriated the legacy of their Song predecessors, while Gerritsen’s interest lies with the changes in Yuan-dynasty material culture with the influx of objects and materials from the northern steppe lands. The Yuan dynasty has often been regarded as an aberration of the norm, interrupting the trajectory of socio-economic and cultural growth from Song to late Ming-early Qing. New approaches in early China and Qing studies have emphasized the importance of contact zones and non-Han presence. The time has come to bring such approaches to Yuan studies, too. A new understanding of “Yuan-ness” will emerge by exploring the edges of the Mongol-Yuan world. The papers will be available online beforehand, allowing more discussion in the panel.

A Gathering with the Past: Yuan Scholars and Their Song Predecessors
Christina Yu, University of Southern California, USA

The Yuan dynasty has been called by modern scholars as both “nascence” and “renaissance,” depending on one’s perception of its relationship to previous periods in the history of painting in China. This presentation looks at the topic from Yuan scholars’ own creations and activities – how they constructed an identity by actively and consciously modeling themselves on their cultural predecessors, especially those from the previous Song dynasty. I do so by focusing on a specific genre of painting, yaji tu, which depicts scholars gathering in gardens. During the Yuan dynasty, scholars with the financial means regularly hosted gatherings and parties for people with similar minds at their residences and gardens. At these gatherings, poems praising the gardens and their high-minded hosts were composed, antiques were displayed and appreciated, music was played, and paintings were created. This presentation shows that Yuan scholars not only modeled their gatherings on those which took place in the Song dynasty, but also viewed and inscribed yaji tu from the Song dynasty and even created their own yaji tu in the same style as the Song examples. I argue that the Yuan dynasty is a continuation and crystallization of the ideas, debates, practices, and achievements of Song and earlier literati painters. The cultural identity shared by the Yuan literati community was built on the scholars’ pride in continuing a cultural lineage that they carefully traced back in history.

Gansu under the Yuan: Tangut Martial Families and the Tangut Homeland in Transition
Ruth W. Dunnell, Kenyon College, USA

After 1227, much of the former Xia state became appanages (fendi) of Mongol imperial princes; Hexi and contiguous lands south and west/northwest was dominated by Chaghataid and Ögödeid princely lines (these areas later came under the Gansu provincial administration). Qubilai and his descendants held fiefs east and southeast of Hexi (Jingzhao, Lintao, in the Shaanxi provincial administration). From ca. 1260 Qubilai attempted to assert greater (Yuan) control over the unsettled Hexi frontier with Central Asia in the tug-of-war with his brother Ariq Böke, his nephew Qaidu, and their followers. His efforts proved only partially successful, although they did spark a revival or expansion of formal governing institutions in the former Tangut territories, and boosted the careers of many Tanguts living there (and elsewhere). Extant Yuan sources overwhelmingly document Tanguts of military background or origin; those who forged careers in Mongol/Yuan service, rose to high rank, served around the empire, and/or established reputations in Confucian circles left a larger footprint in the record. They did not, by and large, remain in Gansu or Ningxia, for which documentation remains sparse. This paper explores the relationships among the princely establishments, Yuan bureaucracy, and Tanguts in service to the new masters of the land. It forms part of a larger project to reconstruct the career, residence, marriage (family), and associational patterns of Tangut Semu (western, central and northern Asians serving in the Yuan political establishment), as a way to problematize the category of Semu, and to analyze social and cultural change under the Yuan.

The Yuan and Things: Southern Transformations of Mongol Material Culture
Anne Gerritsen, University of Warwick, United Kingdom

Our view of the material legacy of the Mongol-Yuan dynasty is generally dominated by ceramics. Scholars highlight the importance of Yuan developments in porcelain technology, including the addition of cobalt ore to make the famous blue-and-white wares, while reports of archaeological excavations of Yuan-dynasty hoards provide long lists of Yuan-dynasty ceramic wares. A closer examination of the historiographical and administrative compendia of the Yuan dynasty, specifically the administrative structures in charge of craft manufactures at the Yuan court, however, does not bear out the importance of porcelain in Yuan material culture; they stress the importance of materials such as textiles, gold, silver and jade. We have tended to overestimate the significance of porcelain during the Yuan dynasty on the basis of our knowledge of Han Chinese culture, which rated porcelain very highly, and the far greater durability of porcelain over textiles. This paper argues we need to take seriously the Mongol aspects of Yuan-period material culture. Specifically, this paper seeks to explore the connections between the material culture of Southerners (nanren) and the material culture of the various steppe peoples during the Yuan dynasty. It does this by focusing on the material culture of one area, Ji’an prefecture in Jiangxi province, drawing on museum collections, the archaeological record of the area, and the collected writings of Jie Xisi (1272–1344), an early fourteenth-century academician, stationed for a time in Ji’an Prefecture, who enjoyed close connections with Mongols and their Central and West Asian allies.

Flourising Maritime Contacts and Expanded Chinese Knowledge about the Islamic World in Yuan-Dynasty China
Hyunhee Park, City University of New York, John Jay College, USA

The paper will explore the expanded Chinese knowledge about the Islamic World through maritime contacts that flourished during the Mongol-run Yuan-dynasty in China. Many studies have focused on expanded overland contacts between China and West Asia created by the Mongol conquest in the thirteenth century. Yet, the maritime realm should not be neglected, because Sino-Islamic maritime contacts also peaked during the Mongol period thanks to the expansion of routes and commercial connections in the Indian Ocean. The overland routes remained not entirely safe due to wars among the feuding khanates of the Mongol empire; by comparison, maritime routes suffered fewer obstacles. Many policies facilitating maritime trade enacted by Mongol rulers in the Yuan Dynasty demonstrate to the importance of the maritime routes to the ties between the Yuan China and the Il-Khanate in Iran and further west. Written and archeological evidence testify explicitly to the booming maritime contact during the Mongol period, which was an important gateway for the exchange of commodities and knowledge between China and the Islamic World. Using different channels through which merchants from the Islamic World worked together with the Chinese engaged in maritime trade, Chinese learning about West Asia and North Africa grew more dynamic, extensive, and flexible compared to that of the earlier period. This paper will put together several concrete examples of Chinese and Muslim activities centering on the port cities of Quanzhou and Guangzhou that suggest the increase of Chinese geographic knowledge of the Islamic World in Yuan-dynasty China.