Panel: Ideology and practice between Mongol and Chinese traditions: new perspectives on the Yuan Dynasty


Room: Kath Theol II, Hochparterre, Johannisstraße 8-10
day time    
Mo 16:00-16:30 Fiaschetti Definitions of Chineseness in the Yuanshi
Mo 16:30-17:00 Guida Ming Taizu on the Yuan dynasty: between ethnicity and legitimation
Mo 17:00-17:30 Hodous

Anthropology and history in the study of Mongol law

Mo 17:30-18:00 Humble Mongols, Mandarins and Missing Persons: Tracing Ögödeid Networks in the Yuanshi

Panel leader:

Francesca Fiaschetti

Panel description:

The expansion of Mongol rule between the XIII and XIV centuries brought profound changes in the political and social landscape of Central Asia and China. A particular example is the experience of the Yuan Dynasty, whose innovations deeply influenced the following dynasties and the formation of modern China.

Shaping new identities, creating networks and constructing a new social order, the patterns of Yuan rule developed a unique approach to the empire, negotiating ideological compromises, nomadic heritage and matters of practical government.

The complexity of this historical phase is reflected in the Chinese sources, which are influenced by a variety of linguistic and ideological factors and present some innovations to the traditional forms of Chinese historiography. A closer look at the sources, with the support of theories from other disciplines (e.g. anthropology, sociology, etc.) can therefore reveal new perspectives on this phase of Chinese and Mongolian history. The panel addresses these issues through the analysis of several moments of the Mongol experience in China, from the reign of Ögödei down to the beginning of the Ming dynasty.



Abstracts of the individual presentations:

Fiaschetti, Francesca: Definitions of Chineseness in the Yuanshi

This paper analyses several examples referring to Chinese people and China -as a cultural and geopolitical identity- in the Yuanshi. Through an investigation of the elements of Mongolian ideology underlying such representations of Chineseness, this study offers a different reading of the Yuanshi, which is traditionally seen as a document of Chinese ideology on the Mongols.

The range of expressions used, from the reference to Han identities to the designation as Barbarians, shows a complex construction of otherness based on several factors: from nomadic representations to Chinese tradition, to the practice of Yuan government. Which was the position of the Mongols towards this otherness? How did the Yuan rulers define themselves in relation to the territory and the people they controlled? Sometimes distant, sometimes overlapping, the definitions of Chinese and Mongolian identities respond to alternating criteria of legitimacy, political strategies and rhetoric tradition.

The examples here considered offer an insight on Yuan social and political reality in two ways: on one side they provide a contribution to the study of Yuan multiculturalism and in particular to the recent scholarly debate which revise the traditional idea of a hierarchization of Yuan society according to ethnic criteria. On the other hand the paper offers some reflections on the relationship between Han and Chinese identities under Mongol rule.

Guida, Donatella: Ming Taizu on the Yuan dynasty: between ethnicity and legitimation

This paper explores the relationship of the Ming founder to the previous dynasty through some statements attributed to him. These show how his ambivalent attitude is a sign of a clear political strategy and not, as one might superficially imagine, a diversity of views due to specific situations. On the one hand, the Yuan rulers – and in particular  the founder of the dynasty Qubilai – are openly praised for their strong government, which overcame the rotten and decadent Song dynasty, adding to the Chinese moral principles with foreign customs. On the other hand, ethnic differences and culture are highlighted in order to emphasize the superiority of indigenous tradition of the Middle Kingdom. This apparent contradiction is functional to the legitimation of the Ming Dynasty: never questioning the correctness of Yuan succession to the Song, it provides a solid ideological foundation on which to build the reign: taking advantage of previous experience and using in fact many institutions of the Mongols. Beyond the comfortable façade of the return to the Han tradition, Ming Taizu expresses openly in words and deeds how profound the influence of the Mongol conquerors was.

Hodous, Florence: Anthropology and history in the study of Mongol law

While it is known that Mongol rule in China led to changes in Chinese law which even influenced subsequent dynasties, in order to appreciate the full breadth and depth of Mongol influence it is necessary to first understand the nature of Mongol law. Several scholars have called in recent years for a re-evaluation of the view of Mongol law based on the law code “Great Yasa,” and emphasized the need for new approaches.

In fact, only an interdisciplinary perspective can provide the needed insights into the nature and salient characteristics of Mongol law which influenced the Yuan dynasty. That Mongol law cannot be encapsulated in a law code was shown by legal anthropologists who studied the vengeance system which played such a large role in Chinggis Khan’s rise to power, and which also influenced Yuan China. In addition it is necessary to look beyond substantive law at procedural law: the principle of collegiality, the importance of which was noted by a political anthropologist, also played a significant role in Yuan China. These insights provide us with a new, compelling view of Mongol law based on practice rather than ideology.

This re-evaluation of the nature of Mongol law and its influence in China is necessarily linked with new approaches to the sources, a close re-reading of the Secret History of the Mongols, and the utilization of narrative sources to supplement legal sources. In this way history and anthropology together provide a new view of Mongol law in the Yuan dynasty.

Humble, Geoffrey: Mongols, Mandarins and Missing Persons: Tracing Ögödeid Networks in the Yuanshi

This paper will examine questions and problems faced in tracing networks active during the reign of Ögödei Qa’an (r. 1229-41) through biographical material in the Yuanshi (the Chinese-language History of the Yuan Dynasty). This work has attracted a great deal of criticism for errors and omissions, but deserves much more scholarly attention as both a major source on the Mongol empire and an attempt to record a multi-ethnic polity using the tools of Chinese court historiography.

Ninety-two of the nine hundred primary subjects recorded in the liezhuan of the Yuanshi are linked to Ögödei’s reign, as are a number of secondary subjects – ancestors of individuals active under later reigns. Close reading of these combined sources reveals patterns of interactions among the imperial elite, and these links can be mapped in different ways to present different framings of the human and political landscape around the Ögödeid court. These include giving selective prominence to direct imperial patronage, marriage ties, clan affiliation and ethnonyms, the civil/military divide, etc.

This mapping is complicated by issues around the subsequent shift of power in the empire to the Toluid house, textual transmission via Chinese, and the haste in which the work was assembled. Drawing out these links nonetheless exposes patterns of inclusion and exclusion, offering glimpses into the processes involved in recording the early empire, and as such has implications for historians’ approaches to imperial Mongol historiography.