Social Networks and Factional Strife among the Bureaucratic Aristocracy of Ninth-Century China

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 2:30 PM
Bayside Ballroom A (Sheraton New Orleans)
Nicolas Tackett, University of California, Berkeley
For centuries, historians of China have debated the implications of the political factions that recurrently marred court politics during China’s millennia-long bureaucratic tradition.  One of the most famous manifestations of this phenomenon involved the great rivalries and violent political purges that paralyzed the Tang dynasty court during much of the ninth century of the Common Era.  In seeking to elucidate the underlying forces driving faction formation in the ninth-century, scholarship in recent decades has tended to focus on factionalism as a consequence either of ideological difference (e.g. between aristocrats and civil service exam graduates) or of broad alliances that had formed between aristocratic lineages.  Nearly all studies of court dynamics in traditional China have grounded their arguments on a careful analysis of fairly limited anecdotal evidence.  It is currently possible to reconsider the question in a fundamental way by exploiting a vast new source of data—the lengthy funerary biographies carved onto stone that have been excavated in increasing numbers in recent years.  The several thousand inscriptions already available now permit meaningful quantification.  Using a database I have constructed that contains the names and relationships (marriage, patronage, etc.) of well over 30,000 individuals, this paper will reassess the elite social networks of the Tang dynasty and the roles they played in faction formation and factional violence at court.
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