To Expel the Rong: Population Transfer Proposals During the Western Jin and Their Subsequent Impact on Chinese Political Thought

Cluster of LLCE, China Studies Centre and Department of Chinese Studies, the University of Sydney

Julian Gee

4:00–5:30pm, 28 Aug 2017
Teachers College Lecture Room 215

Throughout the first three centuries of the Common Era, large numbers of Xiongnu, Qiang, Dī, Xianbei and other nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples (“North-western Aliens”) immigrated into territories ruled over and administered by the Eastern Han (25 – 220 AD), Wei (220 – 265 AD) and Western Jin (265 – 316 AD) dynasties.  The descendants of these North-western Aliens played a key role in the overthrow of the Western Jin during the early Fourth Century and the establishment of many of the so-called “Sixteen Kingdoms” which dominated northern China into the Fifth Century.

During the second half of the Third Century, at least three officials presented memoranda (“Three Memoranda”) proposing that some or all of these North-western Aliens be forcibly returned to the steppe.  The Three Memoranda provide highly informative snapshots of attitudes to the North-western Aliens held by the educated Western Jin elite.  In particular, they enable us to trace out: the contours of debates inherited from previous dynasties on matters such as whether alien peoples were of the same fundamental nature (性) and could be assimilated to Chinese civilisation; the increasing adoption of interpretations of important pre-Qin literature stressing ethnic differences; and thus the continuing development of racial consciousness in East Asia during the early Middle Ages.

A review of the reception of the Three Memoranda by subsequent generations also reveals that the Three Memoranda both exerted significant influence on scholarly understandings of North-western Aliens and had a substantial impact in policy debates.  In particular, the Three Memoranda played an important role during the reign of Tang Taizong and during the Ming, in determining approaches to adopt towards surrendered nomads.  The Three Memoranda thus constitute important landmarks in the construction of Chinese attitudes towards alien peoples.

Speaker: Julian Gee, University of Sydney

Julian Gee is currently undertaking a Master of Philosophy at the University of Sydney in the Department of Chinese Studies.  The focus of his thesis is population transfer policies during the Western Jin Dynasty.  His chief academic interests are the political and military history of China from the Eastern Han to the Tang and the early and middle Byzantine Empire.


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