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China Humanities Seminar featuring Charles Hartman – Structures of Governance in Song Dynasty China

September 25, 2023 @ 4:00 pm 5:30 pm

Speaker: Charles Hartman, University at Albany, Emeritus

This lecture will introduce my recent book, Structures of Governance in Song Dynasty China 960-1279 CE (Cambridge, 2023). Together with its historiographical prelude, The Making of Song Dynasty History: Sources and Narratives (Cambridge, 2021), Structures of Governance seeks to go beyond the static organizational charts of the official Song History (宋史) of 1345 and offers a new model for thinking about Song governance as a continuum of possible administrative modalities. This continuum, or spectrum of possibilities, links (1) a Confucian preference for established institutions and precedents that circumscribed imperial power and (2) the monarchy’s preference for an ad hoc, pan-sectarian “technocracy.” The result is a more expansive view of political culture as a “technocratic-Confucian continuum.” On the one hand, this model emphasizes how the Song monarchs transformed the imperial clan, its affines, eunuchs, and female palace bureaucrats into a complex corporation that both enabled and benefited from the rapid expansion of the commercial economy. On the other hand, it argues that there were few committed and effective Confucian politicians and, although intellectually and socially influential, they existed in constant political tension with imperial technocrats.

Professor Charles Hartman received his PhD in Chinese literature from Indiana University in 1975. He published Han Yü and the T’ang Search for Unity (Princeton University Press) in 1986, which received the Levinson Prize from the Association for Asian Studies. Over the past thirty years, his articles on Song dynasty historiography in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, T’oung Pao, and the Journal of Song-Yuan Studies have prepared the way for his current research on how political decision-making influenced Song historical writing. His book, The Making of Song Dynasty History: Sources and Narratives (Cambridge, 2021), reviews the compilation of the major works that survive from official Song historiography and distills from these an embedded narrative — a “grand allegory of Song history” that reflects tension between a model of governance based on Confucian institutionalism and another based on the Song monarchy’s pan-sectarian, technocratic preferences. His latest work, Structures of Governance in Song Dynasty (Cambridge, 2023) develops this distinction at length and offers a new model for thinking about the deeper structures of Song governance and of pre-modern China more generally. This model, the “technocratic-Confucian continuum,” reframes the prevailing notion of Confucian political dominance and expands the definition of Song political culture to embrace all its actors.


September 25, 2023
4:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave.

2 Divinity Ave.
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 United States

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