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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Linzhang county and the culturally central periphery in mid-Ming China Sedo, Timothy R.


This dissertation offers a local history of a small, peripheral county located in the most northern part of Henan Province during the Ming dynasty known as Linzhang County. Henan suffered a great deal from the wars that recurred frequently from the end of the Six Dynasties Period through the late fourteenth century and Linzhang County was among its many places that seemed to “fall behind” as the economic and cultural centres of the empire shifted to the south. Linzhang could however, claim a direct link with some of the empire’s most culturally central heartlands of the past. Given that the foundation of the Ming state followed a period of prolonged alien rule under the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, promotion of such “cultural centrality” was at the discursive core of the Ming state’s restorationist legitimacy. In this context, even a small peripheral county that went largely untouched by the dramatic commercial transformations characterizing southern China throughout the 15th to 17th centuries could rightfully claim a degree of “centrality” within the Ming realm. One particular mid-Ming magistrate named Jing Fang, realized this opportunity and in his tenure actively promoted projects that publicly linked the county to its distant antiquity. In just a few years Jing Fang successfully rectified Linzhang’s historic record; compiled and edited the county’s gazetteer; promoted the cult of the region’s most famous ancient culture hero, Ximen Bao; and renovated the county’s most important historic sites, temples and public buildings. Jing Fang’s dizzying pace of activity reveals the use and power of a stylized antiquity as a vital resource for local governance in north China during the mid-Ming period. While the dominant southern, or Jiangnan model of Ming studies emphasizes relatively autonomous commercial development and literati academic achievement as the key to late imperial wealth and culture, this “northern,” or perhaps more precisely “central” study gives more credit to state supervision and popular culture in the sustenance of this particular locality during the Ming period. It also offers a new local vantage point to begin to rethink the deeply regional characteristics of the composite Ming realm.

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