UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Crossing the boundaries : from "outsiders" to "insiders" in early-Tang-dynasty China Ma, Cheng


The Tang dynasty (618-907) captured scholars' attention as one of the most cosmopolitan empires in Chinese history because of its openness toward transcontinental and trans-regional cultural, economic, diplomatic and religious exchanges. The empire attracted a diverse group of foreign subjects within its political boundaries. To better understand the nature of the Tang dynasty, this thesis takes a close look at the dynasty’s foreign policies toward this special group of foreigners. More specifically, it examines the life trajectories of individuals who were born and originally lived outside of the boundaries of the Tang in the north and northwest but later served in very high positions in the Tang bureaucratic system. Conventional understanding of the Tang dynasty has long included the existence of such varieties of political and ethnic groups within the Tang. However, scholars diverge on the Tang dynasty’s criteria of incorporating and treating foreigners in the regime. By scrutinizing each individuals' lives, this thesis argues that despite the emphasis on ethnic differences and political loyalty in Tang discourses, the Tang dynasty accepted foreigners primarily based on pragmatic concerns, namely, whether individuals could prove themselves useful to the dynasty. Differences in genealogy, culture and political loyalty were mainly used as rhetorical weapons against foreigners when they were no longer useful to the dynasty. Through detailed studies of individuals’ lives, this thesis points out the pragmatic nature of the Tang dynasty’s foreign policies instead of the more conventional understanding of a tributary foreign policy that greatly emphasized cultural and ethnic superiority. It points out that even though there were clear-set boundaries of political identity, it was ultimately fluid and fungible as long as individuals, regardless of ethnic or cultural backgrounds, proved themselves useful to the dynasty.

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