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date: 21 January 2019

Spatial Organization of Chinese Imperial Government and Society

Summary and Keywords

Despite important continuities in imperial practices and bureaucratic structures, the spatial organization of Chinese government and society evolved in significant ways over the course of the two millenniums of the imperial period (221 bce–1911 ce). Different dynasties were structured in very different ways, some controlling only the agricultural zone of “China Proper,” or portions thereof, and some establishing distinct administrations to exert authority over the jungles, mountains, deserts, and steppe lands on the peripheral exterior. Successive regimes turned to a range of strategies to maintain order in the interior, collect tax revenue, and supply both the enormous population inhabiting the capital and the armies defending the frontiers. In addition, by the beginning of the 2nd millennium ce, there was a noticeable trend toward greater economic and cultural integration across China’s vast territory. A range of factors explain this trend, including the intensification of marketing networks following a medieval commercial revolution, a “localist turn” that spurred a decentralization of the imperial elite, and changes in how policymakers envisioned the nature of their state.

Keywords: bureaucracy, China, Chinese provincial administration, conquest dynasties, cultural integration, economic integration, macroregions, political unification

Between the founding of the first Chinese imperial dynasty in 221 bce and the fall of the last dynasty in 1911, a sequence of native Chinese and foreign dynasties maintained control over a vast, contiguous territory, and as much as 40 percent of the world’s population. Though all dynasties made use of a centralized bureaucracy to manage this immense territory and population, the structure and spatial organization of the provincial administration varied considerably over time. In addition, by the 2nd millennium ce, people all across the empire participated in an increasingly integrated culture, economy, and society. These longue durée developments are explained in part by accretionary advances in the technology of government. Successive dynasties inherited and made improvements to older institutional structures; meanwhile, policymakers could turn to ever more extensive historical records to learn from past administrative successes and failures. Such developments are also explained by socioeconomic and demographic change, for example, change associated with the medieval economic revolution. Finally, they are explained by cultural factors, notably transformations in how educated elites conceptualized the polity to which they belonged.

Geographic Context

Critical to making sense of the spatial organization of China’s imperial government and society is an understanding of the geographic context—in the sense both of the traditional cosmographic theories that informed policymakers at court, as well as of the physiographic and ecological constraints that affected the projection of imperial power and the spread of sinic populations.

Traditional Geographic Theories

Traditional thinkers produced a number of speculative theories to explain the structure of the empire in cosmic terms, many of which were derived from canonical sources.1 The “Nine Provinces” model conceived an imperial space arranged in a three-by-three grid. This model, along with the alternative “Twelve Provinces,” focused on the divergent regional cultures of the imperial interior. By contrast, the “Five Zones of Submission”—typically illustrated in diagrams in the form of five circumscribed squares—sought to describe the declining degrees of civilization as one distanced oneself from the emperor and court at the capital. A much later theory, attributed to the 7th-century Buddhist monk Yixing (682–727), reimagined the topography of East Asia in terms of two mountain ranges spanning the empire, mountains that served to separate the interior from the “barbarian” lands beyond. As these models suggest, as late as the Tang Dynasty, political thinkers thought of their empire as encompassing all of the “civilized” world. Indeed, in texts dating to this period, classical Chinese terms typically translated into English as “China” are better translated as the “civilized world” or the “civilized center.” It was only in the Song Dynasty that Chinese began to articulate an idea more closely resembling the notion of “China” in the “national” sense—that is, of a transdynastic political entity with a fixed territory, and a culturally and ethnically homogeneous population.2

Physiographic and Ecological Constraints

In considering China’s physical geography, it is useful to draw a distinction between an interior core region (often referred to as “China Proper”) and a peripheral exterior zone.3 The former—which roughly-speaking occupies the eastern half of the modern People’s Republic of China (but excludes Mongolia and most of Manchuria) and which expanded in size over the course of the imperial period—is an agricultural zone, historically administered by a Chinese-style bureaucracy and populated by sedentary cultivators speaking sinic languages. It is surrounded on all sides by deserts, jungles, and other physical and ecological barriers that both severely hampered communication and transport, and largely limited the spread of agriculture (and therefore the geographic expansion of China Proper) to the southern frontier. The exterior zone, by contrast, was historically inhabited mostly by non-Chinese populations, and administered by fundamentally different types of regimes, using governmental approaches tailored to the management of nonagricultural societies.

The Interior

China Proper can itself be divided into north and south. North China consists of the Wei River Valley and loess plateau, the North China Plain, and the lowlands of southern Manchuria. It was here that, prior to the Southern Song Dynasty, the bulk of the population resided, and most of China’s recorded history took place. North China was also the site of the majority of the important imperial capital cities, including Chang’an (modern-day Xi’an) of the Han and Tang dynasties, Kaifeng of the Northern Song, and, further to the north, Dadu of the Yuan and Beijing of the Ming and Qing. In terms of climate, North China features cold and dry winters, but sufficient rain in summer to support dry-crop agriculture. Its flat terrain was suitable for a centralized administration. The agricultural zone is bounded to the north and northwest by regions of frigid temperatures, as well as by the 38-centimeter precipitation isohyet, beyond which annual rainfall is insufficient to support nonirrigated cultivation. Because of these ecological constraints, China Proper’s northern frontier was a static frontier that shifted relatively little over the centuries.

South China is often defined as the region south of the Huai and Han rivers, and including the Sichuan Basin. In addition, some Chinese regimes extended their administrative infrastructure to the fertile flatlands of the Red River Delta (site of modern-day Hanoi). South China is warmer and wetter than the north, benefiting from the moist summer monsoon winds. It has supported wet-rice farming since early Neolithic times. Moreover, because longer growing seasons permit multiple crops per year, more calories can be produced per unit area in comparison to the north, thereby allowing for higher population densities. In addition, a denser network of rivers in the south has facilitated transport, helping to spur early commercialization of rural society.

However, South China is also more mountainous and heavily forested than the north. One implication is that agriculture in the south required more extensive initial investments of time and labor to clear the land. The great deforestation of South China, whereby forests and jungles were converted into farmland for sedentary agriculturalists, was a long-term process that spanned the entire imperial period.4 Although independent Chinese settlers played a role in spurring the gradual southward spread of agriculture, equally important was the state, which typically offered tax remission on newly settled land, established military garrisons to protect Chinese settlements, and also actively relocated populations. No significant Chinese populations inhabited Yunnan, for example, until Ming armies invaded in the late 14th century, and resettled 300,000 troops there along with their families.5

A second implication of the difficult terrain in South China is that political control remained incomplete until recent times. Indeed, the far south and southwest is contiguous and shares features with upland Southeast Asia—the “Zomia” of James Scott—where agricultural states have traditionally had difficulty exerting control beyond the river valleys.6 The early imperial dynasties—including the Han and the Tang—established control only at important garrison sites and along critical communication and supply lines. Some autonomous native regimes survived in the mountainous jungles of the south as late as the 19th century, occasionally engaging in major confrontations with Chinese armies. The repeated Miao wars of liberation during the Qing Dynasty constitute a case in point.7 But although the spread of Chinese populations and of the Chinese state apparatus was a slow process, the south in contrast to the north remained a frontier of expansion. This process came to a halt only when Chinese armies encountered other established sedentary empires in Burma and Vietnam. Although nationalist historians today may see the southward expansion of Chinese civilization as having been the predetermined destiny of the nation, it is better thought of as part of the inexorable multi-millennia-long neolithization of the planet, whereby hunter-gatherers and swidden agriculturalists everywhere have been gradually overrun by large agricultural states.

The Exterior

The peripheral exterior consists of the western half of the modern People’s Republic of China, as well as Inner and Outer Mongolia, most of Manchuria, and Yunnan and parts of the southwest. This region was only occasionally under the control of a China Proper-based regime. To the southwest and west are dense jungles, as well as the high mountains and plateaus of Qinghai and Tibet, where difficult terrain created nearly insurmountable barriers to the extension of the premodern Chinese bureaucratic state. Indeed, no China-based imperial dynasty tried to conquer Lhasa prior to the Qing. North of Qinghai and Tibet lie the Taklamakan and Gobi Deserts. Some Chinese dynasties—notably the Han and the Tang—maintained garrisons at oases on the deserts’ edges, but these regimes found it difficult to preserve supply and communication lines. The “Western Regions” consequently fell in and out of Chinese control, as other neighboring powers, including Tibetans and nomadic confederations, fought to exert their hegemony there.

The peripheral exterior also includes the eastern portion of the great Eurasian steppe—a continuous ecological zone extending from eastern Europe, across central Asia and Mongolia, to Manchuria, with an additional spur stretching southwestward across Inner Mongolia, just beneath the Gobi. The steppe was too dry or cold for cultivation, but supported extensive grasslands. Over the course of the 2nd millennium bce, it was occupied by pastoral nomads, who had developed technologies for the efficient exploitation of livestock, and so did not rely for survival on crop agriculture. These mobile societies were unamenable to oversight by Chinese-type centralized administrations; indeed, from a world historical perspective, pastoral nomadic economies constituted the only economies that, prior to the 19th century, successfully held their ground against post-Neolithic agricultural states and empires.

Finally, one might include as part of China’s peripheral exterior the lands across the eastern and southern seas, including Korea, the Japanese archipelago, Taiwan, as well as mainland and insular Southeast Asia. Prior to the Manchu conquest of Taiwan, no China Proper-based regime sought to establish direct political control or a military presence across the oceans. The scramble to claim maritime space—notably the South China Sea—is a phenomenon peculiar to the 20th and 21st centuries. Nevertheless, for at least two millennia, China has had a significant cultural and demographic impact on these regions. Already by the Tang, one can speak of a “sinosphere” that included China, Japan, and parts of Southeast Asia, where classical Chinese served as the written language and elements of Chinese political thought (including neo-Confucianism) and literati traditions (for example, the social composition of poetry) were widespread. Subsequently, beginning in the Song, Chinese traders took advantage of seasonal monsoon wind patterns to travel in large numbers across the seas. By the middle of the 2nd millennium ce, they had established a presence in port cities throughout maritime East and Southeast Asia.8 The long-term effect of this Chinese diaspora remains apparent to this day.

Three Models of Empire

In terms of their spatial organization, the sequence of imperial dynasties can be divided into three types: empires controlling China Proper primarily; empires controlling large portions of both China Proper and the peripheral exterior, including areas of the steppe; and smaller empires coexisting with other Chinese regimes during periods of “disunity.” All three models of empire shared certain commonalities. They all contained at their core a zone populated by sedentary agriculturalists and administered by a centralized bureaucracy. In addition, they all maintained militarized frontier zones to defend against external raids and incursions. Beyond the outermost military defenses, most dynasties also sought out allied client states willing to recognize the suzerainty of the Chinese emperor. Beginning in the Tang, many of these client regimes, especially in the west and southwest, were incorporated into a formal system referred to as jimi (“haltered-and-bridled”) and later as tusi (“native office”). In this system, tribal chiefs were given the trappings of Chinese officialdom (including bureaucratic titles, “salaries,” and official court vestments). By this means, the imperial court secured a degree of loyalty, even as the tribes otherwise maintained their autonomy. Finally, all Chinese empires needed to take into account the fundamental challenge posed by the steppe frontier. With vast herds of horses and a population skilled at riding and hunting from a very young age, steppe nomads were masters of mounted archery, a military technology unparalleled prior to the widespread use of firearms in the middle of the 2nd millennium ce. Although nomads never had the numbers to match the enormous Chinese infantry armies, they could raid the agricultural zone with relative ease. Moreover, a combined force of multiple steppe cavalry armies acting in consort constituted an existential threat to any Chinese regime. How to defend against nomadic incursions consequently was a recurrent subject of concern for policymakers at court.

The first type of empire, best represented by the Han, Northern Song, and Ming dynasties, focused energy and resources on governing the agricultural zone of China Proper. These empires were agrarian regimes founded by native Chinese, who managed to control parts of the steppe or other peripheral regions only with difficulty and at great expense. Moreover, they looked upon “uncivilized” populations of herders or hunter-gatherers—and, beginning in the Northern Song, any nonethnically Han population—as beyond the natural purview of the emperor. Consequently, empires of the first type typically established linear defenses on their steppe frontier to hinder nomadic raids. In some cases, this entailed the construction of “Great Walls,” which, under the Ming, not coincidentally adhered more or less to the course of the 38-centimeter precipitation isohyet marking the limits of the agricultural zone. Though the Northern Song did not itself build a frontier wall, it established linear military defenses over long distances, composed of trenches, pools, and waterways.9 Regimes of the first type commonly sought to project their influence beyond the frontier, sometimes via client allies, and sometimes via punitive military expeditions, but they rarely sought to establish direct control over steppe tribes or other nonagricultural populations except for specific (and often temporary) militarily strategic reasons. Thus the Han captured the oases of the Tarim Basin to eliminate an important resource base for the steppe nomads. And the Ming invaded Yunnan only because a Mongol regime that had survived there after the fall of the Yuan posed a threat to Ming legitimacy.

The second type of empire, best represented by the Northern Wei (founded by Särbi), the Liao (founded by Khitans), the Jin (founded by Jurchens), the Yuan (founded by Mongols), and the Qing (founded by Manchus), directly ruled over China Proper (or portions thereof), as well as part of the Eurasian steppe and, in the case of the Qing Dynasty, the Tibetan Plateau. Because it inherited the Qing’s boundaries, the modern People’s Republic of China can also be thought of as being of this sort. Direct control of the steppe required these regimes to understand how to manage pastoral nomadic politics. The basic unit of steppe society was the camp group, consisting of households migrating together over the course of the year. Camp groups were organized into tribes, defined on the basis of common language and customs, as well as claims (often fictive) of shared descent. Occasionally, a charismatic chieftain managed to establish a loose confederation of tribes, especially when it was possible to secure sources of luxury goods (through raiding or trade) to distribute to tribal elites in order to maintain their support. These confederations readily collapsed when individual tribes sought to reassert their autonomy. Successful steppe empires, like those of the Khitans, Mongols, and Manchus, secured more permanent control by reorganizing tribes into new tribe-like structures led by men loyal to the regime. Long-term control over the steppe subsequently required the careful and constant management of tribal politics.10

Because the subjugation of the steppe required a very different approach to imperial governance, the second type of Chinese empire typically established two distinct administrations: a Chinese-style bureaucracy to oversee farming populations and organize the collection of agricultural taxes, and a separate organization to manage the steppe. It is probably not a coincidence that regimes effectively implementing such a “dual organization” usually had Manchurian origins (including those founded by Särbi, Khitans, Jurchens, and Manchus). Manchuria is itself composed of multiple ecological zones, including an agricultural zone on the plains of Liaodong, a portion of the Eurasian steppe, and the southern limits of the Siberian birch forests. Any dynasty that succeeded in establishing a stable state in this environment needed, as a prerequisite, to develop techniques for governing both nomadic pastoralists and sedentary agriculturalists.11

The third type of empire appeared during periods of “disunity”—especially in the post-Han and post-Tang periods—when the Chinese ecumene was divided among multiple states, often with several rulers simultaneously claiming the imperial title. Disunity has been treated as an aberration by nationalist historians (who insist upon the naturalness of national unity), as well as by proponents of dominant strands of traditional Chinese political theory (which recognized only one legitimate Son of Heaven). But an alternative discourse existed, inspired by the preimperial Zhou order, which legitimated the coexistence of multiple states.12 Periods of disunity had several distinctive features. First, the coexisting regimes tended to interact with each other according to principles of diplomatic parity modeled on the interstate dynamics of the Warring States Period. Second, whereas North China was typically unified under a single regime during periods of disunity, South China was divided into multiple states, a consequence of communication and supply difficulties caused by the mountainous terrain. Finally, each independent state was administered by a Chinese-style centralized bureaucracy; disunity, thus, should not be equated with administrative decentralization.

Unity and Bureaucratic Centralization

A significant question of comparative history is how to explain the recurrent reunification of China Proper under a single regime after periods of disunity. Part of the explanation undoubtedly lies in ideology. As a consequence of the political ideal of imperial unity, sanctioned by the “Mandate of Heaven,” regional elites more readily accepted the legitimacy of an imperial claimant who successfully invaded their territory.13 Part of the explanation lies in the characteristics of the geography of East Asia. The vast North China Plain, when controlled by a single regime, provided the necessary tax base and manpower to support invasions of the rest of the north and the south. Meanwhile, oceans, deserts, high mountains, and thick jungles impeded outside invaders, with the exception of the nomads on the steppe. In accounting for the recurrence of unity, one should also consider the sophistication of Chinese technologies of governance. Regimes based in China Proper enjoyed access to a provincial bureaucratic infrastructure that facilitated the collection of taxes and the conscription of military troops across a vast territory. Moreover, government administrators possessed a technocratic expertise made possible by an accumulated written historical tradition, and by the continuity of bureaucratic practice across over two millennia of history, traditions preserved even during periods of disunity. Periodic bureaucratic innovations, if determined to be effective, were maintained in subsequent dynasties as part of the accumulation of tools available to state planners.

At the heart of the Chinese provincial bureaucracy was a hierarchy of prefectures (or commanderies) and subordinate counties, first established in the Qin Dynasty at the dawn of the imperial period. Although regional kingdoms were reestablished in the first decades of the Han Dynasty, these were ultimately abolished in the late 2nd century bce, so that all of China Proper thereafter fell under the prefecture-county system. To this day, one finds in many regions of China counties that were first established in the Qin, a remarkable example of the long-term continuity of the Chinese bureaucratic system. These administrative units were not evenly distributed across the empire. Counties, which were responsible for tax collection, were found in greater density in population-rich areas of the interior. By contrast, under some dynasties, prefectures possessed their own military forces, and so were disproportionately found in frontier regions or in areas prone to rebellion and unrest.14 One important innovation dating to the mid-imperial period was the creation of the province, constituting a third level of the regional hierarchy above the prefecture. Provinces helped the bureaucracy manage an ever expanding population, while maintaining a relatively high degree of administrative efficiency.15

Successful centralized rule depended on effective communication and transport as well, vital for supplying the capital and frontier armies with tax grain, for moving troops to quell local uprisings, and for providing the court with up-to-date information necessary for policymaking. The Qin and Han dynasties were the first to establish a system of roads, with post stations at regular intervals, that radiated out from the capital to the far corners of the empire. They also established lines of beacon towers for rapid communication between the capital and the frontier, and built a number of canals, notably one linking the Yangzi River watershed to the south coast. In addition, they instituted mechanisms for redirecting resources from the interior to the armies on the imperial periphery.16 Later dynasties built upon this infrastructure. Most significant was the Grand Canal, first built in the Sui Dynasty, which connected the Yangzi River to the Yellow River, then continued on to northern Hebei. This canal brought southern grain supplies to the capital in the north, as well as to armies stationed on the northern frontier. Under the Tang, new canals, haulage routes, and transit granaries were established to guarantee regular grain provisions for the capital.17 Later, beginning in the Song with the flourishing of the commercial economy, the state increasingly turned to market mechanisms to encourage merchants both to aid in famine relief efforts and to provision frontier armies.18

Equally critical to a large centralized empire was the maintenance of adequate streams of tax revenue. Over the course of the imperial period, Chinese regimes experimented with a wide gamut of funding sources. Prior to the Tang Dynasty, the burden fell overwhelmingly on the peasantry—either through land or household levies. The Northern Wei succeeded in combining tax collection with a regular redistribution of land that guaranteed every household a fixed amount. So thorough was the implementation in North China of this “equal-field” system that one can still make out the outlines of land parcels of that era on aerial photographs.19 But because county-level authorities across the empire needed constantly to maintain up-to-date land and population registers, the system eventually became too onerous to maintain, and was dismantled in the second half of the Tang Dynasty. Land taxes remained vital for state fiscal well-being, but there were no further attempts in later dynasties to regulate field size. Beginning in the late Tang, in response to a substantial growth in commercial activity, the state began to experiment with consumption taxes (on tea, liquor, and especially salt) and commercial taxes. By no later than the 11th century, these new taxes surpassed the land tax in total value. In order to collect these new revenue streams, the Song state established tax stations not just at county seats and other preexisting administrative centers, but also at a large number of other transport hubs. The net result was to expand substantially the spatial extent of the imperial tax collection machinery.20

Finally, there is the question of the selection and appointment of provincial bureaucrats. From the founding of the first imperial dynasty, efforts were made to ensure that local administrators remained loyal agents of the central government. They were centrally appointed and rotated regularly to prevent the consolidation of local bases of power. Elements of this system broke down in the Later Han Dynasty, when an aristocracy formed that controlled both land and large private armies. Subsequent recentralization efforts in the late sixth century reversed this trend. The Sui strictly enforced a “law of avoidance,” which forbade officials from serving near their homes. Though official status could still be inherited in the later imperial period, it was rare for sons to hold local office where their fathers had once served. As part of a “localist turn” during the Song, local elites acquired a new prominence, and began to participate in some elements of local governance. Nevertheless, the Song and later dynasties were careful not to permit the coalescing of a new aristocracy. Local elites remained under the supervision of a staff of county and prefectural officials, who were always court-appointed outsiders. All of this administrative infrastructure was preserved even in periods of disunity, when regional regimes (including, for example, the “autonomous provinces” of late Tang Hebei) organized bureaucracies featuring centralized decision making and the regular rotation of centrally appointed officials.21

Sociopolitical Elites and Cultural Integration

Historians are often struck by the remarkable examples of cultural uniformity across China’s vast territory. In the mid-imperial period, for example, elite families empire-wide selected the same auspicious days to bury their dead.22 How does one account for such uniformity? Though bureaucratic centralization helps to explain it in part, a number of other factors played a role. Indeed, already in the preimperial period, the courts of the various independent states of the Eastern Zhou participated in a common elite culture. The prestige of Zhou ritual practice—reflected in the caches of bronze vessels that have been unearthed all over China—helped to establish common elite traditions and a sense of a distinctiveness between the civilized center and the lands of the “barbarians.”23 “Wandering persuaders,” who circulated between different regional courts to serve as advisors, also functioned as forces of cultural cohesion, propagating common ideas and ideals. Less clear in this early period is the degree of cultural integration of non-elites, though there exists some evidence of a convergence in the characteristics of commoner tombs during the Warring States Period.

The impact of imperial unification under the Qin and Han Dynasties was two-sided. Cultural cohesion among late Warring States regional elites presumably facilitated the Qin Emperor’s unification project. Subsequently, Qin and Han imperial prestige ensured the hegemony empire-wide of the metropolitan culture of the capital. As they were dispatched to far corners of the empire to serve as provincial administrators, imperial officials disseminated the court’s values and practices to local elites everywhere. Simultaneously, however, centralization under the early empires produced new divisions between metropolitan and local societies. As regional elites relocated to the capital—by force (as when the Qin sought to dismantle the Warring States’ power structures) or by choice (as in the case of some families who sought to specialize in bureaucratic service)—there emerged a new divide between capital elites and the families left behind in the provinces. This divide created ample room for local traditions in some regions to flourish beneath the surface of the hegemonic imperial culture.

The Period of Disunity after the Han ushered in an era of cultural divergence widely acknowledged in sources of the period. After the Xiongnu and Särbi invasions of the north, and the widespread intermarrying of conquerors and native Chinese families, a new elite emerged that incorporated elements of steppe culture, celebrating both horsemanship and martial vigor. Meanwhile, southern elites—composed of southern natives and Chinese émigrés who had fled the north—distinguished themselves on the basis of their literary and aesthetic achievements. After the breakup of the Northern Wei in the early 6th century, there emerged a further division between a mixed sino-Särbi northwestern elite, which preserved steppe cultural elements, and a more sinicized elite in the northeast, which prided itself on its austerity and command of classical scholarship. By the time of the Sui reunification in the late 6th century, hundreds of years of cultural isolation had resulted in mutually unintelligible languages in the north and the south.

Imperial unification under the Sui and Tang had a similar impact as that under the Qin and Han. The Sui and Tang courts took almost immediate action to weaken powerful locally entrenched families by means of a variety of bureaucratic tools, notably the law of avoidance. Descendants of the old “aristocratic” families managed to maintain their power and status only by transforming themselves into a capital-based “bureaucratic” aristocracy. The result was, in comparison to the Qin-Han period, a sharper social divide between metropolitan society in the capitals (of Chang’an and Luoyang) and provincial society. Despite this social divide, historians have often exaggerated the “autonomy” of late Tang provinces. Only three provinces in Hebei maintained a sufficient degree of independence from the court to have plausibly developed a local culture entirely free of the hegemonic sway of Tang metropolitan elites.24

In contrast to China of the Tang period, late imperial China (from the Southern Song through the Qing) was marked by a fundamentally different spatial distribution of sociopolitical elites. Far greater competition for offices—an important consequence of the growth by Song times of the educated population—made it much harder for families to specialize in bureaucratic service. Permanent relocation to the capital became far less attractive. Following the ensuing “localist turn,” even families producing high-ranking officials chose to stay in the provinces as members of a local “gentry.” There they diversified their pursuits, and entrenched themselves locally through marriage alliances, charitable work, the repairing of roads and bridges, and the sponsorship of schools, temples, and other local institutions.25 The “law of avoidance” and the regular rotation of prefects and county magistrates ensured the continuation of centralized control in the late imperial period. But the net effect was a significant transformation in the geography of political power. Whereas the national political elite of the Tang—that is, the families of the men holding the highest offices—was overwhelmingly concentrated in the capital region, it became increasingly dispersed throughout regions of higher population density over the course of the Song.26

Under the Song, there also emerged new forces of cultural integration. The redistribution of the national elite across the country played a role in propagating a common culture. In addition, as a result of a commercial revolution (described below), traveling merchants circulated in larger numbers, helping to propagate local religious cults across a broader geographic range.27 A burgeoning print industry simultaneously distributed texts empire-wide. Meanwhile, the much more extensive use of the civil service examinations, and the implementation of regional exam quotas, meant that young men of means from all over the empire embarked on a similar educational curriculum. Finally, in the Song Dynasty and later, there were active efforts to indoctrinate the entire population, disseminating Confucian ideals and ritual practices even in rural villages. The neo-Confucian movement sought to enlist local gentlemen in this pursuit. Under the Ming and Qing, “sacred edicts” containing moral maxims devised by the emperor were proclaimed by officials in village lectures all over the empire.28

The one exception to the general trend towards greater cultural integration in the 2nd millennium ce involved the imperial periphery. Both in frontier borderlands and in inaccessible mountainous regions of the interior, the limited presence of educated elites diminished the influence of the values and practices promoted by the state and by neo-Confucian ideologues. In these regions, one found poor settlers forced out of wealthier core regions, as well as bandits and other antistate actors. In addition, frontier borderlands included non-Chinese populations and garrisoned soldiers. Under these conditions, a bravado culture thrived in peripheral regions in lieu of Confucian literati culture, with local strongmen playing a much more important role in maintaining security and offering protection to the poor settlers.29

Economic and Social Integration

The revenue collection and communication infrastructure of the bureaucratic state always guaranteed a degree of economic integration across the empire. Throughout the imperial period, it was necessary to transport tax grain and other commodities to supply both the frontier armies and the hundreds of thousands of people inhabiting the imperial capital. To support this vast flow of resources, the state maintained a network of roads and canals, transport routes that could also be utilized by merchants. It was during the Tang-Song transition, however, that private commerce began to eclipse the state as a driver of economic integration. One effect of the “medieval commercial revolution” was a much greater volume of commerce. At the same time, commerce became the primary driving force of urbanization. Whereas a hierarchy of prefectural and county seats had existed since the Qin-Han period, a new and denser network of market towns—which did not necessarily map onto the existing administrative hierarchy—prompted a significant reorganization of imperial space. Subsequently, the state established tax stations at these new market towns to try to tap into the new commercial wealth.30

Central place theory (as applied to China by G. William Skinner) provides a useful model for understanding how the commercial economy emerging at the beginning of the Song transformed the spatial organization of Chinese society.31 Villages across China Proper were integrated into the regional and national economies by means of periodic markets held at suitably positioned “standard” market towns, which themselves occupied the bottom of a hierarchy of commercial urban centers. As villagers regularly traveled to the nearest urban sites to sell their goods, the standard marketing system came to constitute a social system. Not merely places where goods were exchanged, they were also sites of marriage brokers, tea houses, lineage halls, schools, and temples. Although merchant networks constituted the primary links connecting neighboring nodes in the emerging network of urban sites, religious teachers and members of secret societies frequently traveled the very same routes, helping to propagate beliefs and practices across a region. Commercial networks thus became an alternative to Confucian literati and the state as a force of regional cultural integration.

In Skinner’s model of a “natural” hierarchy of commercial urban sites (conceptualized in opposition to an “artificial” hierarchy of government administrative centers), regional economic systems were largely structured by geography.32 Rivers promoted trade by facilitating the movement of people and goods, whereas mountains served as obstacles to trade. The result was that the bulk of China’s economy was organized into a small number of very large “macroregions”—the Sichuan Basin, Hunan, and the North China Plain, for example—each centered on a major river drainage basin. Most trade was intraregional rather than interregional. Given that marketing networks structured a host of other social activities, it was not uncommon for droughts, economic crises, and rebellions to be confined to a single macroregion. Not coincidentally, macroregional boundaries also roughly coincided with the geographic range of particular Chinese language families. Each macroregion was divided into a core and a periphery, with borderlands on the imperial frontier constituting a particular type of macroregional periphery. The core, which occupied lowlands and river valleys, enjoyed more productive agriculture, a greater degree of commercialization, better transport, greater capital investment, and wealthier and better educated populations. In addition, from the perspective of longue durée cycles of intraregional economic development, macroregional cores were least affected in times of systemic decline.33

Although China was probably the most urbanized society on earth by the 13th century, it is notable that, in contrast to their European counterparts, Chinese cities did not develop traditions of autonomy from the state. The autonomy of the city is often seen as having played a critical role in the European path to capitalism. One critical difference lies in the fact that Chinese cities of Late Imperial times were inhabited largely by sojourners, who maintained stronger ties to their homes in the countryside than to their urban neighbors.34 The most important nongovernmental urban institutions—native place associations and lineage organizations—were particularistic, organizing the urban population according to clan or place of origin. To be sure, distinct urban cultures did develop. Moreover, by the 19th century, native place associations in the largest cities took charge of certain public services on behalf of the entire urban population, and confederations of these associations, along with tea houses, helped to structure new urban identities.35 But prior to the 19th century, native place and clan particularism remained a prominent feature of Chinese cities, precluding the development of cohesive urban communities with the economic clout to stand up to autocratic rule.

To what extent did the economic networks traversing China Proper in the late imperial period also cross international borders and maritime frontiers? In fact, the formidable geographic barriers surrounding most of China Proper—including oceans, jungles, mountains, and deserts—long formed significant obstacles to trans-frontier economic activity. The trans-Eurasian Silk Road trade, which reached an apogee in the 1st millennium ce, was limited to the transport of luxury goods destined for the imperial court. In addition, most Chinese dynasties put in place a variety of restrictions on international trade. Markets along the steppe frontier were typically opened or closed in accordance with court policy toward the pastoral nomads. Beginning in the Song, there were also recurrent efforts to limit maritime trade. The most famous example occurred in the early Ming, when the court forbade all overseas trade, and relocated coastal populations to the interior.

But despite these geographic and political obstacles, maritime trade flourished by Song times, far surpassing in volume the Silk Road trade of an earlier era. Indeed, Song coins have been discovered in great abundance all over East and Southeast Asia. Entire industries emerged—such as the ceramic kilns around Quanzhou on the southeast coast—that produced almost exclusively for the export market.36 Efforts by the state to stifle this burgeoning trade merely spurred international networks of “pirates” and “rebels” to contravene these restrictions.37 Maritime trade fueled a Chinese diaspora that increased in significance over the course of the second millennium ce, with Chinese merchants establishing communities throughout southeast and northeast Asia, while at the same time maintaining social ties with their kin on the Chinese mainland. Thus, although state policy and administrative geography undoubtedly helped to define the spatial organization of Chinese society, commercial activity expanded the geographic range of Chinese social and economic networks well beyond the imperial frontiers.

Discussion of the Literature

Until the last decades of the 20th century, accounts of China’s imperial past tended to adhere to frameworks rooted in China’s own millennia-long tradition of history writing. Traditional historiography was conceived to serve as a tool for policymakers—a “mirror for government”—and so assumed a court-centered perspective, with a particular focus on the efficacy of institutions and policy approaches. Imperial space was conceived in administrative terms, carved up into a uniform hierarchy of prefectures and counties. Regional variations in culture and society were treated for the most part as inconsequential to the larger historical narrative. An early exception to this tendency can be found in the Naito thesis, which accounted for the medieval economic revolution on the basis of a Tang-Song demographic shift towards South China, where warmer, less arid climate and abundant rivers spurred the commercialization of society.38 More recently, in the 1970s and 1980s, in accordance with broader trends in the history discipline, specialists of China began to pay much greater attention to social and cultural history, while shifting away from a court-centered perspective to one centered on local society.39 It also became more common to look for regional patterns, often using Skinner’s macroregions as a basic geographic framework.40 These developments in historiography have permitted a much more nuanced understanding of the spatial organization of traditional Chinese society. Over the last decade, the broader use of GIS—by scholars such as Peter Bol, Ruth Mostern, Hilde De Weerdt, and myself—has facilitated the reconceptualization on an empirical basis of the geography of the empire.41

William Skinner’s application of central place theory and his model of physiographic macroregions has been both very influential and the subject of particular critical scrutiny.42 Much criticism has revolved around identifying new macroregions that Skinner failed to recognize, describing cases of economic activity outside of macroregional core regions—such as at “mountain markets”—or discounting the plausibility that space could be divided into a neat grid of hexagons (as posited by central place theory). These types of criticisms become largely irrelevant if one treats Skinner’s proposals not as a precise description of the real world, but rather as a general model for better understanding China’s spatial organization. A more significant criticism involves Skinner’s failure to muster much supporting empirical data. His model is largely theoretical, premised on neoclassical economic theory, as well as on the notion that physical regions were natural containers for human activity. Skinner has also been criticized for overemphasizing the divide between a “natural” urban hierarchy created through economic activity and an “artificial” one produced by state fiat—particularly since the state itself was responsible for much of the transport infrastructure. Finally, Skinner’s model is of limited value in explaining the development over time of Chinese urban systems. Nevertheless, despite these weaknesses, Skinner’s model remains influential, and has proven very useful for explaining a range of phenomena in Chinese local society of the late imperial period.

An important body of recent scholarship has sought to reconsider what is meant by “China,” thereby reconceptualizing space in ways that run counter both to traditional court-centered historiography and to the modern western worldview based on the nation-state. Jonathan Skaff, for example, has problematized the idea of the “conquest dynasty” by pointing out the slippery ambiguities of trying to classify the Tang as either “Chinese” or “non-Chinese.”43 A more prominent example of this revisionist idea of “China” involves “New Qing History.” Previous scholarship had treated the Qing Empire as a sinicized “conquest dynasty,” which, though founded by Manchus, quickly evolved into a Chinese dynasty not fundamentally different from its predecessor, the Ming. Beginning in the mid-1990s, however, a new generation of Qing historians—notably Evelyn Rawski, Pamela Crossley, and Mark Elliott—have come to see the Qing as fundamentally different: as a Manchu regime conceived as a universal empire, of which China was just one part, existing alongside the distinct entities of Tibet, Xinjiang, Mongolia, and Manchuria.44

Recently, there has also been renewed interest in analyzing more thoroughly the economic and social structures transcending the boundaries of the Chinese imperial state. Though there is a long history of studying international trade (both the Silk Road and East Asian maritime commerce), it is only more recently that trade has come to be seen less as a link between two or more civilizations and more as the foundation of complex, transnational structures. For example, Étienne de la Vaissière has explored the sophisticated trading empire established by Sogdian merchants, which spanned a territory extending from Central Asia to central China, and which survived multiple dynastic transitions during the 1st millennium ce.45 Similarly, François Gipouloux, Richard Von Glahn, Xing Hang, and Tonio Andrade have examined transnational maritime trade networks of the Song and post-Song periods, treating China’s coastal ports, for example, in the context of an East Asian maritime tradition, rather than in the context of Chinese urban history.46

Primary Sources

The court-centered perspective of traditional historical sources can create difficulties when attempting to elucidate in a more fine-grained manner the spatial organization of the Chinese empire. Nevertheless, interspersed within dynastic histories, chronicles, and administrative references, as well as the collected writings of important statesmen, are documents containing interesting data organized by prefecture or county (e.g., concerning census figures or tax receipts).47 One very useful source for studying local society and detecting regional variations consists of local gazetteers.48 Though typically produced on imperial command for each prefecture or county of the empire, they were often compiled and edited by local luminaries, thereby offering a local’s perspective. These gazetteers—which contain chapters on diverse topics including topographical features; historical sites; products and crops; bridges, post stations, schools, and temples; population figures and tax revenue; famous native sons and successful examination graduates; and local customs—have constituted the source base for important local case studies,49 as well as for studies seeking to elucidate empire-wide patterns (e.g., civil service examination participation and success).50 In conjunction with historical maps—a large number of which are reproduced in a large three-volume compendium—gazetteers can also shed light on traditional notions of space and territory.51 Digitized, searchable editions of local gazetteers, now available, may provide new impetus for ambitious, large-scale studies exploring regional differentiation in relation to a host of possible topics.

Historians working on earlier periods—prior to the emergence of the gazetteer genre in the Song—have benefited from an assortment of newly excavated texts. The study of Qin and Han history has been revolutionized by caches of texts written on bamboo and wooden slips, mostly discovered in the west and south, in regions far from the capital. These texts include administrative and legal documents; ritual and divinatory manuals; philosophical treatises; and letters, contracts, and other private documents.52 Historians working on the Period of Disunity, as well as the Sui-Tang, have turned to excavated inscriptions, which have been unearthed all over China in increasing numbers in the past few decades. Probably the most useful of epigraphic material are tomb epitaphs, consisting of lengthy biographies of tomb occupants. Over ten thousand epitaphs have been found dating to the Tang alone.53 Besides texts, other excavated material remains can also be useful for reconstructing regional cultures, for example on the basis of the contents of tombs.54

Over the past decade, the much broader use of GIS has permitted the rethinking and the exploration in new ways of a variety of questions pertaining to imperial space, including the geography of political power, as well as elite information and literary networks.55 Among the new resources now available are huge new prosopographic databases—notably the China Biographical Database (CBDB) and the Prosopographic and Social Network Database of the Tang and Five Dynasties—which currently record places of origin, birth, death, and official service for several hundred thousand individuals. Other useful datasets include China Historical GIS, The Digital Gazetteer of the Song Dynasty, and the Database of Tang, Song, and Liao Tombs. Finally, the WorldMap platform houses datasets produced by a range of scholars, covering topics such as prefectural and county boundaries, as well as Ming garrisons and courier routes.

One of the obvious complications affecting the study of transnational phenomena involves the necessity of dealing with a large number of languages both to access scholarly literatures and to decipher primary sources. For example, important work on Silk Road merchant networks has relied upon letters written in Sogdian; and inscriptions in Orkhon Turkish have proven invaluable for understanding Tang relations with Turkish steppe confederations.56 Documents written in now extinct languages are also critical for understanding the nature of “conquest dynasties.” New Qing History has depended on a new generation of scholars trained in the Manchu language. Sources in Middle Mongolian are essential for historians of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. Liao studies will undoubtedly benefit from more extensive mining of excavated texts in Khitan, a language that unfortunately has not yet been fully deciphered.

Further Reading

Bol, Peter K. “Creating a GIS for the History of China.” In Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Edited by Anne Kelly Knowles, 25–57. Redlands, CA: ESRI, 2007.Find this resource:

Cartier, Carolyn. “Origins and Evolution of a Geographical Idea: The Macroregion in China.” Modern China 28, no. 1 (2002): 79–142.Find this resource:

De Weerdt, Hilde. Information, Territory, and Networks: The Crisis and Maintenance of Empire in Song China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2015.Find this resource:

Elliott, Mark C.The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Hartwell, Robert M. “Demographic, Political, and Social Transformations of China, 750–1550.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 42, no. 2 (1982): 365–442.Find this resource:

Marks, Robert B. China: Its Environment and History. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.Find this resource:

Mostern, Ruth. “Dividing the Realm in Order to Govern”: The Spatial Organization of the Song State (960–1276 CE). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2011.Find this resource:

Skinner, G. William. “Marketing and Social Structure in Rural China, Part I.” Journal of Asian Studies 24, no. 1 (1964): 3–43.Find this resource:

Skinner, G. William. “Regional Urbanization in Nineteenth-Century China.” In The City in Late Imperial China. Edited by G. William Skinner, 211–249. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1977.Find this resource:

Tackett, Nicolas. “Imperial Elites, Bureaucracy, and the Transformation of the Geography of Power in Tang-Song China.” In Die Interaktion von Herrschern und Eliten in imperialen Ordnungen des Mittelalters. Edited by Wolfram Drews. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018.Find this resource:


(1.) Mark Edward Lewis, The Construction of Space in Early China (Albany: SUNY Press, 2006), 245–305; and Nicolas Tackett, The Origins of the Chinese Nation: Song China and the Forging of an East Asian World Order (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 149–155.

(2.) Tackett, Origins of the Chinese Nation, esp. 143–210.

(3.) Caroline Blunden and Mark Elvin, Cultural Atlas of China, rev. ed. (New York: Checkmark, 1998), 14–17.

(4.) Mark Elvin, The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), 3–85; and Robert B. Marks, China: Its Environment and History (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012).

(5.) Frederick W. Mote, Imperial China: 900–1800 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 711; and John E. Herman, Amid the Clouds and Mist: China’s Colonization of Guizhou, 1200–1700 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007), 87.

(6.) James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).

(7.) Elvin, Retreat of the Elephants, 216–220; and Blunden and Elvin, Cultural Atlas of China, 36–38.

(8.) Richard von Glahn, “The Ningbo-Hakata Merchant Network and the Reorientation of East Asian Maritime Trade, 1150–1350,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 74, no. 2 (2014): 249–279.

(9.) Nicolas Tackett, The Origins of the Chinese Nation, 74–104.

(10.) Joseph Fletcher, “The Mongols: Ecological and Social Perspectives,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 46, no. 1 (1986): 11–50.

(11.) Thomas J. Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, 221 BC to AD 1757 (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989), 8–16, 104–105.

(12.) Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 147–204.

(13.) Yuri Pines, The Everlasting Empire: The Political Culture of Ancient China and Its Imperial Legacy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 11–12.

(14.) Ruth Mostern, “Dividing the Realm in Order to Govern”: The Spatial Organization of the Song State (960–1276 CE) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2011); and Elijah Meeks and Ruth Mostern, “The Politics of Territory in Song Dynasty China, 960–1276 CE,” in Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History, eds. Ian N. Gregory and Alistair Geddes (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), 118–142.

(15.) Robert M. Hartwell, “Demographic, Political, and Social Transformations of China, 750–1550,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 42, no. 2 (1982): 394–405.

(16.) Mark Edward Lewis, The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007), 55–57; Joseph Needham et al., Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 4: Physics and Physical Technology, Pt. 3: Civil Engineering and Nautics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 1–38, 299–306; and Richard von Glahn, The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 116.

(17.) Denis C. Twitchett, Financial Administration under the T’ang Dynasty, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 84–96.

(18.) Robert P. Hymes, “Moral Duty and Self-Regulating Process in Southern Sung Views of Famine Relief,” in Ordering the World: Approaches to State and Society in Sung Dynasty China, eds. Robert P. Hymes and Conrad Schirokauer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 280–309; and von Glahn, Economic History of China, 230.

(19.) Frank Leeming, “Official Landscapes in Traditional China,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 23, no. 1–2 (1980): 153–204.

(20.) Von Glahn, Economic History of China, 210–214, 230–231; and Shiba Yoshinobu, “Song Urbanism Revisited,” in The Diversity of the Socio-economy in Song China, 960–1279 (Tokyo: Toyo Bunko, 2011), 55–88.

(21.) On the Tang provinces, see Nicolas Tackett, Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2014), 146–186.

(22.) Yang Yi (Claire Yang), “Divining Burial Dates,” Chapter Three of “Death Ritual in Tang China (618–907): A Study of the Integration and Transformation of Elite Culture,” PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, forthcoming.

(23.) Lothar von Falkenhausen, Chinese Society in the Age of Confucius (Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2006), 163–288.

(24.) Tackett, Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy; and Tan Kai, “Wan Tang Hebei ren dui Song chu wenhua de yingxiang,” Tang yanjiu 19 (2013): 251–281.

(25.) Hartwell, “Demographic, Political, and Social Transformations of China,” 365–442; Robert P. Hymes, Statesmen and Gentlemen: The Elites of Fu-chou, Chiang-hsi, in Northern and Southern Sung (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986); and Paul Jakov Smith, “Introduction: Problematizing the Song-Yuan-Ming Transition,” in The Song-Yuan-Ming Transition in Chinese History, eds. Paul Jakov Smith and Richard von Glahn (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2003), 19–30.

(26.) Nicolas Tackett, “Imperial Elites, Bureaucracy, and the Transformation of the Geography of Power in Tang-Song China,” in Die Interaktion von Herrschern und Eliten in imperialen Ordnungen des Mittelalters, ed. Wolfram Drews (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018).

(27.) Valerie Hansen, Changing Gods in Medieval China, 1127–1276 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), 128–159.

(28.) Peter K. Bol, Neo-Confucianism in History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2008), esp. 218–269.

(29.) Richard von Glahn, The Country of Streams and Grottoes: Expansion, Settlement, and the Civilizing of the Sichuan Frontier in Song Times (Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, 1987); and Johanna Menzel Meskill, A Chinese Pioneer Family: The Lins of Wu-feng, Taiwan, 1729–1895 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979).

(30.) Von Glahn, Economic History of China, 226–235; and Shiba, “Song Urbanism Revisited.”

(31.) G. William Skinner, “Marketing and Social Structure in Rural China, Part I,” Journal of Asian Studies 24, no. 1 (1964): 3–43; and G. William Skinner, “Cities and the Hierarchy of Local Systems,” in The City in Late Imperial China, ed. G. William Skinner (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1977), 275–351.

(32.) G. William Skinner, “Regional Urbanization in Nineteenth-Century China,” in The City in Late Imperial China, ed. G. William Skinner (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1977), 211–249.

(33.) Hartwell, “Demographic, Political, and Social Transformations of China,” 367–383.

(34.) Max Weber, The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism (New York: Free Press, 1951), 13–20.

(35.) William T. Rowe, Hankow: Commerce and Society in a Chinese City, 1796–1889 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984); Bryna Goodman, Native Place, City and Nation: Regional Networks and Identities in Shanghai, 1853–1937 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Hilde De Weerdt, “China: 600–1300,” in The Oxford Handbook of Cities in World History, ed. Peter Clark (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 292–309; and William T. Rowe, “China: 1300–1900,” in The Oxford Handbook of Cities in World History, 310–327.

(36.) Hugh R. Clark, Community, Trade, and Networks: Southern Fujian Province from the Third to the Thirteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 166–167; and Billy K. L. So, Prosperity, Region, and Institutions in Maritime China: The South Fukien Pattern, 946–1368 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2000), 186–201.

(37.) Xing Hang, Conflict and Commerce in Maritime East Asia: The Zheng Family and the Shaping of the Modern World, c. 1620–1720 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); and François Gipouloux, The Asian Mediterranean: Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th–21st Century (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2011).

(38.) Hisayuki Miyakawa, “An Outline of the Naito Hypothesis and Its Effects on Japanese Studies of China,” The Far Eastern Quarterly 14, no. 4 (1955): 533–552.

(39.) For e.g., Hilary J. Beattie, Land and Lineage in China: A Study of T’ung-ch’eng County, Anhwei, in the Ming and Ch’ing Dynasties (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979); and Hymes, Statesmen and Gentlemen.

(40.) For e.g., Susan Naquin and Evelyn S. Rawski, Chinese Society in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987); Hartwell, “Demographic, Political, and Social Transformations”; and Joseph W. Esherick and Mary Backus Rankin, Introduction to Chinese Local Elites and Patterns of Dominance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 1–24.

(41.) E.g., Nicolas Tackett, The Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2014).

(42.) For an overview, see Carolyn Cartier, “Origins and Evolution of a Geographical Idea: The Macroregion in China,” Modern China 28, no. 1 (2002): 79–142.

(43.) Jonathan Skaff, Sui-Tang China and its Turko-Mongol Neighbors: Culture, Power and Connections, 580–800 (Oxford University Press, 2012).

(44.) Evelyn S. Rawski, “Reenvisioning the Qing: The Significance of the Qing Period in Chinese History,” Journal of Asian Studies 55, no. 4 (1996): 829–850; Pamela K. Crossley, A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); and Mark C. Elliott, The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).

(45.) Étienne de la Vaissière, Sogdian Traders: A History, trans. James Ward (Boston: Brill, 2005).

(46.) Richard Von Glahn, “The Ningbo-Hakata Merchant Network,” 249–279; François Gipouloux, The Asian Mediterranean: Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and South Asia, 13th–21st Century (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2011); and Xing Hang and Tonio Andrade, eds., Sea Rovers, Silver, and Samurai: Maritime East Asia in Global History, 1550–1700 (Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 2016).

(47.) Traditional historical and literary sources are far too abundant to list here. For a useful and detailed overview of these sources, see Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History: A New Manual, 4th ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2015), 592–653. For an example of scholarship exploiting data from such sources, see Shiba, “Song Urbanism Revisited.”

(48.) Wilkinson, Chinese History: A New Manual, 209–213.

(49.) For example, Hymes, Statesmen and Gentlemen.

(50.) For example, John W. Chaffee, The Thorny Gates of Learning in Sung China (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995).

(51.) Cao Wanru, et al., eds., An Atlas of Ancient Maps in China (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1990–1997); and Mostern, Dividing the Realm in Order to Govern, 57–99.

(52.) Wilkinson, Chinese History: A New Manual, 717–722.

(53.) Tackett, Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy, 13–25.

(54.) Tan Kai, “Wan Tang Hebei.”

(55.) For example, Tackett, “Imperial Elites”; Hilde De Weerdt, Information, Territory, and Networks: The Crisis and Maintenance of Empire in Song China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2015); Song Chen, “Governing a Multicentered Empire: Prefects and Their Networks in the 1040s and 1210s,” in State Power in China, 900–1325, eds. Patricia Buckley Ebrey and Paul Jakov Smith (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016), 101–152.

(56.) de la Vaissière, Sogdian Traders; and Talat Tekin, A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1968), 259–296.