Masculinities and Political Communication, c.800-1200

Bernard GOWERS

This paper examines the violent deaths of two celebrated individuals in the twelfth century, and explores their repercussions in subsequent culture, in particular in relation to elite masculinities.  In 1143 the Southern Song warlord Yu-eh Fei was killed on the orders of Ch'in Kuei, scholar-official of the Emperor Gaozong.  In 1170, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was killed by knights of King Henry II.  Both deaths attracted considerable attention, and continued to find resonance over subsequent decades and centuries.  Becket was venerated as a saint, and Yu-eh Fei as a minor wu god. Both episodes also encapsulated rival articulations of authority, a tension between dramatic incidents and structural developments, and an ambiguous role for the ruler.  In particular, juxtaposing these cases allows us to explore competing notions of elite masculinity in the context of consolidating state structures.  The Chinese wu/wen dichotomy of bears comparison with Latin European ideas about lay and clerical masculinities.  It is not possible to draw simplistic parallels, rather this paper seeks to problematize some assumptions about elite masculinities.

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