Imaginaries of Empire: Constituting Political Communities in Southern Song Memorabilia Literature

Ari Daniel LEVINE

After the fall of the Northern Song 北宋 (960-1127) capital of Kaifeng 開封 to Jurchen invaders in 1127, diasporic Chinese literati pledged their allegiance to the Southern Song南宋dynasty (1127-1279) as the only legitimate political community in a truncated realm with threatened borders. While the North China Plain remained under Jurchen occupation until the Mongol conquest of 1234, and the Southern Song court diplomatically acknowledged the supremacy of the Jurchen Jin dynasty’s rulers, Southern Chinese literati were reconstituting imagined communities of their own. Not only did literati carve out spaces for political action in local society and build social organizations beyond the reach of the state, but they also reconstituted an imagined political community through the textual commemoration of their occupied homeland and lost capital. In their memorabilia literature (biji 筆記, lit. "brush notes"), literati such as Ye Mengde 葉夢得 (1077-1148), Fan Chengda 范成大 (1126-1193), Lu You 陸游 (1125-1210), and Yue Ke岳珂 (1183-1234), deployed textual imaginaries of nostalgia in order to recapitulate the dynasty’s declension narrative, and to re-contest the chain of tragic events that led to dynastic collapse. By reconstructing these lost sites and occupied spaces in the cultural memory of their fellow diasporic literati, these memoirists were creating a vision of an idealized political community that once existed during the dynasty’s heyday, and could be reconstituted in the future, if and when Song subjects recaptured their lost homeland. As the historical trauma of the conquest receded from communicative memory into cultural memory, the more these historical narratives became detached from historical time and places, and were remapped onto ideological fantasies of irredentism.

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