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History of Aristocratic Families in Tang China, Part 1: The Struggle to Adapt research-article

Pak-sheung Ng

Journal of Asian History, Volume 54 (2020), Issue 2, Page 211 - 260

In Tang China, aristocratic families went to great lengths in order to preserve prestige and prosperity in spite of challenges and restrictions imposed upon them. This article attempts to study the ways in which this privileged class incessantly responded to the dynasty's political and social changes, demonstrated through two outstanding endeavors: adjusting traditional burial practices and conceding to assuming roles in the bureaucracy. By comparison, this article also studies ways in which humble families acted in these two aspects. The prevailing pattern of migration, namely, the “center-orientedness” (qianxi zhongyanghua 遷徙中央化), was not unique to aristocratic families; humble families were also eager to catch up with the trend. This article argues that while gradually losing physical connection and sentimental affinity for one's native place, a substantial number of aristocratic families originating in North China had actually lived in the South before ultimately serving in the bureaucracy; this historical inclination manifested itself in a deviation between families' burial locations and living areas. The choice of burial sites not only embodied the popularity of a “center-oriented” migration pattern, but also strengthened the trend of relinquishing one's sentimental attachment to the native place. This article also discusses the interactions between aristocratic families and upstarts; aristocratic families' differing approaches signified how they assessed their own situations, and in what ways connections with upstarts could aid in perpetuating their societal privilege and prestige.

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