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A Change of Dynasties: Loyalism in Thirteenth-Century China.

Themes of social and economic histories have dominated the western studies of pre-modern China in recent years, in part spurred by the improved access to the primary sources in China, and in part influenced by the trends in the western historiography. As a result, more traditional concerns of the historian of China have also come to suffer from neglect. Professor Jay's study on the loyalism in thirteenth-century China, viewed in this context, makes a timely contribution to the redressing of the imbalance. By doing so, she also sheds light on a topic that has been little discussed. Unlike the Chinese resistance at the time of the Manchu conquest in the mid-seventeenth century, the activities of the Chinese against the Mongol invaders four centuries earlier has elicited little interest from academic historians of China. Professor Jay's book, in fact, is the first monograph on the topic in recent memory in any language.

Professor Jay is clearly engaged in a revisionist history in her book. She wants, in particular, to debunk three longstanding myths. The first is that the thirteenth-century loyalism was unique, the second, that it involved only a small number of heroic men, and the third, that its impacts on the society at that time were negligible. She wants to show us, against these myths, that her topic was unique only in the sense that every historical event was unique to a degree, that it involved a larger number of men and women from varying backgrounds, and that its impacts were far greater, especially in southern China. She has identified, to that end, three distinct types of thirteenth-century loyalism. The first is that of martyrdom, of heroism, of absolute and uncompromising nature. Earlier myths were born, according to Professor Jay, because only this type of loyalism was identified. Her major contribution is to show the existence of two lesser, passive types of loyalism. One was carried on by those who voluntarily withdrew from active life, while the third, which she dubs "marginal loyalism," involved those who, despite their acceptance of the new order, strove to preserve the memory. Unlike the heroic loyalism, passive loyalism survived, over a significant length of time, over considerable areas, and the book also identifies a number of geographical centres of loyalism in southern China and northern Vietnam.

There is, unfortunately, too much that should have been included in this book to make it persuasive. Take the concept of locality, for example. Professor Jay briefly outlines how the Chinese word for loyalty, zhong, had changed its meaning from one of trustworthiness in human relationships to one of self-sacrificing dedication, in the service of the sovereign, of the state, and of the nation, by the thirteenth century. She does not explain, however, how this change had come about and what factors contributed to it, and instead limits herself to quoting from a number of primary authors. She argues also that Wen Tianxiang (1236-1283), the archetypical heroic loyalist martyr, was "inspired and sustained by an ethnic consciousness" (p. 105). At the same time, she contends that this sort of ethnic loyalty was rare, especially among the rank-and-file of the loyalist forces. Many joined, she explains, because of their personal ties to the leaders, or out of practical considerations. Also, while Wen himself was not bothered by a possible conflict between his obligations to his family and to his nation, there were nevertheless many others who were. These are all important points, which deserve to have been addressed fully in the context of social, political, and economic dynamics of that time. Professor Jay, on the other hand, did no more than point them out as matters of fact.

The book's greatest shortcoming, in fact, lies in its failure to provide the narrative with adequate and convincing backgrounds. Nothing is said in acceptable detail of the economic conditions, social structure, cultural values, and political mechanism of the period in question. The narrative emerges, as a result, anecdotal, isolated, even confusing. The failure is more jarring especially in light of the recent achievements in English-language scholarship on these questions. Professor Jay herself is not unaware of these works, as her bibliography makes it clear, but for some reason, she chose not to avail herself of them to enrich her own work. In rare instances when she does, she does so only perfunctorily, thus failing to capitalize on the significance of the findings. When it comes to the Japanese-language works, however, there is not even a trace of her awareness. Considering the undminished importance of Japanese scholarship to per-modern China, her total failure to consult it further damages her credibility.

To summarize. Professor Jay's book brings to light some interesting features and provides food for further thought. Its failures, on the other hand, makes it fall short of being a significant contribution.
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Author:Lee, John
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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