The Birth of China: The Emergence of a National Consciousness in the Northern Song

Nicolas Tackett
UC Berkeley

This research explores a remarkable set of developments during China’s Song dynasty—involving new notions of sovereignty, loyalty, and space—that reflected the birth of a Chinese national consciousness. Besides detailing the basic features of these developments, the project seeks to explain their causal origins in a way that goes beyond simply assuming that identity emerges inevitably (and only) upon first encountering an “other”. It focuses on the particularities of 11th-c. Northeast Asia, particularities that included: the political division of the Chinese cultural zone (a zone that the grantee defines on the basis of a survey of over 1000 excavated tombs); a cosmopolitan vision at the Song court acquired by powerful ministers who traveled beyond the bounds of the Chinese state (and whose experiences are narrated in their abundant travel poetry and prose); and a growing ideological commitment to central government activism, leading to probably the largest border demarcation project in premodern history (a project described in court debates and accounts of bilateral negotiations). Given a resurgence of Chinese nationalism in the 21st century, it becomes all the more important to historicize and account for the development of China’s national consciousness.