2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Politics, Regions, and Clans: The Decline of Scholarly Families in Ssu-ming during the Sung and Yuan Dynasties

Kuan-chung Huang

Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica

This paper investigates the decline of the elite families in Ssu-ming in the Sung and Yuan dynasties as a case study of local society. In the Sung dynasty, the rise of a family depended greatly on its members’ successes in the civil service examination, which gave them access to official appointments. Members with government positions promoted the juniors of their extended family and supported one another at court, thus forming a political force. To solidify their power, they advanced the family’s economic interests in their home region by asset management, and elevated its reputation by participation in local activities such as public construction projects and philanthropy. Their philanthropy resulted in a local cooperative economic model, the “community’s charitable estate” (hsiang-chü i-chuang). Through close inter-clan collaboration, elite families in Ssu-ming created a distinct local culture. In this sense, the rise of the elite families represented the rise of the Ssu-ming region. These close-knit families began to disintegrate, however, after their success in politics and scholarship culminated in the Chia-ting reign. The disintegration was caused first by the political disputes that arose from Tao-hsueh prohibition in the Ch’ing-yuan period (the Ch’ing-yuan tang-chin), and then by the different positions toward the Jurchen Chin in response to the threat of the Mongols. These political struggles divided families that had previously closely cooperated, and even gave rise to conflicts within families. The decline also had its internal causes in the shift of their younger generations’ interests. Affluent life in a peaceful period made the families’ children less motivated to prepare for competitive examinations and instead turned their attention toward art, literature, and religion. These external and internal factors contributed to the decline of the Ssu-ming elite families at court and in their home region before the advent of the Yuan dynasty.


Keywords: Ming Chou (Ssu-ming), local culture, elite families, community’s charitable estate (hsiangchu yijuang), Daoxue prohibition in the Chingyuan period (Chingyuan dangjin)