What is China?: Foreign Rule and the Sinicization Paradigm
At various times throughout history, China has been conquered and subsequently rules by groups not usually considered ‘Chinese’. In the Yuan and Qing dynasties, for instance, China was governed by the Mongols and Manchu people respectively. Even at the time of Song dynasty, a time of great progress and advancement in Chinese history, the north of present-day China was ruled by the Jurchen who proclaimed their Liao Dynasty to be a direct descendant of the Tang dynasty. Nevertheless, each of these ‘foreign’ regimes in some way took up the mantle of dynastic rule, conforming to and propagating a very specific set of politico-social standards. That is, each of them eventually considered themselves, or at least claimed, to be governing according to standards of rule deeply rooted in the Chinese culture since at least the Warring States period. What, then, is China if it is not simply a region or an ethnicity? When we speak of Chinese culture, what is the status of these periods that, despite being ruled by non-ethnic Chinese, nevertheless took part in continuing the Chinese cultural outlook.
A Short Biography of Zhao Meng Fu (趙孟頫/Chao Meng Fu)
The transition from the Song Dynasty to the Yuan was a turbulent time in China. In the artistic tradition, one man more than any other embodied the difficulties and opportunities presented by both the fall of an ailing dynasty and the assertion of foreign rule. Zhao Meng Fu (1254-1322), a descendent of the Song royal family, survived the fall of the Song and lived to gain great acclaim as a calligrapher and artist. Although he was linked by blood to the previous dynasty, Zhao nevertheless wholeheartedly promoted the legitimacy of Mongol rule in China. As a result many scholars in his own time and in the later Ming Dynasty criticized him as little better than a traitor.
The Yuan Dynasty (元朝/Yuan Chao/Yüan Ch’ao): Foreign Rulers and Sinicization
The conquests of Genghis Khan are known throughout the world. What is lesser known is the impact that the short-lived Mongol empire would have on China. Although the Mongols were able to conquer one of the largest regions in history, stretching from the Korean Penninsula to Ukraine by 1259 BCE, the size of their empire made it basically ungovernable for an essentially nomadic peoples. The rapid fragmentation of the Mongol Empire forced the Mongolian tribes back toward the east, and they were able to maintain political control over a much smaller region for the next hundred years. The region they held included most of modern-day China, Mongolia and Korea.